When people think of the sex industry, Thailand and the Philippines will most likely come up in the minds of many. However, one of the ironic things about Malaysia, with its conservative Islamic leaning, is that the flesh trade is thriving, as is the casual sex scene.
Historically, prostitution on the Malay Peninsula had served loggers, tin miners and seamen, over the last 200 years. Prostitution was limited to certain areas in Georgetown, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kauntan, and in KL itself. However, over the last few years, these areas have expanded with the mushrooming of massage parlors all over Malaysia, even in areas where the Islamic party PAS is part of government.
Although prostitution is illegal in Malaysia, it is there for all to see today on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, with little apparent enforcement. However, even with the relatively few police and immigration operations that are going on, huge numbers of prostitutes are being rounded up. Last year, over 6,000 Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese prostitutes were rounded up in a three month period alone. According to the Havoscope Global Black Market Information website, the size of the Malaysian prostitution industry is calculated at US$963.8 million, or RM3.68 billion.
The flesh trade
Kuala Lumpur has a number of red light districts. Bukit Bintang is probably the most upmarket where it is mingled in with some of the most exclusive shopping centres in town. Massage parlors, brothels, and street walkers can all be found around this area.
The sex industry was once the domain of local prostitutes, but this has almost totally changed over the last decade. Foreign prostitutes from China, Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia have swamped the locals, and now predominate. In addition, there are many prostitutes from African countries who work outside many of the bars and nightspots around KL. These mostly foreign prostitutes, operating from local guest houses, will congregate outside nightclubs in Bukit Bintang, Jalan Sultan Ismail, and Jalan Imbi.
Lorong Haji Taib is much more down market than Bukit Bintang, where little hotels and guest houses double as brothels. There is a mix of foreign, Indian, Chinese, and some local prostitutes operating in this area. Many transgenders operate in the adjacent Chow Kit area both from lanes at the back of little guest houses and on the street. These little lanes behind the shops in Chow Kit really only become busy after midnight.
Some very low class “Tiger” or sex shows operate out of Jalan Haji Taib and Bukit Bintang areas.
Brothels and massage parlors also exist along Jalan Alor, Jalan Hicks, and Jalan Thamibipilly in the Brickfields area. Streetwalkers also operate around Brickfields and Jalan Petaling, where clients are taken to one of the cheap Chinese hotels for service.
Many girls work as Guest Relations Officers (GROs) in the many karaoke and Japanese bars in Klang Valley. These girls are more choosy and require a customer spending time and money on them in the bar before being able to take them out for a negotiated price. Chinese, Vietnamese, Thais, and Cambodians tend to work out of these establishments, while the Indonesians tend to work out of the many Dangdut Pubs, with their raunchy Indonesian dancing around Klang Valley.
There are numerous escort services available throughout Klang Valley. Most have girls of many nationalities who can visit most hotels. They advertise openly both through the internet and in the local press along with many freelance workers who also offer their services online and in these newspapers.
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Deeper underground, according to a documentary, there are many underage girls forcibly held in secret brothels and pubs in Malaysia. According to reports, many of these girls have been sold or kidnapped from their countries and have been to be brought into the country due to lax border enforcement of people smuggling.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, many massage parlors have sprung up all over Malaysia. These establishments are usually called spas, salons, or health centres. Many of these offer include erotic massages and/or ‘happy endings’ with their services. One of the more bizarre services offered is what is called a cheese massage where the customer is covered with cheese and a lady will lick this off.
Probably at the bottom of the fleshtrade in Kuala Lumpur is the sex one can solicit in parks and city areas. This trade is usually serviced by young men who want to make some extra money. Popular areas for street sex is Central market late at night, and Taman Tasik Park in Titiwangsa.
The ‘pick up’ scene
Ask any young expat who has spent some time in Kuala Lumpur and many will be able to tell you stories about the ‘pick up’ scene. Kuala Lumpur has a wide and diverse scattering of night spots. The well- to -o wives of many local businessmen and ‘Datuks’ frequent the bars in any of the five star hotels along the ‘golden mile’. Stories that expats tell contain common elements about wives being bored and/or angry about their husband’s lack of interest in them and intransigence. Some look for short-term relationships, while others are looking for longer term affairs.
Pick ups can be made in any of the bars around that area or the KLCC. These are not places just for prostitutes to solicit, but many professional people also frequent these establishments, looking for short term casual relationships. Potential pick ups are not restricted to locals. There are a huge number of expatriates around Kuala Lumpur. The ‘pick up’ scene in Kuala Lumpur is truly cosmopolitan.
The gay scene in Kuala Lumpur has a number of bars and restaurants that cater for the ‘pink segment’. The most famous of these is the raunchy Blue Boy bar which has a special drag show every night. There are also a large number of restaurants that are ‘gay and lesbian friendly’ and gay massage parlors.
The swinging scene
According to the volume of Malaysian swinging listings on websites like Adult Friendfinder, Malaysia has one of the largest swinging populations of the region. Adult Friendfinder has over 380,000 Malaysian listings that the website claims are active. People looking for casual sexual relationships, threesomes, and swinging use a number of websites like Cupid, Cari.com, and Tagged, to make contact, discuss their likes and preferences and arrange meetings. If one goes through the listings, there are couples looking for other couples, ladies, or men to join them in sexual encounters, and vice versa. These website have become marketplaces in sex. There are now a multitude of very discrete ‘swinging clubs’ in Kuala Lumpur, which only allow membership after vetting and giving an invitation. Many swinging meetings are held in private homes around Klang Valley.
(READ MORE: Prostitution: Thailand’s worst kept secret)
Swingers tend to be young professional couples, corporate managers, entrepreneurs and business owners who want some sexual excitement with other partners outside their marriage. They also want to share these sexual experiences together with their partner. Many of these swinging relationship grow beyond the physical, where couples take holidays together.
Considering the political debate in Malaysia is centered on whether there should be Hudud Laws, the sex scene in Malaysia is very paradoxical. Perhaps the history of human development on the Malay Peninsula has more bearing on behavior than recent state-imposed morality. The rapid overt growth in prostitution is also partly the result of extremely poor enforcement by border protection authorities, local councils, and police. There have also been reports that some members of the immigration and police are in collusion with the people traffickers bringing in prostitutes to Malaysia.
A few people in the media have called for the legalization of prostitution in Malaysia for reasons of health and control. However these occasional calls go largely unheeded, because the subject is basically taboo in Malaysian society.
One positive that comes out of the large number of gays and swingers in Malaysia, according to Urban theorist Richard Florida’s Gay and Bohemian index. The vibrant swinging and gay scene could be a sign that Malaysia has a subdued creative class with great potential to attract high quality talent and capital to the country, which would lead to greater innovation and economic development. However this openness is suppressed by today’s national narratives in Malaysia as a completely taboo issue.
Such is taboo. Sex is a Malaysian paradox.