Sunday, April 09, 2006

On Sex Tourism

Churchill: Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?
Socialite: My goodness, Mr. Churchill... Well, I suppose... we would have to discuss terms, of course...
Churchill: Would you sleep with me for five pounds?
Socialite: Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!
Churchill: Madam, we've already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

One of the nice things about Pai, was that it was a sleepy town mostly visted by hippies and backpackers - not the type who tend to frequent sex workers.

Now that I'm back in a big city, I'm yet again surrounded by the sex industry... nearly empty bars with a few pretty women calling out to you as you walk by, and countless fat, balding, old white men with petite young thai girlfriends...

Just as in India, you find that backpackers are constantly talking about fecal matters - for the simple fact that everyone seems to have food poisoning at one point or another (and thus has a magic cure for it), backpackers here seem to spend a lot of time debating the merits and evils of the sex industry.

As gross as it is for me to see these fat old foreigners with tiny thai girlfriends, I find it difficult to judge the industry itself as being wrong.

The fact is, that I've seen people doing far worse jobs during my travels. I've seen poor Indian men up to their eyeballs in human waste, cleaning out the drains clogged by some stupid foreigner (who has yet to figure out that 3rd world plumbing and toilet paper do not mix well). These guys are probably exposed to every disgusting disease out there - no protective suits, just a loincloth, a pair of sandals, and a couple tools....

I've seen young kids sent from their homes in Bihar (the poorest state in India) to work at restaurants in other states, where they are beaten by management, not paid anything, and are forced to sleep on the floor at night.

Comparitively, sleeping with someone for money doesn't sound as bad...

Thus, I find it very difficult to harshly judge the women entering the industry - as someone remarked recently in a conversation, women, by their very gender, are literally sitting on a goldmine. It makes economic logic to take advantage of this.

Well? What about the fact that the women don't like sleeping with these ugly foreigners.

Equally, the women I pay 150 baht (3 dollars) per hour to give me a massage probably aren't crazy about massaging a stinky foreigner... And the guy at the train station carrying my bag on his head would probably rather not...except for the fact that they're all getting paid for it.

Earning money for doing something that you 'like' is a luxuary that many many people in the world do not have.....

The typical situation seems to be that an old guy goes to a bar, talks to a few thai girls, eventually picks one as his new 'girlfriend'. She'll tag along with him for the next few weeks, sleep in his room, be bought dinner/drinks and gifts, and before he leaves, will probably be given some kind of financial gift (she may tell a sob story about her poor mother in the village back home to encourage this). The guy gets sex, the women gets some money, some free food and drink, and maybe some outfits... It's not such a bad deal for her, really.

The Churchill quote I began this entry with, while funny, is both true, and quite fitting to this discussion. 5 million pounds to a British upper class woman can just as easily be 100 dollars to a poor girl from Burma or Cambodia working in the thai sex industry - in both cases, it's a relative huge amount of money.

It's worth noting a couple other things....

One of my friends told me that in Pattaya (a Thai beach resort famous for sex tourism), there is a street full of Nigerian male sex workers - who are there primarily for visiting Japanese women.... (clearly, the market will cater to unique tastes).


As sick as it is to see the old fat men - every once in a while, you see a very drunk one staggering home with what is most likely a lady-boy... and you can't but help smile thinking of the shock he's going to have in the morning.


I think Thailand is actually pretty good about STDs and HIV... You see condom machines everywhere, and sex is such a normal thing here, that I doubt there is any kind of stigma about going to a pharmacy and asking to buy condoms.

India is completely different - a sexually repressed country, where people are far too scared to ask for birth control at a chemist. In addition, from what I've been told, the condom is often about the same price as the sex act (a staggering thought in itself), and so there is a "race to the bottom" as the women compete with each other until eventually, they are forced to choose between no customer or no protection.

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