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It’s the stuff of cliché to say that Thailand is a place of extremes, contrasts and confusions, though often it’s true.
Take for example ‘Thai girls’!
Is a typical Thai woman the seductive vamp of international notoriety? Or is she a nice, traditional girl looking for the one man in her life, who knows little or nothing about sex?
All generalisations are dangerous but it might come as a surprise how often she’s much closer to the second of these stereotypes than to the first.
My own personal knowledge on this topic is limited though and my ‘research’ is confined to reading the English language media in Thailand. Take for example a recent article in the Bangkok Post entitled, “The Naked Truth” (13 November 2008). About pornography in Thailand, it comments that just as prostitution is illegal here, the distribution of ‘pornography’ also has stiff penalties. Legal enforcement has become stricter in recent years because pornography is widely seen as the cause of rape and other sexual offences.
The article is based on research by an aptly named professor Chalidaporn who says, ‘Pornography exists because sex is condemned in society. Thai society has this notion that sex is something that should not be disclosed. There is no way of learning about sex, so most people learn through direct experience with pornography…”
Articles in the media often suggest a surprisingly prudish attitude towards sex. There is for example a wide spread ambivalence about sex education for the young and as sex is unmentionable, it should be kept under the table.
This strict attitude is hard to square though with the apparently exuberant attitude towards sex of many Thais but could in part be explained by the varied nature of Thai society. Thais of Chinese origin for instance, many of whom are well educated opinion formers, may have a more repressive attitude than the ethnic Thais.
Opinions in Thailand about sexual delinquency are thus sometimes expressed with a vehemence that is almost Victorian in tone. In my recent book, “MY THAI GIRL AND I”, I quoted a certain Professor Sukhum who had researched readers’ attitudes to newspaper reports on sexual matters.
“The headlines for stories on rape cases were found to capture readers’ attention the most,” he said, “followed by those on sexual violence, domestic violence and abortion stories… The respondents thought womens’ revealing outfits are the major cause of rape, pornographic media is the cause of sexual violence, mental disorder the cause of homosexuality and immorality the cause of child dumping or abortion.”
Would it were so simple!
Sex is often seen as dangerous and a headline in the same paper caught my eye… ‘Women lured into sex by aphrodisiac coffee and juice’ (7 April 2008). A leading womens’ foundation had warned that packets of instant coffee and juice are on sale containing a powerful aphrodisiac that women are unable to resist. “It leaves women excessively aroused,” according to the spokeswoman and “triggers an uncontrollable urge to have sex with the men who set out to take advantage of them”.
This shocking matter came to light when the complainant, a student named Bee, went to have dinner at the house of a man she’d met on the internet. The man then gave her a cup of coffee which he said was a new formula health drink. She drank the coffee and immediately felt a surge of arousal and an instant desire for sex which in the event was soon satisfied.
A similar complaint came from a bar hostess, of all people, who accepted a coffee from a patron of the bar. “About ten minutes after drinking it, she became dazed and felt a sudden unstoppable sexual excitement which drove her to have sex with the customer.” Well, that’s her story and she’s sticking to it!
Anyway, the womens’ foundation got hold of some samples of the coffee and sent them for testing by the Food and Drug Administration.
In the strict interests of research, I too have been thinking of buying some of this sexual elixir but so far haven’t found any. As my Thai is limited, when asking for it in a shop I can only explain the effect it has by using sign language. Buying toilet paper or condoms using sign language is difficult enough, but my “Harry Met Sally” fake orgasms at the check-out could get me arrested me pretty damned quick.
This wide-eyed innocence from a womens’ organization is hard to credit, though at the other extreme Thailand can also be wild. With its nightlife having a steamy reputation, modesty and decorum is hardly the order of the night.
The low status of women in Thailand could of course explain the glaring double standards in this particular human zoo. Thailand has a long tradition of concubinage and the men have always done pretty much what they want. A married man can always take a mia noi, though God help him if he’s indiscreet and causes his wife to lose face. Even worse if he spends money on the mia noi that should have been spent on her. Meanwhile married women are expected to behave impeccably and the sweet virgin daughter mustn’t get caught as it’ll diminish her sinsod, the nice big bride price Mama’s expecting to get when she marries her off.
The newspapers have also mentioned a new development in the sexual arena arising from the widespread availability of cheap video cameras and camera phones. The police are getting an increasing number of complaints from women who say that on dumping their boyfriend, he took revenge by posting nude videotapes of her on the internet or used them to extort money.
Even more insidious has been a rash of cases in which celebrities staying in hotels have been secretly videoed taking a shower. This has caused considerable embarrassment and clips on the internet of well-known starlets have been widely viewed.
Having just passed the Loy Kratong festival, I’m reminded too that at this time and on Valentine’s Day the young and very young are reported by the press to be at it like rabbits. As I mention in my book, the short time ‘love hotels’ are all booked out by these romantic young things and certain other places are often used for ‘promiscuous behaviour or even premature sex’. The Bangkok Post reports that, “Teens were found to have got carried away in the provincial sports stadium, particularly the area at the back of the basket ball field… and in isolated corners in department stores.”
Surging hormones thus need to be restrained and a secretary to the Ministry of Education on matters of sex has been quoted as saying that, “low-waist trousers and tight shirts are a risqué fashion trend which arouses sexual desire and possibly leads to sex crimes”. (The Nation, 15 February 2005). That particular official was called Tossaporn.
So to conclude, how can one characterize the typical ‘Thai girl’? ‘Is she seductive, scheming and available? Or is the Thai girl modest, sweet and innocent… is it she who is the victim?’
The topic is complex and nuanced and it’s hard to get beyond the platitudes, but I do have one final thought.
Fiction can convey ideas that can never be definitively stated so perhaps the best medium for this particular topic is a romantic novel!
Shall we call it, “Thai Girl”?
Copyright: Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog November 2008