According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Sexuality in Thailand, like the country's peaceful yet interesting coexistence of peoples and cultures, is a convergence of values and practices resulting from admixing of cultures over the centuries. In recent years, these sexual attitudes and behaviors have undergone enormous changes influenced by the rapid economic growth, urbanization, exposure to Western cultures, and, most recently, the HIV epidemic. While economic growth has afforded the country more effective population control and improved public health services, certain strata of the society have suffered from socioeconomic pressures. The growth of tourism, combined with the indigenous attitudes toward sexuality, commercial sex, and homosexuality, have provided fertile grounds for the commercial sex industry to flourish in Thailand despite its illegal status. Exploitation of children for commercial sex purposes, and the high rates of HIV infection among sex workers and the population at large, are some of the many problems that have followed. The rise of HIV infection has caused Thai people to question and challenge many sexual norms and practices, most notably the men's rite-of-passage practice of having the first sexual intercourse with a female sex worker. [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]

“Thailand is noted for being a male-dominated patriarchal society, and the gender roles and expectations for Thai men and women differ accordingly. Despite the fact that many Thai men in the past had households with many wives, polygamy is no longer socially or legally acceptable. Mutual monogamy as well as emotional commitment constitute today's ideal marriage. Traditionally, men and women in Thai society depend on each other for the fulfillment of both religious and secular goals, as well as their needs for love and passion. Despite such reciprocal need, the existence of power differential is clear, and it may have been affirmed by the gender hierarchy sanctioned by Theravada Buddhism. Passion, courtship, romance, and love between men and women are glorified, and the love-inspired sentiments in Thai literature and music can rival the jubilance and pathos in any other culture.

“Nonetheless, an uneasy tension between the genders is evident in the way Thai men and women view one another, especially in the areas of intimacy, trust, and sexuality. A double standard for men and women still exists in the practices of premarital and extramarital sex. Manliness, or chaai chaatrii, has become increasingly associated with various vices, especially the search for sexual gratification. A man is encouraged to seek sexual pleasure as recreation, and sex with commercial sex workers represents an acceptable and “responsible” behavior to fulfill the sexual desires of single and married men. On the other hand, the dichotomous stereotype of the good-woman/bad-woman exists: a “good” woman, personified in the image of a kulasatrii, is expected to be a virgin when she marries and to remain monogamous with her husband; otherwise she is categorized as “bad.” Men and women are socialized to maintain distance from the opposite gender. Newer generations of Thai people are finding that the clear-cut traditional gender constructions can no longer explain their evolving, amorphous forms of gender relations.

“Another area that has received recent attention is male and female homosexual behaviors. Same-gender sexual behavior was traditionally recognized as associated with the gender-nonconformity among the kathoey, who were seen as a “third gender.” Indigenously, the kathoey were relatively tolerated and often held some special social roles in the community. Previously an undiscussed topic, the Thai vocabulary managed without a word for homosexuality by using a euphemism such as “trees in the same forest” until the past few decades. More recently, the words “gay” and “lesbian” have been adopted from English, illustrating the search for vocabularies to represent types of homosexualities, which had existed without labels. Homophobia, stereotypes, and misconceptions about homosexuality are common, especially among the middle class who have learned antiquated Western psychiatric theories. On the other hand, gay businesses and sex industry have grown to significant visibility. Meanwhile, a few advocate groups have emerged to advance their agenda and formulate new social identities for gays and lesbians in Thailand.

Attitudes About Sex in Thailand

Despite the high visibility given Thailand’s sex industry and the Thai anything-goes attitude about life, Thais can be very shy and conservative when it comes to sex. Talking about sex is taboo. Most Thai actress refuse to do nude scenes and explicit sex scenes are cut from movies. The Thai concept of “sanuk” (the idea of having a good time for it's own sake) is manifested in the open attitude toward sex among men, whose use of prostitutes before and after marriage is widely tolerated. Women, however, are expected to be virgins before they get married and monogamous afterwards, Buddhism discourages extramarital sex, and miniskirts have been banned at universities

As a rule Thais don’t like the public nudity or topless bathing displayed by foreigners at some beaches in Thailand. Some Thais objected to members of the Swiss women’s soccer team changing their jerseys—with sports bras underneath—during a particularly hot practice session in Bangkok. As part of a “social evils” campaign launched in the early girlie bars were forced to close at 2:00am.

In a 2001 Time magazine sex survey 28 percent of males and 28 percent of females said they thought they were sexy. When asked if premarital sex is okay. 93 percent of males and 82 percent of females said yes. On young woman told Time, “I first had sex when I was 20. When I go back to my home village, I see that girls are already having sex when they are 15 and 16. Before, everyone used to think sex was very important. Now they think it’s for fun.”

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Although well known for their general tolerance and harmony, the lack of conflicts or hostility in the Thai society does not necessarily indicate that Thai people always maintain embracing attitudes about gender inequality, homosexuality, abortion, or sexuality in general. The Third Buddhist Precept clearly prohibits sex which causes sorrow in others, such as irresponsible and exploitative sex, adultery, sexual coercion, and abuse. Other phenomena, such as masturbation, prostitution, subordination of women, and homosexuality, remain uncertain. Most of the current attitudes about these practices can be traced to non-Buddhist sources. Today, these non-Buddhist beliefs are primarily a blend between indigenous concepts (e.g., class structures, animism, and gender codes) and Western ideologies (e.g., capitalism and medical and psychological theories of sexuality). [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]

Thai Sexual Habits

In the 2001 Time magazine sex survey 80 percent of males and 72 percent of females said they had had oral sex and 87 percent of males and 14 percent of females said they were the ones who initiated sex. When asked how many sexual partners they had had: 30 percent of males and 61 percent of females said one; 45 percent of males and 32 percent of females said two to four; 14 percent of males and 5 percent of females said five to 12; and 11 percent of males and 2 percent of females said more than 13.

In the 2001 Time sex survey 64 percent of males and 59 percent of females said they needed external stimulants to get aroused. and 40 percent of males and 20 percent of females said they had watched pornography in the past three months. When asked in the same survey if they engaged in cybersex, eight percent of males and five percent of females said yes.

Thailand was the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize Viagra and the first to make it available without a prescription. After it was legalized, bootleg Viagra made by underground chemists was sold at bars and brothels in city red-light districts. The drug was widely abused and connected with a numbers of heart attacks among tourists.

Valentines day is a big day for Thai teenagers to have sex. Couple go it on a big date which is often expected to be capped off with sex: sort of like an American prom date. Teachers and police regard this as a problem and have staked out places where teenagers might go to have sex. The effort have been part of larger “social order campaign against youthful promiscuity, drugs and crimes at nightclubs.”

Religion, Buddhism and Sexuality in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: The profound influences of Buddhism on gender and sexuality in Thailand 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 in Thailand (as well as in other Buddhist cultures) 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]

“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 .

Monks, Women and Sex in Thailand

Bars with prostitutes and live sex sex shows on Patpong Road welcome saffron-robed monks, who make annual visits to some of the establishments to recite mantras and bless them bar so they will be profitable in the coming year. Before the monks arrive the girls put on proper clothes and make their establishments look respectable. Covering up a soft-core pornographic poster one girl said in a National Geographic article by Peter White, "Monk see that and not want to be a monk anymore." [Source: Peter White, National Geographic, July 1967]

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." [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, March 21, 1994]

There are more than 80 mediation techniques use to overcome lusts. One of the most effective, one monk told the Bangkok Post, is "corpse contemplation." "Wet dreams are a constant reminder of men's nature," one monk said. Another added, "If we lower our eyes, we cannot see the cluttered wat. if we look up, there it is—the advertisement for women's underpants." [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, March 21, 1994]

In 1994, Phara Yantra Amaro Bhikhu, a charismatic Buddhist monk, was accused of violating his vows of celibacy by: 1) seducing a Danish harpist in the back of her van; 2) having sex with a Cambodian nun on the deck of a Scandinavian cruise ship after telling her they had been married in a previous life; and 3) fathering a daughter with a Thai woman who gave birth to the child in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in an effort to avoid being notices. The monk also reportedly made obscene long distance calls to some of his female followers. [Source: William Branigin, the Washington Post, March 21, 1994]

"Yantra, 43, aroused controversy initially for traveling abroad," William Branigin wrote in the Washington Post , "with a large entourage of devotees, some of them women, staying in hotels instead of Buddhist temples and possessing two credit cards. He also often walks on pieces of white cloth, which followers lay on the ground for him to step on to bring them good luck, a practice that some Buddhists believe leads to an undue emphasis on the individual rather than on religious teachings." In his defense, Yantra said that he was the target of "a well organized attempt to defame me." His disciples said that a group of female "monk hunters" was out to destroy Buddhism.

Abbot Thammathorn Wanchai was defrocked after police, accompanied by a television crew, raided his secret residence, where he arranged tryst with women, Among other things the police found porn magazines, women’s underwear and a hip flasks full of alcohol.

Sexual Education and Knowledge in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Like parents in many other cultures, most Thai parents do not educate their children about sexuality, and when children ask about sex, they are likely to avoid answering or they provide incorrect information. Since parents are unlikely to display affection in front of their children, role-modeling of affection between the genders is usually derived not from parents, but from literature or the media. Men are more likely to discuss sex with other men, especially when they are socializing and drinking with each other. Women also prefer to discuss sex and their marital issues with their same-gender peers (Thorbek 1988). Sexual communication between a married couple has received much attention among Thai sex and AIDS researchers recently, but data are still scarce. [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]

“Sexual matters are not typically discussed in a serious fashion in the Thai society. When sex is mentioned, it is often in the context of playful banter or humor. Playful joking about sex with striking curiosity and candor is not uncommon. For example, a newlywed couple would be teased lightheartedly and openly: “Did you have fun last night? Was last night happy? How many times?” As in many cultures, Thai people have an extensive sexual vocabulary. For every colloquialism that Thai people find offensive or obscene, there are a number of euphemistic equivalents. Euphemistic substitutes are made by way of symbolic animals or objects (e.g., “dragon” or “dove” for penis, “oyster” for vagina, and “eggs” for testicles); children's language (e.g., “little kid” or “Mr. That” for penis); extreme obscurity (e.g., “said activity” for having sex, “using mouth” for oral sex, and “Miss Body” for prostitute); literary references (e.g., “Lord of the world” for penis); or medical terms (e.g., “birth canal” for vagina).

“With such a variety of alternative terms, Thai people feel that sexual matters in everyday conversation should be tastefully alluded to in moderate amounts, with an artful choice of words, timing, and comic sensibility. Thai people do have a strict sense of social appropriateness surrounding such humor, especially in the presence of elders or women. Discussions about sex are uncomfortable when they are excessively crude or straightforward, overly solemn or intellectual, and socially inappropriate. Such discomfort is reflected in the Thai words which are equivalent to “one-track mind,” “dirty mind,” “lewd,” “sex-obsessed,” “sex-crazed,” or “nympho” in English, with a variety of nuances ranging from playful to pathologizing to disapproving. Such attitudes have been one of the barriers for sexuality education; rather than objecting to content of sexuality education per se, adults and educators feel embarrassed by discussions about sex that seem too intellectual and straightforward.

“Sexuality education was introduced in Thai schools in 1978. Although the curriculum has been revised over the years, it has been limited to reproductive issues and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). As in many other countries, sexuality education in Thailand has been rarely taught in a comprehensive manner. Embedded in the contexts of health education and biology, attention to sociocultural contexts was more an exception than a rule. Although family planning and population control is practiced by most Thais, contraception is not emphasized in school. Instead, a typical Thai gains this knowledge from family planning media campaigns, clinics, and physicians.

“Dusitsin (1995) has expressed concerns that Thai people can no longer rely on learning about sex from sexual humor, which contains alarming amounts of sexual myths and misinformation. Dusitsin's proposal of a Program for the Promotion of Sexual Health gives a priority to developing curricula for sexuality education for both students and non-student populations. Other Thai researchers and experts have voiced the same philosophy and have called for more comprehensive curricula, with greater coverage of psychosocial issues such as a discourse on gender, homophobia, and sexual commercialism. They have also urged that sexuality education must have its own identity and objectives clearly distinguished from the highly visible AIDS-prevention campaigns in order to avoid the constricted scope and sex-negative attitudes. Others have also enthusiastically supported the idea of covering non-student populations, who usually have limited access to services and education.

Vaginal, Oral, and Anal Sex in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: Data on the incidence of vaginal, oral, and anal sex among Thai people has been provided by the large-scale Partner Relations Survey.. Among sexually experienced participants, vaginal intercourse was by far the most frequent sexual behavior, reported by 99.9 percent of the male and 99.8 percent of the female participants. Other sexual behaviors, however, are much more rare: performing oral intercourse (presumably on the other gender) was reported by only 0.7 percent of the male and 13 percent of the female participants. Receiving oral sex was reported by 21 percent of the male participants and no data were available for the female participants' experience of receiving oral sex. Receptive anal intercourse was experienced by 0.9 percent of the male and 2 percent of the female participants. Insertive anal intercourse was experienced by 4 percent of the male participants. [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]

“The striking rarity of the non-genitogenital sexual acts, especially cunnilingus, among Thai people illustrates some sociocultural constructions that play important roles in the Thai sexuality. Even if reporting biases were operating in these findings, the reluctance toward having or reporting oral sex may suggest some aversion to certain body parts, especially the vagina or anus. As previously mentioned, Thai men's anxiety about losing dignity or masculinity from performing oral sex on a woman might have been a cultural residue from occultism and superstition of the past. In addition to this superstitious reasoning, Thais also apply the concepts of social hierarchy and dignity to body parts: certain parts of the body, such as the head or the face, are associated with personal honor or integrity, whereas other “inferior” parts, such as the legs, feet, anus, and the female reproductive organs, are associated with impurity and baseness. This belief is still extremely common in Thai society, even among those who are not particularly superstitious. In the updated belief of body hierarchy, the impurity of inferior body parts is associated with germs or crudeness, while violation is framed as poor hygiene or lack of social etiquette.

“In social interactions, the body hierarchy prohibits some behaviors, such as raising one's lower extremities high in the presence of others or touching an older person's head with one's hand (or even worse, with one's foot). In sexual situations, this belief also prevents certain sexual acts. Viewed in this cultural context, one can understand Thai people's repulsion toward oral or anal sex, as well as other sexual acts, such as oral-anal sex or foot fetishism. In these acts, “lowering” a highly guarded body part (e.g., a man's face or head) to contact an organ of a much lower order (e.g., feet or a woman's genitals) can cause damage to the man's personal integrity and dignity. Many Thais today openly disapprove of these sexual acts as deviant, unnatural, or unsanitary, while others are excited by the lack of inhibition they find in Western erotica.

Masturbation in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: Very few of the sex surveys conducted in the wake of the HIV epidemic have reported any data about the incidence of masturbation, let alone discussed the attitudes and behaviors surrounding this behavior. This may be due to the fact that masturbation, like most other sexual matters, is somewhat a taboo subject in Thailand, and has been ignored perhaps because it does not have a direct bearing on the public-health agenda. [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]

“One study did examine adolescent autoerotic attitudes and behaviors (Chompootaweep, Yamarat, Poomsuwan, and Dusitsin 1991). Many more male students (42 percent) than female students (6 percent) reported having masturbated. The modal age of first masturbatory experience was 13 years. Adolescents were likely to maintain negative attitudes about masturbation, viewing it as “unnatural,” or citing myths about masturbation, such as a belief that it causes sexually transmitted diseases. The gender difference found in the rates of reported masturbation is striking, although it is also typical of other domains in sexual surveys in Thailand. Within the same socioeconomic stratum, Thai men always report having much more sexual interest and experience than Thai women. Young women, in particular, might be uncomfortable with the idea of masturbation because it is an acknowledgment of sexual curiosity, which is deemed inappropriate and shameful for women.

“Data on the masturbatory experiences of adults are also scarce. In one study of army conscripts in northern Thailand, 89 percent of the men (age 21) reported having masturbated (Nopkesorn, Sungkarom, and Sornlum 1991). There is little or no formal information on adults' attitudes about masturbation, but the myths held by adults are likely to be different from those of adolescents. One common myth among male adults is that men are endowed with a finite number of orgasms, thus it is advisable to indulge in masturbation in moderation.

“Perhaps the general attitudes of Thai people regarding masturbation can be inferred from the terms used to describe the act. The formal Thai terminology for masturbation sumrej khuam khrai duay tua eng, which simply means “to consummate sexual desire by yourself,” has replaced a former technical term atta-kaam-kiriya, which means “sexual act with oneself.” The tone of these rather clinical and inconvenient terms is neutral, strictly free of judgment or implications about health consequences. There is really no clear discussion about masturbation, either positive or negative, in the Third Buddhist Precept or in animistic practice. Therefore, any disapproval of masturbation in the Thai society is likely to be a result of the general anxiety surrounding sexual indulgences, or perhaps from the Western anachronism introduced to the Thai thinking by way of past medical education.

“Most Thais, however, prefer the playful vernacular chak wow, meaning to “fly a kite.” The term compares male masturbation to the hand action of flying a kite, a popular Thai pastime. An even more euphemistic term for male masturbation is pai sa-naam luang, which means “to go to the grand field,” referring to the very popular park area near the royal palace in Bangkok where people fly kites. For women, the slang term tok bed is used, meaning “to use a fishing pole.” These playful and euphemistic expressions reflect the acknowledgment that masturbation occurs for both men and women, and yet some discomfort prevents a straightforward verbal expression.

In 2002, sex education textbooks were recalled because of criticism over a passage that encouraged teenagers to masturbate rather than have unsafe sex.

Pornography and Erotica in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: Erotic magazines and videotapes, most of which are designed for the male customer, are available in street markets, newsstands, and video stores. Imports and unauthorized copies of foreign (mostly American, European, and Japanese) erotica are easily available and popular. Thai-produced erotica tends to be more suggestive and less explicit than the XXX-rated erotica produced in the West. Heterosexual erotica has a greater market, but same-sex erotica is also available. [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]

“Depiction of nude female bodies or women in swimsuits on calendars are not an uncommon sight in male-dominated settings, such as bars, construction sites, warehouses, and auto shops. Caucasian and Japanese models are also as popular as Thai models. In fact, until a few decades ago when domestic production of pornography was prohibited by poor technology and strict laws, Thai men relied on pirated copies of Western porn and imported magazines, such as Playboy. Hence, the last few generations of Thai men have been exposed to Western sexuality primarily through pornography from Europe and North America. Because these materials portray sexual practices with the variety and explicitness unprecedented in the Thai media, Thai people who are acquainted with Western pornography have come to associate Westerners with sexual disinhibition and hedonism.

“Prior to the popularity of videotapes, imported and pirated, Western erotica was available in the underground market in the formats of print, 8-millimeter film, and photographic slides. Illegal prints of Western hard-core pornography, known as nangsue pok khao, or “white-cover publication” were produced by small, obscure publishers, and surreptitiously sold in bookstores, by mail order, or by solicitors in public areas. Nationally distributed magazines on display at newsstands and bookstores have burgeoned since the late 1970s. Following the format of American publications such as Playboy, these magazines, such as Man - among the earliest of its genre - print glossy photographs of Thai female models, and feature regular as well as erotic columns. The proliferation of gay men's erotic magazines followed in the mid-1980s.

“The legal status of these magazines, straight and gay, is somewhat ambiguous. While sometimes up to twenty or thirty different publications compete on the newsstands for years, the police have also made numerous raids on publishers and bookstores that carry these so-called “obscene” magazines. Such raids often follow a moral surge in politics or an administrative reform in the police department. Similar arrests have been made with the video rental stores that carry pornographic films. Interestingly, grounds for objection to these pornographic materials have never been based on the material's unauthorized status or even the exploitation of women. As known by all the customers and providers of pornography in Thailand, the disapproval is due to the “sex and obscenities” involved. In news coverage of these raids, officials commonly espouse Buddhist moral messages about sexual stoicism and, less often, the degradation of the kulasatrii image. Thai censorship of films has also been more strict on sexual matters than on violence, even when the sex or body exposure appears in nonexploitative contexts. In formality and the law, the Thai society is more sex-negative than what its sex industry has led most outsiders to believe.

“The depiction of the Thai female models in Thai erotic magazines for heterosexual men is perhaps an embodiment of the modern, urban “bad girl” image. Although many of them are indeed recruited from the commercial sex scenes in Bangkok, the glossy images and the accompanying biographies suggest that the models are single, educated, and middle-class adventurous women who do these poses on a one-time-only basis. To the reader, these women might as well be kulasatrii elsewhere, but here they let their hair down in front of the camera and become modern, beautiful, and sensual women who are in touch with their sexuality. Neither are these models the ordinary “carefree” women available in the one-night-stand scenes; their model-quality appearance is more than what the reader could expect in those environments. Hence, these models represent a high-end variant of carefree women, characterized by their overwhelming sexual magnetism, an excellent match indeed for men and their boundless sexual desires. A few famous models in the erotica industry have gone on to fashion, music, and acting in television or Film with great success.

Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling and Therapies in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Still in its infancy stage, sex therapies and counseling in Thailand are starting to adopt Western psychology, and the providers could learn much more from further research to help customize their services to fit the unique features of the Thai sexuality... Within Thai psychiatry and psychology, there has not been much focus on the treatment of sexual dysfunctions or disorders. There is recognition of some sexual dysfunctions, but it is mostly limited to male erectile or ejaculatory problems. Vernacular expressions exist for these male sexual dysfunctions, suggesting Thai people's familiarity with these phenomena. For example, kaam tai daan means “sexual unresponsiveness” in men or women. There are a few terms for male erectile dysfunction: the playful nokkhao mai khan (“the dove doesn't coo”) and the more cruel ma-khuea phao (“roasted eggplant”; Allyn 1991). Another slang, mai soo (“not up for a fight”), suggests an injury on the man's male pride for not being able to enter a “battle” with prowess. Premature ejaculation is referred to with a playful yet humiliating analogy nokkra-jok mai than kin naam, or “faster than a sparrow can sip water.” [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]

The incidence of various sexual dysfunctions have not yet been investigated. However, in the past two or three decades, many sex columns have appeared in the mainstream newspapers and magazines, offering advice and counsel in rather sexually explicit, but technical, detail. These are most often written by physicians who claim expertise in treating sexual problems and disorders. Other columnists in women's fashion and housekeeping magazines present themselves as older, experienced women who offer sage advice to younger ones about sex and relationships. The concepts of “squeeze technique” or “start-stop” techniques have been introduced to the typical middle-class Thai through these extremely popular advice columns.

Sexuality Studies in Thailand

Sexological research in Thailand is at an exciting stage. Prompted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the controversies regarding the commercial sex industry, large amounts of data have been collected on sexual behaviors and attitudes. Descriptive studies on sexual practices and norms have offered valuable insights into the sexuality of Thai people, although much more data are needed, especially in certain areas not directly associated with public health (e.g., abortion, rape, and incest).” Fore the research here “we relied primarily on two sources: the published papers and presentations, which provided most of the reviewed empirical data, and the analysis and interpretation of the cultural phenomena in Thailand.”

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: In a review of the history of sex research in Thailand, Chanya Sethaput (1995) noted the remarkable changes in methodologies and scope of sex research before and after the HIV epidemic in Thailand. These differences lent themselves to a pragmatic classification of pre- and post-AIDS eras of Thai sex research. She noted that only a handful of sex surveys were conducted before the HIV epidemic started in Thailand in 1984. In the pre-AIDS era, she identified the earliest study in 1962 in which the focus was on attitudes towards dating and marriage. In fact, most of the pre-AIDS research was concerned with the attitudes and knowledge in premarital sex, extramarital sex, cohabitation of unmarried couple, sexually transmitted diseases, and abortion. Sampled mostly from the educated, urban populations, such as college or high-school students, these early studies found gender differences in the attitudes of men and women, confirming the existence of a double standard in the sexual domain. Assessment of sexual behaviors was more of an exception than a rule. Early findings on sexual knowledge among Thai people had been used in the design of a curriculum for sexuality education which was later enforced by the Ministry of Education in schools across the country. [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]

“An abundance of studies have emerged after the first cases of AIDS were identified in Thailand about 1984. Driven by a public-health agenda, the post-AIDS sex research expanded its objectives to include more diverse questions (Sethaput 1995). Initially focused on “high-risk groups” such as sex workers and “gay” men, the populations of interest subsequently expanded to the customers of commercial sex (college students, soldiers, fishermen, truck drivers, and construction and factory workers), spouses and partners of men who visited sex workers, and other “vulnerable” groups, such as adolescents, and pregnant women. Present samples are no longer limited to convenience samples in urban cities or colleges, but include also rural villages, housing projects for the poor, and work sites, for example. Face-to-face interviews, which previously would have been difficult or unacceptable, have become a more-common assessment method, along with focus-group discussions and other qualitative techniques. Sexual behaviors have become more prominent in the researchers' inquiry, as questionnaires and interview schedules have become increasingly candid and explicit.

“It is also important to bear in mind cultural, regional, and ethnic differences, because they significantly limit generalizations about the sexual attitudes and values in Thailand. The majority of the research data on sexual attitudes and behavior has been derived from samples of lower- and middle-class ethnic Thais. Most empirical studies have been conducted in urban cities, such as Bangkok and Chiangmai, although data from the rural villages of the north and the northeast account for a considerable portion of our review. In addition, Thailand's rapid economic progress in recent decades has had a dramatic impact on every level of sociocultural structures. Likewise, the nature of gender and sexuality in Thai society is undergoing rapid transformations. As a result, the great degree of flux and heterogeneity in Thai society demands that we pay great attention to the contexts in our attempt to understand gender and sexuality in Thailand.”

Condoms in Thailand

In the 2001 Time sex survey 76 percent of males and 59 percent of females said they used a condom and 18 percent of males and 24 percent of females said they had never used a contraceptive. Despite this, Thailand is one of the of the world’s largest condom makers, Several of the largest condom makers in the United States use factories located in Thailand.

According to the “Encyclopedia of Sex: Thailand”: In the Partner Relations Survey, the research participants reported that condoms were readily available. Considerable proportions of the participants reported having used them some time in their lifetimes: “52 percent of the men, 22 percent of the women, or 35 percent overall. Attitudes toward condoms were not especially surprising. Most men feared a lack of pleasure or diminished sexual performance with the use of the condom, and couples found using condoms threatening to the trust in their relationship. [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]

“The heightened HIV awareness and the government-sanctioned 100 Percent Condom Program have significantly increased the use of condoms, especially in the context of commercial sex. Although the government received condoms from foreign donors before 1990, all condoms provided to sex workers since 1990 have been bought by the country's own funds. In 1990, the government distributed about 6.5 million condoms; in 1992, they spent U.S. $2.2 million to buy and distribute 55.9 million condoms. Commercial sex workers receive as many free condoms as they require from government STD clinics and outreach workers. On the national level, the recent increase in condom use has been documented to relate in time and magnitude with the overall decline of STDs and HIV incidence.

Mr. Condom and Cabbages and Condoms

Thailand most famous anti-AIDS crusader is Mechai Viravaidya, better known as "Mr. Condom." So successful is his family planning and safe sex program that condoms are sometimes referred in Thailand as "meachais." Since beginning his crusade in 1984, he has met with thousands of schoolteachers and promoted festivals featuring condom relay races, condom inflation contests, and given out free key rings with a condom encased in plastic and a label that says "In emergency break glass."

Mechai’s public appearances are often like comedy routines. He tells women, “Condoms are a girl’s best friend” and tells men they all need the large size. "We wanted to desensitize the talk of contraception," he told National Geographic, "and put education about family planning and AIDS preventing in the hands of people."

Mechai opened a restaurant in Bangkok called Cabbages and Condoms, where waiters sometimes serve food with inflated condoms on their heads. Other outlets were opened. The one in Chiang Rai has condoms and sex toys hanging from the ceiling. It serves northern and central Thai food. Dinner costs $10 to $15 a person. Money goes to a charity whose goal is to prevent AIDS by encouraging safe sex.

Thai police have participated in a program in which they have given out condoms to motorists in traffic. The program was called cops and rubbers. In another program youngsters have been sent into shopping centers dressed as condoms to distribute condoms to teenagers.

100 Percent Condom Campaign

Chris Beyrer and Voravit Suwanvanichkij wrote in the New York Times: “It became clear early on that the commercial sex industry — illegal but popular among Thai men — was at the core of the virus’s explosive spread. The Thai response was the 100 Percent Condom Campaign. As part of the campaign, public health officials aggressively focused on bars, brothels, nightclubs and massage parlors for condom education, promotion and distribution. Sex workers were likewise offered counseling, testing and treatment. The openness of sex venues there and health officials’ access to the women in them made this a relatively simple intervention. [Source: Chris Beyrer and Voravit Suwanvanichkij, New York Times. August 12, 2006]

Venues that did not agree to require condom use were shut down. Signs appeared over bar doors saying, “No condom, no sex, no refund!” And the government put resources behind the effort, distributing some 60 million free condoms a year. A wider national effort was also under way. Condoms appeared in village shops and urban supermarkets, and frank H.I.V. education was introduced in schools, hospitals, workplaces, the military and the mass media. Thais worked hard to reduce fear and stigma and to support those living with H.I.V.

This national mobilization was classically Thai — funny, nonthreatening and sex-positive. When we briefed the Thai surgeon general on an H.I.V. prevention program for soldiers, he said, “Please be sure the program maintains sexual pleasure, otherwise the men won’t like it and won’t use it.” It worked. By 2001, fewer than 1 percent of army recruits were H.I.V. positive, infection rates had fallen among pregnant women, and several million infections had been averted. The 100 Percent Condom Campaign proves that H.I.V. prevention efforts can succeed by focusing on at-risk populations, providing tangible services and making healthy behavior, like condom use, social norms. Cambodia, the Dominican Republic and other countries have successfully adopted the Thai model.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV/AIDS, See Health

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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