Bangkok’s red light district is arguably the most infamous in the world. Some have gone as far as calling Bangkok the “sex capital of the world.” There are also lively bar girl scenes in Phuket and Pattaya; almost every town has at least one brothel; and sex with prostitutes is widely tolerated among both unmarried and unmarried men. Sex tourists come from all over the globe to Thailand.

Prostitution, like gambling, is officially illegal and frowned upon in Buddhism yet Thailand is filled with brothels, prostitutes and customers for both. Many hotels have resident prostitutes. There are entire district—such as Patpong in Bangkok—devoted to sex, with brothels, sex shows, bar girls, pimps and porn shops. By some estimates sex and gambling account for 10 percent of Thailand’s GNP. One study estimated the total value of sex industry is $4.3 billion a year. Other say it is more like $20 billion.

Many prostitutes operate out of bars, karaokes and massage parlors Many mid-range hotels rent rooms by the hour. Some even have secluded basement parking lots that make staying in a room unnecessary. When a customer enters a boy runs out and pulls a curtain to hide the car. There are two kinds of massage parlors: ones that offer traditionally Thai massage and sex houses with numbered women in “viewing rooms.” At the sex massage parlors women wear shirts or vests with numbers such as 107, 299 and 130. According to one survey in the early 200s there were 103 such massage parlors in Bangkok, each employing 100 to 500 women. So there is no confusion the other kind of massage parlors have signs that read “Absolutely no sex.”

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Thailand is well known throughout the world for its highly organized and diverse commercial sex businesses. Many tourists visit Thailand for this special interest, although many others are obviously drawn by the culture and nature of Thailand as well as the charming hospitality of Thai people. Tourism caters to men seeking sex in Thailand, and this aspect, which most Thais are not proud of, has been openly acknowledged and advertised. Through the assistance of tour guides or hotel services, commercial sex is available to any male tourist as it is for Thai men. Even outside of Thailand, a large number of Thai sex workers have been working in European countries and Japan since the 1980s; an estimate of 70,000 Thai women are working in commercial sex in Japan alone. [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 number of commercial sex workers in Thailand was estimated to be around 500,000 to 700,000 in 1980 (Thepanom Muangman, Public Health Faculty, Mahidol University; cited in Keyes 1984). The clientele of these sex workers have been estimated to be about 80 percent Thai. Most sex workers in rural and urban areas work in establishments such as brothels, restaurants, bars, or erotic massage parlors, all of which are under the management by men. “Direct” sex workers, or those who have sex with their clients on the premises, such as in brothels or erotic cafes, usually charge lower fees and, therefore, are popular among working-class and younger men. “Indirect” sex workers work under the premise of selling other services, such as massage or dancing, with the option to have sex with clients who offer to off them (or take them out) for an additional sum or fee. The fee for “direct” sex workers varies from 50 baht (U.S. $2.00) to 500 baht (U.S. $20.00), while that of “indirect” sex workers varies from 500 baht (U.S. $20.00) to several thousands of baht (Weniger et al. 1991)

In their book “Night Market: Sexual Cultures and the Thai Economic Miracle”, Ryan Routledge and Lillian S. Robinson wrote, "Thailand's economic 'miracle' was built on the backs of women working on their backs." They assert, not too convincingly though, that the Thai government deliberately impoverished rural areas to provide girls for the sex trade, which in turn encouraged tourism and brought in businessmen who invested money in Thailand.

Books: “Night Market: Sexual Cultures and the Thai Economic Miracle” by Ryan Routledge and Lillian S. Robinson (Routledge, 1999); “Patpong Sisters: An American' Woman's Vie of the Bangkok Sex World” by Cleo Odzer ; “The End of Elsewhere” by Taras Grescoe (Serpent’s tail, 2006) has a section on sex tourism in Thailand.

History of the Sex Industry in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “Among Thai people, there is a general attitude that prostitution has always been, and will always be, a part of the social fabric of Thailand. This attitude is primarily rationalized by the prevailing myth that men have a greater sexual desire than women. The endorsement of prostitution does not come from men only; a majority of Thai women, especially of the upper and middle classes, readily agree with this logic. In college-level sexuality education courses, female students openly say that prostitution exists to protect “good women” from being raped. Married women from northern Thai rural villages talk in focus groups about their preference for the husbands to seek out sex workers (given a condom is used) rather than taking on a minor wife. Reflecting the general societal attitudes, the married women believe that prostitution is a practical solution for married men whose greater sexual demand cannot be met by their wives (Dumronggittigule et al. 1995). [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]

“Since the abolition of slavery in 1905, brothels have proliferated steadily and eventually became commonplace throughout the country. The sex industry proliferated during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. As military bases of the United States of America were built up in Thailand, many women were induced into the entertainment and sex businesses for American servicemen. When the war ended in 1976, tourism began to grow and has become the largest source of foreign income. Meanwhile, commercial sex became an inevitable part of the tourist attraction.

“Prostitution became technically illegal in 1960 from the United Nations' pressure. In 1966, the Entertainment Places Act led to a plethora of new businesses which served as fronts for commercial sex, such as erotic massage parlors, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops, and barber shops.. Subsequent attempts from the Thai government to eradicate prostitution have occurred over the years, most notably in 1981 and 1982, but all have been quickly abandoned. Instead, the Thai government has focused on controlling sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among sex workers using the police authorities and the structure of public-health services.

Sex Tourism in Thailand

The recreation habits of American GIs had a profound influence of the cultures not only of Vietnam, but also Thailand and Laos. In many ways the association of these countries with sex, prostitution, drugs and decadence can be tied to the American influence during the Vietnam War.

The sex trade geared for foreigners became a big time operation in the Vietnam War era. In the 1980s, Bangkok and Pattaya were major center of the sex trade. In those years, 747s filled with Japanese men arrived in Thailand— and the Philippines too—on pre-paid sex tours that include airfare, accommodations, transfers and a local girl waiting for them in their room. These days, many foreign men indulge themselves at Phuket's Patong Beach.

The sex industry remains a big draw for many foreign travelers, but organized sex tourism along the lines of what existed with the Japanese in the 1980s doesn't really exist any more—or at least it is not openly flaunted like it once was. Most sex tourists are individuals or men who come to Thailand with a friend or small group of friends.

Know Phuket reports: “Clearly authorities are happy with most of what happens at the major tourist destinations as sex is so openly on display. The fact is, it is a big money earner for Thailand. Sex tourism attracts a large number of visitors from all over the world and a huge amount of foreign currency. There are many influential business figures involved and of course, many poor girls reliant on the money they make from the industry. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

In recent years there has been an effort to crack down on the sex tourism industry in Thailand. In the old days, bars and sex entertainment places in Bangkok were famous for staying open to dawn. Then in 2001 a government decree ordered them to close at 2:00am. In 2004, another government order, nicknamed by locals as the “Cinderella Decree,” ordered them to close by 1:00am. There were massive protests over the new rules and the debate and closing time changes go on today. Addition rules have made it illegal for sex-related businesses to open outside designated entertainment areas.

In the early 2000s, Thai police raided CM2, a bar at the Siam Square Novotel Hotel that is favorite of Western an Thai businessmen. The doors were locked and police checked the urine of all patrons for drug use. Such crackdowns risk driving away foreign tourists fat wallets. Many Thais especially from poor areas in the Northeast rely on the sex industry to survive.

Bangkok’s Red Light District

Patphong Road—off Silom Road— is the center of Bangkok's sex and sin district. Here you will find massage parlors, hostess bars, karaokes, nightclubs with live sex shows, and sidewalk hustlers, who attempt to direct men in their clubs, where they are entertained by girls blowing ping pong balls, nerf frisbees and fire out of their private parts. In many cases while the men are distracted by the show, they are surrounded by a dozen or more girls with drinks in their hands, which the men are supposed to pay for. It is not unusual for a man to spend 20 minutes in one of these clubs and walk out $200 poorer.

Ultimately Patphong Road is a very sad place. Many of the girls are barely into their teens, and men who patronize them are very unappealing. AIDS has made the sex industry less vigorous than it once was. In recent years, Patphong Road has been taken over by conventional tourists. Soi Cowboy is arguably the main sex district now. Nana Plaza is another sex area. Lumpini Park is popular with prostitutes.

In the Patpong sex show scam, touts outside a bar say free sex shows and drinks for only 100 baht each. Visitors can end up paying a bill in the thousands. Stay clear if you are alone as they can turn violent if you refuse to pay. Another trick is to lure customers into a place with a young, good-looking girl and then suddenly make her unavailable and substitute an older, less attractive woman is the customer wants sex.

Thaksin’s Crackdown on Entertainment and Nightlife

In an effort to cut down on underage drinking, the government under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra launched a vice crackdown in the early 2000s that involved closing bars at 2:00am and giving on the spot urine tests to minors. People in the entertainment and sex industry complained that the effort hurt business. In 2006, the government proposed increasing the drinking age and banning alcohol advertising, This was one of the first issues the post-coup government took up rather than establishing democracy.

Jamie James wrote in Conde Nast Traveler: “Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai ("Thais Love Thais") party took power in 2001 on a promise to wage war against narcotics and prostitution, which were spiraling out of control. The new government didn't make any subtle distinctions between sleaze and sophistication for a scary moment, it looked as though all the bars in Bangkok, a city of night owls, would close at midnight. Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and even staid Singapore were poised to overtake Bangkok as the region's fun city. But after some serious thought was given to the inevitable economic impact of such action, the backpedaling began. The campaign dealt a blow to established red-light districts; once notorious Patpong is now a dinosaur, frequented only by old-timers. Sex tourism has become an Internet-driven business. [Source: Jamie James, Conde Nast Traveler, March 2006]

“The night before I went to dine at Bed Supperclub, a popular Bangkok pleasure dome, the place was raided. Bed is that rarity, a gimmicky superhip club that has built up a loyal clientele and survived. From the outside, it looks like the mother ship in a 1950s flying-saucer movie, with a long ramp entering the belly of the craft. The all-white interior delivers what it promises: lines of wide beds upon which diners recline, in the decadent spirit of imperial Rome. Across from the ramp is the bar, which is usually packed with stylish young professionals wiggling and jiggling to the latest music.

That's where the bust took place. The cops arrived at 11:30, according to the club's general manager, Roger Chi. An enthusiastic, bright-eyed Californian with an MBA from Wharton, Chi expressed no rancor about the raid. "There must have been forty or fifty cops," he told me. "I was really impressed by their organization. I told the bartender to give them sodas." Two vans, partitioned with stalls, were parked out front, where customers were issued cups and ordered to produce urine samples. "Some of the customers were getting off on it," said Chi. "I heard them saying things like 'Only in Thailand!' It was a war story they could take home with them."

The police did a quick-and-dirty test on-site that came up with a few positives, but in the lab they all proved to be false. Bad police work, perhaps, but great TV: The night Bed was raided, news cameras from Thaksin-owned TV stations arrived simultaneously with the police, to capture dramatic images of the crackdown on dissolute urban youth?for consumption in the suburbs and up-country. Much of Thaksin's power flows directly from his dominance of the nation's electronic media. On television, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between news stories about the election and Thai Rak Thai ads, with Thaksin's dumpling-bland face on-screen every other time I looked up at the TV in a roadside noodle shop.

Novels Set in Bangkok’s Red Light District

John Burdett writes novel’s set in Bangkok’s red light district. Novels such as “Bangkok Tatoo” (Knopf, 2005) and “Bangkok 8" feature Sochai Jitpleechep, a Thai police detective and devout Buddhist, who isn’t shy about bending the rules and serves as a part time “papasan” at his mother girlie bar.

The New Yorker described “Bangkok Tattoo” as a “giddy, occasionally over-the-top performance but mesmerizing: a comic tour of the underbelly of Bangkok in pursuit of both a murder and the sublime... The plot showcases Burdett’s sly riffs on Third World stereotypes, Buddhism, and the gustatory pleasures of fried grasshoppers.” The story revolves around a prostitute and the killing of her top john, who turn out to be a CIA agent and a cover-up that involves separatists in southern Thailand. A murder victim in Bangkok 8 is killed by snakes that suddenly emerge from hibernation when the amphetamine-laced ice in which they are packed melts.

Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Burdett explores a side of Thai society that has long fascinated Westerners: the apparent willingness of large numbers of women here to sell their bodies without obvious shame; and, in a country where brothels are illegal, the willingness of the police, the government and the society as a whole to look the other way. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, October 24, 2007]

Yet his writing is also keenly anthropological. He explains the improbable presence of Buddhist shrines at the entrance to many sex bars. He takes us inside brothels, behind the bar, upstairs into the private rooms and downstairs into the members-only sections of Bangkok’s “saunas.” When Mr. Burdett takes the reader to a red-light district during daylight hours, we trust that a bar might really smell like pine-cleaning fluid blended with stale beer, cigarettes and cheap perfume.

Mr. Burdett’s books focus on the relatively small slice of this market that caters to Western tourists, a subculture of freelance bar girls who rarely work under pimps and who not infrequently marry their Western clients, blurring the line between pickup joints and sex for hire. “It’s the story of the country coming to the town, “Mr. Burdett said, peering down the length of Soi Cowboy where the neon lights are so bright they cast shadows. “Here in this street every single one of the girls you speak with will be from Isaan, will be originally a rice farmer.”

Bar Girls Scene in Phuket

Patong Beach—15 kilometers from Phuket city— is another center of the sex trade in Thailand. Here, there are beaches with large resort hotels, bars, bunjee-jumping operations, miniature golf courses, lively nightclubs, prostitutes, and tourists from all over the globe. Many young people come here. In the peak season the atmosphere is like Cancun during Spring Break. Masseuses and drink sellers roam the beaches.Along Bangla Road are pubs, souvenir shops, herbal therapists and food stands. Some of the nightclubs offer performances by kathoeys (transvestites).

According to the Know Phuket website: “There is no denying that the go-go bars, girly bars and sex shows are a very visible part of the nightlife scene in Patong and to a lesser extent Karon and Kata. Some people find the girly bars distasteful. For others it is all part of the colour and vibrancy of the nightlife scene, while for some it is the main reason for coming to Phuket. The sex tourism sector in Phuket is not near the scale of that found in Bangkok or Pattaya but it is still an attraction for a large number of visitors. [Source:Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

“You do not need to be an active participant to go to the go-go bars. Couples, families and tour groups mingle with the sex tourists wandering around the bars. For many visitors to Thailand, a visit to a go-go bar or sex show is on their must do list. If you are not offended then it is a great place to drink and people-watch. Everyone is welcome in the bars. If you go as a couple or make it clear that you do not want the attention of the girls then they will leave you alone (eventually). However if you want to talk to the girls in the beer bars they will be happy to have a chat or play bar games such as connect-four or dice games. If you want to reward them for their time, then buy them a drink or give a tip.

“Prostitution in Phuket does not have strong links to human traffickers. These things do unfortunately happen in Thailand but it is not a significant part of the Phuket sex tourism scene. The human traffickers are generally sending Thai girls to work in brothels abroad. They may also use Thailand as a transit point for girls from neighbouring nations such as Laos and Cambodia. The girls working in Phuket are mostly Thai and mostly working by choice - although certainly through force of circumstance.

Sex Shows in Thailand

The “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand” reports: “Thailand is also famous for its sex shows in the go-go nightclubs (baa a-go-go), most notoriously in the red-light districts of Patpong, Pattaya, and Chiangmai. Approaching these performances of dances, sexual tricks, and intercourse as cultural texts, Lenore Manderson (1992) has examined the continuity which links these public sex shows with the disempowerment of women, prostitution, and the Thai social constructions of sex and gender. Although the extreme explicitness and violent themes in these shows undeniably reflect misogyny and subordination of women, she also notices that the themes reflect what Thai people understand about the sexuality of Thai men and of the Westerners in the audience. These acts are what the sex industry thinks will captivate the (mostly) male clientele. The themes thus represent not the everyday sexuality but the erotic possibilities on the edge of male libidinal fantasy, their “wildest dreams.” [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]

“Salient in the imageries designed to excite, thrill, or even shock the male customers is the ruleless, “anything goes” atmosphere. Disinhibition pervades the bars in which customers have quick access to sex on the premises. The unpredictable, even improbable, performances, including genital manipulation of objects or snakes, and sex between women, all affirm a polysexual theme. Another theme designed to excite is the extreme objectification of women as sex objects for sale. Sex workers are numbered for customers' selection, and their nakedness (or uniform bar costume) enhances their anonymity. Finally, there is a theme of satire in which men are insulted and parodied for their fear of the female genitalia, the widespread touch taboo and gender segregation are overturned, and the Thai gender-power hierarchy toppled. Naked women dance on a raised platform, literally placing men under the female genitalia.”

In the 1980s I naively went into a Patpong bar alone, lured by a tout with a promise of sex with an attractive young women. Inside the bar the young woman I had my eye on disappeared into a back room. Before I had time to follow her a sex show started on a small stage with perhaps a half dozen girls performing acts like blowing flames, ping pong balls and other objects out of their vaginas. I was the only customer in the place. As I watched the show I was surrounded by another half dozen to a dozen girls with drinks in their hands. I started too get nervous and made my way towards the door. I was told I couldn’t leave until I paid for all the drinks. When I said, “No way,” some brawny thugs appeared behind my shoulders and edged closer when I maintained my position I wouldn’t pay. After some testy negotiations I was able to escape from the bar, paying about $25. The whole episode elapsed in about 15 to 20 minutes. I was actually quite lucky. I could have been forced to pay a lot more of been beaten up. Need less to say I have never gone back to a place like that again.

Describing a similar place, Paul Theroux wrote in the “The Great Railway Bazaar” (1975): “When you find beer at midnight and are sitting quietly, wondering what sort of a place this is, the waitress offers to fellate you on the spot, and you still don't know. Your eyes get accustomed to the dark and you see the waitress is naked. Without warning she jumps on the chair, pokes a cigarette into her vagina and lights it, puffing it by contracting her uterine lungs. So many sexual knacks! You could teach these people anything. There are many bars... the decor and the beer are the same in all of them, but the unnatural practices vary.”

Prostitution in Thailand

A survey in 2005 by the Ministry of Public Health counted 13,833 establishments in Thailand— bars, karaoke joints, guesthouses, massage parlors and coffee shops, among other places—where prostitutes and their clients met. In 1994, the Sentinel Surveillance compiled lists of commercial sex establishments that showed thirty-seven different kinds of sex businesses, mostly concentrated in Bangkok and provincial towns. The report also showed there were on average sixty-seven commercial sex establishments in most provinces, with an average of 663 female sex workers per province. The total number of sex workers who worked in listed establishments was approximately 67,000 in 1994. These numbers reflect sex workers who are under the surveillance system by the government. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, October 24, 2007, “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]

Prostitution has been described as a supply driven business, that grows and shrinks with the supply of girls. The number of women sold into prostitution increased during the Asian financial crisis in 1997. There was also an increased number of street child, many of whom turned to prostitution to support themselves. According to The Nation: “Prostitution is big business and a fact of life, and we Thais would be deluding ourselves if we were to deny that much of the sex trade is home-grown and aimed mostly at Thai men. As long as the Kingdom's huge commercial sex industry continues to thrive, pedophiles will continue to come to here looking for the possibility of sex with children despite the tightening up of law enforcement. [Source: The Nation, August 2006]

According to KnowPhuket: “Prostitution in Thailand has never been limited to the tourist resorts. In fact, this is a recent development. Almost every town in Thailand has brothels, although much more discreet than those in the tourist towns. The majority of prostitution in Thailand takes place between Thais. The emergence of sex tourism in Thailand started with the arrival of American servicemen from the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Pattaya became a favourite destination for the GIs. They soon discovered the charms of the local girls and a new industry was born in Thailand. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket]

“Prostitution was made illegal in Thailand in 1960. However, the Thai government was never keen to criminalise a profession that has flourished in the country for centuries and they only did so under political pressure from the UN and US at the time. The 1960 legislation was replaced in 1996 by a new piece of legislation called "The Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act". This legislation has a vaguer definition of what constitutes prostitution. The new act includes the proviso that it is only prostitution if the participants act in a 'promiscuous manner'. This gives the authorities leeway in allowing what is clearly a thriving business to operate while still having the legislation to control it if they think anyone has crossed the lines.

“The unofficial attitude taken by the authorities is that as long as nobody is hurt and it is a transaction between two consulting adults, then there is no problem. They take a very dim view of anyone caught having sex with an under age girl. This is treated as a serious offence. The age of consent in Thailand is 15. However, in one of those strange Thai contradictions, although prostitution is vaguely illegal, the 1996 act still defines the age of consent for prostitutes as 18.

Bangkok’s Sex King, Prostitution and Corruption

Ironically, although prostitution is illegal, many sex businesses have government or police officials among their owners. In other cases, these officials are paid by the establishment owners to avoid enforcing the law. In the 1990s it was reported that one police commander had stakes in two massage parlors and cabinet ministers receiving cases of fine wine and free services with the best girls.

In the 1990s it was reported that Thailand's thousands of brothels, massage parlors and hostess bars stayed open by bribing local police between $120 and $600 a month. One study at that time showed that Bangkok's 1,000 or so entertainment houses paid police $600,000 a month. The police allegedly used the money to buy imported cars and nice suburban homes. In 1994, one police colonel was found to have $920,000 in his bank account.

Corrupt policemen and politicians often get much of their money from sex industry operators. In the 1990s, a superintendent received $2,000 a month from sex industry operators; a deputy superintendent in crime suppression received $1,250 a month; a deputy superintendent in investigation got $500; a deputy superintendent in the traffic division, $250; an inspector, $85; a deputy inspector, $50.

In the early 2000s, Chuwit Kamolvisit was known as Thailand’s sex king. He owned six enormous, very profitable massage parlors—Victoria’s Secret, Honolulu, Hi-Class, Emmanuelle, Copabacana and Sea of Love. A rough and flamboyant former policeman, he reportedly paid out $300,000 a month in bribes and one had the establishment of a rival bulldozed to the ground.

When police crackdowned on his establishments Chuwit Kamolvisit he responded by revealing that he had spent $2.5 million over 10 years bribing the same people who were involved in his arrest. He said he felt betrayed and double crossed. He didn’t name any names but he threatened to do so In a press conference Chuwit said, “I’m a mad dog now and I’ll bite anyone...I used to buy whole trays of Rolex watches for police officers. I used to carry cash in black plastic bags for them. But they are still harassing me.” He said he also gave out free car repairs, home fix ups, boxing tickets, golf club memberships, free bowling and free services at his massage parlors.

Legalizing Prostitution in Thailand?

The issue of legalizing prostitution surfaces from time to time in Thailand. Legalizing prostitution, its proponents argue, can raise government revenues to finance development projects for the poor, reduce opportunities for corruption, and allow police to concentrate on more serious crimes. They also argue that individuals should have the right to make decisions on these matters themselves and if the government doesn’t control it the money ends up in the hands of gangsters and is used to support criminal activities.

Opponents argue against legalized prostitution on moral ground and the fact it is condemned by Buddhism. They also argue that it would encourage people to engage in sex with prostitutes and acts like a regressive tax, since poor people are more likely spend a larger portion of the income on it than rich people. On top of that it is unlikely that pimps will cooperate completely with the state and criminal elements of the sex trade would remain.

The Justice Ministry held discussions in whether or not to legalize prostitution in the early 2000s. But around the time it was the government of Shinawatra Thaksin was cracking down on prostitution by evoking a 40-year-old law that banned unescorted women from entering bars. Prostitutes were outraged because of the money they lost. Strangely enough, among the groups that spoke up in their defense were feminist groups.

Protected Sex and Government Monitoring of Sex Workers in Thailand

According to “Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand”: “A system of monitoring sex workers has been in place because the government has long implicated them for the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Most “direct” sex workers in Thailand are under the STD monitoring system, which the Department of Communicable Disease Control (DCDC) has adapted over a period of forty years. There are hundreds of government STD/AIDS clinics all over Thailand, each keeping a logbook of its local commercial sex establishments. The logbook contains location of the businesses, and it is frequently updated with the help of STD patients who show up for services. The officers semiannually visit these establishments to assess the numbers of sex workers and other changes; their enumeration of establishments has been reported regularly since 1971. [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]

“Female sex workers have many barriers to having protected sex with their clients, for example, clients' insistence on not using condoms, lack of negotiation strategies, clients' healthy and attractive appearance and the sex workers' trust in “regular” acquainted clients, and alcohol use by either the client or the sex workers. However, this picture has changed dramatically by the mid-1990s as the government's nationwide 100 Percent Condom Program came into effect. Whereas the 1989 survey of sex workers found that 14 percent of their sex acts were with a condom, the rate increased to over 90 percent in December 1994.

Sex workers in Thailand hosted a conference for sex workers that as attended by representatives from 11 nations, including the United States and Australia. Their goal was to win some respect and raise the idea of legalizing prostitution so they would not be so easily controlled by their employers.

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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