Sex in Thailand is really impossible to understand, you really have to come to here to see for yourself; when you, do try not notice the sex scene; it’s impossible.  It is unlike anywhere else in the world. The Thais seem to have a different attitude towards sex and this becomes obvious when you spend any time here. Sex, of course, is available in just about every city in the world, strange that it is still probably the West’s greatest taboo. In Thailand people talk more openly about it and certainly act different towards it. I have witnessed none of the more repressed attitudes, so prevalent in the UK and USA, since leaving.

Writing about sex in Thailand is a huge subject. Covering the whole country and the sexual practices therein is a bit daunting to say the least. The main areas for the sex trade are Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket though many other areas cannot be ignored. I neither condemn nor encourage what goes on, I have always been of the opinion that what adults do in their own time and in private has got nothing to do with you, me nor anyone else. That abuse happens is undeniable, but that is a different subject, and one to which I will more than likely return. I lived in Bangkok for 4 and a half years and only saw a couple of incidents of abuse. As a matter of interest in each case, it was reportedly stopped by the very men who get condemned for being sex tourists. In a couple of cases for example they saw stalls selling videos featuring underage kids, they surrounded the stall and called the police.

Thailand probably has the biggest sex industry in the world, it is hard to put exact figures on it, but the last estimates I saw stated that there were 400,000 working girls in Bangkok, more in Pattaya and about 250,00 dotted around the rest of the country, meaning there is possibly upwards of 1 million girls earning some or part of their income by working in the sex trade. It is impossible to gauge the accuracy of any of the figures, suffice to say, there are a lot. It just doesn’t seem to be a taboo in Thailand. You can be buying aftershave from a beautiful girl in Bangkok’s Emporium shopping centre on Friday morning and she may well be working in Thermé, one of the most notorious freelance pick-up bars, on Friday night. I have seen a bank teller from my then Bangkok Bank, working as a freelancer in Nana Plaza at night. The bottom line is, if you want to have sex in Thailand it is about as easy as finding a restaurant.

Attitudes to Sex in Thailand, in General

It is in this area where there seems to be a dichotomy between opinions of old and new. For a country that has a seemingly open attitude to sex, it can at times also seem to be a taboo subject. There are hugely different attitudes between the old traditional Thailand and the new vibrant modern Thailand. It’s not just the sex scene that is different, sexual politics in a relationship are different as well. Many Thai women are very open about sex and seem to almost take it for granted that their boyfriends will play away. I know many guys whose wives and girlfriends give them rules as to what they can and cannot do. Whether or not this is some kind of test, I don’t know, but it is astonishing. The fact remains though that sexual attitudes are open and healthy in most of the country.

Age of a first time mother

Singapore 29.4
Malaysia 26.8 (2008)
Thailand 23.0
Cambodia 22.8
Vietnam 22.6
Indonesia 22.5


Percentage of women, married or in a relationship currently using contraception:

Thailand 80%
Vietnam 69%
Indonesia 57%
Singapore 55%
Malaysia 30%
Cambodia 27%

Maternity Leave

Time Allowed (days) % of salary covered*
Vietnam 121-182 100
Singapore 112 100
Indonesia 91 100
Thailand 90 100
Cambodia 90 50
Malaysia 60 100

*whether or not it actually ends up getting paid is open to debate

Fertility Rate

Number of births per woman
Malaysia 2.57
Cambodia 2.42
Indonesia 2.06
Vietnam 1.75
Thailand 1.53
Singapore 1.37

Amazing Attitudes from Bar Girls

I’ll give you a little anecdote; I know this is true because it happened to me. I moved to Bangkok and bought a bar on Soi 33 in the Sukhumvit area of Thailand’s capital. I was not happy with being perceived as some kind of pimp, so on the first day in charge I got all the staff together, there were about 10 girls, and had a meeting. I told them that I didn’t expect them to have sex with customers and I would never force them to go out with customers. So they no longer had to go with men. They had a little meeting and then the nominated spokeswoman said, “sorry boss, but we all leave.” When I asked why, they wanted to know why I was stopping them going with customers. I pointed out that I wasn’t but I could not be the kind of boss who forced his staff to do it, or cut their salaries if they didn’t. They had another meeting and she said, so we can go out with customers if we want?” I said, “Well yes if you want”. They all screamed and jumped up and down. I rang the bell bought them all a drink, and grew up fast. From that point on, it was kind of just done, and I didn’t really want to know.

I spent hours talking to my staff when we were quiet and you get quite an insight. For the vast majority of them, sex is just something they did and they loved it. They all tried to get the boss into bed, it’s a way of scoring points, but any bar owner will tell you, you aren’t go there. A few also had some regulars who they would phone up if they didn’t have a customer so they could sleep with them, for free. Whilst some would even ’look after’ each other if they didn’t have a customer. It was the craziest 4 years of my life and it changed so many of my preconceptions.

It’s Never a Good Idea to Judge From Afar

I saw a documentary once where two English women came to Bangkok to do an investigatory piece on the Sex in Thailand. They looked at the sex spots of Nana and Soi Cowboy. Everyone in Bangkok who saw it, laughed their socks off. They painted a picture of sex slaves forced into business by mafia men. In one hilarious interlude they bar-fined a girl out of a friend’s bar in Nana Plaza and took her out of the bar, bought her dinner and interviewed her. When they weren’t getting the answers they wanted that started tailoring the questions. So instead of “Are you unhappy doing this?” It became “Is there not something else that you would prefer to do?” Not many people in any job would answer “no” to that one. The funniest part was when they said to her that she was free to go home for the night. They gave her money and said in the documentary, that she looked so relieved not to have to go to work again that night. The girl went straight back to Nana and told everyone that she had just had the two craziest customers. They had paid her money and didn’t want to have sex with her. In her words, “Ting Tong Farang” - Crazy foreigners.

Soi Cowboy: The sheer number of girls here is astonishing

The Massage Scene

Massage parlours are everywhere in the big tourist areas and the vast majority offer sex in one form or another. In fact, following major spinal surgery 3 years ago a proper massage is a genuine relief for me these days. I had to ask my then girlfriend to recommend a good massage parlour. She actually asked me if I wanted a happy ending one or not! I tell you, Thailand is not like any other place on earth. When I finally found a good one, it was ironically, less than 100 yards from my bar. But the vast majority use massage as a front, most are actually pretty good masseuses, they learn in huge numbers, quite often at the temples. I have said in a different piece that the worst massage I have ever had in Thailand is better than the best I’ve ever had in Vietnam. In truth it’s probably better than any other country in the world except a couple of others also in Southeast Asia. For someone with a medical condition like me, it is amazing. You just tell them what your problem is and they will give you the perfect massage to suit.

Thailand’s Incredible Ladyboys

It would be both impossible and inaccurate to talk about the sex scene in Thailand and not mention the ladyboys. Over the years I had loads working for me and found them to be great fun and totally crazy in equal measure. So many people told me never to work with them, but I found them easier to deal with than the girls. Maybe because it is not my thing, that made it simpler. Once that sexual dynamic is taken out of the equation their attitudes changed. I used to talk to them and ask questions, because I find them fascinating. They pretty much all told me that they knew from before the age of around 10 that they were transgender. Why there are so many of them in Thailand, one can only guess. Though I have heard some staggeringly stupid arguments from people who simply do not know. The fact is, it is almost completely accepted in Thai society. As a rule their families are proud of them. The degree of acceptance can be measure by a new school built in Chiang Mai a few years back. The toilet blocks were in three sections, boys, girls and kathoeys. One of Thailand’s airlines, PC Air, has ladyboys working as cabin crew.

In another incident a ladyboy who worked for me went out with a customer and returned a couple of hours later in hysterics. All the staff gathered round as she regaled them with the story of what had happened. I, not understanding what was being said, watched fascinated, as the whole place went up in hysterical laughter. Eventually they quietened down and she told me what had happened. She went to a hotel with her customer, whom I had seen; a very handsome looking man of Southern European appearance. He was all, hairy chest, smart dress and a gold necklace. He showered and came out wearing a towel; she went and had a shower. When she returned he dropped the towel and the handsome looking man was very much a lady from the waist down! I promise you, nothing could shock me in Bangkok. Getting your head round that one (no pun intended) is not easy, though. The approach to sex in Thailand is not like anywhere else.

“Some of Thailand’s Stunning Ladyboys”

Gay and Lesbian Issues

There seems to be significant tolerance of gay and lesbian people in Thailand, sadly though, it does not go the whole way to acceptance. There is a big difference. I have never seen any hostility, but I have read online of others encountering trouble. In the cities it is quite common to see ”tomboys” as the Thais term lesbians. It is quite common to see a lesbian couple, where one is more masculine than the other. It is also quite common to see young men in rural areas acting in an extremely effeminate way, though this should not be mistaken for them being gay. It is quite strange, young boys seem to think it fashionable to act in an extremely camp manner.

Thailand is though, one of only seven Asian countries to have signed the United Nation’s declaration of LGBT rights. Sadly though the country does have a long way to go. Systemic discrimination does happen. A joint UNESCO, Plan International and Mahidol University study found that a third of 2,000 surveyed LGBT students had been physically harassed, a quarter sexually. Only a minority had previously told anyone about the bullying, even though it had led to depression for many of them and for 7% to attempt suicide.

Thailand opens gay marriage debate in Asia

The Law on Prostitution and Sex in Thailand

This is a grey area to say the very least. About 5 years ago, the police were instructed by the government to look into the extent of prostitution in the capital, they spent months studying the scene, then came back with a report that stated, “ There is no prostitution in Thailand”. What? Only in Thailand! In January 2015 the new The Commissioner-General of the Royal Thai Police issued an instruction to all police units telling them to arrest “illegal entertainment venues”. This is supposed to be a nationwide initiative in an effort to prevent prostitution.

Police Spokesman Pol Lt Gen Prawut Thawornsiri said, “There are a great number of entertainment venues, such as night clubs, karaoke bars and restaurants, involved in prostitution and human trafficking”. He therefore ordered all police units to enforce all the related laws against the crime, especially child prostitution. Adding those who recommitted prostitution and human trafficking were to face stronger charges and in addition police officials who did not take the crime seriously would be subject to investigation.
Considering that none of the venues can operate anyway without paying the police, it remains to be seen what will happen.

Sex Education in Schools

Thailand has an education system that has created one of the highest literacy rates in Asia. Despite this it has the second-highest number of teenage pregnancies in the world, the highest rate of HIV/Aids in Asia, and an increasing rate of STD infection among young people. In a multi choice question in a national exam for high school students recently, they were asked:

“If you have a sexual urge, what should you do?”
a) Ask friends if you can play football together
b) Consult family members
c) Try to sleep
d) Go out with a friend of the opposite sex
e) Invite a close friend to watch a movie together

Amazingly the correct answer was option a.

Many teachers in Thai schools seem bound by prudish convention rather than open to honest debate about sex. In many cases it is taught in a mainly biological way, rather than tackling emotional feelings relationship issues. The Education Ministry limits instruction on the subject to eight hours a year despite changing attitudes towards sex among the young. In the big International schools it is handled better, but in Thai schools there is still a lot of work to be done, regarding the teaching of sex in Thailand.

Mixed messages … official lines on responsible sexual behaviour often fail to connect with the reality of young Thais. Photograph: Alamy

HIV and AIDS in the Region

Getting accurate figures for HIV infection in the region is never easy. Government figures are not to be trusted, in some cases they use the figures as a scare tactic to try and control the sex trade. A recent figure in Cambodia for example said that 34% of all sex workers were infected; this is clearly nonsense. According to figures released at the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne last year, infection in Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Thailand has dropped by 25% since 2001. It is however estimated that within all of Southeast Asia some 3,900,000 people are living with HIV. The facts are though for sure, that sex workers are definitely at a higher risk of being infected than people not involved in the industry. Religious and cultural dogma has certainly been an impediment to good sexual health practices, in some of the countries in the region.

In Thailand, at least attitudes towards condoms and sexual health are sensible. Everyone talks openly about the use of condoms; they are sold very openly from all the convenience stores. Get yourself a girlfriend in Thailand and before you stop using condoms, there is a very good chance that she will insist on you both having a blood test. The last official figures for the numbers living with HIV in Thailand were released in 2008 and then it put the number at 532,522. Mechai Viravaidya, was minister for tourism and AIDS prevention from 1991 to 1992. He was known as “Mr. Condom”, and campaigned tirelessly to increase the awareness of use of condoms and for people to practice safe sex in Thailand. Thailand hosted the XV International AIDS Conference, 2004.


One thing that I find really great is that in general the Thai’s don’t judge. It seems impossible for some sections of Western society to refrain from judgementalism and negativity. They see an older guy with a young woman and they instantly jump to conclusions about exploitation. “She’s only there for the money” Well guess what? You don’t see many ugly, pro sports guys with ugly girlfriends. I guess Bernie Ecklestone’s missus is with him for his dynamic personality. They see a guy with a ladyboy and the snide jokes and abusive comments start. Even for guys in a genuine relationship with a good honest girl, the jokes about ladyboys are non-stop. It is not my business and I couldn’t care less, but it’s not their business either. In Thailand many guys feel perfectly happy to walk down the street holding hands with their ladyboy girlfriend. I personally, think this attitude is both sweet and healthy. The West could learn stuff from the Thais, it’s not perfect and of course abuse happens. Name a country where it doesn’t.

The Guardian
World Health Organisation
The Bangkok Post

  • I opened this article fully prepared to be pissed off by another politically correct, holier than thou article by some hack who spent 2 weeks looking into the ‘horrors of Thai prostitution’ - I’m glad to be disappointed! Having lived in Thailand for a number of years and having shared some of the same experiences you have had it was refreshing to see someone willing to tell it like it is.

    Prostitution, (Thai or otherwise) is a complex subject with many shades of gray and - no matter your personal opinion - when it is reduced to the simplicity of black and white nothing can be learned. Cheers for presenting a nuanced view!

    • Keith Hancock

      Thank you for the positive comments. I knew when I wrote it that it would be a touchy subject of some and it has proved so. I have tried to be honest and nonjudgemental. I am delighted that you feel as though I have achieved it.