Many people that visit Thailand will come into contact with the sex industry in some way. It is a topic that many people hold very strong opinions about. The issue is very complex and there are no simple answers to the problems associated with it. In order to better understand the issues I have tried to read as much as I can on the topic. I have made a list of brief reviews of books that offer a variety of insights into the sex industry and prostitution in Asia, and in particular Thailand.
This page was formerly hosted at the now defunct Geocities. Click on the links to buy the books direct from Amazon.com or the publisher.
Invisible Trade: High-class sex for sale in Singapore
by Gerrie Lim
Monsoon Books, Singapore, 2004
This book offers many fascinating insights into a world most people will never have the chance (or money) to visit. It examines high-class escort services in Singapore. The book is based on interviews with women working in the industry.
Escorting is in many ways sophisticated and glamourous. However, ultimately it is still about selling sex. It is just that it comes packaged with conversation and companionship -- and a high price tag. It is very interesting to read about what some clients ask their escorts to do -- often it doesn't involve sex. Cross dressing, auto-asphyxiation, foot fetishes and BDSM are among the more peculiar things that clients are interested in and willing to pay large sums of money for.
The stories for the most part reveal women that are confident and self-assured about what they doing. High pay, international travel, designer clothes and gifts from generous clients make it a rewarding career choice. Although at times it reveals they must face their inner demons and insecurities. They also have difficulty forming long-term relationships.
For a well written, inside look at the sex industry from the perspective of its workers this book is a must read.
Whispers and Moans
by Yeeshan Yang
Blacksmith Books, Hong Kong, 2006
This book offers many insights into the sex industry in Hong Kong. The author spent time speaking to workers in all sectors of the industry and through gaining their trust she has created a magnificent reference. From drug-addicted street walkers to high-class hostesses and gigolos, a myriad of perspectives are offered.
A movie based on the book has also been released with the same title, Whispers and Moans. If you expect to be titillated the movie will disappoint, but I think it has done a good job of presenting the issues in the book on screen.
by Julia Manzanares and Derek Kent
Only 13 Publications, 2005
If you want to read an inside story of Thailand's sex industry from the perspective of woman who worked in it read this book. It is a no-holds-barred expose of not just the Thai sex industry, but poverty and corruption in Thailand.
At the age of 13 Lon left her village in Isaan hoping to escape poverty. She soon found herself working in Bangkok's sex industry. On one level she was successful; she made a lot of money which allowed her to live a comfortable life and support her family. However, the personal cost was very great and she was exploited and deceived in many ways. She speaks with the powerful and determined voice of an activist making clear the injustice that she and many other girls have suffered.
This book is one of the few books I have found that gives an honest and detailed account of the life a sex worker.
NOTE: This book was originally published in Thailand with the title My Name Lon... You Like Me?. More information about the book can be found at www.only13.net.
Travels in the Skin Trade: Tourism and the Sex Industry
by Jeremy Seabrook
Pluto Press, London, 1996
Seabrook is a veteran journalist and he uses his skills to good effect in this investigation of sex tourism in Thailand. He looks at the many sides to the issues. He interviews with men that come to Thailand looking for sex and relationships and also people working to help and empower the women working in the sex industry. He also sees the problems of sex tourism as part of a broader pattern of exploitation of the South by the North.
Written in the mid 1990s, the HIV epidemic that then seemed imminent never happened. This is one of the few public policy successes in Thailand. However, the corruption and other problems detailed in book are still present today -- little has changed.
Sex Slaves: the Trafficking of Women in Asia
by Louise Brown
Virago Press, London, 2000
This is a well researched and insightful look at the sex industry in Asia. The author has done in country research in Thailand, Cambodia, Japan and on the Indian sub-continent. The book shows how women are trafficked into and controlled in the sex industry. It also highlights the difficulties many women face if they want to leave the industry.
The author makes it quite clear about the fact she is totally opposed to prostitution and the injustices associated with it. This quote from the book summarises very well the root causes of the abuse of women and children in the sex industry.
Let us make no mistake, prostitution is not just about poverty. It is a business founded upon all sorts of inequalities. It is a business that is constructed out of the distorted relations between men and women, between the poor and rich and between the minorities and mainstream of a society. (p. 60)The point, in essence, is that only if patriarchy, poverty and racism can be eliminated, can the problems associated with prostitution be resolved.
Sex and Borders: Gender, National Identity, and Prostitution Policy in Thailand
by Leslie Ann Jeffrey
Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 2002
Rather than being about the sex industry in Thailand per se, this book looks at how public policy has been used to manipulate national identity in Thailand with particular reference to gender politics and prostitution. It helps to explain the reasons why a mainstream feminism movement has never developed in Thailand. The book is very academic in its tone and extensively footnoted, but still quite readable.
Hello My Big Big Honey!: Love letters to Bangkok bar girls and their revealing interviews
by Dave Walker and Richard S. Ehrlich
White Lotus, Bangkok, 1992
This book is made up of love letters sent to bar girls by their farang customers and interviews with bar girls. The letters are alternately romantic, sad and just plain crazy. They are filled with love, lust, longing and loneliness. In contrast the interviews with the women reveal concerns with matters much more mundane. The women's primary concerns are money, their health and securing their future. Some women do admit to genuinely loving some of their customers, but for the most part they consider the relationships as simply business.
Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand's Illegal Economy and Public Policy
by Pasuk Phongpaichat, Sungsidh Piriyarangsan and Nualnoi Treerat
Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 1998
This book is thoroughly researched and reveals the inner workings of the illegal economy in Thailand. The sex industry and trafficking of women and children makes up only part of the illegal economy. The most interesting thing about this book is that it shows how deep the problem of corruption in the police force is and how that is a big obstacle to better law enforcement. It also details how the tentacles of the illegal economy stretch to manipulate the electoral process in Thailand. With respect to the sex industry it provides some reliable statistics about the size of the industry.
by Stephen Leather
Three Elephants, Thailand, 2005
The shelves of Bangkok's bookshops are filled with fictional works set around go-go bars. They are usually tales of romance, lust, betrayal and intrigue. Amongst them all this book looked like it might offer something a little bit different and more insightful.
What makes this book interesting is the way it is alternately narrated by different characters taking part in the story. The book revolves around two main characters: Pete, an English guidebook writer living in Bangkok and Joy, a young Thai lady dancing in a go-go bar in Nana Plaza. The way two people can have such different perceptions of the same events highlights the enormous cultural divide that exists between Thai bar girls and their farang customers.
Private Dancer is both an entertaining read and an informative look at the farang-oriented sector of the sex industry in Thailand. While it does at times seem unsympathetic to Thai culture the book finishes up as a cautionary moral tale.
Trafficked - New Internationalist No. 404 September 2007
The September 2007 issue of New Internationalist Magazine was on the theme of sex trafficking. All the articles are available online at the New Internationalist website.
List of books to read
- Human Traffic: Sex, Slaves & Immigration by Craig McGill
- The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani
- Trafficked (Briefings) by Kathleen Maltzahn
- Platform by Michel Houellebecq