Once A Bar Girl, Always A Bar Girl?

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If you’ve lived in Thailand long enough, the story of the foreign older man having his heart broken by a beautiful young bar girl is almost cliche. In the investigations business, I have personally witnessed many such cases. Setting aside any responsibility for wrongdoing on the part of the men in these cases, or why so many men desire to inject themselves into such a situation, a common thread in many of these scenarios is when the beautiful young bar girl continues to work in the sex industry after being given a more comfortable life by the soon-to-be heartbroken man. Is this true in all cases? Even if it’s not, why is it so common? Can a leopard change their spots? Is it true that “once a bar girl, always a bar girl?”

First things first, why do women choose this industry in the first place? As always in this misguided world, the answer is complicated; however, it can usually initially be attributed to crushing poverty. Thailand is a very stratified nation, in which the rich are extremely wealthy, and the poor are next to destitute. Sure, Thailand is more developed than most other Southeast Asian nations, and the average Thai wage is similarly somewhat higher than other countries in the area, but most regions outside of Bangkok are still poverty-stricken. This is especially so in the Northeastern portion of the country, known as Isaan. If you were to casually conduct a poll of girls in the sex industry, I can say with a high degree of confidence that the majority would tell you they were from Isaan. 

Furthermore, one difference between Asian and Western culture is the idea of filial duty. In Asia, children are socially expected to take care of their parents once they are adults. Isaan is no exception. It is not an easy task to take care of one’s parents, and to also raise oneself out of poverty. For many, backbreaking labor farming rice for dismal wages is not an option. With a bit of luck, if your parents could afford to send you to public school, and you managed to do well, you could make a bit more money in an industrial or commercial job. Most jobs in these impoverished areas pay 9,000 – 12,000 Thai Baht a month or less though. Success will be elusive either way, and your work barely provides sustenance. Why slowly kill yourself for that money, when you can make it in one day? You can send money back home to Mom and Dad, and party while you do it. They will probably be willing to turn a blind eye to your chosen profession, as social stigmas towards sex work are not quite as sharp here as they can be in the West. Seems like an easy choice, right? 

Even if this type of living is not the first choice, once past the initial shyness, a girl can find things to enjoy about this work. As stated, compared to other available professions, sex work can be lucrative. Standard “overnight” price in Bangkok is usually between 5,000 and 8,000 Thai Baht. That’s more than the federal minimum wage in the USA, and definitely more than the Thai minimum wage of 300 Thai Baht per day. If you can get that even five times in a month, you’ve already earned twice what most other people earn back home. This doesn’t even include tips you can make if you work dancing in the infamous Soi Cowboy or Patpong. There are many credible stories of girls who work this trade building schools in their villages, and homes for their parents. Another benefit is freedom. While that might not be a word you associate with the sex industry, in Thailand, (voluntary) sex work is actually relatively fair. Most sex work in Thailand does not include absuive pimps or excessively exploitative mama-sans. You can quit when you want, the rules and fees are up front in most establishments, and you can always go freelance. You’re not tied into a contract, and you can switch employers easily. In fact, in most establishments where sex can be purchased, even having sex with clients is optional. You can make money from getting your client to purchase drinks, or paying the house to take you out to party elsewhere. Any extra services are negotiated separately. If she doesn’t want to, a girl can forgo the easy extra money and go home alone. 

Which, dear reader, brings us to the third main reason: Excitement. Fast living. Wild and glamorous nights. The feeling of being desired on the regular can be intoxicating and addictive. Once used to it, flirting for a living can be fun and validating. You get used to feeling charming, and If you’ve been in the industry long enough, your friendships and social sphere revolves around these kinds of experiences. After such a life, settling down can feel like a huge drag, even if you thought it was what you wanted. Of the three given reasons, this may be the one most relevant to why many bargirls return to the industry, or find themselves seeking extra-marital romantic entanglements. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s important for any man entering a situation such as this to be brutally honest with themselves. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs places physical and security needs over needs of love and fulfillment. A woman who was forced into such a trade due to those needs will often be an expert at navigating mens’ egos and emotions out of necessity, and may also not feel in a position to return significant romantic feelings. Furthermore, financial allowance alone is not always enough to keep the heart of a beautiful younger woman, no matter how dependent she is. If she’s young, she has options. Does this mean that such a woman is incapable of being faithful? Of course not, but it will be an uphill battle. Any man entering this type of relationship will need to be cognisant of that up front, and weigh things realistically. To do otherwise is setting oneself up for failure.