The Acceptable Face Of Prostitution
Stickman does his fieldwork and puts together an interesting weekly column with which we can, and often do, disagree. But his fieldwork seems good. So I thought I would do some fieldwork of my own this month. And I discovered why there are so many massage shops in Thailand, often apparently with very few customers.
It seems to be routine that when a single guy goes into a massage shop the masseuse asks him if he would like short-time sex with one of the other ladies in the shop or with her. The question might not come directly, or immediately, but it can be detected without extra-sensory perception. It is plain that massage is not the only service that is for sale. Having the question put inside the shop overcomes the embarrassment of some men to approach women outside the shop for sex.
Almost all of the women at the shop are generally not sexually desirable – perhaps to disguise what is readily available – but there is usually one put out the front to catch the eye of passers-by and promote the shop’s services. Several women may be the promoters. Often, not all of them are sexually attractive. In Thailand, nothing is ever what it seems.
If there is no pretty promoter outside the shop, that may be only temporary because she is already busy inside or has been called out to provide “massage” in a hotel room or has time off for shopping, or whatever.
The provision of sex by masseuses is therefore completely discreet and masked by a veneer which is what one might call respectable massage, if there is such a thing. This is in contrast to a guy leaving a bar with a pretty young woman when the nature of the liaison is clear.
For that discretion which the massage shops provide the punter seems to be prepared to pay a remarkably high price. If the woman running the shop gets only one punter a day that can be enough to pay the shop rent and other outgoings, and live, and also provide all necessary contributions to maintain her Thai family too. It is possible for the Thai to live very cheaply in Thailand. All occasional other (kosher) massage income at the shop is a bonus.
To put some figures on it, I’ve discovered that the woman often suggests that she “attends to” the customer after the bars have turned out and the massage shops close. That’s around 2am. By 6am she will have considered that she will have done more than “short-time” and will be on her way home, often with two thousand baht or more in her handbag.
Now that is big money on any reckoning. For an English woman it would be about ten pounds an hour which is around double what my twenty-year-old daughter was earning in England a few months ago for doing a proper job. And in Thailand “massage” is considered (even by the country’s religion) to be a “proper job”. So no wonder so many women from all parts of Thailand, without any inhibitions about prostitution, when bored with their relationship with their man, are prepared to ditch him and (a Thai phenomenon) even the daily care of their children in order to go off and earn that big money. If it is big money for young women in England, multiply it by ten for the real value of what it is in terms of Thai living.
There does not seem to be any way that this is going to stop while the following ludicrous situations exist:
large social circles in Thailand where there is no stigma attached to prostitution so long as it is not blatant or “in your face”
Thai opinion that prostitution is a valid way to improve one’s financial situation
massage being a socially acceptable activity to mask prostitution
foreigners being prepared to pay hourly what is about twice a decent wage in England (or even more!) just to sleep with a woman with the chance that the sex might be good. (One thought: if it’s good for her too – and it ought to be if you want a really good time – why should anyone be paying?)
The last remarkable fact elicited by my fieldwork is that these women will even quote 2000 baht for a quick 10-minute shag in the massage shop. Although they will generally discount by fifty per cent if they like you, if you ask, and if you look like a clean, kind and considerate person, that’s still a huge sum for lying down, which may be all the activity that she provides. It is a huge sum in terms of the small amount it costs the woman to live, in Thailand, and it is a huge sum especially when you remember that when you first went into the shop they were offering to give you 2 hours of massage – which itself can be quite sexually stimulating – for just 300 baht!!
As always, if something sounds like a bargain, it usually isn’t. And you need to keep a cool head, and ignore your feelings, to see it.
In the massage shops in the most heavily touristed areas, I reckon most girls are "up for it". In fact most count on it to earn a reasonable amount. In quite a lot of the massage shops within a few hundred metre radius of Soi Cowboy, often the girls sleep upstairs – often in the very area where they perform the massage.