Sex workers in Pattaya in mostly Buddhist Thailand

The Buddhist view on sex is that if sex is consensual and done selflessly to bring pleasure to all those involved it is viewed as a virtuous act. If is done out desire and pursuit of pleasure it is regarded as a sin and an obstacle to enlightenment.

According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand : The profound influences of Buddhism on gender and sexuality are intertwined with Hinduist practice, local animistic beliefs, and popular demonology from ancient times. Although the guidelines to achieve nirvana are offered, Buddhism emphasizes to the laity “the middle way” and the importance of avoiding extremism. This pragmatic approach is also seen in the domain of sexuality. Despite the deprecation of sexuality in the ideal Buddhism, celibacy is likely to be pertinent only to the monastic lifestyle, while diverse sexual expression has been tolerated among the lay followers, especially the men for whom sexual, military, and social prowess has always been extolled. The Five Precepts are guidelines for lay Buddhists “for a socially-just life, free of exploitation of oneself and others." Again, pragmatism prevails: All of the Precepts are not rigidly expected in most lay Buddhists except for the elderly or extraordinarily pious lay persons."Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand *]

“The Third Buddhist Precept specifically addresses human sexuality: refrain from sexual misconduct or “wrong doing in sexual matters." Although being open to various interpretations, depending on the different contexts, malfeasance is usually considered by Thai people to mean adultery, rape, sexual abuse of children, and careless sexual activities that result in the sorrow of others. Premarital sex, prostitution, masturbation, cross-gendered behavior, and homosexuality, on the other hand, are not explicitly mentioned. Any objection to some of these sexual phenomena is perhaps grounded in other non-Buddhist beliefs, such as classism, animism, or Western medical theories. In subsequent sections, we will present further discussions on the Buddhist attitudes toward homosexuality and commercial sex. *

Websites and Resources on Buddhism: Buddha Net buddhanet.net/e-learning/basic-guide ; Internet Sacred Texts Archive sacred-texts.com/bud/index ; Introduction to Buddhism webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/buddhaintro ; Early Buddhist texts, translations, and parallels, SuttaCentral suttacentral.net ; East Asian Buddhist Studies: A Reference Guide, UCLA web.archive.org ; View on Buddhism viewonbuddhism.org ; Tricycle: The Buddhist Review tricycle.org ; BBC - Religion: Buddhism bbc.co.uk/religion

Extra-Marital Relationships

Buddhism frowns upon adultery and sexual misbehavior not so much because there is something religiously wrong with them but because they are viewed as wrong by society. Major General Ananda Weerasekera, a Sri Lankan general who became a monk, wrote in Beyond the Net: “The word "protection" of a husband could be extended to go beyond today’s formal marriage and accommodates a relationship between man and woman established by habit and repute and would include a women who is recognised to be a consort of a man (a women who lives with a man or who is kept by a man). Reference to the women under the protection of a guardian precludes elopement or secret marriages without the knowledge of the guardian. The women protected by convention and by the laws of the land are women who are forbidden by social convention such as close relatives (i.e. sexual activity between sisters and brothers or between same sex), women under a vow of celibacy (i.e. nuns) and under-aged children etc. [Source: Major General Ananda Weerasekera, Beyond the Net]

shunga art from partly Buddhist Japan

“A careful analysis of this precept reveals that like all other precepts laid down by the Buddha, this too was meant to prevent friction and disharmony within the family and to ensure social harmony which in turn would prevent internal conflict and would ultimately facilitate mental development leading towards the ultimate goal, the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

"Sexual misconduct" is defined by the Buddha as follows: A man indulging in sexual intercourse with a women who is under the protection of a husband a mother, father, brother, sister or other rightfully entitled guardian the laws of the land or by convention Accordingly, a married women having a sexual relationship with a man who is not her husband would undoubtedly lead to the women and the man both committing a breach of the third precept irrespective of the fact that the man is a bachelor or a divorcee.

The third precept from a ethical stand point seeks to protect a marital relationship from interference and disruption or to promote mutual trust and fidelity between husband and wife. The third precept when carefully analysed seems to be directly linked to a "support system" of a woman. A protected woman is dependent for her support whether moral or material and/or for maintenance on her husband, guardian or the protector. The third precept seems to safeguard this support system, thus ensuring her safety or protection. This is more evident from the fact that during the time of the Buddha, the king despite having a harem of women was often the chief lay supporter of the Buddha and a devoted Buddhist. Some kings are reported even to have reached the fruits of the Path such as stream-entry.

In today’s context, bigamy is a criminal offence. Bigamy in essence is marrying while being married to another. To the extent of the said definition of the third precept, a man marrying another while already married as long as there is no deception about the fact that he is a married man does not lead to a breach of the third precept provided the woman of the later marriage does not belong to the protected categories.

You could apply the same principle to polygamy. The practice of having more than one wife or husband. Whilst a man may have more than one woman provided they are not "protected women" in the above sense the third precept precludes a women who is already protected by a husband having more than one man. From the above explanation, it should be very clear to you that under the said circumstances you are committing a breach of the third precept.

Buddhism, Sexuality and Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods in 2011

From childhood golfer Tiger Woods was raised as a Buddhist, and actively practised this faith from childhood until well into his adult professional golf career. In a 2000 article, Woods was quoted as saying he "believes in Buddhism... Not every aspect, but most of it." In the wake of the sex scandal that made worldwide headlines in 2009, Woods attributed his deviations and infidelity to his losing track of Buddhism. He said that "Buddhism teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught." [Source: Wikipedia]

In February 2010, AFP reported: “Tiger Woods believes the Buddhist precepts he learned from his mother, Kultida, will help him right a life derailed by his now infamous infidelities. "I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it," Woods said in his first public remarks since sordid revelations of his extramarital affairs surfaced in November. "Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. "People probably don't realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist and actively practice my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. [Source: AFP, February 20, 2010]

Woods said that 45 days of in-patient therapy had helped him realize that his life needed a spiritual element. "In therapy, I've learned the points of looking at my spiritual life and keeping in balance with my professional life. "I need to regain my balance and be centered so I can save the things that are most important to me, my marriage and my children."


There is no doctrinal basis in Buddhism for Buddhists to oppose birth control. Generally, Buddhist laypeople may use any traditional or modern measures to prevent conception. Birth control simply prevents a potential being from coming into existence and does not harm any sentient beings.[Source: Jacob Kinnard, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2018, Encyclopedia.com]

According to the BBC: “Buddhist attitudes to contraception are based on the idea that it is wrong to kill for any reason. The most common Buddhist view on birth control is that contraception is acceptable if it prevents conception, but that contraceptives that work by stopping the development of a fertilised egg are wrong and should not be used. [Source: BBC |::|]

“Buddhists believe that life begins (or more technically: a consciousness arises) when the egg is fertilised. That is why some birth control methods, such as the IUD, which act by killing the fertilised egg and preventing implantation are unacceptable since they harm the consciousness which has already become embodied. |::|

“Unlike some other religions, Buddhism is not strongly pro-family and does not regard having children as a religious duty. Although Buddha's teachings do not condemn non-reproductive sexual activity, they do object to the pursuit of sensual desire, which suggests that Buddhists actively seeking enlightenment should not use birth control in order to pursue sexual pleasure.” |:|

Buddhist Views on Abortion

condom leakage test at the Condom Museum in Bangkok

Abortion presents a more difficult, more ambiguous issue than contraception. The precept that prohibits killing (and harming) beings stipulates that killing is governed by five conditions, the first of which is the presence of a living being, and so it very much depends on one's stance on this issue.[Source: Jacob Kinnard, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2018, Encyclopedia.com]

Damien Keown wrote in Science and Theology News: “There is no single Buddhist view on abortion. Buddhists believe that life should not be destroyed, but they regard causing death as morally wrong only if the death is caused deliberately or by negligence. Traditional Buddhism rejects abortion because it involves the deliberate destroying of a life. Buddhists regard life as starting at conception. Buddhism believes in rebirth and teaches that individual human life begins at conception. The new being, bearing the karmic identity of a recently deceased individual, is therefore as entitled to the same moral respect as an adult human being. [Source: Damien Keown, Science and Theology News, April 2004]

“Modern Buddhists, however, are more divided about the morality of abortion. It's personal Buddhists are expected to take full personal responsibility for everything they do and for the consequences that follow. The decision to abort is therefore a highly personal one, and one that requires careful and compassionate exploration of the ethical issues involved, and a willingness to carry the burden of whatever happens as a result of the decision. The ethical consequences of the decision will also depend on the motive and intention behind the decision, and the level of mindfulness with which it was taken.

“According to the teachings of Buddha, five conditions must be present to constitute an act of killing: 1) the thing killed must be a living being; 2) you, the killer, must know or be aware that it is a living being; 3) you must have the intention to kill it; 4) there must be an effort to kill; 5) the being must be killed as the result.

“Here's an example of how an abortion might constitute an act of killing: When a baby is conceived, a living being is created and that satisfies the first condition. Although Buddhists believe that beings live in a cycle of birth death and rebirth, they regard the moment of conception as the beginning of the life of an embodied individual. After a few weeks the woman becomes aware of its existence and that meets the second condition. If she decides she wants an abortion that provides an intention to kill. When she seeks an abortion that meets the fourth condition of making an effort to kill. Finally the being is killed because of that action. Therefore the First Precept of Buddhism - not to kill - is violated and this is tantamount to killing a human being.

Mr Condom in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 1990

“Buddhists face a difficulty where an abortion is medically necessary to save the life of the mother and so a life will be lost whether there is or isn't an abortion. In such cases the moral status of an abortion will depend on the intentions of those carrying it out. If the decision is taken compassionately, and after long and careful thought then although the action may be wrong the moral harm done will be reduced by the good intentions involved.

“There are cases where not having an abortion may result in the birth of a child with medical conditions that cause it to suffer. Traditional Buddhist thinking does not deal with these cases, but it has been argued by some Buddhists that if the child would be so severely handicapped that it would undergo great suffering, abortion is permissible.

The Dalai Lama has said: “Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance. [Source: New York Times, November 28, 1993] According to the BBC: “While it's pretty obvious why abortion is considered to generate bad karma for the mother and the abortionist it may not be so obvious why it generates bad karma for the foetus. The foetus suffers bad karma because its soul is deprived of the opportunities that an earthly existence would have given it to earn good karma, and is returned immediately to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus abortion hinders its spiritual progress.”

Buddhist Monks and Sex

In Southeast Asia, women are not allowed to touch monks. A pamphlet given to arriving tourists in Thailand reads: "Buddhist monks are forbidden to touch or be touched by a woman or to accept anything from the hand of one." One of Thailand's most revered Buddhist preachers told the Washington Post: "Lord Buddha has already taught Buddhist monks to stay away from women. If the monks can refrain from being associated with women, then they would have no problem."

Temple monk in Japan Buddhist monks in Thailand have more than 80 meditation techniques to overcome lust and one of the most effective, one monk told the Bangkok Post, is "corpse contemplation."

The same monk told the newspaper, "Wet dreams are a constant reminder of men's nature. " Another said that he walked around with his eyes lowered. "If we look up," he lamented, "There it is — the advertisement for women's underpants."

In 1994, a charismatic 43-year-old Buddhist monk in Thailand was accused of violating his vows of celibacy after he allegedly seduced a Danish harpist in the back of her van, and fathered a daughter with a Thai woman who gave birth to the child in Yugoslavia. The monk also reportedly made obscene long distance calls to some his female followers and had sex with a Cambodian nun on the deck of a Scandinavian cruise ship after he told her they had been married in a previous life.

The monk was also criticized for traveling with a large entourage of devotees, some of them women, staying in hotels instead of Buddhist temples, possessing two credit cards, wearing leather and riding on animals. In his defense, the monk and his supporters said that he was the target of "a well organized attempt" to defame him masterminded by a group of female "monk hunters" out to destroy Buddhism.

Buddhism and Homosexuality

According to Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand : Buddhism is mostly silent on the topic of homosexuality. Despite some ambivalence toward homosexuality in many Buddhist cultures, Cabezón (1993) notes Buddhism only condemns homosexuality more for being an instance of sexuality rather than its same-gender sex. “The principal question for Buddhism has not been one of heterosexuality versus homosexuality, but one of sexuality versus celibacy” (p. 82). Cabezón further notes that, as far as the laity are concerned, homosexuality is rarely mentioned as a transgression of the Third Precept in Buddhist texts and oral commentaries. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand *]

“References to homosexuality have been found in the Buddhist canon and the Jataka, the stories of the Buddha's previous lives. Leonard Zwilling has noted that only in the Vinaya, the monastic discipline which forms one of the three sections of the Buddhist canon, is there mention of same-gender attraction and effeminacy in men. These instances were, according to Zwilling, “derogated much to the same degree as comparable heterosexual acts”. As for other sections of the Buddhist canon, John Garret Jones has concluded that there is an implicit affirmation from the silence regarding homosexuality, and the silence is certainly not due to the lack of material."

erotic art from partly Buddhist China

“Whereas the canon is silent about homosexuality, the Jataka literature, in which the previously mentioned tale of Prince Vessantara is embedded, is replete with sentiments about same-gender affection. One example can be found in the eloquent past-life stories of the Buddha and his disciple and attendant, Ananda. In one scenario, the Buddha and Ananda are depicted as two deer who “always went about together... ruminating and cuddling together, very happy, head to head, nozzle to nozzle, horn to horn." In another story, a serpent king who falls in love with Ananda “encircled the ascetic with snakes folds, and embraced him, with his great hood upon his head; and there he lay a little, till his affection was satisfied” (Jones 1979, quoted in Cabezón 1993, p. 89). These examples are but a few of many instances which articulate same-gender affection in the context of friendships between men in the Jatakas. Considering the enormous number of warnings about the dangers of heterosexual relationships, Cabezón argues that the absence of warning about same-gender relationship is remarkable. It suggests that the attitude toward homosexuality in the Indian Jataka texts is one of acceptance, and occasionally even a eulogy, of these feelings. *

Allyn (1991) cites yet another Buddhist story, possibly a folk version, told on Thai radio about a male disciple who had fallen in love with the Buddha. The disciple expresses admiration for the Buddha's beauty. The Buddha responded to these acts of admiration by a gentle reminder of the body's impermanence, a likely response for a female admirer as well. Taken together with the analysis of the canon and the Jataka tales, this story illustrates Buddhism's neutral position on the issue of homosexuality. Nevertheless, it should be noted that some negative attitudes can be found in the Buddhist practice today. For example, some Thai people have heard that a man who acknowledges his homosexuality will be denied Buddhist ordination, although such instances may have been very rare or never enforced. *

Buddhism, Homosexuality and Gay Marriage

In a Buddhist counties like Thailand, many people have wondered whether gay marriage laws could be applied in the country in accordance with Theravada Buddhism. Is there any objection of the Buddha against same-sex marriage? The answer to the question is ''No.'' [Source: Mettanando Bhikkhu, Tha Bangkok Post, July 13, 2005; Bhikko qualified as a physician before he ordained as a Buddhist monk. He holds an MD from Chulalongkorn University, an MA from Oxford, a ThM from Harvard and PhD from Hamburg ^^^]

“There is no objection of the Buddha found in the Tipitaka. To be precise, the Buddha was neither supportive nor against marriage between members of the same gender. This is not because Buddhism is naive about homosexuality. In fact, in the first book of the monastic code, the Vinaya, in the Buddhist Pali canon, there are hundreds of references to sexual relationship and most forms of deviant sexual practices, as appeared in Indian society over 2,500 years ago. Many of the cases often raise the eyebrows of psychologists and psychiatrists, such as bestiality (sex between a man and an animal), necrophilism (sex between a man and a corpse), paedophilia, etc. These cases reveal that Buddhism had spread far and wide into Indian society, and all these problems were unearthed to the growing Buddhist community. ^^^

same-sex wedding in partly Buddhist Taiwan

“Also, from the Tipitaka, it is clear that the Buddha acknowledged the difference between hermaphrodites and homosexual practitioners. Hermaphrodites and eunuchs are not allowed to be ordained, but there is no sanction against homosexuality. Of course, there was a case of a gay monk who was overcome by sexual desire and could no longer restrain himself. He was seducing his friends and novices to have sex with him. They rejected him so he left the monastery and had sex with men who were elephant keepers and horse keepers. When news spread around the entire Buddhist community that he was homosexual, the Buddha was alerted to the problem and he issued a rule for the community not to give any ordination to a homosexual, and those ordained gays are to be expelled. ^^^

“The Buddha was more tolerant of lesbianism than male homosexuality. Nuns who were caught in lesbian practices were not expelled from the order. They must confess to the fellows about their practice, and then the offence will be redeemed. (Vin. IV, 261) The monastic rules do not guarantee Buddhist monasticism is entirely free from homosexuals. Indeed, they only say that monks and nuns are required to live a celibate life. Often in history, the monastic community has been plagued by homosexual scandals. ^^^

“As for the lay homosexual people, the Buddha gave no rule or advice as to whether they should be allowed to marry or not. The Buddha posted himself simply as the one who shows the way. He did not insist that he had any right to enforce on others what they should do. With this principle, the original teachings of the Buddha do not cover social ceremonies or rituals. Weddings and marriages of all kinds are regarded as mundane and have no place in Buddhism."^^

“The principle of universal compassion does not allow Buddhists to judge other people based on the nature of what they are, which practice is considered discrimination. Unlike Christianity, where gender is a part of God's creation, Buddhists see genderisation as a sign of decay. In the Buddhist version of the Genesis, Agga-asutta (also known as the Aphorism on the Knowledge of the Beginning), male and female genders were a part of the fall. Originally, the primordial ancestors of humans were self-luminous, mind-born and sexless. So the mind is supreme and sexless, which is consistent with the higher form of existence. The most important principle to derive from that is there is no superiority of one gender over the other. The first sin among them which perpetuated the fall was the prejudice of appearance, when those of brighter skin looked down on those with darker skin. ^^^

Buddhist rainbow LGBT flag

Based on this principle, homosexual people should not be discriminated against; they are humans who deserve all the rights and dignity endowed upon them as members of human race. This does not mean that Thai Buddhists are supportive of gay rights and homosexual marriage, or that liberal activists will be successful in their social campaign. Human rights issues have always received poor attention in Theravada countries, as the culture is rooted in the belief in the Law of Karma, which is more popular among Thai Buddhists than philosophical and advanced scriptural studies in Buddhism.

“Many monasteries and monks advocate their lay followers to see the world through the lens of karma, i.e., every person is born to pay back their sins. According to their explanations, all homosexuals and sexual deviants were once offenders of the Third Precept (prohibiting sexual misconduct) _ at least in their past lives, and they must pay off their past sins in their present life. Therefore, they deserve all that society gives to them. This belief system creates strong conservative values in Theravada Buddhist culture. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Buddhists will easily approve a law to allow gay marriage. Gay and lesbian activists in Thailand will not be as successful as their fellows in European countries or Canada." ^^^

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Asia Society Museum “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); BBC, Wikipedia, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.