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Who Are the Clients and What They Say about Prostitution in South-East Asia?

Les clients et leurs propos sur la prostitution en Asie du Sud-Est
Laurence Husson
p. 209-262


Enquêter sur la clientèle des prostituées, connaître ses attentes et ses pratiques, n’est pas aisé, car il s’agit de pénétrer la sphère intime de la personne, alors même que celle-ci souhaite préserver son sacro-saint anonymat, demeurer sans visage et profiter avec la meilleure conscience possible, d’une situation dont il ne se sent pas responsable. C’est une des raisons qui explique que le client, pourtant acteur clé dans le phénomène prostitutionnel, n’a pas reçu l’attention qu’il mérite. Les féministes voient dans cette lacune une omission volontaire due à l’acceptation tacite des pratiques et privilèges sexuels masculins. Les études se concentrent beaucoup plus sur l’offre que sur la demande prostitutionnelle en raison de l’opprobre qui entoure le sujet et des difficultés méthodologiques à cerner la diversité et l’hétérogénéité des clients. À travers 38 entretiens avec des clients locaux et étrangers de prostituées asiatiques en Indonésie, Thaïlande et Hong Kong, et les témoignages de 15 prostituées indonésiennes, l’article tente d’identifier les motivations, les justifications, ainsi que les profils des consommateurs de sexe tarifé. Si d’une façon générale, en Occident, le sujet en lui-même est encore tabou et qu’il est de moins en moins valorisant de se déclarer « client de prostituée », nos entretiens montrent qu’en Asie, cette prévention ou ce complexe sautent aisément car les moyens de se dédouaner sont nombreux et les alibis multiples.

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Let’s not be hypocrites! What normal man hasn’t used the services of a prostitute at least once? Those who claim they haven’t—would they also swear that they were never even tempted? Even famous lovers like Don Juan and Casanova didn’t underestimate the charms of prostitutes and yet they were certainly not deprived of feminine company. (Jammot & Rocheteix, 1954: 130.)

  • 1 While it is practically impossible to estimate the number of prostitutes operating in Southeast As (...)
  • 2 Sweden is the first country to have effectively punished a client of sexual services. Since 1 Janu (...)

1In a study entitled Tourism, Prostitution and AIDS, Mechtild Maurer affirmed that “[...] in every day life as well as in research and legislation prostitution continues to be considered as solely concerning the prostitute while completely ignoring the existence of the client” (1992: 25). Indeed, the client remains the “Unknown” element of the prostitution business. Too many studies of this business deal only with the “supplier” when in fact prostitution depends above all on demand. While the consumer may remain invisible, he is in fact the base of the whole system.1 Without him prostitution would cease to exist. One wonders then why the client is so systematically excluded from all studies and analysis. Why is his role totally ignored? Who is this client, what is he looking for and why? Feminists tend to view this voluntary omission as a tacit acceptance of masculine sexual practices and privileges. Some European countries, however, have begun to enact legislation aimed at these clients and providing for their condemnation along with the prostitute and/or procurer.2 Yet, even if they are now liable to be fined or imprisoned, the clients remain largely anonymous.

2University studies on prostitution sprang from the American trend to gender studies in the 1980s. The studies emphasized the prostitutes themselves, their living and working conditions as well as their relationship with their clients, yet revealing little or no information on these clients (Khin 1980; Truong 1990; Hall 1992; Seabrook 1996). Toward the end of the 1980s, with the onset of AIDS, numerous studies and reports devoted entire pages to describing the social, economic and cultural profile of the prostitutes and their role in disease transmission. Yet only a few lines of these reports concern the clients even though they are more numerous than the prostitutes, thus deliberately minimizing their importance. However, considering only Thailand and the potential foreign clientele, Franck Michel points out that of the nearly nine million tourists who visited this country in the year 2000, 65 to 70% of them are men (Michel 2003: 22). And there is a strong probability that most of these male foreign visitors, whether they come from Asia, Europe, America, the Middle East or Africa, offer one or more tariffed sexual relations, following all those who have devoted themselves to it throughout the history of the country: Chinese coolies in the 19th century, American soldiers on leave during the Vietnam War, local customers very numerous, sex-tours operators that forged a solid reputation of easy and cheap lust.

3Nevertheless, two authors, Erik Cohen (1982, 1986, 1993) and Cleo Odzer (1994) have written about the relationship between Thai prostitutes and their foreign clients. These studies are the culmination of a long-term field study in Patpong, Bangkok. Given the subject of the study both authors put a certain emphasis on the “consumers” and describe some of the clients who, thousands of miles from home, immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Bangkok’s go-go bars and have affairs and torrid relationships which are often even more complicated and ambiguous due to cultural and linguistic differences. Clients are not theorists and usually do not work on thesis dissertations or publish scholarly articles. However, some authors of guidebooks specializing on night-life have to present themselves as clients and experts on prostitution to be reasonably credible, firsthand material by sex tourists have been made available to researchers, and, more recently, interviews of deceived sex tourists have been collected and published in Thailand, but act more as a warning for future foreign customers.

Fig.1. A Bangkok map for womanizing German tourists

Fig.1. A Bangkok map for womanizing German tourists

Are mentioned girly bars, massage parlours, prostitution houses...

4A few clients have published books, although they usually do not introduce themselves as plain customers. Rory O’Merry, the author of My wife in Bangkok, is said to be a “freelance photojournalist” and his story is set in Patpong, soi Nana, soi Cow Boy, Thermae Coffee Shop and Pattaya, the most famous places for sex tourists in Thailand, it includes about fifty photos (O’Merry 1990). O’Merry met Dang, a bar-girl working at an open-air bar opposite the Grace Hotel in soi Nana, the very first day of his stay in Bangkok, and a week later moved in with her in a “bungalow” of Sukhumvit Road. For about three months O’Merry had the opportunity to mix with many prostitutes and customers of the sex tourism sector.

5“Hello my big big honey!” Love letters to Bangkok bar girls and their revealing interviews by Dave Walker and Richard S. Ehrlich, first published in the early 1990s, has known as many as eight printings, the lastest one in 2001. It includes interviews with a dozen bar girls and three bar owners (English, American and Thai) but the major part of the book consists in a selection of 71 letters sent to bar girls by foreign clients. These unintentional and unsolicited contributions by clients are particularly precious.

6Along these same lines, without any claim to academic legitimacy, a work entitled Love, Sex and Trust. Romantic Adventures in Thailand was published in 2000. This book recounts fourteen stories in interview form, each one more tragic than the previous one, about Western clients misled, betrayed, or bankrupted by the greedy bar girls with whom they fell in love. The authors of this work, Morgan Lake and Kristian Schirbel, both well versed in the customs and people of Thailand, wrote this book as a warning to Western travelers looking for love and unaware of the vast cultural differences which can lead to many misunderstandings and even serious disappointment. Although these rather naïve European men are not said to be representative of the sex tourists visiting Thailand every year, their interviews indisputably turn them into victims rather than exploiters (Lake & Schirbel 2000).

7Asian men seem too shy to write about their encounters with prostitutes. Fiction literature is an interesting case, but the autobiographical part is never clear.

8Two other papers focus also on men as customers in tourist-related prostitution in Thailand (Bishop & Robinson 1998, Thorbek 2002). Bishop analyses men’s travel reports on the Internet and show how these men are alienated from their own sexuality but also from society in general through their obsession with the Internet. Thorbek argues that the men combine old notions on race, class and gender with very modern conditions of life and that the sex tourist becomes an image of postmodern man. The increase in the male demand for paid sex is logical in the sense that privileges which were formerly restricted by class, race and gender are now available to everybody as there is no need to be rich to exploit women in the Third World. Regarding the customers and their relationships with prostitutes, much has been written about the so-called “open-ended” relationships in some prostitution spots mainly in Thailand.

  • 3 T.H. Hull, E. Sulistyaningsih and G.W. Jones, Pelacuran di Indonesia, Sejarah dan Perkembangan, Se (...)

9With the exception of those unusual cases where the client is in love with the prostitute or trying to help her to change her profession, research studies are generally only interested in the client in order to help to estimate the use of condoms in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and AIDS. Indeed, interest in the prostitute’s client is limited to the public health issue since he may contract an STD. In fact the various health examinations tend in general to protect the client rather than the prostitute. In the past 10 years certain categories of customers, considered to be a high-risk group likely to be exposed to AIDS, have been the object of qualitative and quantitative studies. This group includes such categories as: truck drivers, sailors, military personnel, drug addicts and men suffering from STDs. For these particular categories studies are now available detailing their sexual behavior, the frequency of their visits to prostitutes and whether or not they used protection during sex. For Indonesia alone there have been more than ten university studies and several press articles on the subject of prostitution because it has become a “trendy” and sensational theme.3 Only one of these studies concerns itself with the client. The Blowfield study (from which one table is reproduced below) devotes four pages to a closer look at the client, his socio-economic background and ethnic origin. The study concludes that whatever type of sexual services is considered, it is extremely difficult to evaluate the volume of customers because the prostitutes rarely work full time and their work is subject to so many variables such as payday, vacations, religious holidays, menstrual cycles, and weather, as well as the economic climate. Despite the fact that according to all reports sex workers are increasingly more numerous, none of the other studies gives any details whatsoever about the clients to whom these sex workers sell their services.

10The French sociologist Sébastien Roux, arguing that it might be understood that few studies on sex work concentrate on male clients as the result of both methodological difficulties—social diversity and heterogeneity of the clients—and the moral condemnation of prostitution that explains why sex work analyses will focus on offer rather than demand. However, he has published extracts from an in-depth interview conducted with a young French expatriate in Bangkok, showing that prostitution can not be reduce to an univocal relation of domination (Roux 2009). Other academic studies have tried to identify the client and his motivations, practices and according to these authors, virile deviances, since not all men buy sex (Månsson 2006, Bouamama & Legardinier 2006). Månsson has pointed five major motivational themes for seeking out prostitutes: the whore fantasy, another kind of sex, image of the kind-hearted comforter, images of sex as a consumer product, fantaisies of another kind of woman. The sociologist Emmanuel Jovelin observed prostitution in Ivory Coast by polling public opinion and clients, postulating that this activity is to be linked to male domination and gender relations (Jovelin 2011).

11Louise Brown (2001: 126) remarks that:

[...] in Asia, the sex trade may have encountered a few problems of distribution and merchandising, and the law is sometimes an irritation, but the industry cannot complain about insufficient customer demand. On the contrary, more men than ever are buying sex.

12So any collection of studies of prostitution in Southeast Asia would be incomplete if it did not deal with the clients and at the very least attempt to reveal their point of view.

13The present study attempts to provide this focus on the clients throught interviews carried on from 1997 until 2015, each time that we traveled to those regions targeted for the study.

  • 4 These interviews are reproduced in annex 2 of this article.

14These individuals publicly recognized that they regularly enjoyed the services of hostesses, masseuses and prostitutes in Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Jakarta, Phnom Penh, Hong Kong or Manila. The comments collected were transcribed, some in their entirety, some partially, in such a way as to protect the identity of the individuals by giving only their age, nationality, place of interview and profession.4

15Some of these interviews were conducted in bars, discotheques and red light districts in Jakarta, Surabaya, Kuta (Indonesia) or Wan Chan in Hong Kong, but most of them were conducted on neutral ground, for example, at airports, in planes, in restaurants, in hotel lobbies or more often in parties where these individuals were physically captive and where it was easier for them to talk because they seemed to feel personally detached from the subject of the inquiry.

  • 5 The magazine Marianne (2001), in an article on pedophilia, referring to figures supplied by UNICEF (...)

16The most spontaneous comments were those given by homosexual clients of masculine prostitutes or transvestites. It was virtually impossible to obtain any comments whatsoever on pedophilia since it has recently become even more severely punished.5

17In order to give more support to our study of these clients we also interviewed fifteen Indonesian prostitutes and asked them to give us their opinions and perceptions of their clients as well as how many they saw each day.

18One must first of all be sure of the reliability of these sources. The fact that these interviews were conducted by a woman could have had some influence on the answers, given the subject of this study. It is possible that a man-to-man interview could have resulted in different comments. In addition the customers could be divided into two categories: the timid, guilty type who were not very talkative and the jovial types who were at ease discussing their sexual tastes. Our interviews, obviously partial, more often reflect this second loquacious category.

  • 6 This article was written as part of a study paid for by the research unit, Science of Man and Soci (...)

19Some of these interviews were carried out as part of a study on AIDS,6 from June to August 1997, just before the economic crisis which would severely shake up the financial situation in these countries, without affecting the sex trade which continued to thrive.

20The International Labor Office brought to public attention this seeming paradox: while the economic crisis in Asia continued into its second year, the local sex trade became a virtual industry of its own, generating jobs and prosperity. In the four targeted countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, the sex industry accounts for up to 14 percent of the GDP (Lim 1998.)

A Very Diversified Trade

21It should be remembered that brothels, massage parlors, bars and other entertainment spots in Asia, be they small or gigantic, offer a large choice of sexual services that do not exist in Europe.

22It would appear from the testimonies (Interviews 1, 5, 6, 10, 11, 16, 21) that sex services are abundant and sexual encounters are easy and frequent. This confirms the stereotype of Southeast Asia as one huge whorehouse, Thailand in particular being seen as a magnet for sex tourism, the Bordello of Asia.

23Interviews n° 5 and 6 mention Thailand as being a temple of sex pleasures, but also a source of STDs, while n° 27, a sailor, states that the stops in Asian port cities are the most sought after and the most notorious. The French travel guide cites Asia as being by far the most affected by the prostitution phenomenon. Indeed, in numbers alone, since Asia is the most populated continent, it has the highest number of prostitutes.

  • 7 For a description of the situation in Indonesia (classification, multiplicity and diversity of typ (...)

24It is important to mention briefly the extreme diversity of sexual services offered.7 The word prostitution is intended to encompass any sexual act given in exchange for cash or any other type of compensation, even when this act may not be performed in a location specifically designated for the sex trade. Indeed prostitution may be carried on in either a “closed” or an “open” location. Any establishment where the sex worker is strictly watched over and must account for her activities (bordello or call-girl agency) is considered to be a “closed” location. The streetwalker who works in an “open” location (on the street, at discotheques, shopping centers, amusement parks) is considered to be an independent worker. Some locations, such as bars, massage parlors and men’s hairdressers, can be considered as “open” or “closed”, depending on whether or not the workers report their activities and whereabouts to a superior. The Public Health Ministry of Thailand makes a distinction between no fewer than 19 different types of establishments offering sex services (Formoso 2001: 60), confirming the diversity and abundance of these services. As for the client, he may pay before or after sex, directly to the prostitute, or to the owner of the “sex for pay” site.

Fig. 2. Men involved in the prostitution world viewed by a popular Thai comics: Bangkok by night

Fig. 2. Men involved in the prostitution world viewed by a popular Thai comics: Bangkok by night

25The interviews conducted bring to light several types of prostitution:

  • Classic or formal prostitution, where services and prices are clearly posted, is performed in bars, nightclubs, massage parlors, hotels, karaoke bars, and on the sidewalks in cities and other tourist or vacation destinations. This type of prostitution is clearly visible and takes place in a prescribed location. This activity employs full-time sex workers, whether willing or not.
  • Occasional prostitution is carried out in either an “open” or a “closed” location.
  • Undercover prostitution refers to sex services performed by a “guide” or chaperone, a temporary girl friend or mistress available during a short stay and compensated either with gifts or financial aid or both.
  • One type of prostitution not documented in our interviews is the organized “sex tour”.

26In the midst of this large and diversified sex trade another type of prostitution, “play for pay” has sprung up between the local women and the tourists. E. Cohen (1982, 1993), a shrewd observer of the situation in Thailand, created the concept of “open-ended” prostitution to designate this type of relationship between Thais and “farang”. This term, while still implying a pay for sex relationship, at the same time refers to a less structured and more open connection which can lead to a long-term and even sentimental liaison. “Open-ended” sex, however, always includes some sort of monetary aid given the vast gap in living standards between the two parties. Of course this concept of “open-ended” prostitution can be found throughout all the Asian countries. The anthropologist Heidi Hoefinger (2013) studied the complex relationships made of sexuality, feelings, interest and retribution, tied in the night bars of the Cambodian capital between “professional girlfriend” and foreign tourists.

27Of the thirty-eight persons interviewed twenty used sex services in a “closed” location (n°1, 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14, 19, 23, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34). Ten of those interviewed paid for sex in an “open” location (n° 4, 5, 8, 11, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 29, 35). The remaining five persons used sex services in locations which could be considered either “open” or “closed” (n° 2, 12, 22, 24, 28, 36, 37, 38). The supply of sex services is such that it can be summed up in a totally cynical yet realistic way: if the customer can pay and knows how and where to look he can literally find any and every service he could want. Indeed the large choice of services available in the sex market has a direct influence on the diversity of its clients.

Diversified Clientele, Mainly Asian

28It is also good to recall an obvious fact: if the foreign clientele is noticed more than the local clientele, it is perhaps simply because a white man with an Asian women is necessarily more visible than an Asian with an Asian and also that the local customers are more discreet and do not frequent the touristic spots of prostitution.

29A major bias exists in this sample due to the conditions of the study. We questioned 25 Europeans and only 12 Asians (Interviews n° 3, 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 23, 25, 26, 28, 31) and one Middle Eastern person. The reason for this bias in the sample is not because the “Whites” were considered to be “better” customers (in terms of number or frequency) but simply because they were the most readily available and most willing to talk about this subject in the various locations where the interviews took place (bars, nightclubs, airports, parties). This ratio of two Westerners to every Asian does not reflect reality. In fact the demand for prostitutes in Southeast Asia comes firstly from the locals, secondly from Asians, and thirdly from Westerners. It has been established that the demand for sex services by foreigners, whether or not they are tourists, represents only a small part of the overall demand in Southeast Asia.

  • 8 In Thailand many bars such as those in Soi Cow Boy, Soi Nan (Nan Entertainment Plaza) Pattaya, Pat (...)

30For example, in Cambodia tourists make up only 10 percent of the clientele in brothels but account for 100 percent in those bars which are off-limits to the locals (Véran 2000: 15). Indeed the foreign clientele tends to use only those establishments listed in the guides, or addresses shared between themselves. In all the major cities in Southeast Asia in the various types of nightspots (bars, massage parlors, karaoke bars, nightclubs) the clientele tends to be rather homogenous, as for example, in the German bar, the English pub, the Japanese massage parlor, the Arab hotel or Africans nightspots.8 As for the locals, unless they happen to be very rich, they will stick to their own neighborhoods where they have their own contacts. In these locations there will be little or no foreign presence and transactions are carried out in local currency. With the progressive closure of brothel complexes in Indonesia, the flash trade passes now via the internet, mobiles phones and other more discrete channels. Prostitutes are now more and more available online.

31Louise Brown (2001: 150) assumes that throughout Southeast Asia, Japanese men emerge as the biggest international consumers of commercial sex—because they have infinitely more spending power than other Asian men—and the men who are most frequently brutal in its enjoyment. She adds that “racism complicates and deepens the domination theme in sex purchase by Japanese men”.

  • 9 This website was destined to help prospective sex customers through tips, advice and commentaries (...)

32According to the author of a guide to Cambodia available on the Internet at that does not exist anymore9 there is a sort of competition between the different nationalities. “This place, like the karaoke and certain other spots, caters to Taiwanese, Korean and—worst of all Japanese visitors. I have nothing against these nationalities, but they can sure ruin the market and make prices go up if too many of them come to visit”. This spatial segregation based on nationalities has in the long run prompted the proprietors and their sex workers to specialize in the tastes and language of their specific clientele. There are very few statistics available on the nationality of the clients but it would seem that Asians, both locals and tourists, make up the large majority of consumers. For example, according to the Krousar Thmey Association, in Cambodia the clients in descending order of importance are Chinese from Taiwan, Chinese from the People’s Republic of China, Japanese, Indian, Pakistani and then Westerners (Veran, 2000: 15).

33Jean Baffie (1998), after consulting the annual statistics published on tourism in Thailand, concludes that the number of western sex tourists in Thailand is relatively low:

Out of 5.2 million tourists visiting this country between January and September 1996, less than a third were European, North American, Australian or from New Zealand. In addition the disproportion between the sexes is less pronounced in these groups than for: Arabs (81 percent men, 19 percent women), Malaysians (73 percent men, 27 percent women) Japanese (71 percent men, 29 percent women), Singaporeans (70 percent men, 30 percent women).

34Baffie (1998, long version unpublished) claims that the Thais are the predominant clientele, with the Chinese not far behind, even if with recent wealth they have turned to more high-class prostitutes and that according to reliable surveys of sexual behavior, every day at least 450,000 Thai men visit prostitutes. In the present article Baffie cites a study conducted by Chulalongkorn University in 1999 (Yamarat et al. 1999) which indicates that not more than 14.8 percent of sex consumers are of foreign origin.

Fig. 3. The Japanese male tourist from the airport directly to the massage parlors

Fig. 3. The Japanese male tourist from the airport directly to the massage parlors

From the Nation Review, Bangkok, December 9, 1979.

  • 10 On June 2014, Surabaya administration officially closes down Dolly known as the biggest red-ligth (...)

35Blowfield (1992) carried out an ethnographic study in the red light district of Surabaya in 1992. The resulting information, in tabular form, shows the ethnic background of the prostitutes’ clients. Surabaya is the second largest city and second port of Indonesia, where the sex trade has always been a flourishing business.10 This type of document is extremely uncommon and rarely published; therefore we have reproduced it in appendix 1.

36In response to the sticky question “who are the clients?” this study would answer that “practically speaking, any male in Surabaya who is sexually active may be a client of the sex industry. Use of sex workers by males of virtually all economic classes, ethnic groups, religions and backgrounds appears to be a normal and frequent behavior” (Blowfield 1992: 30).

37If this rating in descending order of importance is to be believed, Indonesians make up the majority of clients in the fourteen types of locations where sex services are bought and sold. Indonesians are in the majority whether they are Pribumi (children of the soil, locals) or Sino-Indonesians (Peranakan, Chinese born in Indonesia and assimilated), living in Surabaya or just passing through. In second position are the Asian businessmen, entrepreneurs, technical workers and tourists including “foreign” Chinese, that is to say Taiwanese mainly from Southeast Asia, and the other Asians including Japanese and Koreans who are repeatedly mentioned. The term Caucasian refers to European types. It is unfortunate that the category designated as “foreign” is not more explicit because it would have permitted a complete world tour!

38The Asia-Pacific region has shown the greatest growth in the tourist industry according to the World Tourism Office with more and more Asians traveling. Indeed there has been a considerable increase in the number of Asians traveling within the region for business, professional training or tourism. In the Asia-Pacific zone, Asians of local or regional origin account for more than 75 percent of the visitors with 60 to 64 percent of the tourists in Eastern Asia being of Asian origin. For Thailand alone in 1998 the Asians accounted for more than 60 percent of the visitors according to the statistics of the Thai Tourism Authority Board. Since the end of the Second World War the growth in population, the improvements in transportation and the overall rise in the standard of living have resulted in an increase in exchanges which in turn generate further improvements. According to the World Tourism Office the number of Asians traveling in Asia reached 55 million people. Who were these 55 million Asians? The dominant role of the male in this gigantic and highly diversified society as well as the prohibitive cost of family vacations would lead to the presumption that these 55 million travelers—the equivalent of the population of France in 1970—were mainly male, businessmen or assimilated. These characteristics could be considered descriptive of the potential sex consumer.

Behavior Patterns of the Asian Client, Resident or Transient

39In Asia marital instability, unfaithful husbands and the relative frequency of extra-marital sex no longer need to be proven. Louise Brown (2001: 131) points out that:

[...] in Cambodia male sexual desire is considered insatiable. One woman simply cannot satisfy the average man. A Cambodian proverb, “ten rivers are not enough for one ocean”, expresses this very aptly. Men believe that they are entitled to have sex and they believe that they have a right to buy it.

  • 11 Polygamy is losing ground everywhere in the world due to economic conditions and the fact that man (...)

40Due to the ideology of male dominance, Asian men are free to express and satisfy their sexual needs. Indeed their sexual expertise and number of partners serve to enhance their virile image. In fact polygamy11 and the use of prostitutes are considered to be an attributes of their masculinity. Interview n° 28 clearly shows how this multiple partner system enhances the status of a man. The rich man, to maintain his prestige, will certainly be polygamous.

41Prostitution is perhaps becoming the modern-day equivalent of the polygamy practiced by the aristocrats and powerful men of bygone days. This same individual considers that the prostitutes are preferred by men, who believe they cause fewer problems than a regular mistress would. The anthopologist Bernard Formoso (2001: 63) subscribes to this theory and claims that in Thailand “the rise in popularity of prostitution is the transformation, in matters of sex, of secular groups into cliques which are characteristic of the hierarchal organization of Thai society.” The nobility in Thailand had an obligation to maintain its vassals and concubines. Indeed an entire family could be placed under the protection of a nobleman, with the vassal’s wife becoming the nobleman’s concubine. While polygamy may have been outlawed at the beginning of the 20th century, the practice has persisted of having “little wives”, where the “first” wife is maintained at the same time as several other women who are kept in different houses. Formoso, referring to Knodel (1999: 78-92), concludes that “the open or clandestine existence of concubines along with the economic reasons for legalizing them have led to the rise in prostitution by giving feminine sexuality a mercantile connotation.”

42Koentjoro (1998: 3) notes that in the days of the Javanese kingdoms, trade in women was common and power was measured in part by the number of concubines (selir) a ruler possessed. These women often came from regions known for their beautiful women. This reputation has continued today since the current prostitutes often originate from these same regions. Thus these women were a sort of tribute to the aristocracy. Hull, Sulistyaningsih and Jones (1995: 11-12) believe that these feudal practices laid the base for a mentality which sees women as merchandise, objects of man’s desires, the symbol of power and success.

43Visiting a brothel is as common as going to the movies. This notion of going to a prostitute was corroborated in numerous interviews as being a regular and even ritualistic activity. In contrast to the situation in the West where going to a prostitute is basically a solitary activity, in Asia these visits are usually convivial and part of a drinking party. The men will go in a group, among friends (Interview n° 19) or business associates. Sometimes it is an after work activity or to sign or celebrate the signing of an important contract as explained by the Taiwanese businessman (Interview n° 9) or Sarinah (Interview n° 42) who says that she has a clear preference for the client looking to celebrate some victory. The pleasures of the flesh in Asia are closely linked to the pleasures of good food and alcohol. Baffie, in the present work, refers to a study conducted in Thailand in 1999 (Yamarat et al. 1999) in which 65 percent of the prostitutes questioned revealed that over half of their clients were inebriated. Vena (Interview n° 47) states that her Asian clients are often drunk. A good meal is often naturally followed by a visit to the brothel. The terms used by the individuals interviewed clearly reveal the association between sex and food, both considered to be vital functions: suka jajan (meaning to like sweets in Indonesian also means to have extra-marital sex, to have adventures) or plian rot-chat in Thai meaning “taste other flavors because eating the same thing every day gets boring.”

44E. Micollier, quoting Nguyen-vo, notes that

[...] in Vietnam there is a process of commodification of sexual pleasure for domestic consumption integral to liberalizing economic practices. The buying of sexual pleasure in the business and political milieu has become an important means of facilitating clientele connections to gain access to the means of production and exchange. The activity of consuming pleasure has become the mark of this entrepreneur class. Borrowing from Butler’s concept of “performative gender”, Nguyen-vo argues that the forms of consumption and commodification of pleasure constitute performances of class and nation, predicated on a gender difference. Consuming women and their bodies allows men to construct themselves not just as men, but as Vietnamese men of a certain class. (Micollier 2004: 9.)

  • 12 Just to compare, it should be noted that the practice of losing one’s virginity with a prostitute (...)

45Interview n° 26 exposes another reason for visiting brothels which seems quite frequent in Asia: to get away from a home which is probably very tiny and overcrowded where one can never have any peace and quiet. In this respect paying for the services of a prostitute becomes a means of escaping family and neighborhood pressures, a way of relaxing and forgetting the stress of daily life. The businessman from Singapore (n° 3) says that he takes weekend trips to neighboring tourist spots to escape the social and professional pressures at home. Interviews n° 13 and 23 give another classic reason for going to a prostitute—the bachelor who is getting his sex education with a prostitute he won’t have to marry if she becomes pregnant.12 In the present work Baffie talks about the tradition of khun khru (going with a professor) where young Thais lose their virginity and gain sexual prowess at the hands of a professional prostitute. While there is no recent formal study to corroborate this, Baffie believes this practice is in fact losing ground. It can be surmised that with the changing moral attitude a young Thai can now have his first sexual experience with an ordinary girlfriend. In contrast, in countries with a Muslim heritage such as Indonesia where attitudes toward pre-marital sex are more conservative it may be supposed that khun khru is still widely practiced. It would be interesting to do a study to confirm or refute this theory. In any case, women in Asia believe that men, by their very nature, have pronounced sexual needs and a taste for variety. In a study carried out in Thailand 80 percent of the men and 75 percent of the women questioned stated that “it is natural for a man to pursue sex at every opportunity” (Knodel 1999: 96). Because they view masculine sexuality as being uncontrolled and uncontrollable, Asian women readily accept that their husbands have recourse to prostitutes both before and after marriage.

46Visits to brothels can also be part of the work day as in the case of the police officer (Interview n° 7), a decent family man, who succumbs to the offer of young fresh prostitutes, or the taxi driver in Kupang (n° 30) who tries out the “merchandise” before recommending them to his customers. In both of these cases it is very unlikely that the men would pay for the service. There is in fact a multitude of different trades which benefit from free sex in a similar manner (hotel owners, madams, papa or mama-san, barmen and waiters, watchmen and bouncers, parking lot attendants, cigarette salesmen, taxi drivers, solicitors, policemen, soldiers, loan sharks, etc.). These types either take advantage of their position to get free sex, or assume the status of official boyfriend.

47The brothels are also for some immigrants a friendly place where they can find girls and other men from the same region who speak the same language such as the workman from Java who feels lonely in Bali (n° 14). The large population of male migrant workers, either bachelors or unaccompanied married men, are one of the main client groups of cheap local brothels everywhere in Southeast Asia.

48A study on sexual behavior and the use of condoms in Hanoi (Nguyen et al. 2002) reveals that a minority, only 14.8 percent of those interviewed, go to karaoke bars, massage parlors and brothels by themselves. This same study also shows that Vietnamese men are not hindered by marriage or the number of children in their decision to have extra-marital sex (67 percent of the married persons interviewed had had extra-marital free sex, with 32.4 percent reporting having had extra-conjugal sex for money). This last category was mostly students (49 percent). According to this report Vietnamese men prefer the “quick trick”, or short-term to the full night more popular with the western men. This tendency is indeed prevalent in all the Asian countries where the client uses the prostitute often, but for a short term. As Vena (Interview n° 47) explains, the Asian customers are in a hurry.

49Many wives accept the fact that their husbands use prostitutes, for all these reasons given by the consumers. The wives, in fact, consider that using prostitutes is less of a threat to the sentimental and financial harmony of the couple than a permanent mistress would be.

  • 13 It should be noted, as an anecdote, that the farang husband is considered to be more faithful than (...)

50Indeed the Asian wife correctly feels that a non-commercial love relationship takes more time and requires a much greater investment, both moral and financial, than a quick visit to the brothel. If she has to be cheated on, given that this is generally accepted as inevitable by the majority of Asian women, she feels that the occasional visit to a prostitute is a far lesser evil than maintaining one or several mistresses on a regular basis.13 VanLandingham et al. (1999: 79) devoted an article to this issue in Thailand. What is true in this country also holds true in Indonesia as illustrated by the following colorful proverb popular amongst all the married women of the archipelago: lebih baik suami membeli sate atau jajan di luar daripada membeli kambing dan membawanya pulang ke rumah (“better that the husband buys some skewers or sweets on the street than to bring home a goat”). These wives know that neither his age, nor his revenue or socio-economic standing has any influence on his faithfulness or his decision to use a prostitute.

All Ages, all Budgets

51All ages seem to be represented from the adolescent to the seventy year old man. However the largest age group is the 40 to 50 year olds, with the average age being 39. All those interviewed were working except for three who had retired (n° 1, 11 and 30) and two students (n° 4 and 13). Age, then, is not a criterion since any man who is sexually active is a potential customer for commercial sex.

52One is immediately struck by the wide sociological variety of the clients—it would seem that all socio-professional categories use sex services. Nevertheless, in our random sample the middle and upper management category predominates: (n° 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38). This seeming imbalance in the sample (21 out of 38) is most probably due to the places where the interviews were conducted (airports, bars and discotheques for foreigners) which attract a wealthier category of individuals.

53Almost half of the persons interviewed work in transportation or jobs requiring frequent travel: sailor (n° 27), navy captain (n° 6), taxi driver (n° 31), traveling salesman (n° 25, 36), technician and engineer (n° 5, 24, 37), expatriate manager (n° 16, 20, 21), itinerant worker (n° 14), consultant (n° 34), businessmen (n° 9, 32), photographer (n° 38), tourists (n° 8, 22, 23). It is now clearly proven that mobility of whatever type encourages the use of prostitutes (Runganga & Aggleton 1998, Husson 1998). Indeed, truck drivers and sailors work in conditions that promote risky behavior due to the frequency of their trips and the length of time spent away from home. Four individuals (n° 2, 3, 18, and 33) state that they are more sexually active when away from home (or home country) or when on vacation. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that while away men are more likely to ignore the moral and social restraints of their life at home. While traveling they seem to lose all reserve and inhibition in light of the visibility of the sex trade where neither the “merchandise” nor the customer need hide. The excitement of the exotic sexual encounter in broad daylight, with its implied social acceptance, justifies and motivates the client.

54Income does not seem to be a pertinent element in defining the customer since three of those interviewed (n° 5, 20, and 32) noted the scale of prices for services which can satisfy just about any budget. It would be tedious to attempt an exhaustive price list since the prices vary according to many different elements including type of service, time spent, place, and the age, beauty and classiness of the prostitute. In addition prices change quickly and some bargaining is possible if the prostitute is a free-lance or part-time worker. The lowest price is around $2.00. The International Labor Organization claims in this respect that “poverty has never been an obstacle to this trade since the prostitutes have always adjusted their prices to accommodate their clients” (Lim 1998: 1). The poorest individual, indeed, will always be able to find someone poorer than himself who is willing to sell his/her body. As for the high-class services of certain prostitutes, actresses or models the cost can be as high as the price of a luxury car or even a house. Between these two extremes all prices are available and in no way an obstacle to the trade. Each different offer supplies a specific type of demand and vice versa. Furthermore, as Natasha, a prostitute interviewed by Jammot and Rocheteix (1954: 130), so candidly remarks, about her clients: “when a man wants a woman even the cheapskate finds a way to pay.”

55Not one of those interviewed complained about the cost nor criticized the commercial aspect of the trade. As far as the western clients are concerned, whether expatriates or tourists, the prices are extremely attractive. Interview n° 1 mentions the cost as merely a “small dent in the change purse” or “insignificant gifts”; n° 2 talks about “very good value for money”; n° 4 a student with limited revenue states that it is “normal to pay for the service”; n° 5 says he always “bargains” and compares the cost to a “handful of rice”; n° 6 always finds what he wants no matter how small his budget; n° 10 and 30 are enthusiastic as to the youth and quality of the prostitutes whom they could not afford at home; n° 15, a woman, realizes after converting the price into her local currency that the cost is minimal; n° 18 feels that it is only natural that the older and richer should be generous; n° 21 feels he is doing his part for “humanity”; while n° 22 sees himself as a “sought after walking dollar”. In short all these people are able to pay for the sex worker of their choosing, for whatever length of time (quick trick, weekend, week, month) for what they consider to be a modest sum and perhaps a few gifts. Yet, while sex for payment in Asia does not seem to be a financial burden for the clients, Cohen (1982, 1986) does in fact mention that some western clients, after a few months as regular customers have found themselves completely bankrupted by their “little wives”.

56While the Table 1 (in Appendix 1) can be considered somewhat impressionistic since it offers no statistics or percentages, it nevertheless reveals the fact that men in the middle to upper income category have a lot more choice of sites, partners and types of services than the low income workers. The poor in general have to settle for the cheaper services of low-class prostitutes working out of sleazy henhouses or on the street (including streets, parks, vacant lots, cemeteries and train tracks). Surabaya being a port city one finds the entire gamut of marine personnel from the captain down to the deck hand using all the different types of sex services available depending on their individual purchasing power. Those men who represent the upper echelons of power, politics, civil authority and finance visit discreet sites exclusively reserved for this category of clientele where they will meet only partners deemed worthy of their rank and largesse.

57Vena, interview n° 47, an Indonesian prostitute, suggests that the Asian client is more likely to spend a lot of money than his western counterpart. This may be because the Asian client is more likely to visit a prostitute in the company of a group, as a party, and thus would be more inclined to be a big spender and very generous simply to maintain his reputation.

58Jean Baffie (personal presentation) mentioned several Thai guidebooks which describe certain luxurious sites used almost exclusively by Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese and rich Thais). Evidently, the Europeans have more restricted expense accounts. As to the Asian tourist on a trip, it is well known that he easily spends enormous sums of money. A Taiwanese businessman (Interview n° 9) remarks that “the girls are cheaper in their home country.” Philippines, Thais and other women of Southeast Asia work their trade as “ladies of the night” or showgirls, legally or illegally, in Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia or Singapore. For example, in 1999 more than 130,000 singers, hostesses and prostitutes of Southeast Asian origin illegally entered Japan (SMC 1999).

59While it seems that cultural differences in behavior can be identified between Asians and Westerners it would be risky to try and establish a typology of any sort.

60The aid bodies trying to promote job changes for prostitutes and generally working to combat sex tourism confirm that the customers can be everyone and anyone: normal people, young, old, happily married or not, bachelors, working or out of work. In this context it is virtually impossible to establish a profile of the typical client. The only major distinction possible is based on the frequency of visits to prostitutes. In this respect the clients can be separated into two categories: the opportunist or occasional customer and the “regular” customer.

61Within these two categories it is of interest to analyze the customer’s explanation of what motivates him and how he justifies his actions. Through this inventory of the clients’ motivations the portrait of some sort of typical sex consumer may emerge.

What Motivates the Client?

62We must first take a quick look at the rare and rather unusual sources we found on this question.

63Two authors, Jammot and Rocheteix, attempt a typology of the client in their publication on prostitution in France in the 1950s. According to the professionals questioned:

[...] the client falls into one of three distinct categories: First there is the bachelor, who because he has neither wife nor mistress comes on a regular basis to satisfy a natural need. He is generally serious, not very generous, nor too demanding, and, surprisingly, is generally faithful. He makes up the solid base of regular clients who keep the business running throughout the year. (Jammot &Rocheteix 1954: 131-38)

64The category of regular customers includes the unsatisfied husband. The next category comprises the occasional clients who are indisputably encouraged in vice by the prostitutes who solicit. This group includes the gawker, the lonely wanderer, the friends having a night on the town, and the virgin boy. Finally the third category of clients are those considered “sick, perverted, and complicated”, not easy to satisfy but who “are willing to pay whatever price necessary in order to satisfy their strange desires”.

65D. Myriam, an activist in the campaign to rid the world of prostitution in the name of a new era of equality and humanity ( not anymore available states that:

[...] in general, and despite a supposed loosening of morals, the demand for prostitutes remains strong. Many individuals continue to purchase the services of prostitutes, transvestites or gigolos, for an hour, a night or more. Ranging from the very respectful to the condescending or violent the motivations of the client vary greatly:

  • pleasure derived from dominating the situation by paying for a limited time

  • satisfying desires and fantasies he cannot or dares not satisfy elsewhere

  • spoiling himself from time to time, something which he considers harmless

  • compensating for the frustrations he encounters with his partner or alone

  • satisfying homosexual desires (with a transvestite) without admitting it or being found out

  • getting a thrill by going to sleazy sex sites

  • having sex without seeming to cheat on the wife

  • getting sex the only possible way for fat, ugly and poor men

  • losing one’s virginity and be able to tell about it

  • having the illusion of being close to someone (paradoxical) in a de-humanized world.”

  • 14 The Free University of Berlin interviewed about 800 sex tourists between 1991 and 1993 (Klaber, D. (...)
  • 15 B.Latza, Sextourismus in Südostasien, Frankfurt, 1987. Since we were not able to view the source w (...)

66With regard to sex tourists,14 Metchild Maurer (1992: 101) reports that the psychologist Berit Latza15 attempted a psychological classification “since sex tourists are in fact neurotics, some more neurotic than others, whose only common denominator seems to be the fact that they mirror the entire range of neuroses present in the western world.” In this same work, M. Maurer cites the report on the women in the Frauenhandel group from Tübingen which proposes the following classification of the various excuses given by these globe trotters who indulge in sex tourism.

  • The “it’s not my fault” group: the Americans and the war in Vietnam are to blame but since the trade exists they may as well take advantage of it.
  • The demanding: the women should bring more feeling into the relationship and develop the illusion of a close tie with the customer.
  • The martyrs: They are victims of the prostitutes who solicit, and succumb due to their own weakness.
  • The hypocrites: they take advantage of their inability to communicate. This allows them to decide at will what sort of sexual relations they want while insisting that they try to consider the woman’s feeling, through non-verbal communication for example.
  • The powerful: they emphasize the fact that they get more for their money than from European prostitutes.
  • The critics: the criticism is directed less towards the existing power structure than towards the arrogance of the financial and masculine power of the westerner.
  • The backpack tourists: they prefer to use their power secretly and they hide their sex encounters.
  • These men retain the power to decide how they will realize their sexuality, openly or in secret. They make the decision about how, when and for how long. Sometimes they decide not to pay for sex.
  • The inhibited: they talk about their fears, their inhibitions and their humanitarian motives.

67As far as our 38 testimonies are concerned it is worth noting that a number of them perceive prostitution as a cultural phenomenon well embedded in the customs and mentality of Asians. Others attribute its existence to economic and historic factors and see it as a proof of the inequalities of income and lack of education. Whatever the reasons for its success, prostitution exists and is more and more evident and publicly advertised. The very fact of its existence and its visibility are sufficient reason for many consumers to justify using it.

The Cultural Excuse

68Prostitution in Asia is a given commodity for many people; the clients questioned appreciated the choice, quantity and availability of sex professionals offering their services.

69Client n° 4 thinks that go-go bars and pagodas are “musts” for his trip, places one must visit to avoid missing any part of the culture of the country. He feels the girls he pays for sex services are a means of coming into contact with the population and getting initiated into the local culture.

  • 16 In Indonesia, outside the capital city, many ordinary young women, mostly of Muslim religion, admi (...)

70Client n° 5 is very enthusiastic about Jakarta which he defines as a gigantic open air brothel and hopes it will remain thus forever. In addition he feels that because Indonesia is a Muslim country one must necessarily resort to paying girls for sex. Indeed client n° 12 affirms that the only women who are available are prostitutes, implying that respectable girls are unapproachable by strangers and even less so by foreigners, nor can they be found at night in public places.16 As for client n° 22 he is concerned that a return to stricter morals and the outlawing of prostitution would be catastrophic to the tourist industry.

71Others individuals interviewed stated that they gave in to temptation, partly in spite of themselves, in the face of such an abundant offering. These types are occasional clients or opportunists but could become “regulars” if they are satisfied with the service rendered. Thus taking advantage of sex services is encouraged by the profusion of offers. A dated work on the issue of prostitution in the 1950s in France suggested that “putting the prostitutes out on the streets with the closing of brothels paradoxically has increased the number of clients. This increase being primarily due to the occasional client who is now more easily exposed to temptation” (Jammot & Rocheteix 1954: 139). In the major cities of Southeast Asia it is no longer necessary to go to “red light” districts. It is easy to meet prostitutes anywhere, at shopping centers, in restaurants, hotel lobbies, on beaches. Sometimes these encounters appear to be simple flirting, even if the issue of money remains central. Thus it is even easier for the occasional client to give in to temptation without feeling guilty.

72The retiree (client n° 1) is overwhelmed in Thailand by the omnipresence of young, beautiful naked girls who have a lot of experience, “know what they want and how to get it.” As for client n° 16, he doesn’t hesitate to compare the moral revolution of post-Franco Spain to the young Indonesians’ frenzy to enjoy life in the context of globalization. He also feels that it is practically impossible to resist the temptation to avail himself of “play for pay” given the multitude of prostitutes soliciting. Client n° 20 was offered the services of a prostitute by the hotel receptionist and finding how easy this pleasure was to obtain he is now a “regular”.

73N° 32 feels that you would have to be a saint not to succumb to the temptation and that there is after all no reason not to give in since the prostitution business is a local Cambodian custom.

74A taste for the exotic in Asia is a great motivator on a cultural level for the foreign sex consumer. Indeed sex has always been closely linked to the exotic as documented by the impressive literary and pictorial publications on the theme of the indigenous oriental woman (Ruscio 1996).

75There is no end to the profusion of pictures of lustful women, direct descendants of savages, sexually uninhibited, or of “sacred” prostitutes who helped to foster in colonial literature this image of the indigenous mistress (“congaïe”, “mousmé”), synonymous with exotic, hot and cuddly nights. These stereotypes which excite the sexual fantasies of the westerner are extremely resistant. Franck Michel, the tourism sociologist, justly observes that today’s “White man who travels to Asia is only repeating the acts, real or imaginary, of his ancestors, the colonizers, explorers and other adventurers” (Michel 1998: 208). Interview n° 12 corroborates this viewpoint since this individual is following in his father’s footsteps in his search for “the sweet, soft Asian woman with hair and hands of silk.”

  • 17 We met many women in Asia, wives of expatriates, who lived in constant rivalry with the local wome (...)

76Alain Ruscio (1996), Pierre Labrousse (1993) and Bernard Gay (1993) in their analyses of colonial fiction document the repetition of such themes as free love in an indigenous environment, polygamy and frequent adultery, the ease, the mystery or the passion of exotic love, the disintegration of the couple and the family in Europe. These images have had a long-term effect since they can be recognized in two of the interviews. N° 20 explains that his German wife was wrong not to adjust to life in Indonesia17 while at the same time being fully aware that European men are the preferred target of women chasing men and their money.

77After his wife returned to Germany he got used to her absence and became a regular customer of the prostitutes. N° 21, a Dutchman, explains that his predecessors in colonial times traditionally used the maid as their concubine “for their sexual hygiene as well as keeping their bachelor quarters clean”, while the married men willingly succumbed to the charms of a local mistress who was generally more passionate than their legal wife. N° 24, for his part, feels that “all Europeans have a more or less erotic image of Asia and the nostalgic memory of easy, natural tropical love”. He admits however that he was a little disappointed in his search for exotic encounters, concluding that his dreams were better than reality.

78Ruscio demonstrates that in French colonial literature:

[...] when the male sexual urge is felt, it is very often an order which determines the choice of partner. The white colonial will then look for a middle man—a domestic, someone known in the village, of a more or less honest reputation, who will bring the pretty native girl to his bed. […] It is only a question of money. Pay the market price and you can obtain what you want. There actually exists an official rate for the congaï […] Why should the white man have a guilty conscience? Nothing scandalous about this behavior. In the first place it is in general practice. That is already reason enough. And besides, in these regions a young girl is always obtained in exchange for a dowry, so why should the European proceed differently? She will probably be beaten less often than with a native husband and will enjoy such material comfort as she could not even imagine. (Ruscio 1996: 18.)

79When these elements are considered it is easier to justify one’s actions.

80This sexual stereotype, of a racial if not racist nature, of the submissive and attentive Asian woman is the source of numerous fantasies. It appears that it also allows many men to compensate for the sexual power they feel they have lost in their everyday life, as we will see in further discussion of our investigations.

81It is worth noting that while the white man nourishes fantasies about the sensual nature of Asian women and the erotic talents of their prostitutes (interviews n° 2, 10, 12, 22, 24, 33, 34, 35) the Asians themselves also have a few sexual stereotypes of the western man. Vena (n° 47) gives the white man credit for more sexual imagination, and client n° 5 thinks that Asian women prefer to sleep with Europeans “once they have had a taste” of them. Formoso (2001: 65) cleverly shows how the Thais have slowly developed an image of the foreigner (farang). The local bourgeoisie perceives of the foreigner as lustful and hungry for depraved women, while the simple people from the villages and the countryside—whence most prostitutes originate—see these men as “sex crazy” to be sure but also as rich men capable of overlooking the class issue and marrying a girl of poor origin.

82Other than the cultural excuse for indulging in sex for payment the clients also give financial reasons for their actions.

The Financial Excuse

83Sexual domination based on money as well as the inequality between men and women, between tourists and the host country are elements which are evident in interviews n° 5, 11, 15, 17, 18, 21, 22, 30, 34. Hall estimates on this subject that the relationship between the needy Asian prostitute and her western client mirrors the dependence of developing countries on the rich nations (Hall 1992). In these developing countries the exploitation of children, women and men is obvious and their wretchedness is visible. These facts can be used to excuse some of the clients who consider that they cannot be held responsible for this state of affairs.

84Some consumers do not see themselves as actual clients but rather as boyfriends or benefactors (n° 1, 4, 8, 12, 17, 18, 21, 22, 36, 37, 38). Formoso (2001: 59), citing Bishop & Robinson (1998: 195) points out that certain guides who specialize in sex tourism minimize their foreign clients’ concerns by introducing them as “the good Samaritans of girls in need”.

85Interview n° 21 claims that “the need to survive predominates for some” while others “want to have a good time and make some easy money”, and that under these conditions he can perfectly understand their decision to prostitute themselves. He feels he is doing his part for the local economy and giving “individual foreign aid”. The client n° 17, a homosexual from Germany, plans to give his partner language training and take him on trips. The prevailing economic conditions, precocious puberty and local customs encourage the prostitution of adolescents, not to mention children. It is very difficult to estimate the age of these young prostitutes, especially since Asians tend to have very youthful facial features. At any rate their extreme youth does not seem to pose any ethical problems for the clients even if three of those interviewed, perhaps in order to look good, did mention this factor. N° 8 said he only meets with consenting young adults, n° 17 finds his partner very young but reassures himself about the boy’s age by citing his experience and sexual maturity, and finally n° 32 condemns the sexual exploitation of minors.

86Client n° 5 understands that girls can “turn a few tricks” because life in the city is expensive and they need to eat, pay for clothes and perhaps support a large family. N° 11 explains that selling her body may be the only and often a lucrative way for a young girl to make a living when she has no training or future prospects.

87Client n° 22 feels that prostitution makes both parties happy and that business and tourism would suffer greatly from any moral reform or ban on prostitution. Client n° 33 brings up the question of the very low salaries to justify the sex trade while n° 34 figures that since there is such a difference in living standards it is natural to offer some sort of material aid.

88Two of the clients (n° 11 and 21) are convinced that the job of a prostitute is better than being a worker. According to these individuals the prostitute earns more money in a more pleasant way than if she were to work in a factory. It is true that the working conditions for sex professionals generally are less restrictive than in industry (with the exception of forced prostitution, rape or indentured girls) and of course the income is definitely higher. The contract linking the prostitute to an employer is rather informal. The girls can stop working from one day to the next, and consider this work to be temporary, to be pursued only for the time it takes to put some money away or to find an official lover or husband. The turnover is high and workers can be quickly replaced. Blowfield notes that in Surabaya the girls who work in “closed” sites get food and lodging. The sex industry is the only business which allows women to stop working for a week during menstruation as well as for religious holidays. Prostitutes working in “closed” sites have a lot of free time, while waiting for the customers. They generally use this free time to chat, dream, read, sleep, watch television or do their make-up. If they worked in a factory they would have barely five minutes to go to the bathroom and thirty minutes for lunch. It is very clear that the income from prostitution is far superior and more quickly earned than at any factory or in construction work. Interview n° 11, a retired Dutchman who knows Indonesia well, explains that these young women can either sell their bodies a few hours a day for a lot of money, or work hard ten hours a day for the minimum wage. In the latter case they may be sexually harassed on the work site with no possibility of complaining. According to n° 11 as long as such economic disparity exists prostitution will prevail. He also comments that money has become the new religion, replacing morality.

89Other than the cultural and economic excuses given, some clients justify their use of prostitutes because of the difficulty they have in sexual relationships with ordinary women.

The Excuse of Convenience and the Search to Recover Manliness

90Sexual expertise and quality service, with a smile and a certain softness—these are the descriptions given again and again by the clients (n° 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, 19, 20, 26, 29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35). Three clients compare their perceptions of paid-for sex in Asia, to the hard, sordid face of prostitution in Europe (n° 4, 10 and 30). This last client, a retired Australian, says that due to his age, his lack of attractiveness and his limited resources he could not procure such refreshing feminine company at home, whether paid for or not. In addition to her smile, the client appreciates her ability to act as a girlfriend for the day, or as a guide or interpreter or even eventually a model wife (n° 1, 4, 15, 34, 35, 36, 37).

91Boredom at home, an unhappy marriage or divorce, and difficulties expressing himself in love relationships in his home country are some of the motivations cited (n° 2, 15, 20, 26, 33).

92N° 2, a divorced Frenchman on a spree in Thailand, calls it “an oasis after the desert as far as feminine company” is concerned, while n° 33, also divorced, does not plan on trying to seduce any more women from home whom he considers in comparison with Asian women to be contrary, inattentive, feminist and unfeminine. Client n° 15, a woman, says she is “cynically” having fun with an Indonesian beach boy gigolo who is a very good lover, having broken up with her Australian boyfriend. N° 20 is taking advantage of the fact that his wife could not adjust to living abroad to enjoy the services of the local girls. N° 26, an Indonesian civil servant, admits that he has a better time and is funnier at the brothel than at home.

  • 18 An argument not brought up in our interviews but which could be used in advertising to attract thi (...)

93These individuals suffering from loneliness or disappointments in their love relationships are a bonanza for certain tour operators18 as confirmed in this excerpt from the a travel agent:

Now, you understand [he says] that this trip is exclusively for men only. In life there are some issues which concern men and some concerning women. I repeat, this tour is only for men, real men. I have nicknamed this trip the “tour for men in mid-life crisis” because of the number of men in our country who are sick and tired of hearing about women’s liberation. With this tour I am giving you the chance to relax and once again enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer. I have just gotten over a bad marriage. I had a very hard time picking up the pieces and getting back my self respect. Do you know what helped me to get over it? Well, I went to Bangkok. Believe me, Bangkok is the ideal place for someone trying to recover from a destructive divorce. Then I began to think that if this trip was so beneficial to me it could also help others. This is how I got the idea for my “tour for men in mid-life crisis”, for real men. This tour [he continues] boosts your strength, both physical and emotional. I like to emphasize the fact that we are talking about regaining harmony with nature. Recently, one of my clients, a 79 year old man went to Thailand following a by-pass operation. Well, he had sex up to three times a day with very young prostitutes. I know that you guys are tired of hearing these stories about independent and liberated women. So my goal here is to bring you to a place where real women exist, living in harmony with nature, and whose primary goal in life is to satisfy the desires and needs of men, and you men in particular.

94Berit Latza, quoted by M. Maurer (1992: 101) mentions a “common type of sexual tourist, the oral-regressive type, called ‘baby’ in Southeast Asia, who has the deep conviction that he is unloved and that no one takes care of him”.

95Research has been carried out on this relational and affective poverty which is increasingly present in developed countries. Thus a study of the behavior of male Australian tourists (Kruhse-MountBurton 1995) brings out the lack of comprehension and weariness the Australians feel towards Australian women whom they consider to be too masculine and aggressive. The same study also shows that prostitution in Asia is seen as soft, simple, natural, even romantic and poetic as compared to prostitution in Australia, which is systematically described as sordid and expensive. Thus the Australian tourist looking for sex in Asia wants his prostitute to be soft, submissive, charming and cheap.

96The works of Erik Cohen (1982) as well as Dave Walker and Richer Ehrlich (1992) come to the same conclusions based on written correspondence, more or less regular, between western clients and prostitutes in Bangkok. These letters give clear evidence that the clients found comfort, reassurance and pleasure in exchange for their monetary generosity. These men, sought after, pampered, and desired, feel attractive and happy especially since these pleasant exotic episode take place during vacations (for the tourists) or within the context of an easy life (for expatriates). For some of these clients their generosity naturally turns into heart-felt generosity, with the client falling in love with the prostitute and wanting to “save” her from her miserable profession.

97Client n° 2, a divorced Frenchman, claims that he no longer wishes to start a new life with a woman from home since he is convinced that they are all too demanding and complicated and he now prefers the feminine company of Thai prostitutes, more easy going and less argumentative. N° 5 says he has developed a preference for the Asian women and when he is not in Asia he misses these girls, which may mean that he does not have, or want to have, sexual relations with Europeans.

98The sociologist, Daniel Welzer-Lang offers the theory that the sex trade in western countries is

[...] an expression of masculine resistance to change, a sort of vengeance for some men unable to find the kind of women they need via normal sexual relationships. It could also be an outlet for those men unable to accept the change in attitude of some women who are willing to enjoy free sex but still negotiate the terms. For some men, the “macho” types who can no longer live the way they think they ought to, sex commerce can be an outlet for their masculine drive. When the everyday violence of their marriage and ordinary encounters can no longer supply these men with submissive women, they will pay women to do the job. (Welzer-Lang 2003: 2.)

99Some men use Asian prostitutes in Asia because they make them feel attractive, powerful, rich and desirable (n° 5, 7, 21, 22, 28). Intuitively they know they appear superior and so they themselves feel superior, coming from rich developed countries. Most Asians place the white man at the very top of the social scale and there is no question that they represent a means of social promotion for many women. For the short or long term, being with a western man offers the illusion of being in a better world, of reaching some dreamland, some better place. When he realizes how the prostitute fantasizes about him and puts all her hopes in him, the western man can only feel flattered and reassured.

100Other clients, more down to earth, feel that it is too much hassle and a waste of time to go to a club, flirt and pay for drinks without any guarantee of succeeding. To avoid this uncertainty they prefer to use a prostitute. The stakes are clear from the start, the client doesn’t have to prove anything, or doubt himself. N° 33 and n° 36 are pleased to be able to say that in Asia they never comes home “empty-handed”, while n° 27 a sailor, says he needs to have uncomplicated encounters since his short stays in port do not leave time for a long courtship such as an ordinary woman would require. In short, some of the clients opt for this type of contractual sex encounter because it is easy and there’s no stress.

The Client as Seen by Some Indonesian Prostitutes

101Before concluding this analysis it would appear worthwhile to present the viewpoint of some prostitutes since their close contact enables them to have some first hand knowledge of their customers. All fifteen of these interviews were done in Indonesia in 2003. The six prostitutes from Dolly and Tretes (East Java) work in a brothel with an exclusively local clientele. The prostitutes from Jakarta and Bali have a more cosmopolitan clientele, probably foreign, picked up in bars and nightclubs.

Fig. 4. Sketches of customers in the Dolly Red-Light district of Surabaya

Fig. 4. Sketches of customers in the Dolly Red-Light district of Surabaya

From Tjahjo Purnomo & Ashadi Siregar, Dolly, Grafitipers, Jakarta, 1985.

  • 19 A study conducted in Thailand in 1999 (Yamarat et al., quoted by Baffie in the present work) shows (...)

102For all of these women the client, in contrast to the boyfriend or husband, is first and foremost someone who pays, either in cash or gifts, for a sex service rendered. Idja (n° 46), Vena (n° 47) and Tuti (n° 53) remarked on the diversity of the clients. Indeed there is a vast terminology to designate these clients including: uncle, father, big brother, host, little husband, friend, John, son, regular,19 butterfly (occasional), “the dogs or the princes” (Tinah, n° 48), the “good numbers” (Daisy, n° 52) and the “bad tricks” (Lenny, n° 45), etc.

103Whatever term is used to refer to the client he clearly remains in charge, and has the power to choose and to purchase (Titih, n° 41; Ani, n° 43), to beat or reward (Wati, n° 51). Yet he is still after all only a “normal” human being, neither “good” nor “bad”, someone who can be manipulated to get him to wear a condom, behave properly or pay well (Rita, n° 39; Ani, n° 43).

104It is also apparent from these interviews that no matter what the origin or status of the client he is someone to be taken care of so that in the short term he will leave a good tip and in the long term come back again and maybe even fall in love with the prostitute (Rita, n° 39; Tuti, n° 40; Titih, n° 41; Dewi, n° 42 and Lenny, n° 45).

105These clients, and in particular the western clients, are considered as potential boyfriends or even husbands (Lenny, n° 45; Vena, n° 47). Three of the girls insisted on how fierce the competition is amongst them (Titih, n° 41; Dewi, n° 42; Tinah, n° 48).

106The publication by Jammot and Rocheteix cites a testimony from a French prostitute which fully corroborates the attitude of Asian professionals practicing open-ended prostitution.

The idea is not to rush the client to get it over with quickly, but on the contrary, he must be treated kindly, without being vulgar, or appearing to be in a hurry or just in it for the money. He needs to be treated as if he had been met in other circumstances and was taking you on a date. When you have listened to what he has to say you have already given him half the pleasure he is looking for. (Jammot & Rocheteix 1954: 142.)

107As regards working conditions and the volume of clients our interviews confirm first of all that those prostitutes working in open sites are much freer to choose and negotiate the tariff. It was also apparent from the interviews that these women all make a living from this activity and are able to cover their daily living expenses, although most are unable to put any money into savings. They live this way from day to day, constantly dreaming of the day when they will be able to quit the profession. The part-time prostitutes who work in open sites seem to be less worried about how much money they make and the volume of clients. Vena (n° 47) refuses some clients and Idja (n° 46) says she is able to choose quality over quantity. Daisy (n° 52) works when she wants to, when she needs the money, unlike Wati (n° 51).

108It is difficult to estimate the volume of clients. “Variable” and “unpredictable” are words used by Rita (n° 39) and Lenny (n° 45) while for Wati (n° 51) the number of clients is a matter of “luck” or for Tuti (n° 53) “providence”. In short, there are busy nights and slow nights (Ani, n° 43), good weeks and slow months (Lenny, n° 45), periods without any clients when not in good shape (Tuti, n° 53), times of bad luck (Ani, n° 43) or just breaks or times when money isn’t an issue (Daisy, n° 52).

109Thus the number of clients depends on many different elements; the average number is also difficult to predict and varies from one to seven clients per evening. Some girls such as Rinin (n° 50) make do with just two clients per week and others would like to have more than seven per day but don’t usually achieve this figure (Suti, n° 49). In general, none of the prostitutes interviewed complained about their profession or about their clients. The only complaints they made concerned the fierce competition (Titih, n° 41; Dewi, n° 42; Tinah, n° 48), the fear of growing old (Titih, n° 41; Dewi, n° 42), the intention to quit the profession sooner or later (Rita, n° 39; Tuti, n° 40; Titih, n° 41), humiliating situations (Tinah, n° 48), having to keep in good shape (Idja, n° 46) or avoiding bad clients (Vena, n° 47).


110It is not easy to carry out research on the clients of prostitutes, to get them to reveal their expectations and their habits without evading the issue since this involves getting to the very heart of a person’s intimate life when this is exactly what he wants to protect in remaining anonymous. Indeed the sex client wants to take advantage of a situation for which he does not feel responsible with complete impunity and no guilt. In addition, the very subject of prostitution continues to be taboo in today’s world.

  • 20 Three studies carried out in France, the Netherlands and Sweden came to similar conclusions: 20% o (...)

111While it may be said that it is no longer acceptable to admit to the use of prostitutes in western countries,20 our interviews show that in Asia any such concerns are easily abandoned and the excuses for using sex services are numerous.

112Our modest sampling of the clients of Asian prostitutes in Asia confirms that the sex trade has multiple causes. This study also confirms that these clients are not a homogenous group as regards their ethnic and socio-demographic traits or their sexual behavior. The motivations behind the decision to seek sex for payment vary from client to client. Some use prostitution as a complement to their sexual activity while others use it to compensate for an unsatisfying sex life. In all cases the use of prostitutes is definitely a means of obtaining reassurance and of confirming one’s sense of power and domination. It should also be noted, a sign of the times, that men no longer have the exclusive prerogative of sex tourism and of paying for sex. The “Sea, sex and sun” also has its female adepts, lonely for love or romantic adventures, who pay for their pleasure through gifts, meals and other material aid. These women, still a very small minority, are starting to seek certain tourist spots where they can meet “beach” boys and other tanned gigolos. Examples are the Japanese and Australian women who go on holidays in Bali, the Israeli women who travel in groups to Bangkok and the Japanese who frequent Phuket.

113While the debate on prostitution rages in Europe in an attempt to change these behavior patterns, it seems improbable that this hedonist mentality, this predatory and domineering instinct for consumerism, is likely to change overnight. The frustrations will hang on too. The huge economic disparities at every level, between countries in the North and South, between men and women, between the old and the young, all these differences lead one to believe that prostitution has a bright future ahead.

114A very interesting testimony of a French woman having lived seven years in Southeast Asia poses in a raw way the question of who are the men who pay for sex in Asia? Several crucial points emerge for the knowledge of the phenomenon of prostitution in Asia. The first is that this woman finds that all the markers, indicators, borders become fuzzy in Asia. So she writes:

So a whore, I do not know what it is since I was in Asia. For me, it was a girl (or a guy or a lady boy) who I know that sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s a service against a fridge, sometimes it’s also the honor to have a Farang’s cock (the famous “For you, it’s free”) that compensates the price, sometimes free holidays, sometimes they reach climax, sometimes ... the Kathoey (transgender) would be so proud to be taken for a woman that it would be for him greater compensation than financial income.

115And she quite rightly concludes that there is no more typical prostitute than typical consumer or client. She writes:

There are addicts to the whores who chain Red Bull on Red Bull to fuck as much as possible, there are broken hearts who console themselves by coaxing girls, there are married men who to have an easy blow, there are the bands of mates who make community raids, there is the solitary guy who cheats the boredom [...] then what common point? (Soggiu Riveraine 2012.)

116If research, both quantitative and qualitative, is not carried out extensively the clients of these prostitutes, whether locals or sex tourists, will remain one huge anonymous mass, very difficult to define, with its various motivations and behavior patterns, as different as the various forms of sex themselves. In this case the client will remain the “king”, free to move around, protected through his anonymity, free from self-scrutiny or guilt, not accountable for his acts, while the prostitutes will continue to be discriminated against, bearing all the stigmas and penalties that society imposes in the name of morality and public health.

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Sub-sector (category) Ethnic background of clientele (in descending order of volume) Socio-economic background of the Asian clientele
Massage parlors, Coffee Shops, Pubs/Bars and Barber Shops Indonesian ChinesePribumiAsian (Korean, Japanese, Malaysian, Philippine)Caucasian Middle and upper income private businessmenMiddle income private sector employeesMiddle income civil servantsSenior civil authoritiesOcean-going sailors (site specific)
Hotel Massage (clientele determined by class of hotel) Foreign Chinese (Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong)Asian (Korean, Japanese)Indonesian ChinesePribumi, Caucasian Middle and upper income private businessmenSenior civil authoritiesSenior rank ship’s crew
Traditional Massage Indonesian ChinesePribumiAsian and Caucasian (especially sailors) Middle income private businessmanMiddle income civil authoritiesMiddle income private sector employeesSailors
Night Clubs/Karaoke Bars/Pubs Foreign and Indonesian ChineseAsian (Japanese and Korean)CaucasianPribumi Upper income private businessmenUpper income private sector employeesSenior civil authoritiesSenior rank ship’s crews
Company Sex Workers JapaneseIndonesian Chinese and Pribumi Upper income private businessmen
Call Girl Establishments & High Class Massage Parlors Indonesian ChineseForeign Chinese (Taiwan, Hong Kong, SingaporePribumiAsian and Caucasian Upper income private businessmenUpper income private sector employeesSenior civil authoritiesSenior rank ship’s crews
Hair & Beauty Salons Unknown Upper income private businessmenUpper income private sector employeesSenior civil authoritiesSenior rank ship’s crews
Hotel Call Girls (clientele dependent on class of hotel) Foreign Chinese (Taiwan, Singapore, Hong KongAsian (Korean, Japanese)Indonesian ChinesePribumiCaucasian Middle and upper income private businessmenSenior civil authoritiesSenior rank ship’s crews
Individual Operator Call Girls Indonesian ChinesePribumiForeign (various) Upper income private businessmenUpper income private employeesSenior civil authorities
Discotheques Pribumi and Indonesian ChineseForeign ChineseForeign (various) Clientele dependent on individual site but includes:Middle and upper income private businessmenMiddle and upper income private sector employeesStudents/pupilsSailors
Brothel Complexes PribumiIndonesian ChineseAsian (Korean, Malaysian and Filipino)Caucasian Lower and middle income private employeesLower and middle income private businessmenLower and middle income civil authoritiesSailorsArmed forces personnelStudents/pupilsTourists
Street Walkers PribumiIndonesian ChineseForeign (various) Lower income private employeesLower income private businessmenLower income civil authoritiesSailorsLow rank armed forces personnelStudents/pupils
Informal Sector Indonesian ChinesePribumi and Foreign Chinese Varies according to nature of sex worker, but includes most of the above types of clientele.

Testimony from the clients

1. French, retired, about 60 years old, interviewed at the Bangkok airport

“I am a widower. I earn a good living. This is my third visit to Thailand. My intention initially was to explore the country and to get a change of perspective. Like everyone else in Bangkok I eventually ended up in a girls’ bar. I couldn’t believe what I saw. A sort of paradise, or maybe hell, I’m not sure which. In any case it was unbelievable. Naked girls everywhere, on the stage, on the countertops, on the tables. Young, very young, children, and beautiful too. At Pattaya there were even more girls. Everywhere. In the end it becomes an obsession. They are poor and they want some action. It’s true that the competition is fierce. They are sweet, very sweet. They know what to do, even when there is a language barrier. It’s only human, you end up letting yourself go. It’s only a small dent in the change purse. They are looking for small gifts, a bowl of soup, a pack of cigarettes, a dress or a tee-shirt and they’ll follow you anywhere. You are the ‘king’. At first I thought I was going crazy with so many girls on offer. Now I’m used to it and they all look alike. I’m much calmer now and I use one girl for the length of my stay. The one I have now even brought me home to meet her family. They live off the earth and have very little, it’s heartrending. They are proud of their daughter who works in the city and puts the food on the table. I like her too. We understand each other. She is not demanding and neither am I. Despite her ‘fast’ appearance she is a nice girl. I think she would like to come to France. But she would need to learn French and be able to bear the harsh winters. And besides my neighbors would make fun of me. She is so much younger than I am. At any rate I will come back next year … it’s hard to spend a whole year alone”.

2. French, about 40, bank employee, interviewed at Bangkok airport

“Relationships between men and women at home have become very complicated, tiring and controversial. Western women are fighting so many causes, they want everything, they are too demanding. I am separated from my wife. I don’t believe I would want to start over with a French woman. I take my vacations in Thailand. The service is excellent and the country is really lovely. You get good value for your money and everything runs efficiently, and with a smile. As far as feminine company is concerned … it’s the oasis after the desert”.

3. Singapore businessman, 45, at Bangkok airport

“Singapore is a beautiful city, modern and clean, but not a good place for having fun. Everything is forbidden. You have to walk straight, work hard, respect your family. I am pleased to be able to escape for a few days on business and often for weekends. I either go to Batam or Bangkok, or else to Hat Yai or Patong (Phuket) to have some fun and forget the stress of my work. There are plenty of places for this. There’s no better way to relax than a good massage and some company. These types of recreation are unavailable in Singapore, but luckily I just have to cross the border to enjoy the ‘spicy’ joys of nightlife …”.

4. Italian student, 30, interviewed in a restaurant in Penang (Malaysia)

“I have been traveling for four months in Southeast Asia and I spent three weeks in Phuket. I was never attracted to prostitutes in Europe … associated for me with frustrated old men. But in Thailand, it’s different. You visit pagodas and you visit girly bars. It’s all part of the trip, of discovering the country. It is also the only way to really meet the locals. Of course this sex fair has its sordid side, its excesses. But you can avoid this ‘hard’ aspect. The ones who are not working under contract, in bars or parlors, are looking to meet tourists to make some money. This is normal given how hard life is here. They serve as tour guides, interpreters, introduce you to the local cuisine and local lifestyle and quite naturally spend the night with you. Of course you have to pay for the service but that’s only natural. This does not prevent many from finding real companionship here and the start of romantic relationships. As proof, I didn’t plan on staying such a long time in Phuket and I’m planning on going back very soon”.

5. French technician, 35, interviewed at Tanamur,1 a nightclub popular with expatriates in Jakarta

“I work on a construction site in the heart of the jungle in very difficult conditions. We work like dogs, from morning to night in 40° heat, for two weeks straight and then we have a week off. I earn a good salary, about two or three times more than I would earn in France, tax free. My free time, I spend it here in the capital, shopping, re-connecting with civilization and enjoying the well deserved rest of the warrior. This is not difficult for a white man. There are women galore: young, well stacked, fat or slim. You just have to choose. Wherever you go, to bars, cafeterias, nightclubs, hotel lobbies, even supermarkets, you will find girls ready for anything just to spend the night with you. Many would actually like to spend a lifetime with you with a ring on their finger, but that’s another story. I prefer the girls from Tanamur. Not overly romantic, very forward, the European type. The prices vary but it’s possible to bargain. In fact you should always try to bargain and don’t forget your condoms because they do a lot of business. There is more and more talk in the city about AIDS. I’m not really worried—after all Indonesia is not Thailand—but I always use protection, you never know. I always carry a good supply on me, and ‘made in France’ too. Personally, at this point in my life I’m looking to make some money and have a good time. This is a fantastic country for that. I have all the girls I want, whenever I want, and for a handful of peanuts (no, rice) [laughter]. I can have one, two or three girls a night. In France it would be impossible to go out on the raz like here.

Of course here because of Islam you have to settle for girls you pay. But they are by far the best. The others, you have to marry them if you don’t want any trouble, and they are very uptight apparently. It’s no fun working here, so, you understand that a man needs some compensation. I don’t see any harm in it, after all these are poor people who need food and clothing. In the city these needs are enormous so the girls do ‘extra’ work. Sometimes it’s only to pay for a new lipstick but others are supporting an entire family – which here usually means a big family. Some of the girls say they do it for the thrills they get. Apparently we are very good lovers. Once they’ve tried a white man they don’t want the locals any more. The opposite is also true. When I get back to France I really miss these girls. I tell you, Jakarta is one big open air brothel, figuratively and literally. I hope it stays that way!”

6. Malaysian naval captain, 40, interviewed in a nightclub in Jakarta

“Men have always had the possibility to pay for a prostitute’s services, no matter what their origin or wealth. From the ‘coolie’ to the monarch everyone can have fun. There is someone for every budget. The ugly women for the poorest and the beauty queens and actresses for the kings. Every price exists, they vary from one neighborhood or site to the next. From 2,000 rupiah to 1 million rupiah, or even more. So, when you first arrive you get the pretty girls and as your money runs out you drop your standards. But you never have to worry about missing out on sexual enjoyment. You can enjoy yourself infinitely more and more freely in Jakarta than in Kuala Lumpur, but Bangkok remains at the top of the charts worldwide”.

7. Policeman, Indonesian, 40, interviewed in the Kramat Tunggak complex,2 Jakarta

“I am here for my job. I watch the streets, make sure that law and order are maintained. There is in fact very little crime here. The “WTS”3 and the pimps cooperate with the police.

They see a lot of people and are very often aware of shady deals. In other words we can get all the information we want here. This business is tolerated but everyone is in an inferior position with regard to the authorities so they are willing to talk. To keep on my good side they are ready to help me relax, rest or have a good time with one of the girls. Even though I am a good family man it’s sometimes tempting, especially with the new recruits who are fresh and shy. Since I do this during working hours I tell myself it’s all part of the job. I do of course feel a little guilty but I can assure you that I’m not the only one having fun at work…”

8. French tourist, 40, in a public park frequented by homosexuals in Yogjakarta

“I love traveling through Asia, using my Spartacus guide to meet partners. All the places where you can pick up partners are included in this guide: bars, nightclubs, restaurants, saunas, public parks, clubs, etc. I only arrange meetings with consenting adults. I try to avoid prostitutes as much as possible. I turn down those who are obviously just interested in money, those who are looking for money more than pleasure. This of course means there are a lot less possibilities but the encounters are a thousand times more authentic. Naturally I sometimes give gifts or a few bills, but I don’t want this to be the basis of the relationship.”

9. Taiwanese businessman, 50, at a girly bar in Surabaya

“The hostesses are part of the deal. It’s practically included in the contract. As soon as you arrive you are offered feminine company for the night, or for the length of your business trip. It certainly helps you to relax, puts you in a good mood and really helps with the signing of contracts. In all of Asia business dealings have their good side. In Europe too for that matter. You have a drink, and have a good time. It’s local consumption and a much more agreeable way to learn some of the language than through books. In Taiwan there are many Indonesian, Thai, and Philippine women in the bars and nightclubs but they are much more expensive than here. In their home country the women are still relatively cheap. But as for me, luckily whether they are expensive or not I don’t care since my client pays for me. And not only that but he always finds real jewels. He knows that I like quality. I will do the same for him, on my company expense account, when he comes to visit me in Taipei. When there is a very important contract involved or when the host is an important person you may even get offered a foreign girl, Chinese, Bulgarian, Romanian or Russian. That is really classy, ‘sex without boundaries’, but it’s also expensive. I hope to be honored like that one day”.

10. British tradesman, 57, at a party for expatriates in Surabaya

“Asia is enchanting, intoxicating, with women everywhere. I think the Asians have put a spell on me. All my savings go to these women. I never experienced such sexual joy in Europe. Here I only think of sex and have relations every day, several times a day. After all this time I have gotten to know all 3,000 girls in Dolly (the oldest prostitution complex of Surabaya). I don’t know their names but I have honored them all. I have my favorites, the ones from Madura with their dark skin and devilish talents. They drive men crazy. From a very early age they learn to play with their body, if you see what I mean. The Thai girls are fantastic too, so young and graceful. I think I have slept with women from everywhere in Southeast Asia, without exception. Once you start you can’t quit. I like the atmosphere in the brothels. I like the mugginess, the warm beer, the ripped plastic, the neon lights, the loud music, the cheap perfumes and all that eager youth. It’s a drug. And it’s cheap. In Europe, at those prices, I could only treat myself once or twice a month, and maybe not even that …, with ugly old women of the sort the immigrant workers use!”

11. Retired Dutchman, interviewed at the opening of a photography exhibition in Jakarta

“Prostitution is a problem and at the same time not a problem. In any case, it’s a very complex issue. Prostitution supports a lot of people and generates millions. It is illegal and yet flourishing. The new world religion is money. And everyone is running after it. Here, more than elsewhere. When you are young, uneducated, with no training, no job and no future, well, all you have is your body. And when that body is young and beautiful it can bring in the money. Put yourself in the place of these poor girls. Either they choose to earn 5,000 rupiah a day, in honest hard labor, working 10 hours a day in a factory, in very harsh conditions. And their virtue is not necessarily intact since in the work world sexual harassment is very common. And there’s no possibility to complain; there are no trade unions.

Or else, they can choose to leave their morals at home and earn two to ten times as much in a few hours of work which after all, is not so trying. As long as the huge gap persists between the poor and the rich, there will be prostitution. And believe me, in Indonesia, it has a very bright future ahead.”

12. French perfume manufacturer, 40, in a massage parlor in Surabaya

“The myth of the soft, fondling Asian woman with hair and hands of silk is very powerful. This is what brought me here. Oddly enough my father was the one who instilled this image in me. During the war in Indochina he lived with a mousmé, the term used at the time. Ever since the day he showed me a picture of that girl I have dreamed of doing the same thing.

I have planned a trip to Vietnam with my father for next year. I would like to live abroad and my job search has led me to Indonesia. As it is not easy to meet girls here, in order to realize my dream I have been forced to take up with girls who sell their bodies. I am not a pervert or obsessed with sex like some Europeans who come here solely for intensive sex. I have a much more romantic view of the issue. But the only girls you can approach are the prostitutes or similar types. It’s sad but that’s the way it is.”

13. Indonesian high school student, 17, interviewed at Nusa Dua (Gunung Lawu), Bali

“All my friends come here to do with Them [unnamed] what is dangerous or shameful to do with girls our age. In fact it was my uncle, when he felt that I had become a man, who recommended that I come here. He was worried that I might do something I’d regret with my girlfriend. I have to finish my education. He even gave me the money the first time and recommended a girl he likes a lot.”

14. Laborer, Indonesian, 30, interviewed at Nusa Dua (Gunung Lawu) Bali

“I am not from Bali, I am Javanese. I work on a construction site. There is no unemployment in Bali. I thought I would stay about six months but I have been in Bali for three years now, going straight from one worksite to another. When I feel homesick I go to see the girls since many of them are from Java. It’s my luck that a few of them are even from my region, Probolinggo. It feels good to speak Javanese, I feel like I have found some old friends, almost like family. There are a lot of guys like me here, construction workers, truck drivers. Some of them can give me news from home. Last month I got the clap. It’s pretty common here but not serious.”

15. Australian woman, 30, in a pub in Kuta,4 Bali

“Just before I went on holiday my boyfriend left me. We had been together for two years. I was totally depressed and my best friend suggested I take a trip to Bali. She assured me it would help me to lighten up while enjoying good company. She was right. Two days after I arrived I met Faizal.5 As soon as he saw me alone on my beach towel he let me know that he was attracted to me. He has taken care of me ever since. It’s his job. This is how he earns a living. He makes me believe that I am beautiful and that he loves me. In exchange I must pay for all expenses when we go out, and he often hints that he needs money for his family. This is kind of annoying but when you figure it in Australian dollars, it’s really not much money. At any rate, it’s part of the deal. If I refused to pay he would go find someone else. All the guys on the beach, tanned surfer types, ‘Kuta cow-boys’, beach boys and other gigolos, lie in wait for single women, Japanese and Australian, with plenty of money. A lot of girls are here just for that. They are great lovers and help me get over my unhappiness. It may sound cynical but women have a right to have some fun too. I’ve heard that these encounters sometimes even end up in marriage. I’m not ready for that yet.”

16. Spanish expatriate, 35, at a dance hall in Jakarta

“Here too, they live out their ‘Movida’. The young let themselves go, they want to have more freedom, moral freedom but also freedom of speech. The girls want money, thrills, Ecstasy pills, they want to travel and see the world. And this huge need to let off steam is really most evident at night. Just look at them! It’s totally crazy. They’re everywhere. Like flies to honey. Veritable little ‘fucking machines’. They would defrock the Pope in the wink of an eye. Sundown comes early here and the nights are long … Impossible to resist, right?”

17. German editor, 35-40, in a café in Kuta, Bali

“I did a lot of traveling in the Middle East looking for boys who suited me. But for the last five years I have been going to Asia, the Philippines and especially Indonesia. The boys here are really keen on Europeans and they are very soft and romantic. Handsome and young too. Of course they want gifts, dinner in a restaurant or some clothes or spending money, but they also do it for the pleasure and the experience. Many of them want to talk about the situation for homosexuals and about AIDS. Here they are bullied by their parents who force them to marry so they will look normal. Some of them are in desperate situations. So they want to know what it’s like for us at home. They envy our freedom. In Bali there are boys from all over Indonesia who come here because they know there is a large gay tourist clientele. They frequent cafés and the more and more specialized clubs. Three times a week some of the cafés in Kuta run ‘gay’ nights with shows. From year to year the customs change and become more westernized. The boys are starting to come out publicly more and more and I am very pleased to see this. Sex here is ‘cool’. In short, a super vacation spot. I think I am even in love … with a boy who is an occasional prostitute. We spent the whole week together without a minute’s separation. He speaks a little English. I’m going to pay for language classes for him so he can become a guide. I hope he will also come to Germany to visit my country. On the condition that he gets permission from his parents. He says he is 19 but I think he may be a bit younger, even if he is already very experienced [laughter].”

18. French professor, 50, in a plane from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta

“I love Asia. I won’t pretend that I don’t come here to pick up boys and let off steam. I teach in a small town where everyone knows everyone else. So for ten months a year I work and I take care of my mother. But in the summer I get away. I travel around between Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma and Thailand. I have boyfriends everywhere. One friend and sometimes several at each stop. What I really like about Southeast Asia is that while enjoying unabated sex, in most cases, the boys not only want to earn a living but also have a real desire for affection. They express this very openly and expect their partners to show it also. I like the fact that they enjoy going out in groups to talk, and rub up against each other, figuratively, literally and affectively. When you are white, and by definition rich, it’s only normal that you would give gifts to your guy friends. This is a given since they all need money. It’s all part of the relationship. They are often pretty romantic and don’t necessarily sell their bodies. The richest and the oldest must pay, that’s the rule. But that doesn’t mean that the old one must be considered a vulgar ass hunter nor that the young one is necessarily a prostitute.”

19. Sino-Indonesian businessman, 45, at a reception in a “motel” in Tretes6

“I come here regularly with friends and colleagues. It’s like a ritual, a healthy habit, a remedy for stress and old age. We leave our families at home and invent an outing for work or sport amongst men to come up here and relax in the fresh air. It’s nice and cool, you get a massage, have little parties and then a nice long nap in good company. Sex outside the home with a girl who is pretty and ‘fast’, there’s nothing like it to keep you young [laughter]. Some go in for swimming or hiking, personally I prefer bedroom sports [more laughter]. I have a regular girl here, I always take the same one. But since I’m not her only lover I always use condoms, better safe than sorry. As they say in the States, I practice ‘safe’ sex [laughter].”

20. German expatriate, 49, in a restaurant in Tretes

“My wife couldn’t stand it here and she went back to Germany. As for me, I stayed on because I have a good job with lots of perks, a house, domestics, a driver. Tough luck for her. But she made the wrong decision. Men are not monogamous by nature and here even less so than elsewhere. I go up to Tretes every Friday night to get away from Surabaya and play some golf. The first time I came here the hotel receptionist offered me the services of a masseuse. I accepted and I don’t regret it. I had an excellent massage. The next weekend he offered me the same service but he had a little knowing grin that I didn’t understand at first. But as soon as I saw the girl I understood right away. She was much younger than the first one and spent part of the night with me. Since then I am hooked. I also have a girlfriend in Surabaya, a pretty girl who used to work the bars in the big hotels. This is not very nice for my wife but she should have tried to adjust to living here. And she is fully aware that the girls here quickly get their hands on the white men, whether married or not.”

21. Dutchman, executive, 40–50, in the reception area at the Borobudur InterContinental Hotel, Jakarta

“Prostitution is a cultural phenomenon here: a way of honoring foreigners and powerful men, with their prestige and money. During colonial days my compatriots all had local concubines who took care of their sex needs and their bachelor homes. Those who were married to depressive Dutch women consoled themselves by turning to the young, vigorous locals who initiated them into the local customs. Nowadays survival is what runs the sex trade. So you can find women selling their bodies for all and any price, from the quick trick at 1,000 rupiah for the local cycle-taxi driver, to a 2 million rupiah night for a rich businessman with his dream actress or the current popular singer. You can choose between the little part-timers, high school or university students looking to pay their expenses, the full time professionals in brothels (rather sordid), the city girls who solicit in the supermarkets to pay for their shopping cart, and the bourgeois women who are bored and want to pay for the latest Versace dress while having some fun. Life in the city is expensive and salaries are low. In this situation it is easy and natural to sell your body. In their place I would do the same thing. I understand them, society is uptight and hypocritical here, but more and more people want to have a good time and make some easy money. The women want luxury and orgasms, the men want variety and pleasure, so it’s normal that there is so much prostitution. It’s a very lucrative deal, which suits everyone, as long as it doesn’t disturb the peace. Hypocrisy! The government outlaws prostitution but all the dignitaries use the luxury brothels while the army keeps watch over the bordellos. Unemployment is very high in Indonesia and prostitution allows thousands of people to earn a living. So, me with my florins, I am a sort of humanitarian, with no complexes, but with condoms.”

22. French business tourist, 40, in a plane from Jakarta to Denpasar

“Whether you are old or young, handsome or ugly, the women in Asia have a talent for making you feel powerful. We are walking dollars, and the dollar is still very desirable, right? Everyone gets what they want. And everyone gets his share of the exotic. Hopefully this situation will last and the Islamists won’t come and restore order here. Business and the tourist trade would be drastically affected.”

23. Indonesian civil servant, 30, interviewed in a recreation park in Ancol, Jakarta

“I am still a bachelor because I can’t afford to get married, set up a woman in a house and support a family. So I take advantage of my bachelor status to visit the girls of ill repute. The day that I start a family I will stop coming here that very day. I am still young and uneducated (bodoh), but when I get older I will become a pious man.”

24. Belgian technician, 35, at a party for expatriates in Malang

“I get the feeling that all Europeans have an erotic view of Asia. The warm climate has a lot to do with this. I think as soon as you get here you are immediately taken with the color of skin of the local population, with the traditional costumes the women wear, with their welcoming smiles, and the nonchalant way they walk. You can imagine lustful bodies, relaxed moral attitudes, tame women, easy and natural tropical lovemaking. The success of sexual tourism in Asia feeds and confirms this notion of the sexual expertise of Asians. Indeed, the European will inevitably satisfy his longing for Asia in the arms of a hostess, a bar girl, masseuse or prostitute. I am, unfortunately, no exception to the rule. At the beginning I went to a lot of bars and discotheques. I found my share of the exotic, but it was so sad—have you read “Tristes Tropiques” by Levi-Strauss?—so I eventually stopped going. Some dreams are a lot better than reality.”

25. Indonesian traveling salesman, 40, on a trip to Malang (East Java) in the lobby of a cheap hotel

“I spend all my time traveling around Java, from West to East, in my little truck, on the road all the time. It’s pretty tiring but business is not too bad. My wife is a pearl and takes good care of the children and I have no marital problems. But I am away from home five nights a week. It’s very hard for a man to be alone for so long. So, I have friends (teman). I have a few good addresses along my route. We exchange addresses among colleagues: a certain hotel in Cirebon, a restaurant next to the dock at Probolinggo, a certain motel near the gas station near Pasir Putih, etc. The girls are nice and clean. To prevent disease it’s very simple, just take a close look at the physical appearance of your partner. If she’s not too thin and her body smells good, there’s no danger. A woman’s body should be cold, because a warm body is sick. In addition I drink energizing teas and tonics and if I have any doubt I take a penicillin pill. The girls take antibiotics too and have frequent medical exams. The risk is minimal. The newspapers talk about AIDS but that is a risk found in the depraved tourist spots where the girls have lots of customers.”

26. Indonesian civil servant, 40, in the Dolly complex.7

“At home there is always one who is tired, either the husband or the wife, or both at the same time. You have to take care of the children and the parents. There is always someone around, visitors, neighbors. So you go off to see the girls, to relax, have a good time, have a drink.

With the girls you always feel in good shape. You can do things you can’t do at home. You can joke around more freely. Men are like that, they like to have little sweets (suka jajan), taste the pollen in different gardens…”

27. Lebanese sailor, 30, in a shack in Gang (alleyway) Jarak,8 Surabaya

“It may be a cliché but it’s based on reality: sailors really do need a woman in every port. A venal woman to be sure, but a woman nonetheless. What else can you do? After countless weeks at sea, closed up with men, we are all impatient to reach land. And unless you’re a homosexual or a saint, you dream of only one thing: feminine company. But since we only stay in port a short time there isn’t enough time for courting or playing the big love act. We don’t have any other choice except to use the services of a professional with no formalities. It’s true that these easy encounters deprive us of the pleasure of the hunt and the conquest but it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise you go crazy, become violent or depressed. The stops in Asian ports are the ones we look forward to the most, and they have the best reputation.”

28. Indonesian businessman, 75, interviewed in the cafeteria of a large department store in Jakarta

“I am well past the age for this type of fun. But do you know why Asian men go to bordellos? To show their virility, their money and their power. They go to show off and to feel important. Our sultans and princes had entire harems, hundreds of courtesans. Modern life no longer lends itself to this type of luxury but I think that men today regain some of this glory of the past at bordellos. To show how successful you are is important in maintaining prestige. When your neighbor has a big car you must do everything you can to get a bigger one. It’s the same way with women. If the other man has a mistress then you must have one too, preferably prettier than his. Prostitutes offer the same service mistresses would but cause a lot less problems. That’s why they’re so successful.”

29. German, 35, interviewed at Lipstick Diskotik (Kuta), meeting ground for homosexuals

“They are a thousand times more beautiful, more exciting than real women. I can’t understand why a trick with a transvestite costs two or three times less than with a normal woman. Sometimes it’s even free, just for fun. They are much more sexy … judge for yourself, just look at these bodies. Their ambiguity, their world fascinates me. I always liked to play with fire, and with these girls, I get my share of thrills. They are tigresses, jealous and passionate.

They have to live fast because they get old fast. There’s nothing sadder than an old drag queen. Since they are obsessed by their looks and surgery is expensive, they need a lot of money. So, to keep up their standard of living most become prostitutes. They are, in fact, the most affected by the AIDS virus. Transvestites work on the sly, on the side of the road, without using protection. In short, these beauties are lovely flowers, sometimes poisonous, but there’s no pleasure without some risk.”

30. Australian, 60, in a night bar in Kupang (Timor), in the company of a Javanese girl who speaks no English

“When you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation—you must have a good time [heavy tap on the shoulder of the young girl who appears bored to death]! Beer is four times cheaper here than at home. And the girls are really cheap too. And yet, they’re a hundred times prettier than the girls I go out with at home. Here, if you want to, you can start drinking in the morning and spend the whole day and night in good, young company. It would be impossible to try to do the same thing in Australia. So, what more can you ask? Nothing. This is why I come here two or three times a year. It has become a habit which I wouldn’t change for all the world.

Besides, all my friends from home come here for the same reasons: beer and fresh flesh. If the immigration services weren’t so strict we could retire here and live like rich men.”

31. Indonesian taxi driver, 40, in a restaurant in Kupang (Indonesia)

“My fares are mostly foreigners, all sorts of people from all different countries, but mostly Indonesians, and Chinese, from Jakarta, Bali, d’Ujung Pandang. It’s up to me to give them tips according to their personal interest: good restaurants, souvenir shops, antique shops, night spots where they can have fun, places where they can meet someone (cari teman, cari pacar). When they want a girl I bring them here because there is a good choice here. I know all the girls and if they work out a deal with the client I get a commission. I am the middle man and I make the introductions. So it’s only natural that I get a little something. Usually I’m paid in cash but sometime in kind. It’s all part of the job, I need to test the quality of the product.”

32. French businessman, 50, in a bar in Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

“You would have to be a saint to resist. The offer is so great and omnipresent that even a saint would succumb. Of course the sexual exploitation of minors is to be condemned, but when it’s between consenting adults, there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing is more normal, natural and virile here than spending an hour or a night with a girl you pay for her service and her beauty. It’s a local custom. From the street sweeper to the minister, every man with self respect treats himself to this type of pleasure. It’s all part of the privilege of being a man.”

33. Belgian tourist, divorced, 45, at the Pochentong airport, Cambodia

“I have to admit that the principal attraction in Asia is the women. I visit Thailand and Cambodia because I have a lot of girlfriends here. Since my divorce, I no longer bother trying to seduce a woman from home. How many times did I go home all alone, sad and a little drunk after long nights spent in nightclubs in Antwerp or Brussels? Here, as soon as you walk in to any public place you have ten beautiful girls smiling at you. You never spend your nights alone and not only that, but with women who are real women, who think you’re wonderful, who know how to give you special attention, not annoy you. These women are feminine, not feminists, and they really know their job. When you realize the salary levels in this country, you understand why they work in the love trade.”

34. French consultant, 40, at a dinner in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

“Their dream is to marry a white man and as for us, we are seduced by the image of the sweet, exotic, sensual Asian. So it’s only normal that we meet up, on a commercial basis or not.

I’m not sure whether this is termed prostitution or not. Let’s just say that the white man has adventures with little local girls whom he helps out financially, given the huge difference in standard of living.”

35. German engineer, 44, interviewed at the Kuala Lumpur airport (Malaysia)

“Behind the job title there is a woman. I know two guys who brought Thai girls back to Druisbourg and married them. Behind their backs people call them whores. It’s true they’re not from a convent. In fact they are good girls. They keep their houses clean and have beautiful children. They try to adjust as much as possible and don’t make any trouble and those two lucky guys seem fulfilled since their marriage. I’m sure the others are just jealous. If I weren’t already married I would do the same thing, I would marry an Asian, and maybe an ex-professional. A woman full of gratitude, it’s surely very pleasant.”

36. French, salesman, 54, during a cocktail in Marseille

“Forgive me if I shock you but when a man wants to sleep with a woman he has to pay. In the age of the caverns, it paid in mamouth or skins of animals, today it pays the restaurant, drinks, movies, it offers flowers, jewels. And, he is not certain to put the woman in his bed. Except that with some women, exotic and less difficult, the bed is part of the contract. No money, no honey” (laughs).

37. German engineer, 43, in a pub in Hong Kong

“In Asia, where I go regularly for my work, I do not have the impression of frequenting real prostitutes. Let's say that these are girls whose livelihood is to go along with Westerners. They are professional girlfriends. They like to have fun, go out, be sexy and the time they spend with you deserves retribution ... a kind of compensation because they have to make a living. That’s fair.”

38. New Zealand photographer, 40, in an Hong Kong (Wan Chan) pub

“I would prefer to meet a local, rich, beautiful and cultivated princess who would make me discover the mysteries of her country and of which I would fall madly in love, but for that you have to be very rich yourself, have luck and a lot of time. So as I do not imagine depriving myself of the company of a woman when I'm on the move, I find a local girlfriend where we find them. If the night goes well and she is really charming, I try to keep her for the time of my stay. If not, I'm looking for another. One pretends to be in love ... without being dupes, since we both know that she is doing this for money. The traveler’s’love affairs, when one is just passing, are not free of charges and pass obligatorily by professionals or assimilated”.

Prostitutes' comments on their clients

39. Rita, 26, Dolly complex, Surabaya

“Nice or mean, that’s not the problem. A client is a client. What’s important is the money he gives me so I can pay my rent, my food bills, and send my savings to my mother so she will take care of my two sons. If he’s nice, so much the better, if he’s rude, so much the worse. It’s up to me to make him nicer and especially to make him be as generous as possible. That’s the only thing that counts, making as much money as possible so that one day I can live differently. I usually have two clients a day, sometimes more when it’s pay day or when a ship comes in to dock, it varies.”

40. Tuti, 35, Dolly complex, Surabaya

“We don’t use the term client, but rather guest or host (tamu), to show respect. The men who come to see us need to feel well received and at ease. Happy, and wanting to come back, again and again… I take about ten clients a week. I make a living from this and don’t plan to change jobs but my dream is to find a regular man to take care of me.”

41. Titih, 40, Dolly complex, Surabaya

“The competition between us is very fierce. Every day new girls arrive, often young and pretty. The clients have many women to choose from. So you have to pamper them every way you can and try to make them come back to you. The client is the ‘king’ (raja) and we should treat him like one. In order to put money away you need to have five to six clients a day, but it’s not always possible.”

42. Dewi, 33, Panti Pijat Kallimantan I (massage parlor), Surabaya

“My ex-boyfriends and ex-husband never brought me happiness. But, with some experience I have learned to play on men’s weaknesses to earn my living in an amusing way. The only thing I’m worried about is getting old because the clients always want something new and someone younger. Massages don’t bring in much money, even with ten clients a day. I try to do about three clients a day and have one for the ‘complete package’ which brings in more money.”

43. Ani, 28, discotheque in Tanamur, Jakarta

“Men have freedom and power. Power for everything, power to choose, to decide, to go away, to come back, to give you happiness and to bring misfortune. The power of money is immense. It’s through men and their money that I eat or don’t eat. But luckily, we women have the power to charm men and get something out of it … On lucky evenings I have a client for the whole night, on bad nights, no one, and I still have to pay for my drinks and my taxi home.”

44. Sarinah, 20, Tanamur, Jakarta

“The best client is the one who has something to celebrate, who really wants to show that he is happy and successful. He is generous and exuberant and for as long as the evening lasts his good mood is contagious. Three or four clients a night during the week, or double that for quick tricks, that’s enough for me.”

45. Lenny, 24, Kuta, Bali

“Hidden within each client is a possible prince charming, a husband, or a plane ticket to go live elsewhere and better. At least that’s what I hope for every day and every night since I started earning a living in this trade. I don’t plan ahead. I live day by day dependent on my encounters. There are good weeks and bad months. One day with a good client can pay as much as a whole week of bad tricks. It’s unpredictable.”

46. Idja, 20, Kuta, Bali

“Even if you go through the same motions, eat, go out, go to bed, each encounter is a different story. The clients are very different. I’m studying English in order to better seduce the tourists. They make up the major part of my revenues. They never stay very long but there are twenty planes landing in Bali every day. No worry about unemployment if I stay healthy. I’m not looking for quantity but rather quality.”

47. Vena, 23, Kuta, Bali

“Each client is different but I have a clear preference for the white man (bule). I don’t like the Asians, such as the Japanese or Taiwanese who drink too much, are always in a hurry and vulgar (kasar) while pretending to be shy. Each nationality has its traits, its qualities and faults. The whites are often tight with their money, not very generous but rather considerate. I’m always a little worried that they might ask me to do something sexually bizarre—from this angle they have a lot more imagination than my fellow countrymen—but in general they are reasonable. The important thing is to be able to refuse when the client is dodgy, too dirty or too old. Life in Bali is expensive and in order to live well you need one client a day, as long as he isn’t stingy!”

48. Tinah, 22, Tretes, East Java

“I don’t have much experience but I already know that there are a lot of dogs and a few very rare princes (very rare because they don’t come to see poor girls like us…), and between these two extremes the normal men, neither good nor bad. Most of them come to see us but they don’t see us. They mostly think about themselves. Yesterday for example one of my clients insisted on eating before using the bed. He asked me to accompany him to the restaurant. It never even occurred to him to offer me a glass of water … I watched him stuffing his belly and I hated him. In the bedroom I felt humiliated. Last night was not a good night. Three clients every 24 hours is the average because there is a lot of competition.”

49. Suti, 27, Tretes, East Java

“The ones I like best are the very young ones, with no experience, the shy ones. It’s easy to make them happy and they are very appreciative, respectful, uncomplicated, don’t make any trouble. It would take seven clients a day to get out of this business quickly, but that almost never happens.”

50. Rinin, 18, Blok M, Jakarta

“I don’t consider them to be clients, nor bosses but rather boyfriends who pay so that I will be nice to them. I accept all forms of payment, cash, gifts, meals, any sort of aid. I like the good life and having fun. I choose my partners for the pleasure and the advantages they can bring me. Since I haven’t yet found true love, all my partners pay. But one day if I fall in love then it will be for free. Two a week, that’s good.”

51. Wati, 27, Blok M, Jakarta

“In exchange for his money he expects a service. If he’s happy he may give me a tip in addition to the price I negotiated. If he’s unhappy he may cause trouble or beat me. So it’s always best to satisfy the client. As far as the number of clients is concerned, it all depends on your own personal need for money and on luck. Since I’m always in need of money I help chance along: three to five clients a day.”

52. Daisy, 32, Jaya Pub, Jakarta

“The idea is to try and figure out which guy you’re going to end up in bed with. Find out as quickly as possible who he is, where he comes from, married or not, what he wants … know whether the encounter is going to last an hour or more. I try to guess or to learn as much as possible about him to know how to handle the situation in the best way. If I feel he is a good number then I will make more effort to please him. Some weeks I don’t go out at all, so no clients, and some times I have one client a night.”

53. Tuti, 24, Jaya Pub, Jakarta

“For each client the strategy differs. With all of them we go through about the same motions, but according to age, nationality, wealth and personality I change my behavior a little to get the best out of the encounter. It all depends on how I’m feeling, my need for money, and luck … but you need to have a catch at least every other night.”

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Note de fin

1 While it is practically impossible to estimate the number of prostitutes operating in Southeast Asia due to the illegal, clandestine and temporary nature of this activity, some estimates do exist. Lin Lean Lim (1998a) estimates at between 0.25 and 1.5 the percentage of women involved in prostitution in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Although prostitution is a difficult phenomenon to be apprehended in numerical terms, it is estimated that in France the number of prostitutes varies from 30 000 to 37 000 people, 80% of whom are of foreign origin (La, 2016).

2 Sweden is the first country to have effectively punished a client of sexual services. Since 1 January 1999, Swedish law provides for fines and/or imprisonment for whoever purchases sexual services.

3 T.H. Hull, E. Sulistyaningsih and G.W. Jones, Pelacuran di Indonesia, Sejarah dan Perkembangan, Seri Kesehatan Reproduksi, Kebudayaan, dan Masyaraket, Pustaka Sinar Harapan, Jakarta, 1997; A.J. Murray, No Money, No Honey, A Study of Street Traders and Prostitutes in Jakarta, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1991; Pedagang Jalanan dan Pelacur Jakarta, sebuah kajian antropologi social, LP3ES, Jakarta, 1994; T. Purnomo and Ashadi Siregar, Dolly, Grafitipers, Jakarta, 1985; D. Soedjono, Masalah pelacuran, Karya Nusantara, Bandun, 1977; Y.A.N. Krisna, Remang remang Jakarta, Pustaka Sinar Harapan, Jakarta, 1996. K. Atmojo, Kami bukan lelaki, Grafitipers, Jakarta, 1986; S. Sunindyo, "She Who Earns: The Politics of Prostitution in Java", PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1993; Koentjoro, "Understanding Prostitution from Rural Communities of Indonesia", PhD, Faculty of Health Sciences, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia, 1997; M. Blowfield et al., The Commercial Sex Industry in Surabaya, Indonesia: An Ethnographic Study, AIDSCOM, Jakarta, 1992.

4 These interviews are reproduced in annex 2 of this article.

5 The magazine Marianne (2001), in an article on pedophilia, referring to figures supplied by UNICEF, estimates at 200,000 the number of potential clients for some 2 million adolescent prostitutes worldwide. An article in the newspaper Le Monde concerning Thailand claims that local inhabitants comprise the vast majority of clients for both adult and child prostitutes. According to a study conducted by the United Nations in eleven out of the twelve Asian countries studied local inhabitants are the main customers of child prostitutes. The International Work Council adds that the young girls who work the local trade, less exposed than the tourist trade, are by far the most mistreated (Pomonti 2001: 8). As of 1994 anyone accused of sex crimes against minors in a foreign country can be prosecuted upon his return to France. This law was reinforced after the first international meeting on sex abuse of children held in Stockholm in 1996.

6 This article was written as part of a study paid for by the research unit, Science of Man and Society of the CNRS.

7 For a description of the situation in Indonesia (classification, multiplicity and diversity of types of prostitution) see Husson (2000: 41-66).

8 In Thailand many bars such as those in Soi Cow Boy, Soi Nan (Nan Entertainment Plaza) Pattaya, Patong (Phuket) are run by Westerners. In these cases the nationality of the proprietor will influence the clientele it attracts.

9 This website was destined to help prospective sex customers through tips, advice and commentaries to find the best services for the lowest price available on all five continents. The site gives details on prices, locations, the prostitutes and their services. Another site, which charges for the service, targets single men looking for adventure: “World Nightlife Guide”. Another site :ïlande (« Bangkok de A comme Amour à Z comme Zizi » - Everything to khnow about love and sex in Bangkok) provides very detailed informations and much advices, and even a virtual operating instructions for the « Sexpat » and French speaking sex tourists. They could then afford as much good time with bar girls and Thai prostitutes without getting roll in flour and for that they get the best services at the best price. The author of this website boasting to know everything on the mentality of Thai women and their relationship to sex, love and money.

10 On June 2014, Surabaya administration officially closes down Dolly known as the biggest red-ligth district of Southeast Asia where Bowfield has done his resaerch.

11 Polygamy is losing ground everywhere in the world due to economic conditions and the fact that many governments trying to introduce the notion of equality have restricted the practice and sometimes made it illegal. In Laos polygamy was rendered illegal as late as 1975 and monogamy is still not respected by everyone. In comparison monogamy was imposed in theory in Thailand in 1930 while polygamy is still in practice today in Burma, Malaysia and Indonesia.

12 Just to compare, it should be noted that the practice of losing one’s virginity with a prostitute is entirely outdated and has practically disappeared in France (Spira et al., 1993).

13 It should be noted, as an anecdote, that the farang husband is considered to be more faithful than the Thai husband by the prostitutes interviewed by Cohen (1982, 1986) and Odzer (1994).

14 The Free University of Berlin interviewed about 800 sex tourists between 1991 and 1993 (Klaber, D. & Witke, M., “Sexual Behavior of German (Sex) Tourist”, presentation made at the 9th International Conference on AIDS).We were unfortunately unable to obtain this document.

15 B.Latza, Sextourismus in Südostasien, Frankfurt, 1987. Since we were not able to view the source we cannot comment on this classification.

16 In Indonesia, outside the capital city, many ordinary young women, mostly of Muslim religion, admitted to us that it would be improper for them – in spite of their curiosity and willingness – to be seen alongside a white man at the risk of being considered a prostitute or of ill repute by their countrymen.

17 We met many women in Asia, wives of expatriates, who lived in constant rivalry with the local women, and continuously worried about their husband’s infidelity; this jealousy, justified or not, often became the cause of arguments, or even divorce among expatriate couples.

18 An argument not brought up in our interviews but which could be used in advertising to attract this type of traveler praising these exotic women: the relative safety of Asian countries as compared to Latin America.

19 A study conducted in Thailand in 1999 (Yamarat et al., quoted by Baffie in the present work) shows that 80% of the girls have regular customers.

20 Three studies carried out in France, the Netherlands and Sweden came to similar conclusions: 20% of men use prostitutes once or twice, 10% on an occasional basis, 3–5% use them regularly. In general these studies all tend to indicate that the number of clients has dropped, that prostitution is slowly losing its role as an initiator of sex, and that society changes and with it the demand also evolves.

1 Many of the part time and unofficial prostitutes work the nightclubs, especially on “ladies night” when there is no entrance fee for the women. The Tanamur, opened in the 1970s, is one of the oldest nightclubs of Jakarta. It has always been a very popular night spot for the shady and cosmopolitan customers generally looking for some type of paid sexual adventure.

2 Situated in the northern section of Jakarta, near the port, this reserved neighborhood of Kramat Tunggak was set up in the 1970s as a rehabilitation project for prostitutes, according to the local authorities. The mayor of Jakarta at the time was trying to group all the prostitution activities in one sector, far from residential areas. Since that time, urban development has taken place in this zone and the locals have demanded the closing of the project, which has expanded to include numerous unofficial prostitutes and the small businesses which service their needs. In 1994 the center had as many as 1,800 official prostitutes, most originating from Java. This reservation no longer exists.

3 Abbreviation for Wanita Tuna Susila literally, women without morals.

4 Kuta, a small fishing village in the 1970s, has become one of the trendiest beach resorts in Asia. Hotels, shops, stylish restaurants rake in the money from wealthy tourists in the thousands, seeking exotic adventure. In the eyes of the traditional Balinese society and the large majority of Indonesians in general, Kuta represents a relaxing of moral standards and the excessive behavior of the Westerners. Being a popular tourist destination necessarily attracts a certain number of sex professionals.

5 Faizal is not a Balinese name which leads one to assume that he is Muslim, from one of the Indonesian islands, either Java or probably Lombok – like many others looking for lucrative sexual encounters.

6 Tretes is a retreat up in the hills about an hour from Surabaya, which used to be popular with the colonial administrators who went there for their health. Alongside the homes of the important people of the town, there are many bungalows, motels, losmen, wisma, all rather modest affairs, as well as at least twenty more luxurious hotels. What makes this place special is the combination of clean air, pretty scenery and plenty of prostitutes. Most of the lodgings offer feminine company along with the room.

7 At the beginning of the 1960s, as part of a campaign for social discipline based on the colonial example, the government set up reserved neighborhoods, or complexes in order to delimit prostitution. In these neighborhoods the brothels (rumah bordil) are lined up along the alleyways, watched over by the military and the local authorities. The city social services run the sanitation aspect. The women work under contract for five years after which they are considered to be ‘re-educated’, ‘re-habilitated’, and ‘re-socialized’ according to the official terminology. Right next to these complexes there are unofficial prostitution zones, less supervised and cheaper. Dolly is the largest and best known complex (Kompleks or lokalisasi) in Surabaya. Some even say that it is the largest complex in all of Southeast Asia. Dolly was the site of a university study which became a best seller in Indonesia: Tjahjo Purnomo & Ashadi Siregar, Dolly, Grafitipers, Jakarta, 1983, revised in 1984 and 1985.

8 Jarak is the name of a labyrinth of alleys situated in the back of the Dolly complex. The grouping of alleyways gives the impression of a veritable village. The miniscule houses or shacks, lined up on both sides of the alley are all the same: a sitting room, and a narrow windowless bedroom, separated by a simple curtain and a sort of kitchen which doubles as bath room. The girls in Jarak sell their services at half the price of the girls in Dolly (30,000 rupiah per hour in Dolly in August 1997 for only 15,000 rupiah in Jarak). Out of the 15,000 the Jarak girls have to pay 3,000 rupiah to the landlord. The Dolly girls pay 17,000 rupiah per trick to the owner of the bar or brothel which houses them during the contract. Dolly girls are housed on the premises where they work. All the rooms are the same: windowless, dark, overheated, four wooden panels for walls, a narrow bed and a water basin. While the girls in Dolly tend to be very attractive the Jarak girls, often older, or not as pretty, work in everyday clothes. Many of them used to work in Dolly for a few years before settling in Jarak.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig.1. A Bangkok map for womanizing German tourists
Légende Are mentioned girly bars, massage parlours, prostitution houses...
Fichier image/png, 387k
Titre Fig. 2. Men involved in the prostitution world viewed by a popular Thai comics: Bangkok by night
Fichier image/png, 487k
Titre Fig. 3. The Japanese male tourist from the airport directly to the massage parlors
Crédits From the Nation Review, Bangkok, December 9, 1979.
Fichier image/png, 342k
Titre Fig. 4. Sketches of customers in the Dolly Red-Light district of Surabaya
Crédits From Tjahjo Purnomo & Ashadi Siregar, Dolly, Grafitipers, Jakarta, 1985.
Fichier image/png, 775k
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Laurence Husson, « Who Are the Clients and What They Say about Prostitution in South-East Asia? »Moussons, 29 | 2017, 209-262.

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Laurence Husson, « Who Are the Clients and What They Say about Prostitution in South-East Asia? »Moussons [En ligne], 29 | 2017, mis en ligne le 28 mars 2017, consulté le 26 septembre 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Laurence Husson

Laurence Husson is a researcher at the CNRS, graduated in geography, she then obtained a PhD in History (EHESS). She’s based in Aix-Marseille Univ, CNRS, IrAsia, Marseille, France. Its main theme is mobility, mainly Indonesian intra-Asian labor migrations and their massive feminization. In addition to her work on gender, care and domesticity, she has worked on AIDS, sexuality and prostitution.

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