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Sex Industry and Tourism in Thailand

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Thailand, one of the most visited Asian countries, depending on the tourism economy for it is a successful industry. It is one of the most exotic places to visit from their food to their clothing. The country preserves its culture. It is known for its beautiful sacred temples, popular shopping areas, relaxing spas, fine dining, home to some of the best hotels in the world. It is a land of liberation and freedom. The term, “Thai,” means freedom. In translation, the country’s name is the land of the free. It is a rewarding country for it neighbors other destinations to visit such as Laos, Singapore, and Malaysia. They are prosperous when it comes to tourism, but visitors have noticed that transgenders are quite common compared to other countries. Many foreigners associate Thailand with ladyboys, a term for a transgender woman. A transgender is “denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.” The question of why there are so many transgenders in Thailand is simple. Locals were interviewed whether ladyboys are common in Thailand. Gathering their answers, it is apparent that Thailand gives the ability to be free with sexuality, hence the meaning in the name of the country. Because of the freedom, if they are able to express themselves more, the more outsiders with see their expression. The people are not exactly explicitly against it either, considering there are laws in Thailand that support transgender individuals, known as the Gender Equality Act. It was passed on March 13, 2015. It bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation; the first law in Thailand to include the LGBTQ people. Thailand began presenting itself as a place where all manners of gender identities and sexual orientations are welcome.

The LGBTQ history even spans back to almost 700 years ago that is documented. “According to a report on being LGBTQ in Asia, Thais started to identify what is now known as transgender as early as the 14th century, but Western influence and ideas, such as the criminalization of homosexuality, made their way into Thailand during the 19th century. It was not until after World War II that the LGBTQ community really started to become visible in Thailand” (UNDP 2014). The capital of Thailand, Bangkok, is the center of the ladyboys and gay community. However, there hasn’t been a full acceptance and prejudice still exists in the Thai society. One of the factors that influence the society is religion. “Over 95% of Thailand’s population practices Theravada Buddhism, which does not necessarily welcome this community with open arms. Many Buddhists believe that transgenders must be paying for their wrongdoings in their past lives” (Iverson 2017). As time progresses, citizens in Bangkok or in big cities starts to overlook and are fairly tolerant about transgender and LGBTQ community. Realistically, more of the It was during the Ayutthaya period, one of the scholars mentioned lesbian relationship between the concubinee. The royal concluded they should be whipped 50 times if they acted with their same-sex lover; however, some of the royals didn’t hide their sexuality, which led to the familiarity of homosexuality. Moving on to the modern day, Thailand now has a higher acceptance rate of the LGBTQ community. In the 2015 poll, researchers “found that nearly 89% of Thais would accept LGBTQ colleagues, 80% would not mind if a family member was LGBTQ and 60% were in favor of legalizing gay marriage” (Diego). The percentage of acceptance rate has been rising and normalize in social media.

Despite the Thai’s fame in their freedom of expressing their sexuality, they’re known for being one of the worst sex trafficking countries in the world. There’s a high amount of sex workers in mostly entertaining, tourists places. The issue of sex trafficking dated back to the ancient times of Ayutthaya era (1350-1767). Even though Thailand had an abundance of resources to gain profit from, the transport or the business of prostitution still proved to be more profitable, thus it was legal. Mostly, Thai kings had a polygamus monarchical system, where they can have multiple wives in order to continue the royal bloodline. During that period, women were treated like property, or as sexual slaves that were responsible for any sexual service. As Thailand became more successful, and grew larger, countries around the world started to acknowledge them for their prostitution business. Countries around the world, such as Great Britain, signed The Bowring Treaty of 1855. It created businesses with south Chinese workers that eventually migrated to Thailand. After the treaty, Thailand started to prosper, increasing the number of new clients seeking for sexual services. Under the reign of King Rama IV, women were known as the “ stationed women”. They were who women could be sold by their masters. These women had to service their master or any male guest the master had. Overall, Thailand became the sexual slave society. Most of the women that were sold to the industry were from the peasant class, families in debt, got kidnapped, or a punishment for a crime. It led to the widespread of sex slavery during the Siam period. However, under the King Rama V, slavery was abolished, yet the prostituion did not decrease. The women felt that they need to raise their family and pay back the family debt using this convenient route. It became the most common reason why women are in the sex industry still to this day. Because of the lack of education and financial resources women can receive during the ancient times, women fall back to their easy route for their survival.

In the 19th century, the absolute monarchy ended in 1902, making it into the constitutional monarchy. This change improved the law restriction; however, it did not stop the increase of the country’s growing sex entertainment industry. During the 1960’s-1970’s the famous red light district, R&R stop for many U.S troops during the Vietnam War. Even though Thailand joined the U.N and was pressured to make prostituion illegal, it didn’t stop its expansion of the commercial sex tourism. “It went from approximately 20,000 women working in the sex trade in the late 1950s to 171,000 engaged in that trade by 1964”. Another service the business provided was a temporary wife for the soldiers, giving them sexual services, and do housework in exchange of money and gifts. From the American, and foreigners’ point of view, this popular street and business created the low social status and invaluable of Thai women. Although in 1996, “the Thai government implemented the Entertainment Places Act.The Act allowed law enforcement officials to inspect these places and shut them down if they found out that sexual services were being offered”. In contrast, the laws were proved to be inadequate and many businesses went incognito. For instance, many businesses went unregistered and claimed their business as a restaurant, their female workers as “waitresses” or “bartenders.” Even if laws were created, Thai law enforcements were too lenient and causing the empire to be corrupt.

Later in the 1980’s an epidemic stirred up as the number of people got infected with HIV/AIDS among gay men and homosexuals. A public record of the HIV/AIDS wasn’t released, and the majority concluded that the government was attempting to protect the sex industry. Since sex entertainment is one of the most properous businesses of Thailand, it remained unbothered and on the rise. Fortunately, the media had a role in exposing the epidemic of HIV/AIDS to the public. Despite the media bringing it to focus, diseases continued to spread due to the lack of sex education, and knowledge on how to prevent it. By the end of 1980, businesses required girls to undergo blood tests and enforcing them to use condoms. Typically, families and friends would eventually abandon a woman after knowing she got AIDS/HIV.

While the number of AIDs/ HIV increased, the demand for young, pure virgins prostitutes increased. According to Human Rights Watch (1993), “not only are they often too intimidated even to attempt to negotiate the terms of sex, but preliminary medical research suggests that the younger the girl, the more susceptible she may be to HIV infection for physiological reasons”. Women at a young age and in minority ethnic groups such as Burmese, the girls in tribes, or from rural areas have a greater risk of infection. “In its study on trafficked Burmese women working in brothels in northern Thailand, Human Rights Watch (1993) confirmed the high infection rates of trafficked prostitutes, finding that fifty to seventy percent of the girls interviewed were HIV positive”. This particular groups are more vulnerable to this disease due to lack of education and language barriers. Another source that the AIDS/HIV are still spreading is from the ladyboys. “According to The US National Library of Medicine, it is reported that HIV and substance abuse rates are much higher among kathoey workers, with just half of them reporting having been tested recently for HIV”.

The role of Thai governments and non-profit organizations are complex and lenient when it comes to enforcing laws. In a few cases, after the government banned prositution, there were arrests, and charged being made to the brothel, pimps, and owners. Even if there were countless laws prohibiting and illegalizing prostituition and sex trafficking, the businesses still florish and continue. One of the factors can be blamed on the widespread of corrupted government law officials. Such as “Politicians, police, armed forces and civil servants, who receive bribes, demand sexual favours and are themselves customers of the sex establishments, or may even be partners or owners of the establishments”. Since their title and authority are to believed trustworthy and safe, ethnic and vulnerable girls tend to fall for prostitution recuitment. This corruption had led numerous women into prostitution because the abuse of police power and authority. As for non-organization profits, it has less authority and influence to decrease the numbers of sex trafficking. However, “Some NGOs have also been involved in controversial relocation programs in upland communities of northern Thailand, whereby children perceived to be vulnerable to sex trafficking are removed from their villages and relocated to ethnic Thai communities”. Despite some of the effective services that NGOs provide, it’s still unsustainable and unable to limit the numbers of prostitutes.

Today in Bangkok, Thailand remained the capital of sex industry filled with sex buyers, tourists, and prostitutes. Some of the businesses one might encounter nowadays are at massage parlors, sex clubs, underground brothels, and on the streets. “There are more than 120,000 people in the Thai sex industry”. Since most women grew up in a low income family or poverty areas, they voluntarily to work in the sex industry. Being the head of the household, their expectations and responsibilities are huge to carry thus the rural girls finds prostitution is the easiest way to do it.

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Sex Industry And Tourism In Thailand. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from
“Sex Industry And Tourism In Thailand.” GradesFixer, 25 Oct. 2021,
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Sex Industry And Tourism In Thailand [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Oct 25 [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from:
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