Sex Tourism in Thailand

What Is Sex Tourism?

Recently, sex tourism has become extremely popular around the whole world. It is a profitable business for pimps and sex workers, and an exotic way of entertainment for consumers. ‘Sex tourism’ is a trip when tourists come to one or another country to purchase the sexual services, provided by local women and men. This kind of tourism gets its popularity and affectivity in the countries with high level of poverty and unemployment.[1] Sex tourism flourishes worldwide, but the ‘center’ of this industry is situated in Thailand. Millions of tourists from all over the world annually visit Thailand to experience the infamous sexual services. The most well-known place for consuming sex in Thailand is the city of Pattaya. Walking Street in the center of Pattaya is a ‘paradise’ for sex tourists; it is full of ‘go-go’ bars, massage salons, and sex workers offering their service just outside. In 2005, the US Department of State Human reported that the number of sex workers in Thailand could be defined as 200,000-300,000 people, and current statistics gives the number from 800,000 up to 2 million.[2]

Sex tourism in Thailand is developed and differentiated. The working conditions of female prostitutes are varied in bars, brothels and massage parlors. In general, all these places are concentrated on sexual facilities. In bars or brothels, the customer is allowed to watch the show, have a drink, and choose a girl for the night or couple of hours. The masseuses major in different kinds of massage, and, also, provide extra service (a massage with ‘happy ending).  The sex worker in Thailand can provide the client not only with sex, but also, she or he can be a girlfriend or boyfriend for the client during his or her vacations. The other kind of sex tourism includes child prostitution. In Thailand, due to poverty in rural areas, disability of parents to earn enough money and the increasing number of pedophile tourists searching sex service, young girls and boys become exploited in sexual direction.[3] Additionally, there are widespread transsexual sex workers, also, defined as lady boys in Thailand who are working in sex industry, becoming an exotic touristic attraction (See Figure 1). Nevertheless, while the variety of services and an increasing popularity and huge profits, the attitude to sex tourism, is negative for the Thai government and society. Sex tourism turned to make Thailand the center of this industry, setting the unpleasant image on the state and society.

 Roots of Prostitution in Thai Culture

            The prostitution, being the oldest profession worldwide, is also not new for Thai society. Prostitution in Thailand has its roots in Buddhism that is the main religion there. The first reason of this conclusion is the sexual ritual that is held in Buddhism, which aim is to connect male and female.[4] According to Buddhist Studies, the whole life of its followers is devoted for purifying their karma, and if someone practices prostitution, it’s their personal way of purifying it or practicing dharma. The interpreted texts of Buddhism studies say,”Being a prostitute is not an obstacle to enlightenment if she is willing and diligently practices dharma. In fact, the experience of a prostitute could help her towards enlightenment sooner than otherwise.”[5] This statement proves that Buddhism does not reject prostitution, but on the contrary, finds positive results of this activity. Another reason of the widespread sex industry has historical cause. Sex trade was imported to Thailand by Chinese guest workers, and, later on, was more and more replaced by locals. [6] When the Chinese mariners came to Thailand, they were treated like honorable guests, and the issue of satisfying the guest included sexual service, provided by locals. That was a beginning of sex trade industry that afterwards could be purchased for money.

Birth of Sex Tourism in Thailand

            Sex tourism became publicly exposed in Thailand during the Vietnam War, when the American military came from overseas. In 1960-1970, during the bloody Vietnam War, the Thai and US governments signed a treaty allowing the American soldiers to come to Thailand for “Rest and Recreation”. The increasing development of tourism in Thailand since then started the huge demand for enlarging the scale of sexual services that were common in Thailand. Later, the random use of a sex worker’s service during the vacation in Thailand turned to trip aimed to purchase sex from the local women, men and children. Sex tourism during the Vietnam War got its development, also, because till 1960 the prostitution in Thailand was legal, and the profits from sex trade were controlled by the government that affected the Thai economy positively, and in favor of the government and society. After the Vietnam War, the government continued to promote sex industry, because of “the annual profit which amounted from $5 million in 1967 to $20 million in 1970.”[7]

The Reasons for Entering Sex Trade in Thailand

            The majority of women and children in Thailand enter sex trade because of financial and cultural reasons. Due to the high level of poverty in rural areas of Thailand, citizens are looking for any kind of income. With a huge development of sex tourism, a lot of women and children who experienced poverty and unemployment found the ability to make money in sex industry. The low financial support from the government pushes the population for accepting the most disrespectful kinds of employment.[8] In addition, the financial reason is supported by the culture. In Thai culture the family is the main value. Many women and children are expected to obey their family’s wishes and support their family members so they can survive. The Thai people believe that their duty is to provide their families with money, as when they were kids parents spend a lot of their income to raise them; and, consequently, the children feel needed to return the dept. According to Bishop and Robinson, “The earnings of one daughter in Bangkok can support an entire family in countryside, and many rural villages are made of such families.”[9] Therefore, as the income of a sex worker can be enough for living of the whole family, currently, a lot of families are willing to have daughters born. It is a family expectation for daughters to make sacrifices to their families even it means entering sex trade.[10]

 Negative Image of Sex Tourism in Thailand

            Sex trade, being the oldest female profession, never was a role model job. Similarly, in Thailand, even if sex trade has enormous profits, it does not improve the image of the country, and does not educated intelligent people to visit it. Bishop and Robinson stated “Moreover, people in Thailand avoid talking or commenting openly about this issue since it is a taboo subject in Thai society.”[11] The Thais does not accept the existing image of their Motherland, but contribute a lot to it, because of poverty. In rural areas, the discussion of sex trade problems is not so confronting and sharp, as it gives money they live for. Nevertheless, the reputation of Thailand as ‘one big brothel’ abroad is widely discussed. A lot of tours all around the world are provided for foreigners; these tours give a spectacular description of sexual services customers can purchase in Thailand.[12] This negative advertisement is published in media widely and it attracts millions of tourists eager to experience their secret wishes without punishment and blaze of publicity.

Governmental Policies Directed To Erase Sex Tourism in Thailand

            Sex trade is the basis of sex tourism, and it gave roots for success of tourism by its access and law, which was favorable for sex workers and clients, as the prostitution in Thailand was legal till 1960. After, the sex trade started seed the negative status on the government and Thailand in whole, and after the government no longer saw prostitution as a proper way of improving the economy, the parliament passed the Prostitution Suppression (Prohibition) Act in 1960, that meant the illegalization of each person, participating in sex industry except the client.[13] For erasing the tag of ‘sex center’ and for struggle the expanding sex tourism, the government, last years, tries to project Thailand as family tourism destination.[14] The city authorities promote the active tourism, including elephant riding, parasailing, trekking, bicycling, canoeing, rafting, etc.


          Sex tourism is widely expanded in Thailand, and millions of foreigners come there annually for purchasing sexual services. Sex tourism was profitable for the government, and made its huge contribute into the development of tourism, as people who are coming for purchasing sexual services, also buy air tickets, rent hotel rooms, visit restaurants, and ,doubtlessly, they enjoy the wonderful nature and culture, visiting temples, parks and beaches. However, the relationship of the society and government to this industry is negative. The government passes prohibition laws; city authorities include and promote many new activities and the society just tries to cut this aspect from their lives. In the opinion of many, the society’s method of oppressing it is incorrect, but we do not know their culture, and there are clear reasons for some members of society to practice prostitution. Concluding all mentioned above, sex tourism makes a devastating damage for Thailand’s image, but the government and society, now, start diligently correct the mistake, they made before.

[1] Krittinee Nuttavuthisit, “Branding Thailand: Correcting the negative image of sex tourism,” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 3, no. 1 (Fall 2006): 23.

[2] Nuttavuthisit, 24.

[3] Peter Heim, “Prostitution, Sex-Tourism and AIDS in Thailand”, accessed 23 February 2012.

[4]  Damien Keown,  A Dictionary of Buddhism (Oxford University Press 2003), 338.

[5] “Women in Buddhism: Questions and Answers” (2008), accessed 17 March 2012.

[6] Heim.

[7] Courtney Wielenga, “Sex Trade – The Case of Thailand.” Ecclectica, April 2006,, accessed 23 February 2012.

[8] J.P.Singh, et al., “Sex Workers and Cultural Policy: Mapping the Issues and Actors in Thailand,” Review of Policy Research 24, no. 2 (2007), 160.

[9] Singh,160

[10] Wielenga.

[11] Nuttavuthisit, 24.

[12] Nuttavuthisit, 25.

[13]Singh, 162.

[14] “Thailand tries to erase ‘sex tourism’ branding,” Asian Pacific Post, 1 September 2011, 7.


3 Responses to Sex Tourism in Thailand

  1. Pingback: Tourism in Thailand | Tourism in Thailand

  2. bla-bla says:


  3. 2012alex says:

    This was a group project, so your blog should be consistently formatted. Your font and font size (which is too small) should have matched that of your group members. Your introduction does not make a connection to the broader topic; however, you do provided relevant background information about your topic and provide statistics that you correctly cite. Footnotes have been properly formatted (but not in the same font as your text), images are correctly cited and referred, language has been paraphrased and, overall, the blog is well written. Unfortunately, you do not have a clear thesis statement. If your thesis statement is the last sentence of the section “What is Sex Tourism” then you should have spent the majority of your blog looking at those aspects of sex tourism. Instead, you wasted too much space providing background and historical information about the sex industry. Remember that this is not really providing analysis; it is just providing information. You do effectively use research to support your statements. Your images are appropriate, but it might have added to your content to find a video. I am sure there are plenty of YouTube videos explaining/illustrating sex tourism in Thailand.

    Conclusion was well written, but I do have a problem with the content of your blog for the reasons stated above. However, as I commented, above the text is well written.

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