SEX is a topic Thai society isn’t too sure how to handle. Thailand’s teen pregnancy and HIV infection numbers are worryingly high, and the fact that sex remains a social taboo only makes for a tough battle. Despite being well known for a large community of ladyboys and gay friendliness, Thai society lacks understanding and knowledge about gender rights. While sex is in part intuitive and subjective, many aspects of it actually require education. And before sexism, homophobia or anti-sex enters the list of social values of so called ‘Thainess’, we need to talk about sex.
Transgenders in Thailand, for example, still face discrimination – ranging from street slurs to a recent headline in the country’s most consumed newspaper. On Tuesday, Thairath covered the first LGBT parade at The Nice Festival in France with a derogatory headline calling it a “sexually ill” event for “wrong-gendered” people. Transgenders are often portrayed in the media as funny, foul-mouthed and often ridiculed individuals. Widely used terms like tuud and kratoey, though usually unmalicious, also carry negative associations. In 2010, The National Film Board banned ‘Insects in the Backyard’, a film featuring a transgender father because it contains scenes that are “pornographic and immoral.”
A year earlier, a Hollywood comedy, ‘Zack and Miri Make a Porno’, was banned by the Ministry of Culture who feared teens would imitate the character and make pornographic films. Entertainment media has indeed been making sex more confusing for Thais. We blur-censor cleavages in TV shows, only to watch many soap operas featuring rape scenes. In many cases, rape was used as a breakthrough for love between the protagonists. So, what message are they sending with these romanticized rapes? Perhaps the media is a product of our cultural cluelessness. Perhaps it made perfect sense when popular actor Pakorn “Boy” Chatborirak burst into tears in 2013, apologizing for having sex. And do you remember General Prayuth’s bikini remarks on the Koh Tao murder case?
Thailand put itself into this struggle by positioning itself as noble society; many still believe better people should distance themselves from explicit sex topics. There’s an image of an ideal Thai to be sexually passive. This goes to the extent many believe that having a dry vagina is a quality of a “good woman,” the problem that was brought to attention and questioned by well-known feminist author Lukkana Punvichai, aka Khampaka (read more in this article).
Thai society clearly has its own definition of sexual nobleness. While sex toys, pornography and prostitution are illegal in Thailand, if you ask an honest man leaving the big massage parlors on Rama 9 or Ratchadaphisek avenues, he would tell you there is much more than massage on offer at these establishments. Nobody goes to these ab ob nuat (“bathing and massage” in Thai) parlors for backaches, but for sexual services. Lumphini Park, right in the heart of Bangkok, is a prostitution spot after dark. These facts are common knowledge to every Thai, but we just won’t deal with it.
Social commentator Kaewmala, the author of ‘Thai Sex Talk’, addressed this contradiction when asked in an interview with Siam Voices, “We can spend hours discussing Thai maturity or lack thereof in sexual matters, but the word hypocrisy sums it up pretty well… Thais like to think that we are a conservative and proper society when we really aren’t – at least behind closed doors.”
That could as well reason why sex education has been so futile and ineffective. Thailand has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Southeast Asia and the second highest in the world. Last Valentine’s Day, officials simply told teens to celebrate the occasion by having dinner and not sex. Their conservative approach was not only fighting against adolescent hormones but also the reality of current culture.
“People think that if you talk about sex, you encourage them to have it,” said Maytinee Bhongsvej, executive director of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women, in a ‘Guardian’ interview a few years ago. “But if you keep preaching ‘Maintain your virginity’, you don’t prepare kids for reality.”
As long as sex remains a social taboo, it will burden any effort to create better understandings about sex and gender. Homophobia, sexism and prejudice can be cured by open discussion and education – not faux nobleness.