Readers' Submissions

The Great Debate

Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Well, perhaps this is a debate best to stay out of as it drags on and on. But, a few points are missing or misinformed in the debate, so please allow me to add a bit to it, both in historical context and in terms of actual research findings. Though I will not bore you with references, you can find them easily enough on the net through Google Scholar, of you like.

Thailand does indeed have a long history of prostitution, much of which is attributed to the historical background of concubines for the rulers and mistresses for the more affluent, the infamous mia nois. Surveys suggest the most Thai men have visited prostitutes at some time, with estimates as high as 95%, that a majority of Thai men have their first sexual experience with a prostitute, and that many visit prostitutes on a regular basis. Prostitution is well accepted in Thai society, even to the extent that most women recognize it as part and parcel of the male life. Naturally, much of this relates to the Thai cultural and historical background the Thai are raised in.

The government has weakly tried to ban prostitution, by making it illegal in a vague sense (e.g., if it is “promiscuous” or solicited in an offensive manner), but mostly settled on harm minimization, as is the case in many western countries. Condom programs have gained international recognition for their effectiveness in minimizing HIV infection in the major metropolitan areas. They have had little impact in poorer areas where prostitution is more underground than in the entertainment centers in Bangkok.

Have no delusions, Thai academic and government research clearly identifies a large problem with human trafficking for prostitution within the Thai oriented sex scene. Thailand is a major source of trafficked women within Thailand, often sold to brokers by their families, from other countries (sold or kidnapped), and from Thailand to other countries. There are efforts at law enforcement here and there are well publicized arrests within Thailand and other countries throughout the world. This is neither a joke nor a myth. The human trafficking market is huge, despicable, and unfortunately, highly profitable.

Again, have no delusions, children are trafficked. Thai government and academic researchers estimate that 30-40% of prostitutes within the Thai market are underage. Unless you cannot read, and therefore are not capable of reading this, you would also need to be blind not to have noticed the increasing number of arrests of western pedophiles who have had paid sex with children in Thailand.

In short, though accepted in Thai society, prostitution within Thailand (and of Thais tricked into being trafficked out of Thailand) has a very dark side. While there are many efforts at many levels on many fronts attempting to address this, it is a long term issue and will not be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction (other than the traffickers) in the near future.

This, of course, is not the market in which most Stickmanites partake. Good thing too, as HIV infection is much more rampant in this market place than it is in the better regulated entertainment areas.

The western market has its roots in cultural acceptance of prostitution, but a somewhat different historical development. While the legislation pertaining to entertainment areas does not specifically condone prostitution, it leaves open the private aspects of what service providers might provide behind closed doors, focusing more on what the business itself can actually market and charge for. How the an infamous venue in Sukhumvit soi 7/1 gets around this is not at all clear to me as no reading I can imagine of the legislation seems to suggest that the approach of that venue fits either the letter or the intent of the law.

The western market dates primarily back to the 1960’s and was deliberately, and I do mean that in terms of actual deliberation, created to bring more money into the Thai economy by providing entertainment services to servicemen during the Vietnam War. I am sure you all know a bit about this, but I did want to note, which I have not seen mentioned in this debate, that the Thai government actually set it up.

There are real estimates of the economic contribution generated by prostitution geared towards Farang. It is huge and it is extensive. Though it is a minority of the tourism dollar, prostitution has a real effect on the bottom line of all aspects of the tourism sector (some estimates as high as 30%) and on the local economies of many a small Issan village. Socioeconomic research clearly shows that the girls make more than their peers of comparable socioeconomic backgrounds who engage in other work will do and so, in agreement with other posters here, yes, they will not thank for abstaining.

Frankly, though I would be embarrassed, as many Thai are, to have my homeland thought of as a major destination for sex tourism, that is about the common concern that one can find among the Thai or their government about the sector. As in most of the West, there is an acceptance that prostitution goes on, is very difficult to truly abolish, and is generally less harmful to the participants if it is more in the open and amenable to some form of regulation and oversight for the purposes of harm minimization. It is only when debate turns to legalization and potential tax revenue that people tend to get up in arms. That sort of legislation tends to go nowhere, in Thailand and in most other countries. It does come up once in a while, but fades away before being realized.

There is purportedly a crackdown coming on Western managers and part-owners of venues known for prostitution in Pattaya. Reading between the lines, it seems this is geared more towards concerns about money laundering than morality. Interestingly, though, it also opens up the possibility of evicting the Western owners and opening up the venues for Thai management positions (employment for Thais) and, get this, taking the Farang owners shares and returning them to the Thai, who, of course, could then resell them to someone else once the whole thing dies down. It would be fascinating to know all the machinations behind what may or may not happen on this front in the near future, but suffice it to say I am happy not to own or manage such a venue in Pattaya at present. Perhaps in the end it was just another bit of morality based PR for some politician. Let us know what goes down, Stick!!!

So, morality aside, I think this is a pretty accurate summary of the scene in Thailand. Don’t expect any sincere wais from the Thai for partaking in it, expect sincere, if well concealed, condemnation if you flaunt your participation in it, as that is just plain tasteless, but also do not concern yourself that most Thai really care about it all that much. As in many parts of the world, it is just a boys will do as boys do kind of issue to the average Thai.

Have I skirted the morality issue? You bet. I took my college courses in Ethics, have taught (research) ethics, and in no way consider myself a serious enough philosopher to crack this nut! I can only leave you with my admonishment not to deny the realities of trafficking, the horrors of acknowledging that child prostitution is for real in Thailand, the hope that you will use a condom as HIV is real (and the strain more common in Thailand more easily passed to you), and the uncomfortable warning that genital warts are not so uncommon and not so easily protected against as other STDs, but wear the condom anyway.

Stickman's thoughts:

You make quite a few claims that really need a bit of meat to back them up. I am not saying you're wrong but I do think there are a lot of generalisations here. You mention quite a few things that you could not possibly know first hand, the results of which must have come from surveys which should have been cited, or at least alluded to, to support your claims.