He Said/She Said: Sex in Asia

He Said/She Said: Sex in Asia

Among the many cultural differences you notice while traveling, sex is the most varied.  What is acceptable in one city may land you in jail in another. The rhyme or reason for these things is not always clear.  Leaving out Islamic Asia, we have still been befuddled by Sex in Asia.


Let me start off by saying this post was LOCAVORista’s idea.  Seriously, it was, but I didn’t object.  Sex in Asia is strange and remains a mystery to us, yet it is omnipresent.  From Westerners walking arm-in-arm with prostitutes to full body massages that are full body to porn being sold next to children’s toys, it is everywhere.  In Phnom Penh, street vendors sold vibrators.  In Tokyo, computer stores sold interactive XXX anime computer games.  In Seoul, “love hotels” offer discreet entries that allow use of the hotel without ever encountering another person.  In Osaka, the Internet cafes doubled as smut shops.  In Phuket, women sold themselves.  In Sihanookville, Cambodia, people pimped out children.  In Vientiane I was followed down the street by ladyboys that wanted to know my plans for the evening.

We thought the extroverted sex industry was an imported phenomenon, the result of “sex tourists” who took to the road in search of something they couldn’t get at home.  We had been led to believe that if these people stopped coming, the industry would die.  Then we learned the truth, the industry is native, the locals are more often the clients, they are what drive the industry, not the sex tourists.  Reliable online sources have said that over 50% of Thai men lost their virginity to a prostitute and over 70% have “visited” a prostitute in their life.  We learned that in Japan and South Korea it’s normal for men to go out after work, drink themselves into oblivion, then continue on to “round 2” with a prostitute.  It was said that “all men but my man” did such things.

The strangest part of it all was that it was still taboo to talk about.  We asked people in each place for a little more information on the industry, the “ins and outs” if you will, but the subject was swiftly changed.  If the sex industry was so visible and frequented by locals, why could they not discuss it?  It was as if the sex industry were Victorian era children, to be seen, but not heard.

Walking any of the nightlife areas of Southeast Asia, Korea or Japan, will leave a tourist with more questions than answers.  At this point I don’t have answers, I don’t know how this all works or why, if it is so popular, why can’t it be spoken about?  Don’t worry though, my time in Asia isn’t over, so I will keep investigating this topic for your benefit…


I have never been uncomfortable with sex and was taught about the birds and the bees in a very matter of fact way. Sex has never been a confusing or taboo subject for me…until we got to Asia.  Here sex is the pink elephant in the room and so I have wanted to write about it since the beginning of the trip, just to air my thoughts. With the closeted nature of sex, curiosity has gotten the better part of me many times as I poked my nose into “massage parlors” in South East Asia, “internet cafes” in Japan and “love hotels” in Korea.

As is the case with the massage parlors and internet cafes, sex in Asia is not as it seems.  It is a closeted subject and not spoken about under any circumstances, I presume the sex lives of each individual, particularly men is a secret they take with them to the grave.  Yet, sex is everywhere with doughy-eyed Japanese girls in risqué school girl outfits plastered on billboards in Japan and children escorting white tourists in Cambodia.  All of a sudden sex makes me feel uncomfortable, disgusted and angry.

I just felt plain uncomfortable with sex in Japan and South Korea, which are developed countries where sex can be bought for a price.  However, whenever we asked about it no one seemed to know anything about it or how it worked, almost as if they had never seen these bars we spoke of.  Yet it was everywhere, you could buy smut magazines at the grocery store (with no blacked out covers) and you could rent a porn video from your hotel as a huge rack of them were available in the lobby.  Even upscale bookstores sold coffee table books featuring provocative pictures of school girls or female office workers.

In Cambodia the white men that so comfortably enjoyed drinks with an under-aged girl disgusted me.  It was appalling how they would sit in public bars or on the beach with their “girlfriend” perched on their knee.  It was as if this girl was a pet instead of a person.  I don’t know how these men could stand the passing glances or not feel guilty about taking advantage of such a young girl.  I was uncomfortable and guilty for them, but it didn’t matter because they seemed at ease with their behavior.

This type of behavior elevated to anger in Thailand where the woman were older and many of them, from my understanding, chose to be in the sex industry because of the money.  It irritates me that this is one of the best paying jobs that women can get in Thailand, especially if they don’t have an education.  While many women in the sex industry do not choose this path, those that do often do it secretly to support their family and children.  It infuriates me that few people openly discusses this huge social issue within Thailand and that many of the organizations trying to change these statistics are NGOs operated by foreign countries, while the sex industry is fueled by locals.

All these negative feelings about sex have been bottled up inside me since observing the massage parlors in Vietnam and it feels good to finally “talk” about it.  However, it doesn’t resolve my uncomfortable, disgusted and angry feelings I have toward the objectification of woman throughout Asia.

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» Jill & Rod :
Jul 26, 2011

Watch out for hairdressing salons in China, especially those with coloured windows and/or located near transport terminals. After dark they transform into something less respectable!

LOCAVORista Reply:

Rod and Jill, thanks for the tip- China seems to offer a lot of things that aren’t what they seem…Hope all is well back in NZ!

» Jon :
May 25, 2012

What I find disgusting is that you see see western men engaging in pedophilia in Cambodia and you dont do anything. What sort of people are you?

thinkCHUA Reply:

I don’t believe in vigilante justice, I shouldn’t be, especially in foreign countries, the judge, jury and executioner. While it angers me to see what I consider inappropriate behavior it is up to the people and officials of Cambodia to determine right and wrong in their country. I can’t expect the world to conform to my views, expectations or beliefs. I would be very interested in hearing your experience fighting first world crimes in the third world…

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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