Morality in the P4P Scene
I’d like to add my thoughts to the interesting debate on the morality of mongering spawned by Caveman’s “PUNT” submission. Being a monger myself I feel this is a relevant and important topic for me to consider. Is what I’m doing immoral? And if so, is it immoral enough that I might want to alter my behaviour as a consequence? Or is it perhaps immoral but still a course of action I am prepared to live with, even knowing I’m being immoral?
Naturally my immediate instinct is to deny that I’m being immoral. And being a monger, which is a sort of like being an addict, my immediate instinct is to deny any need to change this behaviour. An addict will go far before admitting his addiction is a problem. So I shall have to try and be careful and honest here.
I want to try and answer a few questions about the P4P scene in Thailand: Is it damaging for the girls who are involved in it? Is it damaging for the monger? And, if it’s damaging for one or both of these parties, then is there blame to be put on either of them for this damage done? Is either being immoral?
Like Korski weighed in it’s impossible to say that a girl or a monger who enters the “industry” will be affected in this way or that, because all individuals are different and will have had different experiences and will be affected in different ways. I’ve seen girls perhaps only twenty years old with razor-scars on their arms from self-mutilation or even suicide attempts and who obviously are using hard drugs to get by. I think it’s safe to say that many of these girls have been damaged precisely by their time spent in the industry and the lifestyle that came with it. I’ve also seen girls who seemingly have taken to the industry like ducks to water. One example: happy all the time, working when she feels like it, not feeling the need for a man to support her, not wanting to escape to Farangland, seemingly quite content with her lot in life. These would be the extremes and between them there’s a whole spectrum of girls with varying degrees of comfort or discomfort in the P4P scene.
What also varies, and what I feel is important, and what Stick briefly mentioned in his reply to Korski’s submission, is how the girl spends the outcome of her hooking. I think this is extremely important, especially considering that she most likely entered the industry as a consequence of relative poverty and that there will be little to nothing in the way of social security if and when she exits it. Here too I’ve witnessed both extremes.
I’ve seen girls hotter than white-glowing iron who could be pulling in some serious cash and who do pull in serious cash too but still they are always broke. What they spend their money on is not always obvious since local boyfriends and gambling and drug-use are often denied, at least boyfriends are, but these are all possible candidates. Support for the extended family is also a candidate and it sometimes surprises me how much importance is placed on this. Shiny new things is one obvious expenditure. If I enter a bar filled with girls I’m usually the one person with the most outdated mobile phone in the place, unless there’s a girl who just started there and who hasn’t yet earned enough to buy a brand new phone or the latest model. I make decent money and could have any phone on the market but I consider it a waste to throw my working phone away and buy the newest model which is overpriced precisely because it’s the newest one. Many girls seem to really crave having the very latest model. Hardly a basic need I think. Considering the poverty they come from I’d call that waste.
But then there are girls with a genuine plan for their future. One girl I know, and I have mentioned her in previous submissions, has explained her plan to me. She’s built an 800K house in Surin (and some land and a few buffalos too, I kid you not!) from the money earned on her back and she’s now saving up to reach one million baht on her bank account. She lives very cheaply, only 1500 baht per month, in a non-air-con room with friends from the bar-scene. I’ve been there, it’s a dump. She sends 9K baht to her sister who cares for her two children. This is quite enough for school, clothes, food and the kids get 20 (or was it 50? I can’t remember) baht each day for lunch money. I’ve seen her make the 9K baht deposit. I’ve seen the bankbook with a balance of roughly 200K baht, this was two years ago so she’s probably at least at 500K today. I’ve seen pictures of the house being built with her in the pictures. If this is not what it seems then I have been taken on a very elaborate scam for no apparent reason. In my opinion this is a girl, well woman nowadays, who has made a calculated choice in entering the industry and has a plan for her future and is well on her way to achieving it.
I think the result, the outcome, of a girl’s time in the P4P industry is very important. Not only will they need a fallback option once they get older and their market value (damn, that sounds cold) diminishes. But I also imagine that it would be less emotionally scarring if there’s a tangible result from their work. If a girl can say to herself “this might not be a very good thing I’m doing but I will soon have a million baht for the future” then I think she will be less likely to suffer mental damage. This is just a theory of mine. I’m myself a person who has an easier time to deal with hardships if there’s a clear goal to strive towards and I feel I’m on my way there. I think this could be valid for the girls as well.
So, to answer the first question, is the P4P bar scene damaging for the girls? Not by default. But I think it would be fair to say it’s a very high-risk environment. There are many risks and I do not presume to know them all but I believe they would include: drug-addiction, a deflated sense of self-worth, an inflated sense of self-worth sexually, depression, sexually transmitted decease exposure, risk of being abused and risk of becoming a social outcast. It’s not an easy life for many of the girls. But let us remember also that far from every girl is a victim of each of the listed risks, and that many girls have genuinely good times while working in the bar-scene, at least occasionally.
What’s the percentage of the girls who suffers damage? Impossible to say, but my guess would be that few end up completely unaffected. The level of damage would vary too. From an ugly tattoo to a rope around the neck. From Marlboros to yaa-baa. From a broken heart to experience being gang-raped. But all in all damage is not inevitable. Rather I’d look at it as working in a high risk environment. And the longer you are exposed to high risks the greater the chances are that you will be affected.
I’ve touched on this matter in a previous submission and admitted that becoming a monger has changed my life for the better but also for the worse. Here I will try to broaden the scope and not just look at my own situation. What is the potential damage a monger is exposed to when partaking in the P4P scene in Thailand?
This is, if not even harder, then just as hard to define as the girls’ situation. Mongers are such a varied bunch of people. Some live in Thailand as dedicated sexpats, some live there and taste the “forbidden fruits” on occasion. Some are returning visitors who go there for the bar-scene primarily and some are regular tourists who stumble onto the bar-scene and happen to get involved more by accident than by choice (well, perhaps these are not mongers, but they very well might have taken the first step towards becoming that). And there are all manner of guys in between.
The effect the bar-scene can have must be vastly different for a man who has lived for years in Thailand and been going to the bars and bought sex from hundreds, perhaps thousands, of girls; compared to a tourist who goes to a few bars on his vacation and hitches up with a few girls and perhaps one of them even provides him with the GFE and he starts to confuse his sex purchase with love and thinks he’s not really paying for sex but merely “helping” her.
If I should list a couple of risks the monger is exposed to I’d include: the risk of being fooled into investing your future on a relationship with a girl who is merely working you, the risk of alcoholism if exposure to the bar-scene is prolonged, STD exposure, the risk of developing a hardened heart and become disillusioned with bargirls or even with women in general and the risk of becoming a social outcast in your own community. Also, there is the risk of becoming an addict who is drawn back to the bar-scene in Thailand, or new bar-scenes elsewhere, again and again. And there’s a risk that this addiction will prove damaging to the level of enjoyment the monger derives from his life back home and for some it will consume all their spare cash.
Some risks are the same for the monger and for the girls. Exposure to alcohol or in the girls’ case maybe drugs is one. Exposure to STDs is also a shared risk although a greater one for the girl. The risk of becoming disillusioned with the opposite sex is another. The social stigma is also shared, but for different reasons. So, many risks are shared, but I’d say that the monger has two advantages that put him more in control of the risk he is exposed to when compared to the girls.
First of all he makes the choice in his liaisons with the girls. Now, some would have it that the girls have no say on the matter but we who know the scene know that that’s not true, at least not in the farang-dominated venues. Often the girl is just as active in her choice of a monger to “go with” as he is in his choice of a bar-girl. Often – but not always, and not for every girl but rather the more attractive ones have more of a choice and the more mediocre ones will have to settle for what they can get. So ultimately the monger is the one who chooses and this gives him a power that many of the girls lack.
Second is the fact that mongers are on average, and this is a guess, exposed to a lesser degree. If you round up every active bargirl and every active monger I would guess that for the vast majority of bargirls the P4P scene is a full time occupation for large parts of the year. Whereas for most mongers the P4P scene is something they frequent occasionally, perhaps only while on vacation or perhaps not every day. I’d guess that the mongers most at risk are the ones who are exposed the P4P scene the most, the full time sexpats. But I’d also guess that the personality of the individual trumps the amount of exposure. An addictive personality and a gullible mind and the monger can be in for serious pain almost immediately. But there are surely also those that can manage a several year long stint in the Pattaya nightlife and still retain their sanity and escape alcoholism.
Summed up I believe the monger shares many of the risks with the girls in the industry. But not all the risks and also they are exposed to some risks that the girls are not exposed to. Also I believe that the monger is better able to exercise control and this means that the damage done to him is generally less dramatic than that done to the girls, on average.
The Moral of the Girls
I will start off with absolving the girls of the industry for any damage done to mongers. Individual girls may behave in ways that can be criticized in certain situations where she’s clearly to blame for damage to a monger. But generally, if a monger chooses to enter the P4P scene and this ends up damaging his life then the girls can hardly be blamed for this as far as I see it. He has the responsibility to avoid things that are not good for him.
Also in some cases where she’s clearly in the wrong morally I can somewhat sympathise with her. If a bar-girl has met a monger and the monger falls for some sob story and starts to sponsor her and she accepts his money transfers but is dishonest with him about what she’s up to, then clearly she is morally in the wrong. But the blame… I still can’t blame her. I’d have done the same if I was in her shoes. I think he can blame his own stupidity. So I find myself thinking that in such a situation she’s morally wrong and he’s not morally wrong and still I place the blame on him. Kind of strange, but that’s how I feel.
I think a monger has a responsibility to himself to get somewhat informed and to act in a way that eliminates or at least decreases the dangers the P4P scene brings. If he fails to do that and he gets hurt or damaged or scarred, then he really has himself to blame.
But there’s another sort of morality involved on the girl’s part, and that’s got to do not with what she might put mongers through but what she puts herself through. To put it bluntly: Is she morally corrupted because she prostitutes herself?
This is perhaps a matter of personal opinion but I would say no. I am not religious and the guilt trip religious people sometimes lay on others I do not even bother with. In my opinion there’s nothing morally corrupt with prostitution in itself. I’d second Caveman’s definition where he says: “An act or practice is moral/ethical if it does not hurt, damage, or do identifiable harm to another person(s) (or animals), or does not force another to perform an act against their will.” And this definition excuses a woman from immorality if she chooses to sell herself.
Caveman also brings up whether it’s advisable, and I agree this is another matter entirely, and he says that it would be inadvisable for ANY woman to enter the P4P industry. I feel I can almost agree but not quite. It’s probably not the best move for the majority of girls. But, I am absolutely certain that there are some girls out there who have indeed been “saved” by entering the industry. I am certain that for some girls if you look at what their situation is like now and what it would have been like without the industry it can be said that she’s better off now. But I also have a feeling that they are indeed the exceptions.
I’d also add that I think it’s very difficult for most of us western men to imagine the choices a poor Isaan girl makes when entering the industry. I can say that I am not very surprised that many choose to do it. To be stuck in the village and be without a good education and have had a kid from a father that has run off, what are her options? She cannot get a good job. She can hardly get a good husband since she’s already “used”. What should she do? Work in the rice-field for maybe 3,000 – 4,000 baht per month, and trying to raise her baby on that? Try to start up a business without any capital at all? Easier said than done.
Some of these girls are also bone lazy, we must remember that. They’d take the seemingly easier road 10 times out of 10. And seemingly it is easier to earn 3,000 – 4,000 baht doing two short-times than working an entire month in the rice-field. And they are also young. I’d have gone completely nuts when I was young if I was stuck in a village like the ones in Isaan, I would still actually. Young people get bored and want excitement and they want to do exciting stuff even if they are “forbidden” or “bad”. Small wonder some of the girls rush to escape the dreadful bore in rural Isaan and get suckered in by the excitement and the bright lights of Pattaya.
The Moral of the Mongers
But do mongers bear any responsibility for the damage done to bar-girls? Aha! Here’s the tricky question. Here’s what’s at the heart of this debate. The reason so many have an opinion is that it is a controversial subject and that it concerns many of us. Few mongers who hire a girl for sex would like to accept that they have a responsibility for the potential damage done to her, not necessarily by him but by the industry as a whole. I do not accept such a responsibility myself and I will try to explain why. But first I’d like to look at the arguments so far.
Caveman seemed to share my opinion that a monger is not necessarily immoral although he never got into in detail what risks there are that the girls are exposed to in his original submission, PUNT. Rahiri retorted and seems not to share this opinion but point out the damage done to girls and makes a number of fair points, although I’d claim it would be better described as potential damage. And also Rahiri seems to place some blame for that damage on the individual monger participating in the scene, he mentions putting a lid on his conscience for one thing, indicating that there’s guilt involved. Stick largely agrees with Rahiri and points out the relevance of the damage done to many girls, but where he stands on the moral responsibility of the monger I am not sure, possibly that the monger should be aware of the risks girls are exposed to and the damage many suffer but need not take personal moral responsibility and stop mongering because this? Marc Holt instead advises mongers not to agonize about the morality of their mongering and claims religion in western societies is the reason for our ingrained feelings of immorality, and that’s certainly a point although I’d also add the much more recent phenomenon of feminism to religion. Korski points out flaws in Rahiri’s submission and makes a complaint about it containing sweeping generalisations. BangkokReal made a point that women who can earn a similar amount in another way would rather not prostitute themselves, and I’d agree with that. BangkokReal also says that mongers are not doing a developing country any favours by bringing their money but are instead destroying the social fabric. Korski instead maintains farang mongers have been an economic blessing especially for the poor in those countries, and I’m in Korski’s corner on that one. Expat-Matt wrote an interesting piece about his observations from the sideline but makes a point where the level of morality sacrificed by the monger or gained by the girl is inversely proportional to the amount of money changing hands, an argument I find far fetched. Caveman then summed up with a second submission where he does recognize the potential damage of the industry on the girls but maintains that blame for that damage does not fall at the feet of the individual monger, this is very close to my own opinions and had I not started this submission before Caveman’s latest was posted I might have felt there was not much to add to the debate.
One thing I’d like to get back to is the idea of a girl being involved in the P4P scene described as her working in a high risk environment. There are many high risk environments. Many, many. What about all those coal-mine workers in China who risk gas-explosions and respiratory decease while working a tough job in a harsh environment? What about those Bangladeshis who dismantle old tanker ships with basic tools and without the slightest protective clothing? What about in India where you can still be born into a caste that means you are destined to have emptying toilets as a career? Kids weaving carpets? Young women gluing soles onto sneakers in a badly ventilated sweatshop? Wouldn’t they all rather work a less risky or more comfortable job? Of course they would.
But the world doesn’t look like that. It’s not some utopia where everyone can make ends meet in a fulfilling job in a safe environment. And frankly I can come up with tons of jobs that people perform around the world that I would be more reluctant to put myself through than being a bar-girl in Thailand. (Although it is not fair for a man to imagine selling sex and comparing it to being a woman selling sex, because if women thought like us men there’d be nothing but bar-girls.)
As far as I’m concerned the whole issue boils down to choice. Did she have a choice when she entered the P4P industry? And does she have a choice regarding which customers to entertain? And does she have the choice to leave the industry at will? If the answer to all these three are yes then I’d say she has control over her situation and that she has made the choice to be in it. And in the farang dominated scene in Thailand I would claim that as good as every single girl has these choices. The one that is most debatable is whether she can choose her customers because in some bars I imagine there can be pressure not to disappoint patrons of the establishment, and also there might be a barfine quota to fill. But if she’s adamant she can always get her way by exercising the third choice and just leave that place. I have never seen any indication in Thailand that has made me suspect any girl I’ve met has not had these choices.
And since I’m a believer in personal responsibility I think that the girl herself will have to take the responsibility for the damage she might suffer from entering the P4P scene. Stick mentioned that she might not know of the dangers beforehand but I’d say she must have at least some idea about this and an ability to observe and learn. Some things are pretty self-evident like the suggestion that yaa-baa use is not very good for you or that tattoos might not impress mum. But sure, there is a point to be made about new girls being the most vulnerable, they are. But I can’t see how this transfers any blame for damage done to the girl to an individual monger, unless he takes advantage of her vulnerability and pressures her beyond what she finds acceptable to participate in.
There are many ways a monger could behave in an immoral way towards bargirls but merely using the services she’s willing to provide for a price is not one such way. That’s my firm belief.
I set out to answer the following questions regarding the P4P scene in Thailand: Is it damaging for the girls who are involved in it? Is it damaging for the monger? And, if it’s damaging for one or both of these parties, then is there blame to be put on either of them for this damage done? Is either being immoral?
My answers to this are that the bar-scene is a high risk environment where the girls run a great risk of sustaining damage to themselves, but it is not inevitable that they sustain damage and the degree of damage will vary. The mongers also risk being damaged but, compared to the girls, are in a better position to control their exposure to the risks involved.
If no foul play is involved, if the exchange between sex and money is accomplished within both parties respective comfort zone, then there’s no blame to be placed on either party for the potential damage brought by them both being involved in the industry. None of them is acting immoral.
That’s my opinion and I’ll stick by it even if I fully understand that many would feel different about it, like basically every single woman in the western world for instance. So, while I might be in a majority on Stickman I am surely in a clear minority in the world at large, which I am fine with. Now that that’s settled I’ll do like Mark Holt and stop agonizing over it.
I really like what you say about choices and whether a girl is really there voluntarily. That to me is a critical part of the equation. Of course one would then have to factor in whether there is pressure from family members / spouse to be there in which case we have to ask if it is a choice at all…but perhaps we should not go there!