Education + Advocacy = Change

 

Click a topic below for an index of articles:

New-Material

Home

Donate

Alternative-Treatments

Financial or Socio-Economic Issues

Forum

Health Insurance

Hepatitis

HIV/AIDS

Institutional Issues

International Reports

Legal Concerns

Math Models or Methods to Predict Trends

Medical Issues

Our Sponsors

Occupational Concerns

Board members of HEART

Religion and infectious diseases

State Governments

Stigma or Discrimination Issues

 

If you would like to submit an article to this website, email us at info@heart-intl.net for a review of this paper

any words all words
Results per page:

“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

  


APLA

A new addition to the HEART is our Forum-check it out

Thai views of sexuality and sexual behaviour

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/Organizations/healthnet/HIV/docs/sea-aids/gend/gend74.txt

John Knodel, Mark VanLandingham, Chanpen Saengtienchai  and Anthony Pramualratana

Views of husband's prior relationships

Although women did not express negative views about marrying a virgin man, for most it seemed pointless to contemplate this.   Indeed, many accepted the double standard implicit in the belief that men needed sexual experience before getting married.  This was evident in their tolerance of husbands' prior visits to prostitutes.   Women were also generally accepting of premarital non- commercial sexual relationships that their husbands might have had, although typically they expressed greater concern about prior affairs than about premarital patronage of prostitutes.  Women's main interest in this connection was getting assurance that any earlier relationships were ended and would not resume.

Respondent: My wife and I) have talked.  She asked me how many women I had (before were married).  I told her six.  She did not say anything because it was before our marriage.  She was only interested in women other than service girls because she was afraid that I would meet them again and  have affairs. (Case 17 Lopburi rural male)

Moderator: What will wives feel if they know that their husbands had sex with some other girlfriends before marrying them?

Mrs. K:It might be okay as long as they didn't go on with that affair...   It was in the past, wasn't it?  If he didn't continue the affair, it wouldn't matter.

Mrs. T: We come later so we have to let it be. (Lopburi rural female group)

The importance of sex in marriage

When focus-group participants were asked what characteristics men and women seek in a spouse, the most common answer, typically mentioned spontaneously, is that both men and women want someone who understands and gets along with them.  In all groups, women said that a good husband was one who earns and provides support for the family.  Both men and women participants believe a good wife is one who is able to care for and provide emotional support not only to the husband but especially the  children.  In other words, a wife should be a good housekeeper and mother.

Sexual compatibility was never spontaneously mentioned by either men or women as an important characteristic of a good spouse.  When the issue was explicitly brought up by the moderator, diverse opinions were expressed.  Some participants felt that sex was a  crucial aspect of the marital relationship while others saw it as only  secondary or as an aspect that loses its significance after an initial  period.  This was true in both men's and women's focus groups, although men were more likely to state that sex played an important role in marriage.  Furthermore, although married male respondents sometimes brought up the centrality of sex in their lives, poor marital sex seemed only rarely to be considered as grounds for  proclaiming an unhappy or unsatisfied union.

Moderator: Do you think sexual life is important to husbands and  wives?

Mr. N: Both husbands and wives need it.  If we font agree on it, we can’t be together.

Mr. P: If we don't want it, we can become monks.

Mr. N: If we have all we need but have no sexual drive, we may have problems.  If wives want it and we don't, they may feel desperate.  If we want it and wives don't, we can't stand it either. (Bangkok factory men)

Mr. B: Marriage and sex life go together.  It's natural but sex life is not the top priority... It's like adding spice to the meal.  (Bangkok middle class male group)

Mr. T: I don't think that sexual life is an important factor.  Most Thai people get divorced because of other factors.  As for sex, Thai husbands and wives can compromise. 

(Kanchanaburi urban male group)

If the importance of sex in marriage declines over time as several of our informants mentioned and as statistics on coital frequency would seem to suggest (Knodel and Chayovan 1991), the importance assigned to sexual compatibility in our results could be influenced by the fact that most of our focus-group participants and in-depth survey respondents were married for at least several years.   Nevertheless, other observers of the Thai family have noted that the sexual relationship between husband and wife is usually considered as subordinate to other issues, especially the socio-economic functions of marriage (ten Brummelhuis 1993).  Moreover, a recent small-scale survey of a purposive (apparently urban) sample of married couples from five different social strata found that, except for white-collar couples, only a minority of respondents agreed with  the statement that to be a good wife, a woman should not only be  good at housework but also be good in bed (Tangchonlatip 1995).   Contrary to the impression gained from our qualitative data, men were even more likely to disagree than women.

One relatively consistent pattern to emerge was that women focus-group participants discussed marital sex primarily from the husband’s perspective rather than from their own.  This occurred in several ways.  Perhaps most generally, the need for sex was seen as being more innate and intense for men than for women, so naturally  the emphasis of marital sex should be on providing the husband  with an outlet for his sexual drive.  Rarely did women say that sexual satisfaction was important for themselves.

Mrs S: Men are more sexually experienced than most women so they take it as a priority.  To earn the living is second to sexual life. (Laughed) For women, children must be properly fed and clothed and sexual life is second to children’s welfare. (Lopburi rural female group)

Moderator: What about 'Bed business' (in marriage)? Mrs N: They all think about it.

Mrs L: Yes, men do.

Mrs N: They look at it as natural.  We also do but for them it is innate. (Bangkok slum female group)

In virtually all the women's focus groups and in many of the in- depth interviews, women expressed the view that it was important for wives to please their husbands sexually.  This was seen as important for discouraging husbands from seeking sex elsewhere' 

Indeed, given the perception of an innate male need for sex, not providing sexual satisfaction for the husband is seen by many women as risking his infidelity.  Consistent with this view as expressed by our study informants, results from a small-scale survey indicated that the majority of respondents, and especially women, agreed that if wives could please husbands as skillfully as prostitutes, then husbands would not patronize commercial sex  (Tangchonlatip 1995).

Interviewer: Do wives have to be good in bed?

Respondent: Yes.  Husbands would look for some others if they are not sexually satisfied with wives.  Men can't live without it but women can. (Case 06 Bangkok female clerk)

Moderator: Between husband-wife, do you think that sexuality is important?

Mrs T: As I listen to the others and from my own experience, sometimes it's quite important for a family, because some men need it and if his wife can't give it to him, he then must go out and seek it elsewhere. (Bangkok middle class female group)

Occasionally, men stated that were concerned about pleasing their wives sexually, but this was far less common than women’s expressed concerns about pleasing their husbands. In general, in views about the need for sex both before and after marriage, there is a clear difference in the extent to which sex is considered  important to men and women.

Extramarital patronage of prostitutes

The degree of social acceptance for patronage of prostitutes by married men is quite varied and often conditional on it being only occasional.  There are also clearer differences between the views of men and women on this matter.  Many married men consider occasional excursions to prostitutes to be ordinary and even acceptable under certain circumstances.  Indeed, among the 21 men with whom we conducted in-depth interviews, 11 admitted having had sex, with a prostitute since marriage and seven apparently continue to do so.  Both the focus-group discussions and the in- depth interviews reveal quite mixed views among our male informants about visits to prostitutes after marriage.  Some men are completely opposed and only a few condone such behaviour without qualifications.  Given that many Thai men see variation in  sexual partners as an important part of their sexual lives, some  amount of patronage of prostitutes after marriage is perceived as  normal by most men.

Moderator: Let me ask you whether it is acceptable for Thai  married men to visit prostitutes?

Mr E: As for men, it's acceptable.

Mr B: To me, those who don't visit a prostitute are abnormal.

Mr T: They are hen-pecked or something like this. (Bangkok middle class male group)

Moderator: Do you think it's a ordinary practice for married men to take prostitutes?

Mr R: It might be if they do it once in a while...

Mr N 1: For men, there must be times like that occasionally.

Mr N2: As men, we can't stay home all the time.  We need different flavours.  Friends may say we are afraid of wives if we don’t go with them anywhere. (Bangkok male factory worker group)

Respondent: I think that depends on an individual. Some still go  (visit prostitutes) even though they are married with a wife already. They feel don't have enough. It's like they need a change of taste. (Case 37 Kanchanaburi rural male)

Numerous male respondents in the in-depth interviews stated that infrequent patronage was accept-able as long as family needs were not neglected.  Some also mentioned the need to protect oneself  (and thus one's family) from STDs.  However, both the focus-group discussions and the in-depth interviews illustrate that a substantial proportion of our male informants view frequent visits to prostitutes by a married man as excessive and disapprove of it, especially if it leads to abrogation of family responsibilities.

  


 

A new addition to the HEART is our Forum-check it out

Respondent: Going frequently is not proper.  But if they (married men) go only once in a while and protect themselves from diseases by using condoms, it is all right. (Case 18 Lopburi  rural male)

Married women have a less tolerant attitude than their husbands towards married men visiting prostitutes.  Some view even occasional visits as totally unacceptable.  In our focus groups, and undoubtedly in the general public, the majority of married Thai women clearly prefer their husbands not to visit prostitutes at all. Mrs S: Hundred per cent, women don't like it (married men visiting prostitutes). Several: We don't like it.

Mrs S: But sometimes we can't forbid it since men think it’s ordinary. (Bangkok middle class female group)

Respondent: I don't see why Married men have to (visit prostitutes) since they already have families.  Women surely don't like it  if their husbands do that... They shouldn't do it at all, especially now when there are a lot of diseases... If they think they can't live with only one woman, I mean a wife,  they shouldn't get married in the first place. (Case 4  Bangkok female middle class)

Despite their dislike of the practice, some women accept the view that men have a natural need for sexual variety and thus reluctantly tolerate occasional patronage of prostitutes by their husbands.  For them, and indeed for many Thai men, it is seen as a form of male entertainment and not as a serious breach of marital trust.  Just over two-fifths of the women in-depth respondents  (compared to about two-thirds of the men) felt that visiting prostitutes after marriage was ordinary behaviour.  This does not  mean they approved of it or thought it was proper but rather that  they saw it as a 'fact of life'.  Moreover, wives' tolerance was typically conditioned on the husbands' visits to prostitutes being discreet and infrequent, precautions being taken against STDs, and the costs not draining the family finances.

Respondent: It seems to be an outlet and a kind of entertainment among men.  They do it in groups of friends if urged by each other. (Case 21 Lopburi urban female)

Respondent: They give us most of the money so we must sometimes let them stray... Not as a habit.  They are allowed to (visit prostitutes) once in a while... if we are not financially troubled. (Case 2 Bangkok female teacher)

Interviewer: Is it normal for married men to take prostitutes?

Respondent: It’s okay for me if they do it now and then or on some special occasions.  If they do it as a habit, they are irresponsible and they may get wives infected through them.  (Case 22 Lopburi urban female).

Some women, who indicate that they are opposed to their husbands having sex relations outside the marital union, make exceptions to their general opposition during times when they are unable to have sexual intercourse with their husbands for an extended time.  They see their husbands having an innate need of frequent release of sexual drive and thus view situations where they themselves cannot  meet this need as justifying an occasional visit to a prostitute.  Such situations include long periods of marital abstinence necessitated by pregnancy and recent childbirth.  It might also include situations where employment requires the couple to be separated for long periods.

Mrs K: There's one period of time, during a wife's pregnancy, when a man wants to go out (and see prostitutes).

Mrs P: That's normal.

Mrs M: Yes, it's normal.

Mrs T: There's no one to release his desire. (Kanchanaburi urban  female group)

Mrs R: If I cannot give him happiness (sleep with him), I would let him do it with prostitutes occasionally, but he has to protect  himself. (Kanchanaburi rural female group)

Family responsibilities are often cited as reasons for opposing men’s use of commercial sex, especially if frequent.  It is nevertheless possible for some women to reconcile a husband’s occasional visits to prostitutes and his obligations to his family.   Thus tolerance, among those women who reluctantly accept the practice, is contingent on men not squandering more than they can afford and taking precautions against STDs.

Extramarital sexual affairs

While visiting prostitutes by men is often seen as a means of entertainment and thus not as a serious act of infidelity, entering a sexual relation with an ordinary (non-commercial) partner is viewed quite gravely.  This is so whether the offending spouse is the husband or the wife.  Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference in overall views towards male and female infidelity.

Female infidelity

Views on women's extramarital sexual activity are unambiguous.   Both male and female focus-group participants and in-depth survey respondents typically saw female infidelity as unacceptable and assumed that it would lead to the termination of the marriage by the man.  Indeed it could also lead the husband to violence, against the wife, the lover, or both. 

Moderator: Is it common for women to have other men?

Mr S: Men just can't accept that.  If the woman does that, it means we have to separate... Our society just can't accept this kind of behaviour in women... Men consider themselves as  tigers. Two tigers can't live in the same cave.  One must die.  (Lopburi urban male group)

 Moderator: Can you stand the idea of your wives sleeping with other men?

Mr S: It's a big, troublesome deal then. (Laughed) They shoot each other because of this. (Bangkok male factory worker group)

Respondent: If they do that (extramarital sexual relations), they are bad women.  This is forbidden.  They can be killed by their husbands. (Case 17 Lopburi rural male)

The total unacceptability of female infidelity was often explicitly contrasted with the more lenient attitudes towards male indulgence in extramarital sex.  Unlike men, women are expected to control their sexuality and devote themselves solely to their husbands, and  their families.

Respondent: It is common for men to sleep with women other than their wives.  But as for women, if they have affairs, it is unacceptable... Such behaviour of women is against Thai culture.  But as for men, it is common.  'The only thing that women have to keep in mind is that they have to take good care of the family, make their family happy. (Case 28  Lopburi urban male)

Respondent: Men are men and women are women.  Women are supposed to behave... If women take lovers as a revenge to husbands, they will never have them back... It's the most serious damage a married woman can do to her family.  (Case 21 Lopburi urban female)

Mrs M: People in all societies are like that.  If women are unfaithful  ;o husbands, they will be left... But if men are unfaithful, wives will try to solve the problem. (Lopburi urban female group)

There were occasional mentions, especially by women, of, situations where it is understandable, if not socially acceptable, for a woman to seek or accept a sexual relationship with some man other than her husband.  Such circumstances typically involved a husband who was irresponsible or abusive towards his wife and family.  

Other reasons for infidelity were also stated, such as boredom or  bad character on the part of the woman, but received little or no  sympathy from our study informants.   The virtually. universal disapproval and strong condemnation of  extramarital affairs by women does not mean they are non-existent.   In at least one in-depth interview, a male respondent tearfully confided his wife's infidelity.  Moreover, in a number of the focus- group discussions, local examples were cited.  Everyone agreed, however, that these are exceptional cases.  Survey evidence is sparse on the subject, but to the extent it exists indicates that almost  no women admit to such behaviour (e.g. Sittitrai et al. 1992).  

Married men's extramarital sexual affairs with women other than  prostitutes are another matter.

Male infidelity

In Thailand non-commercial sexual relationships in which men involve themselves are quite varied, ranging from casual encounters  to committed relationships.  While there is a lack of reliable population-based estimates of the prevalence of extramarital non- commercial sex for Thai men, there is some quantitative and qualitative research which suggests that it is not uncommon  (Havanon, Bennett and Knodel 1992; VanLandingham et al.  1995).7 Even if not paid directly, most non-commercial sex  partners of married Thai men will expect some material benefit in  the form of gifts, occasional loans, or outright total support from  their male partners, depending upon the nature of the relationship  with the married man.  Men who enter these. relationships typically  understand these expectations.  Furthermore, so do

7Such data are undoubtedly very difficult to ascertain accurately in a broad-based survey.  Available estimates of men recently (in the last six or twelve months) having sex with non-commercial sexual  partners range from 5 to 28 per cent (Sittitrai et al. 1992;  VanLandingham et al. 1993; Thongthai and Guest 1995).  Even less information is available on the types and characteristics of the women who are non-commercial sexual partners of married men or  why they enter such relationships (see, however, Havanon et al.  1992).  It seems likely that in most cases such women are not married themselves, being either single or formerly married, but reliable statistics are lacking. their wives.  In the extreme case where a non-commercial sex partner is fully supported by a married male, she is usually referred to as a minor wife by both parties.

Mr S: A minor wife is known to the society.  People know her.   The legal wife also knows about her... You have to be responsible for them the same way you are for the legal wives. (Lopburi urban male group)

Moderator: Who are minor wives then?

 Mrs M: Those who are financially supported b our husbands.  They may have children by them.

Mrs T: We have to share the income with them.

Mrs M: We don't have as much as we used to have.  They are treated just like wives since they share everything with us. (Lopburi, urban women)

Minor wives and concubines have apparently been common in Thailand among the Upper strata for centuries (Wilson and Henley 1994).  Moreover, as our study informants acknowledge, they are clearly still a salient threat to modem married women.  Probably because minor wives have potentially greater economic and emotional significance for the husband-wife relationship, this category of non-commercial sex received more attention in the focus-group discussions and in-depth interviews than did other types   of non-commercial sex partners. In reality, most non-commercial sexual relationships of married men probably are of a less committed nature than that with a minor wife. However, wives also see such more casual relationships as threatening to family security, both in their own right and because they might eventually lead to a more demanding minor-wife-type relationship. With few exceptions, women in our study viewed relationships with minor wives, or women who could potentially have a long-term affair with their husbands, as either intolerable or as an extremely difficult burden to bear.

Mrs S: There is an old saying that it is better to lose gold equal to the weight of one's head than to lose a husband.   Minor wives cause family problems.  Husbands should not take them if they do not want to quarrel with their wife.  (Lopburi rural female group)

Interviewer: What would you do if your husband had an affair?

Respondent: Those (women) who have such problems must think about their children. Men tend to be selfish and they are likely to keep both women. Most middle-class wives can’t do much without husbands' support so they have to stand the situation.  Then, they get used to it.  For those who don't have a financial problem, they may get a divorce since the wives can provide for their children. (Case 6  Bangkok female cl'erkg)

Moderator: And if he doesn't really intend to take her as a minor wife but just sees her from time to time?

Mrs N: Even.if he doesn't think about it, we women have to think about it.  We're afraid he might take it seriously.  (Bangkok slum female group)

Except for the most casual affairs, even non-commercial relationships that do not reach the minor-wife stage will normally last much longer than commercial contacts. Thus wives typically feel far more threatened by ordinary women who engage sexually  with their husbands than by prostitutes, who require neither  extensive emotional nor resource commitment. The predominant opinion expressed in the focus-group discussion with both men and women was that non-commercial affairs were worse than patronage  of prostitutes. similar opinions were expressed by women in the in-depth  interviews although concerns about the risk of AIDS from  prostitutes was also very prominent among them, sometimes tipping  the balance in the opposite direction.

Mrs R: To go out (to visit prostitutes) is better (than taking a minor wife).  I think it’s better to be temporary and it can be finished.  In a case of a minor wife, he must be responsible for her.  In fact, he would have to divide with her the money that he would provide me.  Instead of the family being completely supported, we have to divide into two instead of receiving the whole amount. Kanchanaburi  urban female group)

Respondent: For me, I won't stand it if my husband has affairs.  As for prostitutes, if he takes them from time to time, it's okay.  They do it as a job.  If he has affairs with some ordinary girl, he must be really fond of her.  It means that he doesn't care for me any longer. (Laughed) I won’t stand for it. (Case 22 Lopburi urban female)

Interviewer: Would women consider men's taking prostitutes differently if there were no AIDS?

Respondent: It might be all right.  If he was bored with me, he could take one.

Interviewer: Could he take mistresses?

Respondent: No, absolutely not.  He would spend all on her and my children and I would be in trouble. He would waste all, money and time .(Case 32 Kanchanaburi rural female)

Married women's reluctant tolerance of their husband's visits to prostitutes must be understood within this context.  Thai wives are less threatened by their husbands' occasional visit to a prostitute than by their taking up with a ordinary woman, as a girl-friend or, even worse, as a minor wife. Non-commercial sex partners of any  sort, and minor wives in particular, are seen as threatening the very  core of family because they represent potential resource  reallocation from wife and children to other recipients outside the  present family; so it is not surprising that occasional visits to  prostitutes are tolerated.  Some women even seem to adopt a conscious strategy of permitting commercial sex visits in order to prevent the greater threat posed by non-commercial affairs.  Given the Thai view of male sexuality, which includes the need for variety, some infidelity seems likely if not inevitable.  Permitting visits to prostitutes means this need can be met without risk of serious  resource loss to the family.

Respondent: Some wives believe it's better than taking mistresses.   I hate both, either prostitutes or mistresses.  Some wives are forced to take the idea of husbands taking prostitutes as better. (Case 19 Lopburi urban woman)

Mrs N: I can accept when my husband visits prostitutes but he must protect himself.  It's better to let him go and pay his money than having another woman as a regular partner.  I accept it when he goes out, I told him to pay in return and not to do it for free, because free of charge might cause a constant attachment. That will hurt us if he has someone else and he keeps supporting her.  Let him go out if he wants a change of taste. (Bangkok middle class female group)

Mr B: I got this idea from my wife.  After I got married, she asked me not to have a minor wife but she allowed me to visit prostitutes.  When you visit a prostitute, you pay for her and that’s it.  But if you have a minor wife, you have to keep paying or giving her money.  If my wife doesn't allow me to visit a prostitute, I must have a minor wife.  It's natural for a man to feel bored, so he has to look for something new.  (Bangkok middle class male group)

Frequent patronage of commercial sex, however, is also seen as unacceptable by women (and many men), for it also drains familial resources and heightens the risk of bringing disease to the family.   At the same time, non-commercial sex of any sort, especially serious girl friends and minor wives, is universally regarded as unacceptable by married women.  It is typically when familial resources are in question that wives object most strongly to husbands’ extramarital affairs.

Conclusions

Current views of Thai sexuality are linked with the social construction of gender, which is itself but one component of a broader system of social relations and expectations between men and women in Thai society.  While it is important to recognize that  there is much diversity in views among individuals, there are still  reasonably distinctive patterns that have emerged from the focus- group discussions and individual in-depth interviews with married  men and women. There is a clear consensus among Thais that sex is more important for men than for women and that men by nature have a  need for sex that requires frequent outlet.  Also, in the view of many, men need some variety in sexual partners.  Our informants often stated that men become bored if limited to a monogamous relationship and that a desire for an occasional break from one’s steady partner is a natural inclination for men.  The premarital and extramarital commercial sex patronage by many Thai men is consistent with these general views of both our married male and female informants.  In contrast, women are thought to be far more in control of their sexual desires, which are in any event far less intense than those of men.  There was also no expression of a need for variety as part of female sexuality.  Instead, many women viewed their own sexuality as a means for providing satisfaction for their husbands' needs.

Both men and women, but particularly women, perceived that male sexual satisfaction was a necessary (if not sufficient) element in a successful monogamous union.  The responsibility of a wife to please her husband in sexual relations was seen by some women as part a strategy to accommodate men's stronger sexual needs and thus reduce the risk of husbands seeking alternative outlets that might threaten the security of the marriage.  At the same time, in the discussions of what makes a good spouse, satisfactory sex was generally seen by both men and women as secondary in importance to more general personal compatibility, mutual understanding, and fulfillment of complementary responsibilities as defined by the culturally embedded gender system.

Clearly, married women dislike all forms of male infidelity, but the social construction of male sexuality in Thailand conditions the degree to which women and men view various farms of male extramarital relations as threats to their marriages.  Occasional commercial sex patronage was generally not seen as an act of marital betrayal by either the men or the women, though many of the women were concerned by the threats posed by AIDS and other STDs.  Both men and women also noted that excessive commercial sex patronage could result in financial hardships and marital conflict for the man's family.  These qualifications are essentially pragmatic concerns rather than moralistic or ethical ones.  This is in sharp contrary to prevailing views in most Western societies, where commercial sex patronage by a husband is likely to viewed as a serious breach of marital trust and could be potentially devastating to couples. 

  


 

A new addition to the HEART is our Forum-check it out

The differing social constructions of male and female sexuality also form the basis for a prevalent double standard in Thai society with regard to sexual behaviour.  It is permissible for single men to seek sexual release with prostitutes.  The idea of single women paying for sex is probably unimaginable and the idea simply never arose in  any group discussion or in-depth interview.  Some tolerance exists for a single woman to have sex with her regular male partner, especially if the couple is committed to eventual marriage.  More casual noncommercial sexual relationships are less tolerated but the shame associated with them is mainly directed towards the woman.  Loss of virginity for a woman is seen as detracting from her attractiveness as a potential wife for another suitor, although for many urban men in our study this is a secondary concern.  Virginity for single men is considered an oddity and thus not expected as a characteristic for a future husband.

The double standard is pronounced with respect to marital fidelity.  There is virtually uniform strong condemnation by both men and women of married women who are unfaithful to their husbands unless there are extraordinary mitigating circumstances.   In contrast, men are quite tolerant of occasional extramarital commercial sex outings as long as they are infrequent and discreet.   Also some Thai wives are reluctantly willing to tolerate an occasional visit by their husbands to prostitutes.  This stems from a perception that men need some sexual variety and that in the male quest to fulfill this need, visiting prostitutes can serve as an  alternative to involvement with a non-commercial partner that  might drain emotional and material resources from the current  marriage.

The overall impression provided by our study informants is that children are considered a more central focus of marriage than the sexual and emotional intimacy of the conjugal bond.  Thus it is not surprising that the financial threats posed by husbands' non- commercial sex partners were the most feared aspects of male infidelity for married Thai women.  This is not to argue that affairs between married Thai men and non-commercial partners have no emotional effect on the men's wives or that male infidelity does not engender a sense of emotional betrayal.  Some Thai couples undoubtedly share much emotional intimacy within their marriage.   Moreover, if the husband is indiscreet in either his patronage of prostitutes or affairs with non-commercial partners, the wife will  lose face.  But general expectations that Thai men have ‘natural’ needs for sexual variety temper the degree to which Thai women take these extramarital liaisons as a sign of personal rejection, especially when they only involve occasional relations with prostitutes in the course of male entertainment activities.

Thai patterns of sexual behaviour are currently in flux.  More companionate forms of marriage are probably becoming popular among Western-educated urban elites and eventually may diffuse to the more general population.  More dramatically, the AIDS epidemic is undoubtedly serving to make longstanding patterns of male sexual behaviour more costly and less common.  Future patterns of Thai sexual behaviour and views of gender and sexuality, however, will necessarily be based on those that prevail at present.  Thus gaining an accurate view of current Thai perceptions is an essential step for mapping changes that either are induced by programmatic interventions or come about from less deliberate forces set in motion by the epidemic and the changing socio- economic context in which it is occurring.  As the present study shows, the systematic collection of qualitative data by the use of focus groups and focused in-depth interviews can contribute significantly to the expanding base of knowledge on matters that only a decade ago were almost completely absent from the social science research agenda.

References

Bamber S. D., K. J. Hewison and P. J. Underwood. 1993.  A 

history of sexually transmitted diseases in Thailand: policy and 

politics.  Genitourinary Medicine 69:148-157.

Boonchalaksi, Wathinee and Philip Guest. 1994.  Prostitution in 

Thailand.  Nakhorn Pathom: Institute for Population and Social 

Research, Mahidol University.

Brown, Tim, Werasit Sittitrai, Suphak Vanichseni and Usa 

Thisyakom. 1994.  The recent epidemiology of HIV and AIDS 

in Thailand.  AIDS 8(Supplement 2):S131-S141.

Chayovan, Napaporn. 1989.  Marriage registration among Thai 

women.  Pp. 205-221 in Health and Population Studies Based 

On the 1987 Thailand Demographic and Health Survey.  

Demographic and Health Surveys Further Analysis Series, No. 

1. New York: Population Council and Institute for Resource 

Development.

Deemar Company. 1990.  AIDS Research in Thailand, Vol. 1: 

Computer Tabulations.  Bangkok.

Frankfort-Nachmias, Chava and David Nachmias. 1992.  Research 

Methods in the Social Sciences.

Fourth edition.  New York: St. Martin's Press.

Fordham, Graham. 1995.  The ritual constitution of maleness 

amongst the northern Thai.  Paper presented at Gender and 

Sexuality in Modem Thailand conference, Australian National 

University, I 1 - 12 July.

Havanon, Napapom, Anthony Bennett and John Knodel. 1992.  

Sexual networking in a provincial Thai setting.  AIDS 

Prevention Monograph Series Paper No. 1, Family Health 

International, Bangkok.

Im-Em, Wassana. 1996.  Partner relations and AIDS in Chiang Mai 

villages.  Ph.

 D thesis, Australian National University, Canberra.

 Keyes, Charles. 1986.  Ambiguous gender: male initiation in a 

northern Thai Buddhist society.  In Gender and Religion: On 

the Complexity of Symbols, ed.  C. W. Bynum, S. Harrell and P. 

Richman.  Boston: Beacon Press.

Knodel John. 1993a.  Prostitution in (historical) perspective.  

Bangkok Post 30 

 June.

Knodel, John. 1993b.  The design and analysis of focal group 

studies in social            science research.  Pp. 35-50 in Successful 

Focus Groups: Advancing the State 

     of the Art, ed.  D. Morgan.  Newbury Park: Sage.

Knodel, John and Napaporn Chayovan. 1991.  Coital activity 

among married Thai   women.  Pp. 925945 in The Demographic 

and Health Surveys World         

    Conference, Proceedings, Vol. 2.

London, Andrew, Mark VanLandingham and Nancy Grandjean. 

1995.  

     Homosexual behaviour among nor-them Thai males: measures, 

prevalence and         cofactors.  Paper presented at Annual Meeting 

of the American Sociological    

    Association, Washington DC.

Lyttleton, Chris. 1995.  Changing the rules: shifing bounds of 

adolescent 

    sexuality in rural Isan.  Paper presented at Gender and Sexuality 

in Modem     

    Thailand conference, Australian National University, 11 - 12 

July.

Morgan, David. 1996.  Focus Groups as Qualitative Research, 2nd 

edition.       

    Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Riley, James Nelson. 1972.  Family organization and population 

dynamics in a  

    central 'Mai village. Ph.D. dissertation, University of North 

Carolina.

Rojanapithayakorn, Wiwat and Robert Hanenberg. 1996.  The 

100% Condom   

     Program in Thailand.  AIDS 10: 1-7.

Seidel, John, Susanne Friese and D. Christopher Leonard. 1995.  

The Ethnograph, v4.0: A Users Manual.  Amherst: Qualis 

Research.

Sittitrai,.Werasit, Praphan Phanuphak, Jean Barry and Tim Brown. 

1992.  Thai Sexual Behaviour and the Risk of HIV Infection: A 

Report of the 1990 Survey of Partner Relations and Risk of HIV 

Infection in Thailand.  Bangkok: Program on AIDS, Thai Red 

Cross Society and Institute of Population Studies, 

Chulalongkorn University.

Tangchonlatip, Kanchana. 1995.  Sexual expectations of Thai 

married couples.  

    Paper presented at Gender and Sexuality in Modem Thailand 

conference,   

    Australian National University, 11-12 July. ten Brummelhuis, 

Han. 1993.  Do  

    we need a llai theory of prostitution?  Paper presented at 5th 

Intemational 

    Conference on Tlai Studies, School of Oriental and Asian 

Studies, London, 5-10     July.

Thailand, National Statistical Office.  No date.  Nuptiality of Thai 

Population 1990 Population and Housing Census, Subject 

Report No. 4. Bangkok.

Thongthai, Varachai and Philip Guest. 1995.  Thai sexual attitudes  and behaviour: results from a recent national survey.  Paper  presented at Gender and Sexuality in Modem Thailand  conference, Australian National University, 11-1 2 July. VanLandingham, Mark, Somboon Suprasert, Werasit Sittitrai,  Chayan Vaddhanaphuti and Nancy Grandjean. 1993.  Sexual  activity among never-married men in Northem Thailand.   Demography 30,3:297-313. VanLandingham, Mark, John Knodel, Anthony Pramualratana and  Chanpen Saengtienchai. 1995. Friends, Wives and Extramarital 

Sex in Thailand.  Institute of Population Studies Publication No.  222195.  Bangkok: Institute of Population Studies,  Chulalongkorn University. Wilson, Donald and David Henley. 1994.  Prostitution: facing the  facts.  Sund(Bangkok) Post 25 December.