Virtual Bangkok: Is Prostitution in Thailand on the Way Out?


Soi Cowboy, Bangkok, Thailand

The bar girls barely even seem to notice potential customers now, mostly-western tourists strolling through one of Bangkok’s notorious red-light districts at Patpong, Nana, or Soi Cowboy. They’re even less interested in the northern city of Chiang Mai, just going through the motions, it seems, more interested in playing with their smart-phones than rubbing up against potential customers, offering brief samples of ‘the goods’.


I guess that’s progress. Tactile sensations are the big losers in the rush to offer virtual computerized thrills that appeal mostly to the eyes and ears. In Chiang Mai, going to a go-go bar almost feels like a renaissance fair, so out-dated does it feel. The number of customers would confirm that. Bangkok probably fares better, but you can only take off so many items of clothing. Once they’re all off, what more can you do? Yeah, I know… but then what? Virtual trafficking, in images? The porn trade would confirm that.



Soi Cowboy II

The issues of prostitution and ‘trafficking’ are conflated for ease and convenience, but are not the same, not really. On the one hand, many employees in many fields here are expected to complete a term of service in order to justify the training involved. And on the other hand, most prostitutes in Thailand are free agents (and require little formal training). Any place where a prostitute is not free would likely not let a Western ‘farang’ like me in the door in the first place—locals only. It’s complicated.


Like other things, if legalized then many of the problems associated with prostitution might go away, but that would not satisfy some people with their modern Western notions. The American notion that promiscuity is okay, but prostitution is not, would strike many people as strange, and not only here in Thailand. Some parents feel that if their daughter is doing it anyway, she might as well make some dough. I guess that’s one way of looking at it.


And much of the world is only slowly changing from a system in which a woman is the property of her husband. This point was brought home to me in a recent Indian movie with the line, “the only free woman is a prostitute.” Wow. Now I don’t know about that, but I do know that pimps are not part of the landscape here, and the system is largely clean, almost clinical. Yes, the ‘fish-tanks’ really do exist, and yes, they do wear numbers. For most purposes, this is preferable to pick-up bars, I would imagine.


The value of a human body is a well-known quantity is Asia, something you’ll find out if you’re ever in a fatal accident, hopefully not your own. Last time I checked it was a few thousand USD for a local, maybe twice that for a foreigner, but no more. Urban legend is that hit-and-run drivers will back up to finish an accidental kill rather than face a lawsuit; makes sense, I guess, given the legal system here (though I actually turned a small profit on my motorcycle wreck). But that’s not the real issue here.


The real issue here is the status of women. Believe or not, by world standards, the status of women in Thailand is high. That’s sobering… and speaks volumes. But that tells you more about the rest of the world than it does about Thailand. Prostitution seems almost a moot issue by now. Pornography is huge, and I know I’m not the only one who’s had his hard drive searched by US Customs. I bet more Thai women and Western men meet online than in bars now, too, part of the Thai female diaspora.


I personally believe in sexual moderation and the sanctity of marriage, but life is not always that simple, and ‘sex therapy’ already has a track record and much credence. Is clinically-certified prostitution really any different? It might be better than the alternatives. Never mix women and alcohol—that’s my motto. Nothing good can ever come from that. Now tell me why penetration traditionally implies possession. That’s what I want to know. Is that hard-wired into DNA? God only knows…