Questions about Thailand prostitution, as regards the morality of engaging in it or not, are impossible to answer conclusively regardless of circumstances... but that has never stopped anyone from forcing their subjective opinions on the world before! In this article I’m not going to make the same mistake, I’m not going to try and steer you one way or another, but I am going to try to clear up some of the common misunderstandings surrounding the whole thing.
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Okay, before continuing lets deal with the legality question first... hold on to your hats… prostitution in Thailand may be about as common as spicy food but, technically speaking, it is against the law. I think it fair to say that, at the current time, this particular law is not exactly being strictly enforced under a zero tolerance policy, but who knows what the future holds...
Diverging opinions as to the moral and ethical questions that arise from the Thailand prostitution industry, and especially the participation of westerners in that industry, are frequently levied by people with an agenda... or an axe to grind! One of the most common arguments employed against western participants is that they are acting in an immoral manner by using their financial means to exploit bar girls, escorts, and even regular Thai girls in a land where people are not economically fortunate.
Personally I don’t see why anyone should regard the geographic origins of the men that participate in the Thai prostitution scene as having any relevance at all. If the objection is one of differing financial fortunes then what about poor westerners who save up their spare cash all year for a single annual vacation – should they be excused from this objection... and what about wealthy Thai nationals that participate – should they be excused due to their nationality?
Related to the exploitation argument is the mistaken sentiment that the girls involved have realistic other options. Thailand is getting more and more developed, but it is still a poor country by western standards. Figures from 2013 (most recent available) show a GDP per capita (average income per person) of less than $6,000. To put that into perspective, the USA enjoys over $53,000 GDP per capita. In the poorest rural areas where many sex-workers originate from, many people work for as little as $8 per day and that doesn’t go far when you’ve got a family to support.
It is true that the cost of living is much lower in Thailand and that money goes further, but there is still a very large gap. The girls that work as prostitutes are often doing so because they need the cash in order to be able to provide for their parents, siblings or children. There’s no free healthcare, no state retirement fund, and these girls often have no realistic alternative way of earning a comparable income. In other words, if Thailand prostitution is a bad option for the girls working in it, it may well be that the alternative is worse.
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I have noticed a common factor amongst the naysayers when it comes to participating in the Thai prostitution scene – they all exhibit an irresistible compulsion to attach western, Christian values to it. When you’ve lived your life in a western culture there is no escaping the influence of Christian values, even if you regard yourself to be completely non-religious.
These values underlie much of our instinctive feelings towards every day matters e.g. attitudes towards monogamy and the guilt that is attached to promiscuity. It has even verged on the ridiculous... children are still told in some places that they’ll go blind if they masturbate! This sort of nonsense demonstrates the prudish mentality that runs throughout the west; it’s almost as though the act of sex itself is in someway a dirty thing that we should be ashamed of. When you step outside of western culture and head to Thailand, you find that people don’t have the same sort of hang-ups about sex, and that includes the pay-for-pleasure scene.
I’m not saying that the Thailand prostitution industry is regarded as being a respectable career choice for young women, it isn’t, but it has nothing to do with the exchange of cash. The extent of the Thai sex industry and its facility with western men is particularly grating for some people due to their moral objection to the purchasing of flesh. In their eyes this is simply wrong on any level, but in Thailand this sort of thinking simply doesn’t exist.
Paying for sex is not looked down on for its own sake; the reason why prostitutes in Thailand are seen in an unfavourable light is because it runs counter to the Thai perception of what decent women are. A good woman in Thai culture is deemed to be someone that is very reserved, shy and pure. It’s the over-familiarity of prostitutes and the way that they behave in order to get customers that causes disgust. Sex workers are seen as being the antithesis of what a good, decent, virtuous woman should be.
In a nutshell, if you feel that it is wrong to exchange cash for sex, then don’t do it, but accept that your feelings are not universally shared and that they certainly aren’t shared in Thailand. Don't misunderstand me, I'm not stating that Thai people have an ultra liberal attitude towards sex, regular people are usually very conservative in their views, but the exchange of cash for it is not reviled in quite the way it sometimes is in the west.
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...but you should always be on your best behaviour. Good manners are very important.
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The last objection to the whole pay-for-pleasure scene is, in my opinion, the most difficult to counter. There’s no doubt that many of the women that enter into this sort of work do so with a naïve idea about quickly meeting a rich benefactor that will marry them and provide financial security for their family. This dream only comes true for a very small number of sex-workers.
It’s unclear whether or not the low self esteem and psychological issues that afflict some of the girls are due to spending a lengthy period of time working in the Thailand prostitution scene or whether those issues were there to begin with. Much of a person’s feeling of self-worth is developed in childhood; sex-work might be the symptom rather than the cause of poor psychological health.
I would encourage anyone that is considering a liaison with a working-girl to consider whether or not the lady seems to be of a healthy mental disposition. If you get the impression that something is not quite right then perhaps it would be best to look elsewhere. Whatever you do, don’t get emotionally attached, you’ll only end up making a series of empty promises of a new life together, and that can genuinely cause heartbreak. Even worse, if your promises are genuine and you do follow up, marriages to working-girls are not known for their long-term success rates!
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