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Prostitution in Thailand

Prostitution has existed in Thailand for a long time, and was not introduced by westerners despite popular myths. As early as the 16th and 17th centuries, prostitution was described in reports by sailors visiting Thailand (then called Siam.) Thailand has gained notority in the west as a sex tourism destination since the Vietnam war, although most prostitutes in Thailand serve Thai males.

Officially, prostitution is illegal in Thailand, but this law is ignored and prostitution is widely tolerated. Estimates have been made that there are as many as 130,000 people (although this number is subjected to debate), both men and women, employed in the sex trade. Most male sex workers service gay or bisexual male clients, but there are at least some women who employ them as well.

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Different forms

Prostitution in Thailand comes in a number of forms, mainly brothels, "body massage" parlors, hostess bars and karaoke places which cater primarily to local customers and Asians. There are also various go-go bars, and "beer bars." It should also be noted that Thailand is known for a traditional style of massage, unrelated to the "body massage" that is largely a cover for sexual services.

Prostitution in Thailand comes specialised for many ethnic backgrounds. Many places catering to Thais/Asians will not allow people from other backgrounds to enter the premises if not invited by one of the regular guests or without paying a prohibitive entrance fee. The same goes for places catering to Westerners, Japanese, Arabs or other ethniticities, most will refuse clientele with another background at the door.

Body massage

Body massage (Ab ob nuat, washing and massage in Thai) in Thailand most often consists of either an oil massage, assisted bath, or bodyslide treatment ("soapie") followed by sexual services. These latter may or may not be included in the price paid to the house; if not, they are negotiated with the masseuse. These establishments tend to cater mostly to locals and Asians. These places can be found all over Bangkok and are often combined with hostess bars, karaoke bars and a restaurant. Most of the bigger cities in Thailand also have body massage parlours. many of them are clustered in the Rachadapisek district.

Westerners

The most popular form of prostitution with westerners are the various forms of bars. In most cases, women ("bar girls" — or men, in the case of gay bars) are employed by the bar either as dancers (in the case of go-go bars) or simply as hostesses, and will encourage customers to buy them "lady drinks." The hostesses or dancers are also often looking to find customers for sexual services; in many cases, the bar will employ one or more "mamasans" who will help match interested customers up to women. In most cases, a customer will pay a bar fine in order to leave the bar with his chosen companion, and will then need to negotiate with him/her for any time and/or sexual services. This can be generally divided into "short time" (at most a few hours) or "long time" (overnight). Some bars also have "short time rooms" on site, where instead of paying a bar fine to the bar, the customer will pay for the use of the room and services will be performed on-site.

Go-go bars are distinguished by having dancing on stage similar to a strip club in Western countries, although in general as of 2004 because of the "social order" crackdown, dancers will more likely be topless or in a bikini or similar revealing costume rather than fully naked.

"Beer bars" and hostess bars are similar; beer bars are generally outdoors, fairly small, and often clustered with other beer bars, while hostess bars are generally indoors. Beyond that, there is a very great range in size and amenities.

Beyond these sorts of bars, there are a number of other venues for the sex trade; some bars, while not employing women as sex workers, will allow "freelance" prostitutes to solicit clients. This is also true of some coffee shops (including the well-known Thermae in Bangkok) near red-light districts and some of the foreign-oriented nightclubs. There are also a fair number of bars which blur the line with a brothel of sorts, such as "blowjob bars" or various short-time establishments on Soi Yodsak in Pattaya.

Male Prostitution

Thailand's male prostitutes were aged 12–35, and included university graduates, office workers, students and street children. Escort services have begun recruiting men from Africa and Jamaica to meet growing demand. It is said some Thai women were paying upwards of 10,000 baht (243 dollars) per night for the services, which fly in the face of conservative Thai traditions.

The niche market which until recently had largely focused on a gay clientele, has become increasingly popular with women, particularly Japanese tourists.

Locations/Venues

In Bangkok, the three main areas for Westerner-oriented prostitution frequented by both local expatriates and tourists are Patpong and the lower Sukhumvit road area (including Nana plaza, Soi Cowboy, and a few smaller groupings of bars like the "Painter Bars" on Soi 33 and the Washington Square bars). There was also a significant area at Clinton Plaza prior to being closed for redevelopment in 2001.

Many, but not all, of the large body massage parlors in the Rachadapisek district will accept Western customers, although most seem to charge higher prices than for local customers, and there are also some Western-friendly body massage parlors near the major entertainment areas.

Pattaya is also a major area for prostitution, to the point of having a number of separate zones with different styles of bars. Go-go bars are focussed in South Pattaya, around Walking Street and the three Soi Pattayaland streets between Beach Road and 2nd Road. Beer bars are spread throughout Pattaya, but are in particular abundance north of Central Pattaya Road on the various Sois (streets) between Beach Road and 2nd Road; Soi 7 and Soi 8 are particularly popular areas with Western male tourists. Soi Yodsak (Soi 6) establishments are relatively distinct in that most focus on short-time in on-premises rooms, rather than on bar fine customers. Finally, there are three large "Soapie" body massage parlors on 2nd Road near Soi 2 – Sabai Land, Sabai Room, and Sabai Dee, all of which are very friendly to Western customers.

There are also a significant availability of adult entertainment oriented bars in some of the tourist areas of Phuket, including Patong beach.

HIV/AIDS

The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Thailand, and especially among sex workers, has been the subject of significant media and academic attention, and Thailand hosted the XV International AIDS Conference, 2004. Nevertheless, this does not seem to have dissuaded a significant number of tourists from partaking in sex with local prostitutes, although awareness of safe sex practices is fairly high among foreign-oriented sex workers. After the enactment of the Thai government's first five-year plan to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the country, including the "100% condom program," the use of condoms by Thai males during commercial sex has jumped markedly, up to 90%, according to most research studies on the issue.

Child prostitution

Child prostitution or sex slavery in Thailand is essentially unknown today in the portion of the sex trade catering to foreigners, where the age of sex workers is well policed and workers are generally free to go and well paid; the status of prostitutes in brothels catering principally to native Thai men is somewhat less clear. One point of common confusion is that while the general age of consent in Thailand is 15, Thai law specifies that the age of consent for sex work is 18.

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