Why Sex Tourism in Thailand is Not as Black and White as You Think

sex industry in thailandI can still remember the first time I heard about Thailand. I was around 15 and watching Hard Copy. It was one of those late afternoon “news” shows in the 1990s that focused on “hard-hitting” journalism but were really a precursor to sites like TMZ. Hard Copy was doing an exposé on sex tourism in Thailand. The program showcased the Marines and old men who came to Thailand to buy the services of young, sometimes underage girls (and boys). I remember being very grossed out by the images they showed.

When visitors to Thailand encounter the sex industry, their immediate reaction is something along the lines of “gross” followed by a bit of gagging. Old men, young girls—it’s disgusting. Those girls are being taken advantage of by slimy, old, Western men. Awful, right? It’s exploitation if there ever was any. For those who never get away from these places (which also happen to be tourist areas), Thailand forever becomes associated with sex and exploitation, leaving a bad impression of the country, especially with female travelers.

But sex tourism in Thailand is not at all what you think it is. It’s not black and white. It’s shades of grey.

After living in Thailand, seeing everything first-hand, and having this conversation with expats, journalists, and Thais, I can tell you that the myth of the exploited underage girl is mostly that—a myth. The women you see at go-go bars exploit foreign men as much as you think foreign men exploit them. (Edit: Many are reading this statement about men as “exploitation = victimization.” I didn’t mean that at all, and that was my misplaced choice of wording. I meant the girls were taking advantage of a situation that benefited them. They know they can get a lot of from these men, and being smart women, they maximize the business transaction. These men aren’t victims, they’re suckers. That was what I meant to imply.)

Before I get into why it’s not so black and white, let me preface this article by saying wherever there is prostitution, you’ll find some exploitation. You can find it in Amsterdam, America, Australia, Germany, Mexico, or Colombia—anywhere. I think that girls forced into prostitution should be freed and the people involved prosecuted. And I am not in any way advocating for child sex slavery. What I am talking about here is between willing adults, not girls sold into sex slavery.

So back to Thailand…

Prostitution has always existed in Thailand, but it exploded after World War II with the arrival of Western troops. It then grew rapidly during the Vietnam War as US soldiers on leave came to find a “release” from the stresses of war. Following the war, Thailand became a haven for sex tourists and pedophiles from all over the world. HIV exploded, as did human trafficking and child sex slavery. It was a nasty situation. In the 1990s, following a number of exposés, news stories, and NGO involvement, Thailand finally began to crack down on sex tourism and child prostitution. They cleaned up a lot of the nastier stuff.

But Thailand hasn’t shaken its sex tourism past completely and in many ways has quietly embraced it. Prostitution is illegal—but everyone turns a blind eye. It’s hard to say how many people come to Thailand just for sex, but I bet it’s a very large number. And it’s just not old men—I encounter a lot of young travelers who visit go-go bars. Yet despite this, you aren’t going to find the exploitative environment that prevailed 20 years ago.

Everyone is bothered by the old man/young girl dynamic they see in Thailand, but there’s a lot of hypocrisy with that opinion.

Where’s the outrage when it happens in the West? When you see Michael Douglas and his 25-years-younger wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, are you repulsed? Harrison Ford and Callista Flockhart? Or the reverse—Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (before they split)? Or are you just outraged that it looks like the old, ugly, Western man who couldn’t get laid back home decided to come to Asia and “exploit” a poor, innocent, “naïve” girl? We become outraged when we see the old white guy holding hands with a young Asian girl, but we read gossip blogs about how Alex Baldwin is getting married to a girl 26 years younger than him.

one of the many sex districts in Thailand

The girls you see in Thailand aren’t that young. While Westerners often underestimate Asian people’s ages and the girl may be younger than her client, she isn’t underaged. Thailand did a great job in the 1990s of cleaning itself up, and you just can’t walk around with a 12-year-old on your arm. Those girls you see in Nana Plaza, Patpong, or Pattaya are of legal age. Does Thailand have some underage prostitution? Sure, but so does every other country in the world. But no old guy is walking into a bar and out again with a girl who is 14. Officials may turn a blind eye to a lot of things, but 14-year-olds working the bars would bring back a lot of heat and Thai officials don’t want to relive the 90s.

“So what?” you say, “Even if they are legal, they’re still being taken advantage of and exploited.”

But are they? I don’t think so. Most of the prostitutes come from an area of Thailand called Isaan in the northeast. It’s the poorest region of Thailand, and the girls know they can make a lot of money being a prostitute. Many have families to support. Not all the girls from Isaan end up as prostitutes but many do. It’s an easy job to get, requires very little English, and the money’s good. Most of these girls usually have a friend who’s a prostitute and tells them about the money. And while you may have certain feelings about prostitutes, walking into a go-go bar isn’t going to bring 93,483 forced sex slaves to you.

(Note: Trafficking does remain a problem in many go-go bars, as it does anywhere in the world. I’m not saying that it never happens. What I’m saying is that not every woman is there against her will.)

There’s an expression, “the white man’s burden,” that relates to the fact that Westerners feel we have a responsibility to save poorer nations and people. We see these girls, think they must be exploited (why else would they be with these old men?) and find ways to save them from this awful life. But usually the ones being exploited are the men. The older women look after the new girls and teach them the tricks of the trade—how to bat their eyes and say the right things to get the guys to pay for them. They know what buttons to push. They know what to do to get the money.

Plenty of men come to Thailand solely for a quickie. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. In fact, stroll through Thailand and you will see a lot of men (young and old) traveling with Thai girls they bought for the week. You can usually tell by the fact that the Thai girl looks extremely bored.

But there are a huge number of men who come to Thailand, fall in love with a bar girl, and then try to rescue her from her “awful” life. She’s just a girl stuck in a bad situation, but given the right circumstances, she’d definitely go to school and make something of herself, the thinking goes.

But you know what? These girls don’t want to be saved. You’re just another sucker to them, one who’s going to pay their bills. And if they do end up “dating” you, it’s simply because you’re supporting them.

I’ve been in Internet cafes where a girl, ready to go out at night, is on Skype talking to four other people who are her “boyfriends.” That means there’s some Western guy who’s sending her money—and she always needs money. She’s going to school, her mom is sick, she needs food, or her bike broke down. There are endless reasons. And some men are more than happy to provide the money, thinking they’re keeping that girl out of prostitution when in reality, she’s doing it all over again once she signs off Skype.

High-end escorts in Bangkok make over $4,000 USD per month. Most prostitutes you see in Bangkok make about $100 USD per “session.” To put that in perspective, the average Thai salary is $4,700 USD per year and even lower than that in rural areas.

Men are cash cows to these women.

We look at the prostitution in Thailand through Western eyes. We think that if there’s an old man and a young woman, there must be exploitation going on and that these naïve girls are just being taken advantage of. We all want to come and rescue these women from their lives.

But that’s because in the West we equate sex with love and view prostitutes as dirty. However, Thailand has a very different notion of sex and love.

go go dancers in Thailand

Sex in Thailand involves a huge set of contradictory values. Thailand is a very conservative culture. On the one hand, prostitutes are generally considered lower class and the profession is looked down upon. On the other, Thai men frequent prostitutes and, despite the conservative nature of Thailand, this behavior is tolerated.

And—this is an often-overlooked fact—the vast majority of sex tourism in Thailand comes from locals. Western sex tourism pales in comparison to this massive industry. The difference between Thais and Westerners? Thais are much more discreet.

In Thailand, prostitution is a job and prostitutes are simply workers. Sure, in Thailand’s highly classed social structure, “good Thais” would never have a daughter who was a hooker, nor would a good Thai boy marry one.

But compared to the West, where we really look down on prostitutes, in Thailand the social stigma isn’t as great. Thais walk by prostitutes the way we walk past everyone else. During the day, the same girls you saw shaking it at night will be walking down the street covered up.

In fact, most of the prostitutes tend to have Thai boyfriends or husbands. Why? Because it’s just her job. It’s a job that brings in a lot of money, and the Thai boyfriend doesn’t care. Work is separate from everyday life.

Thais don’t equate sex with love like we do in the West; relationships aren’t just about love. They are more complex than that. In the West, we always ask “do you love him?” as if that’s all that matters. If you came home and told your parents you loved a garbage man, would they be happy? Maybe not, but “if you loved him” then that’s all that would matter. Love will find a way.

In Thailand, that’s not all that matters. Class, job, and family matter just as much as love, if not more. If an upper-class Thai girl found love with a cab driver, the family would put an end to the relationship. It wouldn’t matter how much they were in love. A bank executive isn’t going to marry a farm girl from Isaan. You always marry up.

Class and financial security are equally important.

And so women who go with foreigners do so because that man provides money, security, and higher social status. A man must be able to provide for her family, and a Thai woman who brings home a high-earning husband raises the status of her family.

The security and class aspect of relationships in Thailand cannot be understated. It’s very important here. And in the hierarchy of class, Westerners are high up there, because with them comes security, money, and stability. Getting together with a Westerner (male or female) brings that security.

And while the family may not enjoy their daughter becoming a prostitute, once the money rolls in, they may sing a different tune. Being a prostitute is bad until you start making money from it. Then it’s a good thing, because women in Thailand are supposed to take care of their families.

There are villages filled with expensive mansions up in poor rural Thailand that have been paid for by Thai girls who became prostitutes, made lots of money, and were able to support their families.

sex tourism in thailand

At a recent dinner, one friend told me about a girl who went to Malaysia and made $65,000 USD in one year. She wasn’t going to quit because the money was good and she could provide for her family.

Thais do not see what we see when they see prostitution.

(Bangkok Podcast had a wonderful discussion with Kaewmala, a Thai woman and writer, about the contradictions and attitudes around sex, prostitution, and romance in Thailand. It’s only an hour long and is a must-listen if you want to understand these complex attitudes better.)

My point is that we look at prostitution in Thailand through our Western values and morals and declare that these innocent girls are being exploited by old men and need to be saved. And while anyone forced into prostitution should be saved, for the girls who come and consent—what are we saving them from? A life we don’t want them to lead? Are we just quieting our conscience? Or are we just grossed out because everything is so open, and we’d rather these dark aspects of humanity were kept behind closed doors? Maybe the real problem is we just don’t want to know it exists.

You don’t have to agree with prostitution. I’m not going to visit a prostitute, and I think a 50-year-old and an 18-year-old together is disgusting, but if it doesn’t bother them, it doesn’t bother me.

Is the situation gross? To me, yes. Is what you see exploitation? Not really. Is it really any of my business? No.

The next time you’re in Thailand, don’t be so quick to judge. We travel to learn about other cultures, so don’t be shocked when other cultures have different attitudes about things like sex and prostitution.

Suggested Reading:
Private Dancer – A 2005 book that highlights the complex relationship between Western men and Thai sex workers.
Sex Slaves: The Trafficking of Women in Asia – A 2001 book that focuses on sex trafficking, especially by Asian men.
Learning the Sex Trade – An interesting account from 2005 by a British journalist seeking the details of the sex industry. Also discusses the dual aspects of the industry.
Thai Woman Talks – A blog by Kaewmala about Thai sexuality, women, and relationships.

Want to learn more about Thailand or plan a trip to the country? These articles will help:
Thailand Travel Guide
11 Reasons Why I Love Thailand
How Much a Holiday in Thailand Costs
How to Spend 3 Days in Bangkok
The Best Thai Food You Can Eat

  1. I often find myself defending child labor in a very similar way. No one wants to be the pro-child labor guy or the pro-prostitution guy. It took courage to post this. Thanks! That said, I would be interested to know if there have been any studies done on Thai prostitutes. How did they get into the profession? How many of them actually make a decent living? And so on…

    • NomadicMatt

      I remember reading this study about Bangladeshi children after the sweat shop campaign of the 90s. It wanted to know what happened to these kids. Turns out most ended up as beggars because their family needed food. I’m not saying child labor is right but I’m just saying I found it to be an interesting story about an unintended consequence.

    • There’s a similar complexity regarding child labor here in Brazil, where kids are only in school for half a day. So for the other half of the day, would it be better for the kids to apprentice and work for or with their parents/uncles & aunts learning a trade… or for them to wander about on the streets getting into who knows what while they wait for their parents to come home from work?

      • NomadicMatt

        The best thing to do is to give people other options. Unfortunately, people in these societies don’t have many. So while we would love for them to do X,Y, or Z, when they have to work or starve, they will work.

        • sanjaya58

          thanks Matt for this wonderful article on Thai sex tourism.i have visited Thailand many times since 1993.

          The things have really changed,Thai authorities have cleaned up a lot.The Thai culture is a great one.but the contradictions regarding sex does exist,as you pointed out.I have many Thai friends and we discuss about this issue.they justify this positively.

  2. While most of these people aren’t “forced” into the industry, what other choice do they have? They see a chance to make a relatively large amount of money in a short amount of time to support themselves or their family. If there were alternative ways to earn a decent wage, they would do that. I’m sure they wouldn’t want their daughters to grow up doing the same thing.

    I don’t care if people trade money for sex. I’m just saying it’s a hell of a position to put someone else in.

    • NomadicMatt

      Not all poor girls become prostitutes. Many other girls find their way to better jobs. My friend from the same area is in college. She found another way. She earns a decent living.

      So to say “well, they are poor. What other choice is there?” I think is a very false argument. Will girls in poverty be more likely to end up in this profession anywhere in the world? Of course. But to say they have no other choice, I think that’s a weak argument.

      • Dr. Smith

        I would like to challenge you on your facts that a girl with a college education earns a decent living in Thailand? After 20 + years (2012) the government has decided to raise the starting pay of college graduates to 15,000 thb per month.

        Is that a decent living wage? The answer in truth is no it is not. She will never be able to afford to buy a car or a house after deductions from basic living expenses, housing, food, transportation are taking. Almost 70% of all Thai graduates are graduating over 200,000 thb in student loan debt.

        So no Matt, there really is no alternative as most college girls are lucky to earn 10,000 thb per month

        A super star A list bar girl can make 10 times per month the amount of a Thai MBA. Yes that is the fact.

        So aside from working at Tesco Lotus as a cashier for 5,500 thb per month, where are all these HIGH PAYING opportunities these girls have a chance at?

        Realistically there are NONE and that is why they turn to the big quick money in prostitution.

        You might be surprised how many bar girls working in Bangkok have college degrees? As Stephanie said, they are not being exploited but they are using their heads and bodies to make 10 times what they would in a normal job.

        Many educated girls do this by choice

        The poor uneducated from Isaan have no choice. Without education and even with, a salary of 10,000 thb per month in most cases is the top

        This is simply not enough to survive in modern day Thailand when there are parents, grandparents and possibly children to support

  3. You are right to point out the consensual nature of many of these transactions. But consensual means something very different when your choices range from bad to worse. Exploitation exists not only when people are forced against their will, but when they are enticed to do something they wouldn’t choose to do because the alternatives are worse. Certainly a starving man can be convinced to freely give away everything he owns for a meal. And yet no one would argue he wasn’t exploited.

    That isn’t to suggest there are easy answers. Child labor (mentioned above) is a good parallel. Some studies have suggested that when child labor is outlawed aggressively, children and families resort to other, often worse, options – like the sex trade. Similar efforts to close down consensual prostitution may have the perverse effect of forcing these girls into more awful circumstances. These are difficult problems to solve.

    But that difficulty doesn’t eliminate the exploitation. Sure, the starving man benefits by the meal he has sacrificed everything to obtain. But that shouldn’t make the person taking advantage of his terrible situation feel proud, or justified, in his actions.

    • NomadicMatt

      I wasn’t talking about girls who were exploited though – I made that clear in the introduction.

      • You’re describing a pretty narrow slice of the population, now aren’t you. First I understood you to exclude out underage sex workers from consideration, OK. And then I understood you to exclude women explicitly coerced into prostitution. Now I understand you’re also excluding the desperately poor women who enter the profession for lack of better alternatives. I doubt there are any hard statistics, but it does seem like what you’re left with is a very small minority of the sex worker population.

        • Donald

          This is an excellent point. While I found the article very interesting, I also found myself thinking throughout that the premise was incomplete. Just because these women are doing some exploiting of their own doesn’t mean they aren’t themselves being exploited. Similarly, the men in the transaction are exploiting these women but are still themselves being exploited…certainly for the instant money and occasionally for the “sugar daddy” type relationships that sometimes ensue. So what I think you are really arguing here is not that the women aren’t being exploited but that the exploitation isn’t one sided which somehow makes it seem more “fair” and less of something they need to be “rescued” from.

        • I have to agree with you. After you eliminate anyone else – you are left with a small group of women who of course, intend to either marry up or gain a financial foothold.

          • andy

            I totally agree with EverywhereOnce

            In the end all you did was addressing a very very very minority of prostitutes. And the majority for what reason they are in it are slaves of a system. Maybe not forced slavery but slaves nonetheless. Perhaps because of poor conditions and lack of alternatives. However, even then, people still do have choices no matter how tough do going gets. Do all thai women submit to prostitution? No! there are millions of women in dire conditions all around the world how are not prostitutes or drug mules or any kind of ilegal worker. With the exception of forced labor It is a choice women make. But slaves of a system nonetheless. And any man that is aware of this system and pays these women (even with good intentions) are supporting the system!!!!!! So shame on all of them.

  4. As a friend put it, not all the girls are prostitutes, but if you meet a Thai girl in a bar and she wants to hook up, their mentality is – I am doing it anyways, why not get paid for it??

  5. Sorry Matt but got to disagree on this. I know people personally that have first hand experience talking with, eating with, and hanging out with these women on a daily basis. You have no idea how much they have been through or how they want to escape. Are they all exploited? No, of course not. However, this is the other side to this story.

    A couple of years ago I wrote about this based on the experience of people very close to me in my life. This is a side of Thailand and the sex tourism industry people don’t see. It’s not going to get reported by a lot of people and you aren’t going to get an up close picture like this.

    Normally, I wouldn’t post a link here but I think it’s good to see this from another perspective.

    • NomadicMatt

      I made it clear in the beginning I didn’t support trafficking. I also have known some of these girls. They are regular girls. If you listen to the podcast, they talk about their bargirl friends being very conservative outside of that culture.

      And I also made it clear that exploitation will happen everywhere.

      But again, I think your comment is a prime example of the moralism I was talking about – you are highlighting the fact that these girls need to be saved and then say not all of them are exploited. If they aren’t all exploited, then why do the ones who aren’t need to be saved? Years ago I read about how many of these girls were trying to form a union. They clearly are OK with the job they have chosen.

      Exploitation is a side many people are aware of. But for the women who choose to do this? Why judge them?

      • Without a doubt, there are those that choose this. Just like there are those in Europe, the US, and other countries around the world. I definitely don’t argue that point of view and it’s very fair of you to make that point for those that turn their noses up at this without getting the full picture.

        However, I just wanted to expand on the other side of things. Honestly it’s a side many people just don’t hear about. As for the organization there, I don’t want to look at it from a saved/religious perspective. Many of these women are really hurting. Maybe even some of the went into it because they wanted to but it isn’t what they expected. I think that is an important thing to note.

        Even some that did choose this life now don’t know any other way out. They work 7 nights a week, don’t have close friends, don’t have a way out, and have few options. The great thing about this organization (and others) is that they become friends with these women, help them with their resumes, give them a chance to get new clothes and a new life (if they want), and help them acquire new skills so if they WANT to leave they can.

        Please don’t mistake this group as one that just proselytizes in the name of God. The concern for these women is genuine. While there are many who enjoy what they do, like the money and attention, and don’t mind the life, there are those whose stories never get told because they have no one to talk with.

        I didn’t share this to exaggerate the ugly side of sex tourism but to tell real stories and make these women more than objects. I wanted them to seem a little more human rather than just have a moral discussion. I completely respect the choices people make and you showing the other side. However, I’ve been able to hear stories that I thought were worth sharing.

        • NomadicMatt

          Women in the third world have less options – there is no denying that. And it is a shame that there aren’t the societal institutions to help them move up and get more equality. I have no problem supporting organizations that support women (I contribute massively to Planned Parenthood) or organizations that get forced sex slaves out of the industry.

          But just like we shouldn’t assume all women want to be there, we shouldn’t assume all women don’t want to be there.

  6. Sorry, I’m going to have to join Jeremy in disagreeing (and being pretty appalled, as well). Even though not all of those women are prostitutes against their will (though the argument can be made that being impoverished and doing things to make ends meet isn’t really being a “willing participant”, but I digress), the problem is that by supporting sexual tourism and prostitution, people are supporting trafficking. A woman who is doing things against her will isn’t going to tell you so in 99 out of 100 cases, due to intimidation and bold-faced threats from her captors. And the fact that there is money to be made is what makes trafficking worthwhile to the scumbags who do the kidnapping and intimidating.

    Just read Somaly’s story if you have doubts: http://www.somaly.org/about-smf/somaly-mam

    The reason I became aware of human trafficking at all is because of the time I spent in Thailand. I met some of these girls. And just because some of them are doing it by choice DOES NOT mean that it’s okay to exploit the others. And, sorry, you have no way of knowing whether a woman is doing it by choice or if she’s acting that way because she’ll otherwise be killed.

    • NomadicMatt

      I’ve read Somaly Mam’s book while in Asia and I was pretty clear in the article that I don’t support illegal trafficking of women.

      • Jesse

        I can’t even begin to start with where I disagree with you on this article. Maybe if your facts and figures, oh wait…you don’t have any.
        I understand that you don’t support the sex slavery industry, good for you. But your sloppy moral ground on this is disgusting. Do some research, talk to people who work in prevention and aftercare, and then develop a well rounded opinion before you go spouting off.
        In fact, my good friend is the director and co-founder of The SOLD Project based in Chiang Rai. They do prevention and awareness work and have many many connections that I’m sure you could actual true information and testimony from.
        Because I’m sure that girls and women just LOVE to sell their bodies. I’m sure they LOVE for men to degrade them. I’m sure they LOVE to be forced into drug addictions.
        This article is appalling. In a world where women need all the empowerment and support they can get, East, North, West, and South – this is absolutely not.
        Perhaps you can start by reading Half The Sky to open up your eyes.

        • NomadicMatt

          Shocker: Some girls like the job. (Goes for girls anywhere in the world.) Just like some girls like being a porn star. I once met this English girl in Amsterdam. She was telling me that during the summer months, she comes to Amsterdam to be a hooker because the money is great. She had no issues with it. Neither did the girl who went to Malaysia.

          And what about the girl who wrote diary of a call girl who turned out to be a PHD student in Biology?

          I think a girl choosing what she does with her own body is empowering. She wants to use it to make money, I don’t care.

          Trafficking is bad, yes. But some girls just simply do it for the money.

  7. A very interesting take on this subject. It is always important to consider the cultural views of the area we’re discussing, experiencing, etc. What may seem abhorrent to one culture can be completely acceptable in another, and that doesn’t make either side wrong.

  8. I lived in Thailand for the last six months, and like a lot of things there, my thoughts on sex tourism and ‘fat old white guy with hot young Thai girl’ changed during that time. I thought all of it was quite repulsive when I first arrived, but started to slowly spot the nuances as time when by.

    When it came to ‘relationships’ (ie, more than just a paid encounter for the night), oftentimes the girls were the ones in control. For all their bravado and bluster when they sat around the table drinking in the middle of the day with their friends, the old guys did what they were told when their girlfriend’s told them to. I still wasn’t a fan of their relationship necessarily, but it was far from a one way street.

    I stayed a long way away from the go-go bars and street prostitution, so have no real opinion on that side of things.

  9. JB

    I am an advocate to end sex trafficking, and yet Matt’s observations are not incorrect, nor are they far-fetched.

    The debate here is wether or not anyone has the unbiased ability to determine if a woman has entered into this willingly or not… what are her motivations; and, does she truly have the opportunity to do something different? The truth is, most of the time, we cannot begin to understand the complex situations and motivations that drive one person to do one thing and someone else another thing entirely. How “willing” is willing? Is she “choosing” this because there is no alternative or that she has been taught there is no alternative? Is it lack of education? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. There are scam artists everywhere and reverse exploitation in any bit of business, illegal, immoral, or otherwise, does not surprise me.

    Of course exploitation is not okay, no matter which way it flows. But this is about being able to identify the difference between what is willing and not, and furthermore, whether the corresponding arguments are valid. Hence, it is not so black and white.

  10. I agree with you that the situation is not black and white, and that attitudes towards sex in Asia are different to the west. It is true that as travellers, we are too quick to project our own perception onto cultures that we see. But I can’t help thinking that many of these women (and boys) do not go into prostitution ‘by choice’ either. They may not necessarily be forced into it but when your other options are pretty bleak and there’s money to be found in the sex trade then it is easy to see why many young women go that way. I would say it’s a fair assumption that if they could get the same money any other way then they would do so.

    There is exploitation on both sides of course, and I don’t think it is just the women that are exploited – the aging western men are too, but the difference is that they HAVE chosen to put themselves in that position.

    Interesting article, it’s given me something to think about.

  11. Excellent article Matt. Highly commend you for seeing the other side and going into amazing details that are fact.

  12. Matt, I am extremely disappointed by the tone, form, and content of this piece. There is an awful lot of shaming going on here by (yes I must point this out) a MAN who is dissatisfied with a profession that only WOMEN do. So what if a woman chooses to become a prostitute because there is a lot of money involved? That’s the exact same reason why men become stock brokers. How dare you say that women see their clients as “suckers.” That is so derogatory, obscene, and disgraceful. ANYBODY involved in any kind of “sales” business, or “service” business could just as easily be called a sucker. When you buy a stereo and pay more than its worth, you’re a sucker. When you buy stock in a company whose numbers are dropping, you’re a sucker. THAT’S HOW BUSINESS OPERATES. To suggest that these women are somehow more offensive and disgusting than the banker who is foreclosing on your house is inhuman and typical of men who enjoy slut-shaming women.

    This paragraph of yours is particularly disgraceful: “We see these girls, think they must be exploited (why else would they be with these old men?) and find ways to save them from this awful life. But, usually the ones being exploited are the men. The older women look after the new girls and teach them the tricks of the trade – how to bat their eyes and say the right things to get the guys to pay for them. They know what buttons to push. They know what to do to get the money.”

    Oh yeah, the poor helpless men who had guns held to their heads and forced to have sexual intercourse. The men know exactly what they’re doing as well! PROSTITUTION is a business, so just because a woman makes herself presentable and therefore more of a “sell” doesn’t mean she’s exploiting a man AT ALL. If a woman has chosen of her own free will to become a prostitute, and a man has chosen of his own free will to buy her services, then there is NO exploitation going on here. And to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best, and misogynistic at worst.

    This article is more interested in ‘slut-shaming’ and promoting puritanical views on morality and prostitution than it is a travel article. Shame on you.

    As a woman, I find this extremely offensive. You are entitled to your views on prostitution all you want, but to suggest that it is the MEN who are being victimized and exploited is not based in any kind of research . . . or reality.

    • Ron Diggity

      WOW! That is some shockingly irrational thinking in Christine’s post. I’m not sure what is more disturbing: the many straw man arguments she used or the personal projecting she did.

      Matt, I thought it was a solid article. I have not been to Thailand, but as someone who has lived in and traveled extensively in Central and South America, I can attest that many of the points you made about prostitutes ring true there as well. I give you credit for writing such a thought provoking piece.

    • Dr. Smith

      I have to agree with Christine and her points have merit. The oldest profession in the world has always been a business.

      • dis

        I’d like to challenge you on your ‘decent living’ statements that somehow state that 8,000 thb-15,000 thb is not enough to make a decent living here.

        Neither are cars needed in Bangkok as there’s very good and cheap public transportation, taxis, cheaper motorbike taxis(!); also are the much cheaper motorbikes faster to get around through the horrible traffic; nor are housing prices for them expensive ( one-room kitchen, bathroom apartment for around 1000thb-2000thb a month in the CENTRAL area; much less when further down the BTS ), nor is food expensive ( som tam and the like go for around for 20-40thb/meal, even in the business district )

        15,000 thb is plenty for that. somebody at 7/11 earns only 8,000 thb, and somehow they survive their daily life without problems. You can even google a foreigner’s blog who’s living on much less than that per month and doing quite OK.

        Don’t make people out to be poorer than they feel. Usually they save up money here to invest into a business or shop or such later on. Also there’s family in the background who has already things such as cars, shops etc; and the culture here is anyway to spend most of the monthly wage; seeing as all cabs are free at the last week of the month. The culture here is of family support; the older members of the family will be supported by their children; that’s the kind of insurance they use here.

    • NomadicMatt

      I am not “slut shaming.” More power to these women for knowing how to make the money. Like you said, it’s a business and knowing what to say gets the cash. I am not shaming them at all. Good for them for knowing what works. I think you are reading into what I said in a far different way to justify your point that I am shaming women. I am not. I repeatedly said they don’t need to be saved. This is their job to them. We should not be trying to save them.

      After all, my whole point was “who are we to judge?”

      In fact, good for girls exploiting the men – that’s power. That’s not victimization. Instead of being the victim, they are in control. You say “If a woman has chosen of her own free will to become a prostitute, and a man has chosen of his own free will to buy her services, then there is NO exploitation going on here. And to suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best, and misogynistic at worst.”

      And that’s not what I said at all because this is what I said: “You don’t have to agree with prostitution. I am not going to visit a prostitute and I think a 50-year-old and an 18-year-old together is disgusting but if it doesn’t bother them, it doesn’t bother me. Is the situation gross? To me, Yes. Is what you see exploitation? Not really. Is it really any of my business? No.”

      • I have not “read into” anything you said, I quoted you exactly through cut and paste what you said. And you said women are exploiting men because they bat their eyes, say the right things and know what buttons to push. AND AGAIN IN YOUR REPLY to me just now you say, “In fact, good for girls exploiting the men – that’s power.” First of all, no kind of exploitation is power, and secondly (I cannot believe I have to repeat myself when this is all in print), THE WOMEN AREN’T EXPLOITING THE MEN.

        I saw your paragraph where you said “Is what you see exploitation? Not really,” but your comment to me directly contradicts that. So I would suggest you find out where you stand on things and pick a stance. Because if you put something IN PRINT and then suddenly don’t stand behind what you’ve said, you should either make a retraction, an apology, or a deletion. I suggest all three.

        • NomadicMatt

          I get this sense we are saying the same thing but different ways. In the quote you just give, I was referring to women being exploited. You say this is a business and I say yes it is so let’s not judge these girls. If both parties enter into the arrangement on their own accord, so be it. I don’t see a problem.

        • Ron Diggity

          No offense to Christine, but she clearly comes off as an angry feminist. Her paranoia about “slut shaming” is ludicrious. Another thing, honey: just b/c you cut an paste someones words does NOT mean you have interpreted them correctly.

          Please cut out the irrational, overly emotional responses.

    • Justine

      Christine, your reaction to this article has nothing to do with the author’s intent or message. Matt is simply exploring the nuances of a well-known phenomenon. Instead of trying to understand Matt’s words, you have deliberately twisted them into the worst possible interpretation. Your emotionally charged and extremely inflammatory response makes it impossible to take you seriously.

      Your responses here exhibit exactly the kind of behavior that misogynists would claim is the curse of our gender. And for that, you are the only one in this discussion who should feel ashamed.

  13. Floating Around

    As one who has visited Thailand almost innumerable times since 1969 and seen many of the facets of Thailand which are often viewed through a western perspective,I believe you have produced a balanced and correctly nuanced article. There are many shades of grey to consider when discussing prostitution in any society.

  14. Stephanie

    Hi Matt,

    Overall, this kind of justification on prostitution misses the mark. The content suggests that a woman chooses to do this. I would suggest that it’s not a woman’s choice but her class and situation that dictates what her opportunities are. With sex abound in Thailand mixing with the need to provide for your family while being a poor girl from Isaan, then it’s highly likely that the job opp at the top of your list is paid sex.

    Hey, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. I’m not knocking it because men the world over will pay for sex. And where there is a need for money, there will be women who step up to the opportunity because they don’t have a hell of a lot of options.

    I would also like to mention the multitude of women who go into prostitution because they had to feed their kids and that was the only opportunity. Why is HIV so prevalent in sub-saharan Africa among prostitutes…because the men pay more to have sex without condoms and when it’s up to you to bring home food to feed your children, you make choices.

    Women make this choice because they HAVE to.

    Just as women in the Philippines now leave their families to become nannies for well-off families in North America, they make the choice because the opportunity is there.

    So what am I saying – it a choice they make based on their families needs. And where there is a need, there are sacrifices girls make because the expectation is there to provide.

    So it’s not grey to me. Women are making the best of a difficult world that uses their body for money.

  15. Glen Aldridge

    I have spent several months in Thailand & The Philippines where it is very common to see the Old Guy & Younger Partner. While many of these relationships could appear exploitive on the surface the truth is as Matt says “Who the Hell are we to judge?” Not only do we not know the reality of the relationship, we also don’t know who is being exploited! If you must force your moral judgements on someone to do your part to save Humanity then please, please direct your energies to the Muslim women who have NO RIGHTS at all & HAVE to wear BLACK from head to toe in 100 degree heat & have the priviledge of being beaten by their husbands daily. Still think Asian women are treated badly by Westerners?

  16. It took a lot of balls to write that article Matt and I think the some of the ignorance coming off some of the above posts reflect that.

    Having done a fair bit of travelling through SEA and worked for extended periods in Malaysia and the Philippines, I have also come to understand the paradigm shift in views towards the sex industry in that part of the world like you have.

    Though, like you, I think I understand it better, it still doesn’t change the fact that it doesn’t make me feel comfortable, and probably never will. Like you said, one of the key aspects to travelling is learning/understanding new cultures, but at the end of the day, when I travel, I travel as an Australian. What Im getting at, is that I have my own cultural values/standards that I stick by for my own integrity and conscience sake and I guess what makes most other Westerners cringe at the old white guy-young brown girl scenario is that it goes against standards from where they re from i.e., would your young adult children back in your homeland be proud of what you’re doing right now?

    Am I making sense? Like you said heaps of times in the post, its a tricky subject and too complex for self righteous sons-of-priviledge to just wave their finger at and make a blanket judgement.

    well done for bringing it to the table for discussion Matt…

  17. Dare I make this comment? I was a patron to the industry many years ago and I agree with your findings. I don’t have the “white guy’s burden”, but I do see that in many, many ways, we make their lives better, and they do have a choice. To quote Samantha Jones: If sex = money, and money = power, then sex = power.

  18. AJ

    I say similarities attract and they get what they “deserve” – whether it’s the old or young men who come here for a quickie or to prove to their insecured-self they could one day become a hero by “saving” these girls from the job they choose. I got to talk to one prostitute down in Krabi about why she’s come to do this. She said cos it pays much more than the office job she had. Plus she got heartbroken by some white boy. She then got a few white “boyfriends” to send her money each month. Is she taking a revenge? Or taking the piss at her life.

    While some of them want to be “saved” by finding a potential customer to become their boyfriend and then hopefully one day getting married, getting a visa and move out…many, like mentioned in the article, enjoy wearing a skimpy outfit, competing for attention and manipulating a few men to send them money.

    I agree with Matt that using the I’m poor and I got no choices of making money other than becoming a prostitute as an excuse is just weak and unacceptable. It’s just that they don’t want to work hard and this is their easy way out.

    • Dr. Smith

      AJ this is uneducated nonsense. Tesco Lotus pays 5,500 thb per month. How in the world is anyone going to live on that?

      Many of the superstar bar girls are making 10 times per month what the average Thai MBA is earning so who is really the smarter of the two?

      Using a term “white boy” is quite racist in your tone. Perhaps you were used by a “white boy” who dumped you and you are full of animosity?

      AJ how about Mia Noi? This is 100% Thai culture and has nothing to do with “white boys”? Many Thai girls don’t want to end up with a husband that will have 2 or 3 wives so they look for foreigners.

  19. My main problem with the prostitution scene in Thailand, or in Colombia, or in any 3rd world country full of desperate people is still trafficking. Yes, not all of these girls are being trafficked but…. how do you know which ones are? How do you know the go-go bar you are in isn’t supporting sex trafficking in some way?

    1.39 million people are sexually trafficked and exploited every year. I don’t have the exact number for Thailand but I’m sure it’s quite high. You just can not possibly know what you’re paying for, and therefore you can’t in good conscience support that industry.

  20. I would like to echo a lot of the other commenters and say that just because someone chooses to do something, doesn’t mean it’s what they want. There’s a reason the majority of Thai prostitutes come from the country’s poorest region. You mentioned that not all poor girls end up choosing prostitution, that other found jobs doing things that are more “mainstream”. But the reality is that prostitution is often seen as the easiest way to make money. And for someone who is living well below the poverty line, the fastest way to the money may be the choice they have to make for themselves or their family, even if they don’t actually want it.

    • “I would like to echo a lot of the other commenters and say that just because someone chooses to do something, doesn’t mean it’s what they want. ”

      Agreed, but this happens in lives everyday all over the world totally unrelated to prostitution. I have dozens of friends who are doing things they don’t want to do. Like prostitutes, they are largely doing those things for the money.

  21. Oh man. Moral arguments. There could be no end to this, so I’m not going to touch that end of it.

    Let’s talk about these old men who visit their “girlfriends”, then. These are the people I feel sad for. They’ve left what life they built up (sometimes families and children) to move to Thailand and live in some fantasy life where they don’t have to have any emotional connections and, instead, spend their time with people who they pay for sex.

    All I can think about is that at one point they had dreams for their life and now look where they are. I doubt anyone growing up says, “I want to work somewhere, get pension, then live by myself in Thailand while I have meaningless sex with people who don’t give a sh*t about me.” The accumulation of 50, 60 years of their life has led to that. They’re not surrounded by giggling grandkids or a lifelong partner/wife. They can’t invite their college friends over to their house and relive old times. Their legacy has been reduced to popping viagra and consuming Singha at 10 am.

    What a sad life these men have chosen to lead.

    • Kyle, I commend you for looking at this from the lives of the men as well. I think you make a good point about that. While we may be quick to condemn the industry or make judgments about the lives of women who do this, some of the men who visit have sad stories as well.

      As I stated above, I think understanding some of the stories of these women helps put flesh and give context to the issues. Yes, the culture there is different. Yet I also live in a part of the US that has one of the highest rates of sex trafficking in the country, and many of those underage.

      For some of these women in the country, some of the families and these daughters don’t really know what they are getting into. Some turn a blind eye to it because they are so desperate for food.

      There are many who choose this and are happy with the lifestyle and many who don’t want to be there. However, as you pointed out Kyle there is the perspective of the men. Some are just there for the cheap sex and some have led sad lives which have led them here.

      With that said, somehow this place just seems far different than a place like Amsterdam. Sex trafficking exists in both but the feeling is quite different. Maybe it’s just me.

      • NomadicMatt

        Maybe the difference is that in Amsterdam, it’s not in your face everywhere like it is in Thailand.

  22. Jenn

    I’ve read the article and the commentaries here. And I just have to share my opinion. Thailand is not only the country with a problem about prostitution. Living in the Philippines, its a problem and a reality “us” do ignore sometimes or willingly. The flight of these women, Thai girls or Filipinas, may or may not be the same. You might be right in saying, that these girls are there to exploit men, white men. That they are taught of the tricks to manipulate. But we cant generalize that. You wrote that they have a choice to live a different life and that the “because I’m poor” reason is not an excuse for their situation. I just beg to contradict you on this matter. Yes, There are choices but there are degrees which these choices/alternatives are categorize — worst to best alternative. I can’t blame Thai girls for working as prostitutes because that’s their best alternative. You can claim that there are some who opt out to do such thing and independently decide that they wont be prostitute. But hear this, there are factors involve in making a decision. I think this applies to Asian people. We care a lot for our family and that doesn’t only extend to the nuclear family but also goes to our grandparents, uncles, cousins up to the third degree of consanguinity. I think these Thais clearly have to take this on their heads and think ” I can only be the one who can support my family and being a prostitute is the best way out “for all of us” but not for me”. Do you ever think that if there’s a job which pays well and support the mouths of 5 people, a Thai girl will choose to sell her body instead? I think not. Yes, these girls are out there to exploit but they are there for a lot of reasons. And there’s something, you and I can agree on, that is that people see this problem of the sex industry in Thai or any third world country in the Western point of view — and its a problem. I shun the belief of “the white’s man burden.” But i also believe that all these girls need saving even if they won’t agree on it. Its not because of my Catholic beliefs but because it is the most humane thought and thing to do.

  23. STeve

    Funny how things change. 50 years ago, a multi racial relationship was taboo, 25 years ago a gay relationship was taboo, so let’s see what we can cast our personal views on … I know… let’s bash old guys with young girls. How about we just stop trying to get in the way of people enjoying their life? Let’s just concentrate on trying to find happiness for ourselves? Nahhhhh…

  24. Dr. Smith

    For every case mentioned, there can be a case to be made in the opposition. I came to Thailand in 1984. It was a much different place then. Mass media and western influences planted the seed of materialism over the years.

    If you do not have the latest IPAD, phone, etc. you are basically worthless was the message media blasted through the years.

    Money became everything as family values, religion, ethics and morals all crumbled.

    Each and every girl working in prostition has a unique story. Some stay because they want to, some get married, some lose the look and are forced out. There is no one size fits all to characterize these women with.

    As for Kyle’s comments, you seem a bit narcoleptic that these older men have something that you cannot? You have quite a bit of hidden anomosity inside that is not a true reflection of the total picture here.

    Some men are here because their wives have passed on and they have no family. Some are victims of divorce and lost it all. There are many reasons that need to be understood and accepted.

    Older men come to Thailand and find a poor girl willing to take care of them. One hand you have age, the other hand total poverty. It is up to each individual to make a choice and I am sure many would chose age over poverty.

    Do you live in Isaan? Or mainly only Bangkok and tourist areas? Until you have lived and spent time in Isaan you will never understand the magnitude of poverty.

    As mentioned you buy the tabloids of the Hollywood superstar 26 years older than his wife to be and think how cool. But when the same thing happens in Thailand it is gross? Isn’t this being a little hypocritical?

    Females outnumber males in Thailand. Some females, due to the numbers, will never find a partner. Finding anyone that you can be compatable it then becomes their business and no one else’s regardless of age.

    To stereotype all men over 50 with younger women in Thailand as something gross is just plain ignorance. You do not know them. You do not know their story.

    Some 50+ year old men like George Clooney, I see nothing wrong with him and neither would millions of women around the world who would get married to him.

    Some 50 year old men are pretty dashing, financially well off and have good family values. For any women of any nationality this type of man would be a good catch.

    Thai men need to be considered as well. What is worse as a Thai female? getting married to a thai man who takes 2 or 3 second wives/families or being married to an older foreigner who takes good care of her alone?

    My opinion is if you can find ANYONE in life you can be happy with, can co-exist and share happy times together through the years, you should go for it 100%

  25. A courageous article, to play devil’s advocate like that, for sure. In my own travels through Asia, and through living in China, I’ve come to very similar conclusions as you, Matt – ie that there are some who are forced into it, and who should be freed, but there are others who are in it for the money. Which begs the question – if everyone was paid fairly and had access to social welfare, and if nobody was poor – if you could make the same money, say, as an office worker – would anybody choose a career as a prostitute? If we assume the answer to that is “no”, then it would seem the root of the problem is simply inequality.

  26. Hi Matt,

    We give you a lot of credit for the courage to print a somewhat contrarian view. We understand your points but still can’t get beyond the exploitation and risks (both physical and mental) that these women face in a degrading profession. As the second oldest profession, prostitution will always exist. But if these women had other opportunties in life we don’t believe they’d be doing this. As to your reference about Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, we think that’s odd too. But the situation in Thailand is not just an age thing.

    Take care,

    Larissa and Michael

  27. The western world is notorious for thinking that we need to “save” everyone from lives and decisions we don’t agree with. While I may disagree with the lifestyle choices people across the globe make on a daily basis and wish they would believe in different values — it’s their lives not mine. Who are we to dictate how they live their lives just because we disagree and think we are living “better”? If people are making life decisions based on incorrect data, or lack of knowledge — then yea, I think further education is a good thing. But if they know perfectly well what they are doing, why they are doing it, and the consequences of it? We have no ground to stand on to tell them otherwise.

    Westerners think the entire middle east lives in the dark ages due to the lack of technology, but in reality I think there’s a strong argument to made that, while all the technology we use on a daily basis is great, it’s actually decreased our happiness. I could write a giant rant on this subject, but I don’t think it would be much more than a giant venting session that would suck an hour from me :)

  28. Amy

    I would direct you to Sheila Jeffrey’s book ‘The Industrial Vagina’ when discussing prostitution. I believe that the Swedish model, whereby the people who use prostitutes are criminalised while those working as prostitutes are offered help to escape this lifestyle is the only way of tackling prostitution & sex trafficking.

    Matt, it seems as if you are trying to separate ‘willing’ prostitution from ‘forced’ prostitution – I would argue that there is no such thing as ‘wilful prostitution’. The very fact that someone is being paid to do something they would otherwise not do isn’t ok. Their ‘choice’ to be in prostitution is really limited by their life circumstances; their economic, gender and cultural status.

    Studies show that most women enter prostitution below the age of 15, a disproportionate amount suffer mental health problems and have been abused at some point in their life – all things considered most women in prostitution represent the most vulnerable sector of society and the fact that men are willing to exploit these life circumstances is disgusting.

    At the end of the day I just cannot get over the fact that many people think it’s ok to use women as disposable masturbatory aids.

    • NomadicMatt

      Generally, I would argue that just like women become porn stars, women become prostitutes. I remember reading about this German prostitute who was around 80. Said she liked her job. What a women does with her body is her own business. If she choices to become a prostitute, then why should anyone have a problem with it?

      Specific to Thailand, I believe that while we can’t say all women want to be there, we equally can’t say all women don’t want to be there. Again, it’s hard to speak in absolutes and say “they wouldn’t do this under normal circumstances.” Take my friend’s friend. She now had enough money to get out of the game but she didn’t – why? No one forced her to stay. She went back to Malaysia on her own accord.

      It’s hard to really talk in absolutes which is why I say it’s a large shade of grey.

      • Amy

        Many women who enter prostitution have a hard time exiting and often go back to it because they have become conditioned to think of themselves as anything other than sexual service stations. While women can recover from their experiences within the sex trade almost all suffer psychologically and physically to a great extent.

        I watched a great documentary at the human rights film festival in London a few weeks ago called ‘The Price of Sex’ – I wish every single person on the planet would watch this film; it really spells out how prostitution and trafficking are intertwined and shows the damage it does to women.

    • g

      “The very fact that someone is being paid to do something they would otherwise not do isn’t ok.”. Ha ha ha. More than half of all employees with a “normal” job are in this case. You will “rescue” them all?

      • Amy

        A ‘normal’ job does not involve being penetrated x amount of times a day or carry the daily risk of being beaten up, raped or murdered, right??

  29. I won’t touch the moral arguments or sexual trafficking debate. Just wanted to say thanks for posting this Matt, it’s well-written and highly informative, and helped me gain a new perspective on a sensitive subject.

  30. While I respectfully disagree with your points in the post, it was an interesting read to hear another viewpoint on the issue of sex tourism in Thailand.

  31. It is much easier to place yourself in the customer shoes rather than in “entertainer” shoes when it comes to prostitution. The only way you can comment on this is by putting yourself in the shoes of those girls who are doing it.
    I find disgusting all the means of men having to make up lies, excuses and justifying the crimes they are doing for the pleasure of their dicks!
    I have a daughter and I will always have the fear that she can be kidnapped and she can end up satisfying selfish ugly pigs. This (prostitution) should not exist in the world. Period.
    Regarding Thailand I have seen some images that will haunt me for the rest of my life… some 5 to 6 year old girls being rescued from “the while male money cows that you mention”.
    Shame on you for feeling prostitution is just a matter of buying and selling.

    • NomadicMatt

      Child prostitution is very, very, very wrong. But it doesn’t happen just in Thailand. In fact, they just busted a huge prostitution ring last year in Sweden and the ring leaders were women. It’s not just ugly men! It’s ugly people in general.

      Regarding prostitution as a whole, agree with it or not, isn’t the whole point of feminism to empower women to make their own life choices? If one of their choices is to sell sex, why should we judge?

  32. Paula

    Hi Matt,
    I found this very interesting and well written, definitely a topic to spark a lot of feedback! I spent about 3 months in Thailand and 7 months in total in Asia. Read the Sex Slave book you listed above and got quite intrigued so I chose to visit a few establishments in Thailand and chat with a few girls myself. Most I met seemed fine with it and chose to be there as you say however it made me cringe seeing some of the things happening with other visitors to the bars. They were having what looked to be so much fun dancing on stage with about a dozen girls they kept trying to get me to come up with them…of course in my thai fishies and ratty tshirt I wasn’t about to but it felt just like a dance party. On one of my recent trips to the Philippines I found it to be much more in the public eye the old western man/young asian girl match and they definitely looked bored not to mention much younger, I wonder if there is less rules in place there as it is more off the beaten track…

  33. Dave Bell

    Hi Matt…
    Good to see you last trip.

    You hit the nail on the head. It’s a lifestyle choice – and virtually every girl makes it willingly.

    There is no starvation in Thailand. Studies class the Thai rural poor as ‘middle income peasants’. Travel through the Isaan region and you will see almost every house has a satellite dish, a pick up truck or motorcycle and every single person has a mobile phone – without exception. I even found hilltribes on the border with Burma that had the same products.

    The issue is consumerism and the need for immediate gratification. Thais are unwilling to plan long term – money is spent as quickly as it is earned and the idea of saving for retirement is completely alien. So, when the new iPhone is released, it’s a must-have item. And Thais earn money any way they can…

    There is always a choice. In Thailand, choosing prostitution is the easy way out. Feel sorry for the people who don’t even have THAT choice – the old, the ugly, the deformed. When the monies involved are relatively huge (earning 6 or 7 times what a qualified teacher will earn), there will be no shortage of girls making that choice. If an average teacher in the US earns $40,000, imagine how many American girls would opt to be hookers if the pay was $280,000 tax free. One thing to bear in mind is that girls in the Isaan region come from the Mon-Khmer race and are considered by Thais to be unattractive – brown skin, pug noses. If an ‘ugly’ girl from up country can earn the equivalent of a quarter of a million dollars in a year, she’s going to do it.

    Prostitution should be legalised. The girls can be protected from pimps and customers, educated about disease and tested on a regular basis. It would also bring a huge amount of money into the tax system.

    I’ve lived here for ten years. I found the pay for play scene abhorrent to begin with. Later I occasionally dabbled as a customer. One day I found myself running a bar with girls who took home the occasional customer. And for three days I was the manager of a Gogo Bar. I hated the job… not for any ethical reasons; I didn’t like the smoke or the volume of the music. The most common noise you will hear in a gogo bar is girls’ laughter.

    Going to a hooker when you’re horny is like going to a doctor when you’re sick. Got a stiff shoulder? Get a massage. Got a boner, go for a handjob.
    The only reason it’s looked down upon is the prudish attitude towards sex. We don’t look down on the nurse who scoops up shit and puke on a daily basis. They’re dealing with bodily fluids… in exactly the same way that hookers are.

    Some areas you didn’t look at are the ‘mia noi’ culture, which is at least a second cousin to prostitution. Or the golddigger mentality. Many of my female friends are ‘models’. A considerable number make their living by having a sponsor – someone who picks up the tab for every meal, every item purchased, the rent on the condo, the payments for their car. And in return, she hangs from his arm like a brand name accessory.

    Plus there are also the gay Gogo bars… Many of the guys working their don’t even consider themselves to be gay. They have wives and girlfriends whom the love and care for. Having sex for money is just a job. In fact, in a strange twist of reality, many of the hookers who work with white customers, will visit the boy bars to hire a hunky, young guy who speaks their language and knows how to make them laugh.

    And finally, there are at least three bars in Bangkok where wealthy women can spend the night being entertained by ‘hosts’.

    Shades of grey indeed.

    • Sex as a transaction will always exist. Has for thousands of years. Will after we’re all dead. I won’t get into the socio-economic-status shifts of the third world. We all seem to understand the conditions that women face in making choices, willingly or not.

      Prostitution is not recognized as an industry – so there are problems. Many. If it were decriminalized properly with comprehensive regulations worldwide some of these problems might be controlled or vanish.

      You speak of going to the doctor if you’re sick, paralleling that to going to a lady if you’re horny. Fair enough.

      What you’re missing is the difference those two industries you are supporting.

      Doctors go to medical school, take oaths and have to follow certain standards and if they don’t adhere – could have their licenses taken away. There are regulations to follow.

      The current state of prostitution isn’t like that is it? Aside from Matt’s article on choice – right now the industry of sex has zero regulations, zero standards, zero anything to monitor it properly. So, what you are supporting right now is an industry that coerces women, beats up women, traffics them, drugs them and sometimes kills them.

      I agree with Stephanie – how do you know the difference? On what you’re actually getting? Aside from discovering their stories, which some of you have, to hear that some do treat it as a job or enjoy the money or even the sex. Those factors do exist, but you cannot cut off an arm and leave the rest of the body behind, because the rest of the industry doesn’t operate that way – and don’t deny it does. There are documented stats to back that up, mate.

      I’m not implying you should feel shame because you buy sex from these women, you should be ashamed of supporting something that hurts them (sometimes kills them).

      You know what that’s akin to? It’s like holing up in your bedroom while the rest of the house burns down. I’ve said this in another article, I’ll say it again. If you love and support it so much – do something to help change it, because the way it stands – it currently serves only you and nobody else.

  34. Colleen

    I haven’t spent extensive time in Thailand, 6 weeks total. However, I’ve traveled to 10 different SE Asian countries so far. Prostitution can be found all over the region, though Thailand is more far more notorious for it than it’s neighbor countries.

    The reputation Thailand has for sex tourism looms so large that if I was a man, I wouldn’t want to travel there myself unless it was with my wife or another woman in my family. There’s just something about a man traveling in Thailand that suggests he’s there for skanky reasons, questionable at best. Which is unfair because there are many men who are repulsed by the tragedy of sex worker’s lives and who are interested only in what Thailand has to offer culturally.

    I know these are strong words. I just wouldn’t want to have Thailand on my travel ‘resume’ unless I could say I was there with (significant other female) at the time.

    Much of what you say about the prostitution situation in Thailand is accurate. However, I’m disinclined to believe that the worst aspects of the sex trade have been markedly diminished there yet. It’s gone more underground, but the vilest things still exist. Thailand is still travel destination number one for pedophiles and perverts of every stripe. This is something to be mindful of if you are a man interested in traveling in Thailand. The predominant idea in many people’s knowledge of Thailand is still limited to sex tourism, beaches and pad thai.

    Important note: If you are there for the prostitutes, be aware that condoms do not provide anywhere near 100% protection from sexually transmitted diseases. The web has tons of info on this. Also, your ‘nice’ ‘middle class’ Thai girlfriend is probably not. Respectable girls in Thailand will not be seen with a farang (foreign) man as that would imply she was loose, on the make for money or a hopeful ‘visa’ marriage or a prostitute.

    It’s really seductive to a lot of men to have a pretty young Thai girl come on to you. Caveat emptor. It’s not you, bro. It’s your money, your Western citizenship and oh, . . .your money that makes you so hot. The reality is, your hotness factor is actually determined by your own peeps, not suffering women desperate enough to degrade themselves in a mire of misery for survival.

    A note to middle aged women traveling abroad. The younger Romeos that hit on you abroad are in it for the same reasons as the girls above. An RTW plane ticket has no power to re-confer your youth upon you. Being Western means that if they can hook up with you, maybe than can take care of there family (and most often that includes their wife and kids) through working in your country. Caveat emptor.

    • Colleen, I kind of do wonder about guys who always go to Thailand alone. Right or wrong, I can’t help but wonder about their motivation for going.

      • Colleen

        It’s a little . . .ewwwww. Ladies, think carefully about romance on the road. Has your guy been to Thailand? There’s a lot of std’s floating around the backpacker circuit. Just saying. Take good care of yourself. A moment’s passion could be a lifetime’s medical situation.

    • NomadicMatt

      I’ve traveled to Thailand alone. So do many other travelers – male and female. 99% aren’t there for dubious regions and the sex industry in many other countries (Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines) is far more vile than what you find in Thailand. I wouldn’t say the sex industry looms as large as you make it out to be.

      Agree with most of everything else you said.

    • The line “Respectable girls in Thailand will not be seen with a farang (foreign) man” is probably the most egregiously ridiculous thing I’ve seen in all the comments (and that’s saying quite a bit). Dave Bell already commented on it, but anyone who believes this is either woefully uninformed or very jealous, and is indicative of the outdated, knee-jerk reactions this topic often produces. It would be interesting to hear someone say this to my wife, or any of my well-educated, multilingual, highly-salaried, globetrotting, farang-dating Thai female friends and come out of it with anything less than a couple of black eyes.

  35. It’s true in the U.S., too. A high class hooker earns much more than I do per hour in finance. I don’t think she’s being exploited at all. I think she’s just willing to do a job I’m not willing to do, and for that, I guess she deserves every penny she can get out of willing customers.

  36. Colleen

    I want to say that a lot of men have this fantasy about prostitutes or porn stars that they are really OK with their ‘work,’ make lots of money, etc. In developed countries most sex workers are there via drug addiction. They can no longer afford their habit and are supplied their fix in exchange for working for a pimp. That’s many times how it begins.

    In developing nations, many are kidnapped and taken far from home. In very poor villages they are sometimes sold by their own family who cannot afford another mouth to feed or dowry to provide. The parents are told the girl will have a good ‘waitressing’ job in the big city and will be able to send money home. The father either knows or doesn’t really understand the fate he’s consigning his daughter to.

    The prevalence of the ‘she likes the money and the freedom’ myth is because it diminishes the appropriate guilt the John would feel for aiding and abetting this horror against them. I encourage anyone whose been sold this line of thinking to continue to self-educate on this matter. The more one learns about that dark world the more it compels the human heart to overwhelming compassion for the women and girls. Not one of them likes what they’re doing. All would much rather have the luxury of just being someone’s daughter, then somebody’s wife and then a mother, rather than a whore.

    I know a few people who work with NGO’s reaching out to this community to provide other job skills training so the ladies can find another way to survive financially. It’s a much uglier, more violent and degrading world than some men want to imagine. It’s convenient for some to think that it’s all really OK with the girls on some level. It’s a nightmare of the worst order. Those Thai smiles on the girls in the bars are theater only. The consumer must suspend reality in order to believe those Thai smiles express any true human happiness.

  37. I’m coming off living in Thailand for four months, and am now living in Ho Chi Minh City. A place I highly prefer over Bangkok or Southern Thailand where I was renting a house.

    I really don’t get why travelers continue to pimp out Thailand the way they do.

    Anyhow, as someone who witnessed the constant parade of fat slob sex toursists descending upon Thailand, I didn’t find the age differences gross.

    I did find the reflection of Western culture where these men have totally let themselves morph into Jaba the Hut and delude themselves into thinking they are somehow desirable beyond being an ATM machine to be gross.

    That of course happens the world over, but that affect is acute and highly magnified in Thailand, and has this Rome is burning feeling to it. Sad, and gross…

    Secondly, as others have mentioned, tourism and sex-tourism sadly dominates the country in a way that I’ve never seen in my travels of South America, Asia, and Southeast Asia.

  38. Dave Bell

    Wow – so many comments from so many people with absolutely no experience or first hand knowledge.

    How can you make generalisations about prostitutes, when you’ve never met one.
    How can you say how they feel and what they think, unless you’ve spent hours in their company?
    How can you say if they enjoy their job when you’ve never been in the room with one who is ‘working’?

    Just a few examples of the misguided and ignorant tripe being peddled on here…
    “Those Thai smiles on the girls in the bars are theater only.” – No they’re not. In the Western orientated Red Light areas of Bangkok there is no enforced slavery. And the vast majority of staff enjoy their jobs at least as equally as we ALL enjoy our jobs (which of us is 100% happy?).

    “Prostitution is not recognized as an industry” – Yes it is. In Australia, in parts of America, in parts of Europe. But in Thailand it’s not legalised, but it’s tolerated. If it was legalised, conditions would hardly improve, simply because Thailand doesn’t work like that. There is no welfare system to speak of.

    ” an industry that coerces women, beats up women, traffics them, drugs them and sometimes kills them.” – rubbish. The number of girls that experience any of the above is so miniscule as to be statistically worthless. It’s less than a tenth of 1%. A larger proportion of women are abused, beaten, raped or killed by their husbands… So should we ban marriage?

    “Regarding Thailand I have seen some images that will haunt me for the rest of my life… some 5 to 6 year old girls being rescued from “the while male money cows that you mention”.” – I’m calling bullshit on this one. I’ve been here ten years. I’ve worked in the industry. I’ve worked alongside the police. I’ve associated with gangsters, criminals and people whose job it is to ‘rescue’ girls from the job of their own choosing. And from of all the hundreds of man/years of experience, none of us have ever seen anything like that. There is zero chance that you saw it – you just invented it to be dramatic.

    “Not one of them likes what they’re doing. All would much rather have the luxury of just being someone’s daughter, then somebody’s wife and then a mother, rather than a whore.” – Who wouldn’t prefer not to work? I work 9-10 hours a day, six days a week. My employers rent my mind and my body to gain financial benefits. In return I get paid. A hooker simply rents out a different part of her body. Once you get over the notion that sex can’t be a financial transaction between two consenting adults, you’ll see that it’s quite easy.

    To give you an example. I used to employ a girl in one of the bars I ran. She used to work in a gogo bar, but left to work for me. She had the occasional customer that would come into town, and if she felt like earning a bit of extra cash, she’d find a short-time customer for 2000 baht. I had lunch with her once and asked her if she had a sliding scale – you know, cheaper if it’s a young, good-looking guy, more expensive for a fat, old guy. She looked at me like I was crazy… “Why? It’s just work. I charge 2000 for short time… A customer is a customer.”

    I watched one of those NGO films about ‘rescuing’ girls working in brothels in Thailand. It didn’t ring true. Some of the Thai was incorrectly translated and the stories seemed fake. A few weeks later, it turned out that the girls were paid to ‘act’ in the film and were back at work the same night. In another case in Cambodia, some ‘rescued’ girls were being ‘cared for’ by missionaries in a safe house in Phnom Penh. Embarrassingly, during the night, the girls escaped and went back to work.

    I read the comments from Western women on here and understand their disgust – of course you don’t like it, because you come from a different, Western background. But Thailand has much bigger issues than stopping women servicing white guys. How about preventing children from boxing in Muay Thai matches for money? What about stopping the gangs who smuggle in Cambodians and Burmese to work as beggars?

    I don’t have a problem with prostitution (clearly). I see it as a mutually beneficial transaction between consenting adults… And in the vast, vast majority of cases that’s exactly what it is. If there was anything I could change about the sex trade that deals with Western people (some women partake as well), it’s that I wish it were less in-your-face and brazen. A little tact and diplomacy would be nice.

    So for all the hysterical white women getting worked up about white guys paying for a rub-and-tug, here’s a question for you…

    95% of all prostitution in Thailand caters for Thai men. The pay and conditions are much worse than for servicing white men.

    So… If you REALLY want to make a difference, if you REALLY are against prostitution (and not just pissed off that white guys are getting a bit of paid nookie), why don’t you go after the Thai industry? I mean you’d be ‘saving’ twenty times more girls, from a life with much lower benefits. Surely THAT is where you should be concentrating your efforts. Right? But that never happens. The attention is always focussed on the 5% of girls dealing with white people.

    What about the girls who service Japanese guys? A Soi Thaniya hooker once showed me a ledger detailing the figures she received from her Japanese customers. There wasn’t a single day in which she was earning less than 15,000 baht per customer, usually much more. Factor in a couple of customers a day, that’s a $1000 a DAY, tax free. For 3-4 hours work. Was she happy? No… she was ecstatic. She LOVED her job. She loved karaoke, she loved free drinks and trips to the islands and she loved picking up a thick wad of notes and being free to spend it as she wished. Want to ‘rescue’ that girl? She’d kick your butt down the street.

    Here’s the point… It’s none of your business… Literally and figuratively. It doesn’t affect your life at all. So why are you concerned with it? Unless you are a worker, a consumer or a relative of someone who who works in the industry, you don’t have a dog in the fight. You’re just being a busybody. Let people live their lives the way they want to… not the way you think they ought to.

    • Colleen

      At the Psychologists for Social Responsibility annual meeting in Boston this last July, the following was presented in a paper titled

      “Comparing Sex Buyers With Men Who Don’t Buy Sex:

      “Sex buyers had significantly less empathy for prostituted women than did non-sex buyers and they acknowledged fewer harmful effects of prostitution on the women in it and on the community. Non-sex buyers more often saw prostitution as harmful to both the woman herself and to the community as a whole.”

      “Both sex buyers and non-sex buyers evidenced extensive knowledge of the physical and psychological harms of prostitution. Two thirds of both the sex buyers and the non-sex buyers observed that a majority of women are lured, tricked, or trafficked into prostitution. Many of the men had an awareness of the economic coercion and the lack of alternatives in women’s entry into prostitution. Almost all of the sex buyers and non-sex buyers shared the opinion that minor children are almost always available for prostitution in bars, massage parlors, escort and other prostitution.”

      “The knowledge that the women have been exploited, coerced, pimped, or trafficked failed to deter sex buyers from buying sex. Many of the sex buyers had used women who were controlled by pimps at the time they used her for sex.”

      There’s much more comparing sex buyers with men who do not buy sex in this article available online at ‘Prostitution Research and Education.’

  39. Matt

    I notice it’s only men that are really supporting Matt’s view…I know people who go over to Thailand every year to “screw the poor”…I feel sorry for them, but not as sorry for the girls who have to put up with these losers.

    It’s the people that create the demand that is the problem, which goes on to create trafficking and all the other problems associated with prostitution. To say that many women enjoy prostution is disgraceful, most prostitutes in Western countries are drug addicts, have been abused, are stuck in a terrible, soul destroying rut they can’t escape from. Most prostitutes in developing countries do it for lack of other opportunities.

    • NomadicMatt

      There’s a few women here who support my view. Most have been to Thailand seen it first hand.

      • Matt

        I’ve been to Thailand a few times and seen the losers there with their “girlfriends”, most wouldn’t have a chance in hell of getting a woman back in their home country.

        Sure it’s not all black and white as people think, I agree with that…many of these losers actually pay these “girlfriends” not to sleep with other people while they are not in Thailand….of course these girls have five or six other losers on the same agreement at the same time.

        But this doesn’t justify the exploitation of these women, this doesn’t make it ok to exploit your economic advantage and treat these people as commodities that go nicely with your cheap beer and smokes. Coming up with the odd example of a woman you’ve met that says they enjoyed it, doesn’t compare with the majority of prostitutes in Western countries that live dreadful lives….do you think Thai women are so different that they don’t feel the shame and self loathing of having to do the most intimate things with disgusting losers.

        Dave, you seem very in favoure of the whole prostitution scene….I wonder how you would feel if you were the one getting bungholed?

        • NomadicMatt

          Again, I don’t believe that every girl who is a prostitue is forced into being one and doesn’t like it. I’ve met enough, I spoken to enough to know that some girls actually like it. Not all. And there are certainly many who are forced into it and that is wrong. But not every one of these girls is a victim. You said it yourself – some girls have 5 or 6 of these losers hanging on. That begs the question – who really is in charge there? Who really knows what they are doing? The girl.

          • Matt

            “Again, I don’t believe that every girl who is a prostitue is forced into being one and doesn’t like it. I’ve met enough, I spoken to enough to know that some girls actually like it. Not all”.

            You logic is flawed here, you’ve met a couple of prostitutes that told you they like it…you can’t, from this statement apply that to the majority of prostitutes. Some girls like getting beaten up…I’m quite sure the majority don’t though…I don’t really see where you are trying to go with this article, except to justify the very sorry attitude of sex tourists that this behaviour is actually ok, the women like it, and in fact you are actually doing them a favour!

            It’s a moral decision to expoit your economic advantage in a poor country, by using people like commodities. I choose not to, and think poorly of those that do. I’m just guessing here, but perhaps you’ve spent too long talking to seedy guys in Thai bars and have become a bit immune to it all. These women are people, treat them accordingly. Anyway, I think you got it wrong with this article, I think the tone of it is quite offensive and degrading to women.

          • NomadicMatt

            I don’t think prostitution is wrong. I don’t think a woman who chooses to do so is “degraded.” Women should do what they want with their body, even if it is something you don’t like. I find it odd that the line of thinking in all of these comments is “surely a women would never choose to be a prostitute.” But then explain all the ones who do or all the ones who become porn stars?

            P.S. – How then do you feel about the old women who are sex tourists? Are they degrading men for buying their services? Or is it just women that get degraded?

          • Matt

            A lot of porn actresses are drug addicts, don’t you know that?

            The majority of prostitutes wouldnt be doing what they are doing if they had a reasonable alternative, many do it because they need the money…what a foreigner is doing when they go with these prostitutes is exploiting this situation and I think it’s a really low thing to do.

  40. Dave Bell

    Oh wait… I forgot my two favourites…
    “Doctors go to medical school, take oaths and have to follow certain standards and if they don’t adhere – could have their licenses taken away. There are regulations to follow.”… Riiight. I’m assuming you’re not a virgin, so which school did you got to to get your sex qualifications from? A hooker doesn’t need to go to school to learn how to have sex, any more than a teenager does. People have sex… It’s in our DNA.

    BUT hookers DO receive training and support from Mamasans and more experienced girls. The vast majority use condoms and are aware of sexually transmitted diseases.. Much MORE so than non-working girls who (especially in the Isaan region) are often pregnant in their teens.


    ” Also, your ‘nice’ ‘middle class’ Thai girlfriend is probably not. Respectable girls in Thailand will not be seen with a farang (foreign) man as that would imply she was loose, on the make for money or a hopeful ‘visa’ marriage or a prostitute.” …

    Rubbish rubbish rubbish… That was true 30 years ago, but that’s absolute rubbish now. One of the princesses married a foreigner! I’ve dated a CEO, several models, girls with MBAs, a great grandaughter of a king and plenty of other middle to upper class girls. That comment in itself should disqualify you from making further comments… it’s so ridiculously outdated and false, the sort of thing you read in a Christian pamphlet on a plane somewhere.

    Get some real world experience rather than relying on your 6 vacation weeks to judge an entire nation.

  41. Colleen

    There is an excellent website called ‘Prostitution Research and Education.’ It’s a good starting point for anyone interested in learning more about prostitution from the prostitute’s viewpoint. A few excellent articles on the site include:

    Help Wanted: Women and Girls Do YOU want this job?

    Men Who Buy Sex

    How Prostitution Works

  42. Colleen

    Sorry, forgot to mention that the first article is found under Quick Facts/FAQ. 10th article down.

    • Dave

      When I was an English teacher in Japan, one of my older female students told me she went to Bali to buy the services of a beach boy. She returned as often as she could. I admired her honesty. Japanese women are also known to visit host bars in Japan, their own country. (And yes, sex happens). I see no problem with it. I also see no problem with a man paying a Thai woman to have sex. As long as he pays her, treats her respectfully, doesn’t abuse her, doesn’t have sex with anyone underage…. And let me be honest: there are foreign hosts in Japan and I totally would have done that job if I had the look….and if could have handled the smoking and drinking—I suppose that it can be a harmful job because of those two factors…..but the money, oh the money…..

  43. Big V

    Great article Matt.

    Let’s not forget that there is such thing as sex tourism for women. Let’s not forget that drones of British and Western European women go to Africa (e.g. Kenya) to and pay for services of young black males there. This ranges from a one night stand to vacations and can be cash-for-sex or shower-you-with-gifts type of arrangement. This is well known and publicized in Europe.

    Similarly, older professional women often pay for “lover” services even in civilized countries.

    I’m not judging either women or men who are on the selling or buying side of the sex marketplace. It’s a free-market transaction. In many ways it’s way more honest and straight forward than picking up a girl (or vice versa) in the club for sex – because it’s not straight forward, hearts get broken because one person expects relationships etc. So prostitution can be good thing.

    Oh and for those of you who whine about forced sex slavery and all that crap, it’s a ridiculously easy issue to fix: legalize prostitution (and certain aspects of immigration). the only reason why people are forced to do something or mistreated is because any time you delegalize something that is in demand (e.g. sex, drugs) there will be black market for it that will rule itself through it own laws.

    Like it or not, free market is the answer to 99% of world problems.

    Peace :-)

  44. Colleen

    A young girl working as a Thai prostitute shares her story
    Interview by Kate McGeown, BBC News, Bangkok.

    Life as a Thai sex worker

    Bangkok is a notorious destination for sex tourism. But the lives of many of the city’s sex workers are full of danger, disease and the urgent need to send money home. Pim, who recently left her job in a go-go bar, has a typical story.
    “I grew up in the countryside in Phetchabun, northern Thailand. My parents were farmers and I helped them in the fields. We were poor but we always had enough to get by.

    When I was about 15, my family fell apart. My father always drank a lot, but it became worse and worse, and he started becoming violent. So my mother, sister and I moved out.

    I wanted to study to become a nurse, but when my parents split up I had to leave school and find work as a day labourer, harvesting crops for local farmers. I didn’t like it much, and it only paid 100 baht ($3) a day. At about that time a good friend moved to Bangkok, and when she came back to visit she told me she was earning a lot of money there as a waitress.

    There was gossip in the village that she was doing something other than waitressing, as she was sending 10,000 baht ($300) home a month, but she always denied it.

    She asked me to come with her, but at the time I was still 16 and too scared. A few years later, though – when I had given birth to my daughter, and my husband and I had separated – I changed my mind.
    I left the baby in Phetchabun with my mother, and told her I needed to earn some money in Bangkok. But I didn’t tell her what I was doing – I still haven’t. She’d be so ashamed. ‘Can I do this?’

    When my friend took me to a bar in Nana Plaza for the first time, I was really shocked. I’d never been to a place like that before, and at the beginning I didn’t even know what the dancers were doing. When I finally realized, I couldn’t take it and I walked out of the bar. I kept thinking, ‘Can I really do this?’

    Initially I decided to work there just serving drinks, but the dancers earned a lot more money, and eventually I agreed to do that too. For the first month, the bar owners allow girls to get their full salary even if they just work as dancers. But after that you have to meet a quota of at least 10 customers a month, or your wages will be cut.

    My first customer was a Western man in his 30s. It was scary and I really didn’t like it, but I just kept thinking about the money. I couldn’t wait for him to leave, and when he did I had a shower for a very long time. I started crying, and thought about what my parents would think if they knew what I was doing.
    None of my customers ever asked me about my life; they didn’t care. There was one time a guy asked me if I was okay, but I didn’t know what to say, so I just looked away.

    While I was working in the bars, I was often worried about disease, and also about safety. Some girls earned extra by going out of the bars with the men, but I always used a room upstairs as I was too scared of the risks involved.

    My friend once went with a guy to his hotel room, and found lots of other men there too. She wouldn’t tell me what happened after that, but she was shaking for a long time when she got back home.

    I also had some scary experiences myself. One time a Japanese man followed me all the way home at the end of the night, and he kept screaming at me.
    Taxi drivers can also be threatening to bar girls, and we would only dare go home in groups.

    Despite these problems, new girls often arrive. Many customers prefer children or young girls, and the bar owners always encouraged us to recruit teenagers from our home villages. Even though I got used to it in some ways, I always hated working in the bars. I made some good friends but there was nothing good about the life I was leading.

    I felt good about sending money home, but I didn’t feel good about myself. Soon I was getting penalized as I wasn’t getting enough customers.

    That’s when a friend of mine told me about Nightlight [a Christian charity offering training and employment for former sex workers, through a jewellery-making business]. Since I’ve started working there, my life is so much better. I don’t earn as much as I did in the bars, but it’s worth it, and people here listen to me and care for me.

    I’ve now got the opportunity to look forward in life. I want to finish school, and study accounting, so I’ll be able to pay for my daughter to have a good life.
    I wish I had never become a sex worker. I think some foreign men think it’s okay to pay for sex here in Thailand, as they think the girls actually want to do this. But these men don’t understand that most of us have no choice – we’re just trying to earn money for our families, and waiting for a chance to leave.

  45. lol lol

    There is no difference between an American woman and a Thai hooker. The American girl will go to a bar, get fucked by some dude for free, and then date him solely because he has money. She is using her pussy in exchange for money.

    The Thai girl is just more upfront about it and demands payment immediately. All women throughout history have exchanged sex for wealth. It is just a fact of human existence and always will be. Get over it…

    • Matt

      That’s a very sad attitude. My female partner has way more money than me…any explanations on that oh wise one?

      • Danthony

        If your female partner has more money than you it is most likely she sold her to get the cash in the first place.

        women like big dics – I find married woman who want to be with me just for the sex. They cum and then they go – I guess my company is not that great but I do find lots of offers from their friends also. Amazing that they would buy me dinner first (I am an under employed vet) and girls love their fill (or loved to be filled) – sorry buddy but this is a fact.

  46. Colleen

    I was talking this morning with my 16 year old son about this Nomadic Matt article and the responses it’s generated. His comment was, “I wonder how many of the men who justify prostitution have wives and daughters?”

  47. NomadicMatt

    Dave, who I know, makes this point a lot in the comment section. He’s been in Thailand for decades. It’s easier to criticize when you’re on the outside.

    • Colleen

      ‘An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind.’ Buddha

  48. Muca

    “The girls you see at go-go bars exploit foreign men as much as you think foreign men exploit them.”

    “But, usually the ones being exploited are the men”

    Come on Matt, foreign men are being exploited by Thai go-go girls? Those men are not forced to visit those joints nor forced to be engaged in sex-tourism. Those men are not being exploited at all. They come to Thailand with a very clear goal, and that is doing the stuff which they can’t do in their own country – because it is a rule of nature that old fat guys cannot get beautiful young women or because of gender equality in their countries of origin. This is such an ethnocentric way of reasoning because you tend to sympathize with those fellow-expats you meet in bars who are sex-tourists or having a Thai girlfriend, but you clearly don’t approach this issue in those girl’s perspective. When you are a sex-tourist or if you visit go-go bars it is perfectly fine to be cheated, exploited, fooled or whatever, I can’t blame those girls. They are just trying to survive and in the end no one forces those guys to pay for a particular service. If you don’t want to be exploited as a foreign man, just avoid those places or just simply don’t pay – no one forces you.

    While I do agree with you that sex-tourism in Thailand or anywhere else in the world is not as black and white as people tend to think, I disagree with you that we are not able to judge it according to “our” values – whatever those are. Prostitution needs to be prevented instead of prohibited, and the only way to do that is to battle poverty. Isaan is a poor region, and bringing development to that region will definitively hinder prostitution. Saying: “Oh in Thailand they have different conceptions of love and sex and therefore we are not able to judge prostitution in Thailand” – is, with ALL respect, bullshit. If it doesn’t bother you, that’s fine, you can continue doing your backpacker-things and turn a blind eye to it – I am not going to judge you nor preach what you should do. But there are people who stand for social justice, and being in Asia for several years, I can safely say, yes it bothers me, and yes we should do something against it -e.g. through development cooperation or awareness raising. I can’t stand those sex-tourists who pretend to stand for women equality and human rights, but act as total animals in non-western countries, treating those girls as less-equal.

    And even those who are looking for a serious relationship – do you really think you can find your girlfriend in Pattaya or in any other tourist-ghetto? I really don’t feel sorry for those guys. It is up to us to let those naive travelers know what to expect from a “pattaya-girlfriend”. And those girls are being perfectly rational for exploiting those men.

    And one more thing: THERE ARE NO CHILD-SEX WORKERS IN THAILAND???????? Are you serious? Where are your sources????????????

    For those who would like to see a perfect example of marriage agencies in Thailand, watch this documentary of Louis Theroux, it is simply perfect:


  49. Thomas

    Great article, Matt!

    It’s very unusual to see a travel blogger actually “think outside the box” and research the issues being written about, instead of just repeating the old tired cliches. So, your article definitely was a breath of fresh air!

    I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry regarding the criticism you are getting from people who are totally clueless of the sex industry in Thailand (and the rest of the world). Most commenters seem to believe everything they read in the newspapers and see on television, instead of adopting a critical attitude and try to think, research and and evaluate for themselves.

    Obviously, the media are full of stories about so-called “trafficking” and “forced prostitution”. However, when these stories are scrutinized in detail (which the media never does), they always turn out to be taken out of thin air or at least vastly
    exaggerated. Usually the stories originate from some kind of organisation, that have an interest in exaggerating the problem (if there even is one) to promote their own (usually socialist, fascist or religious) agenda. Dave Bell gave some excellent
    examples of this in one of his earlier comments.

    Keep up the good work, Matt! More articles like this, please!

    • Muca

      Oh yeah,saying that foreign men are being exploited is really out of the box thinking.

      • Thomas

        Standing up against old myths after having done thorough research is definitely “outside the box” thinking compared to the average travel blogger. In this case it also takes some courage since Matt expresses a politically incorrect point of view and consequently receives a lot of criticism from clueless people that believe everything the media reports.

        • Muca

          Many people who criticize him have done research – it is not necessarily a question whether selling your body for sex is right or wrong. It is from which angle you approach this problem.

          • Thomas

            Reading some claims in the newspaper from some alarmist anti-prostitution organisation with a socialist, fascist or religious agenda does not constitute research.

            But, as the comments have shown, clearly there is a difference in how people approach this question: Some want the Thai women to decide over their own body and who they have sexual relations with, for what whatever reasons. Others believe that Thai women should not be free, and that somebody else should decide who they are allowed to have sex with, since these poor creatures are not able to think for themselves.

          • Muca

            Like I said before, its not the issue whether selling your body for sex is right or wrong. It’s looking at the causes why someone chooses to do this profession which matter. If it is caused by poverty, whats wrong with batteling poverty then? It is also about the point of angle you deal with this issue. If you believe that it are the men who are exploited, you clearly have a very ethnocentric worldview. I have been to many countries where prostitution is everywhere, i have talked with numerous prostitutes and guys who visit them, i have talked with various child-prostitutes, and believe me, i don’t have any agenda to say what i have to say about it.

    • Matt

      It’s quite clear Nomadic Matt hasn’t done any research whatsoever, unless you call hanging out with guys that have to pay for sex in seedy bars.

  50. Alex

    Bit of a disappointing post I must say.

    I completely agree with EverywhereOnce; Matt, you seem to be describing a very small group of women who have chosen the profession by choice and not from a lack of other options/opportunities. But if all you’re trying to say is that some Thai women are prostitutes by choice (again, I would guess that this is a very small portion of them) then sure, I guess I agree. However that seems a rather pointless point to make.

    Why not focus on the women who are forced into the profession? Or have very few options that would pay half as well? Or more importantly, child sex trafficking, which is a major issue not only in Thailand but in Cambodia as well, where the situation is arguably worse than in Thailand.

  51. I was in Phuket in March and some female travelers were talking about how disgusting the old man/young girl thing was. I too made the argument about celebrities as well. Huge double standard. It’s definitely not black and white. Same issue with mail-order brides…

  52. Dave Bell

    Questions for those berating Matt for the article…

    Are you against ALL prostitution? Are you saying Holland, Australia and some states in America should change their stance? Or is it only Asian prostitution that bothers you?

    Which leads me onto the next questions… Is it OK for Western women to choose to be prostitutes? Are they being exploited? What about men? Are gigolos being exploited? Are you disgusted by Belle de Jour? Or are you only angry with her customers?

    What is your issue with prostitution? Is it some prudish Victorian stance? Or is it religious? Why do you think YOUR ethics are the right ones? Sex is a commodity. There is a demand and people have always supplied it for money.

    Matt has already made the distinction between child prostitution (which we all agree is abhorrent), enforced slavery (ditto) and consenting adults making an informed decision.

    What on earth leads you to believe you have the moral right to instruct people to adhere to YOUR code?

    What I see are female travellers being disgusted by men paying to get their rocks off. But I see plenty of them popping down to Patpong or Soi Cowboy to see a ping pong show to get a tick in the ‘experience box’. How is that different?

    I have to wonder, are the women REALLY anti-prostitution? Or are they simply incensed that their male counterparts are having more fun than them? Are they angry that in Thailand (and most of SE Asia and Eastern Europe) they are less attractive?

    Case in point… “Come on Matt, foreign men are being exploited by Thai go-go girls? Those men are not forced to visit those joints nor forced to be engaged in sex-tourism.”… Correct. But neither are the girls forced. Both parties made a decision… The girls to work as sex-workers and the guys to pay for sex. Why is this your concern?

    “Prostitution needs to be prevented instead of prohibited”… Why? Why do you think it’s any of your business?

    If you believe that girls only turn to prostitution because they are poor, you need to think again. There is prostitution in every strata of society in every country. Are you as outraged by Charlie Sheen’s use of prostitutes? Or because they earn $1000 a night is that somehow more acceptable?

    Want to concentrate on Thailand? OK… Go online and Google ‘high class escorts in Bangkok’. You will find hundreds, possibly thousands of university educated, middle-class girls making extra money as escorts. They are not ‘poor exploited girls being forced to service fat old men’… It always makes me laugh to see that stereotype too. Go down to a gogo bar and see how many fit young guys are paying these girls for sex. Is that your issue? That Western women’s stock is falling?

    I notice that when I ask questions, there are no answers… Is there anyone out there with enough conviction to come up with an argument as to why prostitution should be illegal? Using the moral compass isn’t an argument… Morals are a personal choice. Yours are not necessarily ‘right’.

    • Muca

      “But neither are the girls forced. Both parties made a decision… The girls to work as sex-workers and the guys to pay for sex. Why is this your concern?”

      Im not claiming that the girls are forced. Im just criticizing Matt on the fact that he thinks those men are being exploited. He is labelling the men as victims – oh those poor men are being exploited. As if they had no other choice, than visiting those places. That’s my concern.

      “”“Prostitution needs to be prevented instead of prohibited”… Why? Why do you think it’s any of your business?””

      If someone can get as much possibilities as I had what to do in life, and that person would still choose for prostitution, then they would have my blessing. But let them first have that choice. And if you are born in Isaan or in any other poor region, then it’s not that easy to get those opportunities. Feeling some compassion for other people has nothing to do with intruding someone else’s business. I would like everyone to develop their full potential. And therefore it is ironic that you accuse others of latent racism, while you seem to be perfectly fine with the idea that those asian girls are able to feed your needs and that of others.

      Don’t pretend to be wanna-be liberal, and definitely don’t automatically assume that everyone is against prostitution because of religious or moral values. I, for instance, don’t have anything to do with what adult people do in their life and what they choose to do. I also believe that everyone is able to make some sort of choice in life, this counts for sexworkers as well. But I also wish that everyone is able to have as many possibilities as I had or even more, to choose what to do in life. There is a high correlation between poverty and choosing whether or not to go into prostitution. And that’s why I say, don’t prohibit it but prevent it – e.g. through development cooperation. Could you tell me one reason, what’s wrong with this? This has nothing to do with religion or moral values, my internet-friend. I just wish everyone is able to develop their full potential. I have talked with plenty sexworkers, and many of them have so much potential to do much more in life. Tell me, what is wrong with wishing that they would develop up to their full potential? The same counts for any other purely physical job – whether you are a cleaner, dishwasher, mineworker or domestic worker.

      My main criticism was Matt’s point of view. I don’t judge you if you sell your body for sex (physical integrity) nor even buying those services. But don’t assume that those men are being exploited by those nasty girls. It’s totally ridiculous and very very ethnocentric. Talking about misplaced moral-values.

      Btw, ever been to Amsterdam? 95% of all the Dutch prostitutes isn’t Dutch, but generally from poor parts in Eastern Europe. Once again, there is a high correlation between poverty and prostitution.

      • Muca

        No one needs to be victimized in this issue. I will be the last person to say: “oh those poor girls need to be rescued!!!11″ . But having lived in Southeast-Asia for several years, I feel disgusted by the double standard a lot of western expats have when it comes to Asian women. That’s why I recommend you to watch the documentary I have posted. It is made by Louis Theroux, and he will be the last person to make a moral documentary. If you have been a little longer in Thailand than just a holiday, you know very clearly what I mean. I can’t stand hypocrisy. I also do acknowledge that a lot of western girls feel intimated by Asian girls – and therefore either judge those girls (one ugly female friend of mine even dared to say: ” oh those girls look like us when we were 14″ – yeah right) or judge those guys who have a relationship with an Asian girl. And also those girls piss me off.

    • Muca

      Are you against ALL prostitution?
      No, not me.
      Are you saying Holland, Australia and some states in America should change their stance?
      Stance in what?
      Or is it only Asian prostitution that bothers you?

      Which leads me onto the next questions… Is it OK for Western women to choose to be prostitutes?
      If they want it, it’s ok.

      Are they being exploited?

      What about men?
      What about it?

      Are gigolos being exploited?

      Are you disgusted by Belle de Jour?

      Or are you only angry with her customers?
      I don’t know them.

      What is your issue with prostitution?
      Can’t generalize.

      Is it some prudish Victorian stance?

      Or is it religious?
      Not really.

      Why do you think YOUR ethics are the right ones?
      They aren’t.

      Sex is a commodity. There is a demand and people have always supplied it for money.
      Everything is a commodity and for everything there is a supply and demand – quite a shallow statement you are making there.

      Matt has already made the distinction between child prostitution (which we all agree is abhorrent), enforced slavery (ditto) and consenting adults making an informed decision.
      What if the child wants it?

      What on earth leads you to believe you have the moral right to instruct people to adhere to YOUR code?
      I don’t want and I try not to do it.

      What I see are female travellers being disgusted by men paying to get their rocks off. But I see plenty of them popping down to Patpong or Soi Cowboy to see a ping pong show to get a tick in the ‘experience box’. How is that different?
      That hypocritical.

      I have to wonder, are the women REALLY anti-prostitution?
      Some of them yes.

      Or are they simply incensed that their male counterparts are having more fun than them?

      Are they angry that in Thailand (and most of SE Asia and Eastern Europe) they are less attractive?
      Maybe you are hanging out with the ugly chicks dude.

      If you believe that girls only turn to prostitution because they are poor, you need to think again.
      Various cases show that poverty and prostitution go hand in hand. Even in my native country Holland.

      There is prostitution in every strata of society in every country.

      Are you as outraged by Charlie Sheen’s use of prostitutes?
      Depends which prostitutes he has visited and what he has done with them, and if he had paid them properly.

      Or because they earn $1000 a night is that somehow more acceptable?
      In some way it is.

      Want to concentrate on Thailand? OK… Go online and Google ‘high class escorts in Bangkok’. You will find hundreds, possibly thousands of university educated, middle-class girls making extra money as escorts. They are not ‘poor exploited girls being forced to service fat old men’…
      One of the people here already dealt with this issue.

      It always makes me laugh to see that stereotype too.
      Unfortunately, fat old men and young thai girls, is a very valid stereotype. You see them everywhere. Or is it that, in one or another way, you don’t want to be associated with those group? Tell me, are you a fit young guy visiting Thai prostitutes?

      Go down to a gogo bar and see how many fit young guys are paying these girls for sex. Is that your issue?That Western women’s stock is falling?
      Nope, the better for me :).

      I notice that when I ask questions, there are no answers…
      I decided to give them, according to my personal view.

    • Rebecca

      Answers to your questions:

      Is it OK for Western women to choose to be prostitutes?

      Yes and no. While it is PC to say women should be able to choose how they use their body, how can anyone justify putting themselves at risk of rape, diseases and murder? There is a reason that prostitutes are constantly being found dead in the middle of nowhere – they go secluded places with men that they do not know. I have heard of women being drugged and beaten by their clients. While this is not the norm, women in this profession will generally spend their lives worrying that something will happen to them or that their family/friends or partner will find out about their job.

      Most western women who are in this profession are addicted to drugs, alcohol or have children to support. Some women are looking for money to pay off debts or pay for college. What makes these women different from receptionists and office workers is that they often suffer from mental illness. Studies have shown that the majority of women in the industry were abused or have illnesses like bipolar disorder.

      If a prostitute had a problem like this why would she tell her clients? Being a “happy hooker” makes money. No man wants to be with a sad prostitute.

      Are you against ALL prostitution? Are you saying Holland, Australia and some states in America should change their stance? Or is it only Asian prostitution that bothers you?

      In New Zealand prostitution is legalized. This has allowed not-for-profit groups to clean up the industry. It is illegal for prostitutes to have sex without a condom and the women are treated like human beings. If they are assaulted, they could go to the police without worrying about being arrested or not being taken seriously. If a woman wants to get out of the industry, the government will give her unemployment benefits while she is looking for a job.

      The problem I have with Asian prostitution is that a small amount of western men go to Thailand to fulfill fantasies that they could not fulfill back at home. This is where child prostitution comes in.

      I also don’t like some of the attitudes some men have towards prostitutes. For example, they would rather go to Thailand because it would only cost them $20 to get laid as opposed to forking out a few hundred at home. I feel like this devalues and degrades the women involved. That being said, its none of my business and if the women involved are okay with it, who am I to judge?

      Are you disgusted by Belle de Jour? Or are you only angry with her customers?

      I’ve watched the series and read a bit about the author. I don’t have a problem with Belle or her customers. However, Belle certainly has a problem with it. The lady who wrote the blog hid for years because she was ashamed of her past. When a newspaper finally found out who she was, she confessed.

      I have to wonder, are the women REALLY anti-prostitution? Or are they simply incensed that their male counterparts are having more fun than them? Are they angry that in Thailand (and most of SE Asia and Eastern Europe) they are less attractive?

      I’m not anti-prostitution. Nor have I ever felt less attractive in Thailand. There are plenty of men out there that don’t go to Thailand for sex with prostitutes. I just think that the women Matt is describing are few and far between. How many mentally stable, college educated women who come from money become prostitutes? Very few.

  53. Colleen

    Aristotle said, “We are what we do.”

    Thoughts determine actions
    Actions determine habits
    Habits determine character
    Character determines destiny

    If you are uncomfortable with the idea of your own daughter, mother, wife or other beloved family member performing sex for cash, remember the girl you are paying to service you is somebody’s daughter, too.

    It’s not possible to degrade another person without degrading yourself. We are all connected. Each of us is valuable, precious, deserving of the best. Each of us deserves to be cherished, respected, loved and protected.

    What I do to others I do to myself.

    A book written arguing a certain point of view does not automatically legitimize it. Amazon has a half dozen titles on breatharianism. Does anybody believe people can live without water and food? 200 years ago there were ‘important’ treatises written arguing in favor of the ‘virtues’ of slavery. Some argued that Africans were sub-human, savages, and were better off within the ‘civilizing’ institution of slavery. As for the subject of prostitution, be your own careful investigator. Research the web. If you’re still convinced that there’s anything positive about prostitution, for either prostitutes or their Johns, keep reading, digging and learning. We all start from certain points of view. We should strive for what’s really true, best for everybody and for whatever is kindest. What you hope for yourself and your own loved ones is a good guideline for what to hope for others, too.

    For the sex addicted, there’s lots of help available. There’s a better, more fulfilling, happier life waiting on the other side of addiction. Freedom is attainable.

  54. NomadicMatt

    I think the problem here is that many are reading my comment about men as exploitation = victimization. That these men are victims. I didn’t mean that at all and that was my misplaced choice of wording as I didn’t think people would infer that. But one thing I have learned lately is that people on the internet take things to literally these days.

    I meant the girls were taking advantage of a situation that benefited them and were themselves not victims. They know they can get a lot of from these men, and being smart women, they maximize the business transaction. These men are not victims that need to be saved, they are suckers.

    • Muca

      How can you take a comment like this: “But, usually the ones being exploited are the men” not literally? Come on Matt, if you are admitting they you used the wrong use of words, don’t blame others for just reading what you’ve said. But you made it clear now that men are not the victims and not being exploited.

  55. Amy

    And slavery has been around since the beginning of time – does it mean it’s right?

  56. Mad Monk

    Interesting article, more so that its caused such controversy. Surely its obvious, they’re both getting screwed ha Both parties are taking advantage of the others need in many respects, as long as its consensual, then ‘mai pen rai’

    I think a more interesting piece would have been on the relationships & dynamic that can develop between such girls and their customers. That area would seem to be ‘not black and white’ compared to the western norms of the P4P scene – interesting piece all the same

    I think Voltaire said it best ‘I have no morals, yet I am a very moral person’

    I think everyone likes to assume that only dirty old men indulge in such activities and its easy for the moral compass to start turning south. Has anyone seen the white women chasing the Thai Beach Boyz ? Each to his own I guess….

    I’ll save you a barstool Muca, Hellm I might even ring the bell !!

    • NomadicMatt

      I would highly suggest you listen to that podcast that is linked in this article.

        • NomadicMatt

          No, and here is why:

          1. It deals with Cambodia, not Thailand.
          2. It deals with forced sex workers, which I already have said is wrong.
          3. The Cambodia sex trade is far worse and awful than what happens in Thailand. It is much darker.
          4. I have not denied that there is a correlation between poverty and prostitution. There is.

          Before you continue, I would listen to that podcast from people who actually live in Thailand, from Thai women who actually understand the perception their society has of them. They know what it is like to be a Thai woman. Come live in the region for a number of years and see it for yourself instead of continuing to have this knee jerk, western reaction that all prostitutes are poor forced sex slaves.

          My point with this article was that it is not the cut and dry image you keep saying it is, yet all the people who live in the region keep saying it isn’t.

          Is sex slavery bad? yes. Is child prostitution bad? yes. Should we work to stop both? yes. Does Thailand need a better safety net and system to give women more options? No doubt. But is what you see in Thailand always drug addicted sex slaves? No way. Do a lot of girls do it because it is a job? Yes. Why? Because Thailand has a different attitude toward sex workers then the west.

          It is not as black and white as you think.

          And while you are in up in arms about this, I assume you are equally up in arms about the older Japanese, Korean, and Western women who travel to Bali and buy the services of young men – not only for one night but for a week or two at a time so they too can have some “company?” Where is the documentary on that?

          • Muca

            I know it is not black and white, because, guess what, I have lived in Thailand. Being very interested in the topic, I have talked with numerous girls engaged in the business, with their customers, and with the average Thai about this subject. That is not to say that I am an expert on Thai culture nor pretend to know everything about their perceptions of love. But I have, I think, a better understanding of prostitution in Thailand than most people who have commented on your article. On average there is not more prostitution in Thailand than other parts of this world. So, the quantity of prostitution in Thailand is very similar to other places in the world – it is definitely not a distinctively Thai phenomenon as you will probably agree with. Therefore, not being able to judge prostitution in Thailand because we are westerns, is a form of very perverse cultural relativism. Of course we are able to judge that phenomenon, we just shouldn’t judge the people (both workers and clients) who are engaged in this type of business. That’s first. Second, the whole reason why I replied to your article was concerning the ones being exploited (the men) according to your view, but you have somewhat nuanced it (still blaming me for just reading what you wrote….).

            Do you want to know about something which is absolutely not black and white? It is the vague line between being forced into prostitution and doing something voluntarily. Did you know that a lot of sex-workers you see in Thailand started doing their jobs at the age below 18? (and like you said, child prostitution is wrong). Did you know that a lot of girls who are doing it now voluntarily have been forced to work as a prostitute in the past? (and just doing their job, because they have already crossed the line of being a prostitute). How many girls are being forced by their own families to work in prostitution? How about economic necessity? This is an extremely gray area. So if you say, OK child prostitution is wrong, human trafficking is wrong and you ignore the past of many sex-workers who have experienced both before, but are now working voluntarily in the business, you are still caught in black and white thinking. I could have also showed you a documentary about Thailand, but I tend to find those a bit too judgmental and moral. And BTW why should Thailand be an exception? Why can’t we say that prostitution in Cambodia isn’t black and white, and that Khmer culture has a different perception of love and sexuality? If you have seen that documentary, it was not only about forced human trafficking. They were talking to a girl who was 18 years old, working now voluntarily in the business in order to earn money. According to your way of reasoning you would say, OK no problem! It’s her business and she is earning money, so we shouldn’t say anything about it. But if you look at her past, about how she was forced into prostitution at the age of 13 by her aunt who had a lot of debts to be paid, you would have to argue that this girls needs to be supported, even though NOW, after everything she has been through, she is working as a prostitute on voluntary basis. If you have really talked with those Thai prostitutes (and I honestly doubt you did, with all respect), you would have known it is truly not black and white.

            The issue of women prostitution is a lot bigger than male prostitution. But you asked for a documentary, and I will provide you one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D99S_EmDoXE&feature=channel&list=UL – The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief is a very good documentary about gigolos in Japan, about their problems and their customers. And guess what, almost all of their clients are prostitutes themselves, just dreaming for a bit of love…..

          • Muca

            Btw if you had read my comments, I never argued that “that all prostitutes are poor forced sex slaves.” – that’s just the lack of your ability to cope with criticism which does not fall in the type of criticism you have expected.

  57. Skeptikal

    What’s even grosser is the massive sex trade/sex tourism in Bali…catering for fat, wrinkled old western women being serviced by the young Kuta Cowboys. That no one ever seems to shit-themselves about that…

    Fuck…gotta be evenhanded in being judgmental about these things.

  58. Mad Monk

    I don’t think I’d want to see the Kuta Cowboys m8, I’d just get jealous !!

    Slavery’s still around luv. Sadly, most people working their 9-5 just dont realise it !

  59. Just had a long article emailed to me randomly from a friend called “Thailand4Sale”. I thought I’d add one more log on the fire – this caught my attention:

    The anthropologist Erik Cohen has it about right when he notes that there is often no crisp separation in Thai society between emotional and mercenary sexual relationships.” If anything, it’s more complicated than that. Speci cally, while it’s
    the girls themselves who frequently push relationships held together by regular side
    payments to quickly develop some emotional content, animated bouts of jealousy, profanity-laced tirades, crying fits, physical abuse, and even the stray assault
    with a deadly weapon are far from uncommon after just a handful of encounters at
    the same time the girls go to some lengths to compartmentalize the demands of their careers from other aspects of their lives.

    And while they are aware of the stigma with which their profession brands them,
    they are quite keen to protest their modesty upon being characterized as loose or
    promiscuous. Quite aside from what the girls more or less purposively do to turn a quick in-and-out into a sultrier, more protracted aair, the stories they tell are frequently poignant enough to drive a dagger into the soft spots of even the most irreparably jaded, cynical, or sociopathic. A common thread runs through the dismal narratives. In the background is a large or broken family. The surviving parents are always poor, sometimes abusive, and occasionally in the throes of an
    addiction to alcohol, gambling, or methamphetamine. As soon as she is old enough to make it on her own, if still much too young to do anything useful with her life, the girl drops out of school and moves to the big city.

    The poor bitch, no education, marketable skills, or social graces to boot, comes to
    Bangkok to face quite the conundrum. One option is to work twelve hours a day in a
    convenience store, serve tables at a restaurant, or scrub the latrines of a hotel, shopping center, or private home. That only gets her about 6,000 baht (no more than $200) per month. And after paying rent for a shared hole-in-the-wall, not much is left for herself or her family. The alternative is to sleep until mid-afternoon, lounge
    around for a while, take a leisurely promenade shopping for faux name-brand clothes and accessories, and nally make it to the bar at a late hour of her choice. At work, have a drink or two, suit up in boots and bikini, take twenty-minute turns”dancing” (more like wobbling listlessly around the pole with all the conviction and energy evocative of Shakira on Xanax) and find some foreigner to screw at the rates fixed for short-time and long-time romps. Between the regular salary paid by the bar, the commissions on “barfi nes” and “lady drinks,” and a hundred percent of the fees paid by the customer directly to the girl, a fraction of the e ort, to say nothing of the abuse and humiliation, generates an income at least fi ve times as large as that guaranteed by 7-Eleven. If the girl is pretty, charming, and has a strong enough stomach to service multiple strangers a day, her monthly income might exceed $3,000, more than what a decent chunk of her own customers make. More empowering still, the status of a young girl otherwise as authoritative as the water bu alo parked underneath the stilted family home in the provinces soars as she becomes the family’s chief breadwinner.

  60. andy

    I totally agree with EverywhereOnce

    In the end all you did was addressing a very very very minority of prostitutes. And the majority for what reason they are in it are slaves of a system. Maybe not forced slavery but slaves nonetheless. Perhaps because of poor conditions and lack of alternatives. However, even then, people still do have choices no matter how tough do going gets. Do all thai women submit to prostitution? No! there are millions of women in dire conditions all around the world how are not prostitutes or drug mules or any kind of ilegal worker. With the exception of forced labor It is a choice women make. But slaves of a system nonetheless. And any man that is aware of this system and pays these women (even with good intentions) are supporting the system!!!!!! So shame on all of them.

    All I read in this article was this: Prostitution in Thailand is not as black and white as it may seem so buy yourself a nice sex vacation, you don’t have to feel guilty since prostitutes are not forced slaves here.

    Prostitution for whatever reason and where ever it may be is wrong on all counts! If the sex industry in Thailand where to collapse tonight, tomorrow the people will find somehow something else to make ends meet. And that may be legal or illegal but that is their problem and not ours. Poverty, starvation, corruption is here to stay but don’t become an accomplice and get your hands dirty.

  61. PolPot

    Great article NomadicMatt. Some of the replies have been highly entertaining and mainly from the busybody set who appear keen to project their values on others. I’m making a generalization here but I bet most of them are Americans (no disrespect intended) with all the pent up frustrations resulting from a lifetime of being indoctrinated with the hypocritical dross fed them on TV, church and most notably by their politicians. If anything it’s a good thing that they haven’t any first hand experience (for the most part) of this transaction between consenting adults.Those purporting to hold such values are often the worst of all once they let themselves go and can unleash a lifetime of sexual frustrating out on an unsuspecting bar girl who is used to the more normal 50 plus fat bastard who loves his beer and can go for a maximum of 10 minutes at a time 😉

  62. Charlaine

    Very interesting article, and very interesting debate to read. I am very much for the legalisation of prostitution as I believe it would be a much more acceptable industry if you were able to single out the girls/guys who were willing from those who may have had no other alternatives or were being mistreated.

    What I do wonder is whether the people who are very much for prostitution (legal or not) would mind at all if their daughter or son took up the job just to earn a bit more cash? Would you mind if they starred in porn films that your friends could watch, or worked in bars/brothels your work colleagues frequented?

    (p.s. I am not a feminist, religious, or American.. not that there’s anything wrong with being all three)

    Thanks for the good read NomadicMatt

  63. WhataCrock?

    I can’t believe you took the time to write such nonsense. This article does nothing more than attempt to justify the sexual exploitation of people attempting to survive. This type of activity is what drives sex trafficking. It is my business and it should be the business of anyone with a moral compass.
    I know shriveled-up men & very ugly young men who couldn’t get a dog to touch their foot in their own countries but frequent poor countries where they are swimming in young women, men, boys or girls willing to do ANYTHING with them for a few dollars. Who in the hell sells their body as a career choice if there were other options to earn money adequate to support themselves & family?

    Also, it’s another reason why foreigners are despised in some of these countries. In regards to legal age of consent, the ages listed throughout many of these countries is enough to make me throw-up in the back of my throat.

  64. Elle

    I would like to see proof that these Hookers are educated. Too far fetch for me to believe. If they tell you that they are, you’re too gullible. I love how many of you justified these sick behavior as a profession. An educated person may make less, but her dignity is intact. If I was in that situation, I woud rent with friends. Who said that old plastic celebrities with young men or women is not gross?! You run into ten that thinks it’s o.k., and it defies your logic. I was in Thailand, and I was offended by how the sex industry is shoved in my face. In America, it is kept isolate. Let me be blunt, they are lazy and want instant gratifications. I couldn’t care less about your gray area. We’re not writing a college essay.

  65. Thanks!

    Thanks man. I’ll be heading up there ASAP and banging as many of them as my junk can handle. Now that I know that their culture is coo wid it, there’s no reason for my junk to go unattended any more!

  66. Sex in Thailand is indeed not black and white. And it is not only the white old guy taking the thai girl….

    As a white male (then 28 years) with a white girlfriend (21 years) and both from Germany I had to learn to respect a thai lover of my girlfriend the very bitter way. I believe my experience is an experience probably so far only few white guys go through and if so it is an absolute taboo to talk about it in public.I did not took asians as competitors serious until my white girlfriend got interest in thai guys during a holiday. Finally her desire became so strong that she confessed to me that she really considers to be bedded by a Thai guy: What was supposed to be a one-night stand went totally wrong for ME. Once her Thai lover (around 20) had sex with her and he knew she enjoyed how much she enjoyed when he came in her, he immediately seized his chance for “long term sex” with a white girl and constant good payment from my girl. The next morning he quickly suffocated my weak resitance, fastened his grip on my girlfriend and took my girl over for the rest of our holidays. I tried to find out how many white males MUST accept to share their girls with young asians, if they do not want to lose them. Unfortunately no white seems to dare to admit it. I received only abusive replies.(google: My girlfriend had paid sex with a Thai boy or Why did I let my girlfriend had paid sex with a Thai boy.My girlfriend never cheated on me and we got recently engaged. But is clear in our relationship that she will continue to look out for sex with asians. The thai money boy was in the beginning very shy, but after he had penetrated my girl this immediately changed and he ridiculed me in front of my girl and I could feel how she loved his manhood and pride. Being the loser I desperately tried to get some respect from him, but when I saw his eyes, I knew, for him I was no more than a worthless eunuch. He paraded my girl in the Bangkok street. Only when I showed openly that I accepted the new hierarchy, he did not longer oppose my presence. He lived good on our holiday budget and my girlfriend kept sending him money from Germany.Some asians seem to be very good lovers! Lucky for many white guys their girls have not found out yet!

    • Muca

      Come on man…… you totally deserved this. You could have just dumped that horrible girlfriend of yours and let her be happy with her Thai toy-boy. Then you would gained his respect (if that was necessary on the first place). It’s not too late to dump the bitch, and let her be scammed by that guy, who probably has many other girls as well.

  67. In addition to my recent comment let me tell you how the thai guy’s “tatics” were and I wonder how often it happens…………….

    Due to the ever increasing competiton for single white tourist girls, thai gigolo boys identify not only willing white female single tourists but obviously have also started to target white holydaying couples and try to “capture” the white female from her foreign partner. In some cases the gigolos initially act as “a guide” for a western couple and pretend to be no more as a “good friend”. At a next stage the thai gigolo concentrates more and more on the female and flatters her constantly, he spots tensions between the partners and learns how to use them to undermine the males position. If he lures her into an intimate situation and finally have sex with the white girl,(…I was persuaded to watch a movie a Siam Square theatres, before he did the decisive approach) he will do anything to demoralize and ridicule the girl’s partner and fasten his grip on the white girl, as she guarantees him a super secure, easy income and probably some fun. Only a fiew white males will try to confront the macho-style thai guys. But at this stage it will be usually to late, the resistance is quickly suffocated by the thai and they use the insecurity of the girl’s partner to openly demonstrate their domination to the girl and live on the holiday budget of the couple. Regularly the male finally accepts the situation unless the relationship breaks down anyway. If the relationsships survives, as in my own case, the white male has often to pay a high price. I love my girl, but there is also a lasting trauma. Again and again I imagined jealously how the thai made sex to my willing girl…. and it is not even all about sex but of course also all about money, money, money or even visa when a thai succeeds to impregnate the western girl….

  68. GCS

    The world is a white man’s brothel! Enjoy the benefits of your skin color that you had nothing to do with making and didn’t have to work to earn.

    Heaven help us the day that the income levels of SE Asia rise to those of Japan. Where else can a white man go to have millions of willing and young girls just waiting o be plucked like petals off of a daisy? A Japanese prostitute is beyond the price range of many Western male travelers and navy personnel, but that wasnt the case immediately following WWII.

    And yet….Japanese women will still throw themselves at white men because they feel that anything western is better, and a white man is better than a Japanese man. It’s all about status. All women are biologically engineered to marry/mate up in status. Mind you, it is not just $$, but whatever attribute the woman feels that man has that makes him “better.”

    Even if the incomes of SE Asia rose to the level of Japan, there would still be millions of Asian girls hob-bobbing around with white men. While the age disparity might decrease to something like 40y.o. WM and 22 y.o. AF, the numbers will still be in the millions (OK maybe 900,000).

    Look at Signapore and the Sarong Party Girls. No one would say that Singapore is a poor country by any stretch of the imagination, but Singaporean women are infatuated with all things Western, especially its men. The inferiority complex that Asians have vis-a-vis the West will never diminish. You can call this a relic of colonialism or the fact that the West is so much more advanced than the East (except Little America – I mean Japan). This is what will keep the sex industry alive in places like Thailand to a much greaters degree than say Europe. Asian girls just want white dick!

    And that means that any white male who can’t get a white girl in the States or Europe can always g to Asia and be swarmed with so many girls that they become valueless and meaningless – anything too easily gotten rapidly loses its value.

    White women beware – as more white men flock to pick up Asian girls, where are you going to turn to?

    • NomadicMatt

      Actually, the largest users of prostitutes in Asia are actually Asians (whether tourist or locals) so it’s not all the white man’s fault.

  69. A new book discusses sex tourism at length, including Thailand. It’s entitled “Hookernomics–The Business of Sex”. It’s available on Kindle.

  70. lbfan

    I love thailand and I also love ladyboys, but I’m not into prostitutes. because thailand is full of normal working or student ladyboys, I usually try to find a date from facebook. and it comes to my surprise that many educated bangkok ladyboys choose prostitution in some part of their lifes. they don’t do this to support their family or something, but they simply like luxury. they want to buy the newest iphone, chanel bags etc. so as matt says they make a choice. I especially see them going to singapore to work as prostitutes for some time. then they come back, find a job and continue with their lives. as matt points out, prostitution is not viewed as in western culture. it is simply a job. if you do it for some period, you’re not being labeled as a nasty person, there is no stigmata attached. you can simply quit it later, and continue with your life, no one judges you. south east asia is shaped by hinduism-buddhism & their views on sex, love, death etc are very very different from judeo-christian western world. so instead of judging with a western mind, please try to understand completely different cultures.

  71. Daniel

    Well said, Being an Chinese Asian in Singapore and being close to Thailand.
    It’s all just a job to them.
    I hate it when people start asking me “why u going thailand again?” “u go there for sex?” and that face they give when u start talking or taking photos with a thai girl.
    The Thai tourism image is still the same after decades.
    “men go there for sex, women go there for shopping”

    Thai girls in my life is prob the only few girls i have seen, that take cares of her male partner. Singapore girls and Westenized girls are starting to get that “princess effect” where they expect to be served 24/7 or just plain spoiled.
    Their request are also getting higher and higher, to a point where most teenagers are thinking i’ll just marry a rich man and enjoy the rest of my life.

    Whatever happen to “love is simple”…

    It’s no wonder why more and more western men or westernize men are flocking there.

    Ugly or not we need to change our perception both about Thailand and about these sex workers.

  72. Danthony

    I have lived in Thailand for over 15 years and most westerners have no idea of what is really going on in Thailand or S.E. Asia. The Western nations have no right to judge what is going on here. FIrst of all take care of your own. There are nearly one million homeless school children in the USA. There are so many people in the US prison system for non-violent drug charges – including soft drugs like pot. The USA has the largest prison population by percentage in the world. You buy coffee and sugar and other products that directly exploit and indirectly cause the death of poor people throughout the world.

    I have lived in Afghanistan where the US has cased the death of thousands and thousands of civilians. You have “Spread Democracy” to Iraq – what a great nation you are. I hate being an American because I am associated with the countries government that you elect and support with by paying taxes. Solve your own problems before you stick your nose into other peoples business.

  73. Anthony Mitchell

    I personally know and have had daily contact with an Independent prostitute in Bangkok for the last 5 years. She has a university degree and fully fluent in English. Even with a university degree in marketing it is not as easy as some would like to portray it. She did initially work in her degree field with a major distributor in Bangkok. A decent job but constantly pressured to have sex with one or several men in a superior position.

    To make a long story short her outlook is why be forced to give free sex to move up in her job or even keep it; when staying 24 hours with one western man and in one night make more than a months salary?

    I am not talking budget worried sex tourists. This women see American lawyers, pilots, dentists, executives including 2 CEO I know of. And, 90% or higher of these men are married. One, a 53 year old man with an American wife and 3 children even had a stroke whilst having sex and died 3 days later in the hospital.

    These men are not paying the 1000 baht rates you see all over the net. On a recent 3 day stay she made 33,000 baht. Just 2 hours with her is 6,500 baht.

    I think I am her release. I know the story behind everyone of these encounters and even though they are consensual in the sense of the word, not all are enjoyable in any sense of the word and takes a mental toll. Her family, hours away from Bangkok, believes she still works in her degree field and she has to live with the lie each time she faces them.

    You can say all you want that she has choices and by definition you are correct. This is exactly how most of these men using her ease their conscience. Perception has a way of becoming reality even though it is not necessarily the truth.

  74. Anthony Mitchell

    As for girls working in bars and massage parlous. You bet your arse it is in a sense forced. If the manger or mamasan observes a girl refusing there is nary a bar that she will not be punished in some way and the girl knows it. Gentlemen Clubs may be a bit different as their is no expectation of sex…..you pay a price just for the girl to sit and drink with you,sit it your lap and tease. A few of them will meet you later for a price but many do not. These places though are catered mostly to rich Thai and other Asian men and therefore not many girls speak any English. The girls here are much more beautiful then other venues. One night in a club like this and you will never see go go girls the same way again

  75. Sandra Elis

    Instead of drawing to your own conclusions, those of a western male in Thailand… You should try educating yourself on the culture. True culture. Maybe then you will come to find just why it is that there are so many children and women in the sex tourism industry. Hmm, I don’t know, read a book written by a young women whom actually worked and sold herself to support her poor family and afford an education for her sisters so they did not have to follow the same fate. Maybe do a little research on the NUMEROUS organisations throughout Thailand and the WORLD and find out some real facts. Clearly you have the internet, research is quite easy to do. Comparing an older man with a wife 20 years his junior relates to men paying to have sex with 13, 14, 15, 16… year old children just how? And if you know so much about Thai culture you would know that “Face” is everything. And you would know that government officials often tell mistruths to keep up appearances so to speak. There are so many easily accessible facts, numbers, statistics… I am embarrassed by your words and embarrassed for the parents that birthed you- unless you are just a result of the people that raised you, in which case I guess your ignorance would not be solely your fault.. that might make more sense. – Blaming the victim is always the easy way out. Most don’t want to deal with the ugly existence of the truth. So good job on spreading the ignorance, Matt. Thumbs up mate. Ugh, Such a coward.

    • NomadicMatt

      I’m not supporting child prostitution and I explicitly said so in the post. This post has nothing to do with that subject.

      I’m discussing legal prostitution. What’s your experience in Thailand? How much of the culture do you know? I link to information from Thai women who discuss this issue. After all, the biggest buyers of sex in Thailand is other Thai men.

      I’m not blaming the victim for anything. Don’t apply your Western morals to another culture because “prostitution is so bad.” What two consenting adults do is not your business.

  76. Sandra Elis

    Here is just a little info for ya, “Nomadic Matt” – The exact number of child-prostitutes in Thailand is not known. According to the US-based research institute “Protection Project”, estimates of the number of children involved in prostitution living in Thailand ranges from 12,000 to the hundreds of thousands (ECPAT International). The government, university researchers, and NGOs estimated that there are as many as 30,000 to 40,000 prostitutes under 18 years of age, not including foreign migrants (US Department of State, 2005). Thailand’s Health System Research Institute estimates that children in prostitution make up 40% of prostitutes in Thailand.
    The reasons why and how children are commercially sexually exploited by include:
    Poverty: a high proportion of the population lives in poverty.
    Ethnic hill tribe children: these children live in the border region of northern Thailand. They suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty in relation to the general population and most of them lack citizenship cards. This means that they do not have access to health care or primary school, which limits their further education or employment opportunities.
    Trafficked children: Many children are trafficked into or within the country through criminal networks, acquaintances, former trafficking victims and border police and immigration officials who transport them to brothels across Thailand.
    Sense of duty: According to traditional customs the first duty of a girl is to support her family in any way she can. Due to this sense of duty and to pay off family debts, many girls have been forced into prostitution.
    Children are exploited in sex establishments and are also approached directly in the street by paedophiles seeking sexual contact. Child sex tourism is a serious problem in the country. Thailand, along with Cambodia, India, Brazil and Mexico, has been identified as a leading hotspot of child sexual exploitation. Paedophiles, in particular, exploit the lax laws of the country and attempt to find cover to avoid prosecution.

  77. Anthony Mitchell

    Although there is a way to go Thailand has came a long way in the past decade protecting children from sexual predators. I remember a time when coming off the hotel lift I observed a man laying on the sofa with his head in the lap of an obviously under aged boy. The boy was dressed only in’ tight little shorts and stroking the mans head; another young boy stroking the mans bare feet. I have not seen such an ugly site in the last 10 years.

    Bravo to President Clinton for signing a law that allows Pedophiles to be prosecuted in America regardless of what country they commit such crimes against children.

    There are places I have seen in the world where I want to help eveyone but there just is not the means. It is very sobering but you can make the world a better place one child at a time.

  78. Ken

    “Slimy?” At what age did I turn slimy? I got a feeling it was 50. That’s when you’re concidered a pervert if you pursue a young woman. If you’re 49 it’s simply a large age difference. I think us older guys (I’m 54) have an image problem in this country. Whatever happened to “respect your slimy elders.”
    You know countries like the Philippines, and Thailand have much more important issues to address than us slimy old guys chasing bar girls.