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Sex Tourism and the ‘Asian Experience’

By Linda Atkins - posted Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A dialogue I have recently had with a long-term resident of Manila, now married and with children, recalling his early days in the Philippines: “Why do men of all ages flock to the bars of the Philippines and ‘buy out’ a young and beautiful girl when, in these days, brothels are available in every country? The answer lies in the girls themselves. In a Western brothel you are left in no doubt that you are engaging the services of a professional sex worker – a prostitute. Everything is professionally carried out. The service you require, the payment in advance, the penile inspection, then the impersonal act, and piss off. Next!

The Filipina bargirl has a totally different view. Once she has agreed to go with you, money is never discussed with her. The mamasan of the bar will have informed you how much you are expected to pay, and generally this will be higher than the girl herself expects to receive. The girl herself could win an Oscar for her performance from the moment you leave the bar. She will act as though you are her regular boyfriend, with whom she is in love. If you decide not to go straight back to your hotel room but party on a little, she will prove fun to be with, and openly flirt with you. When you do get back to your room, she will be playful and loving and only get upset with you if you offer her money directly. She won’t refuse it, of course, but you are then paying her for sex, and this upsets her image of herself. She is not a prostitute, but your girlfriend. During the time together, she will have regaled you with stories of her life, mostly total lies. The only time you will come anywhere near the truth from a Filipina bargirl is when she cannot think of a lie fast enough, but it is fun. The best thing though, for the man, is that even though she is to receive money for having sex with him, she has the attitude that she had just as well get as much pleasure as she can as well. So the sex is good – very good.

The problem is, that not being used to being treated in this manner, virtually all foreigners will fall in love, and this is dangerous. Many commit to sending money on a regular basis in the belief that the girl is going back to college, or to help keep her baby, or even to keep her out of the bar and having to have sex with strange men. They hope that she will remain faithful until next year’s annual holiday, when he definitely will be back. Ho, ho, ho. Even if she accompanies him to the airport and with much crying kisses him goodbye, the fact is the minute his back disappears into the airport, she is in a cab back to the bar trying to find another customer as soon as possible. Yes, she has taken money, but what has she given? A great deal more than sexual satisfaction. On every flight leaving Manila or Cebu, many seats will hold a man with his head back against the headrest, a small smile on his face just recalling the happiness he has felt by being with her. Those memories will last a whole year because the customer has been made to believe that she sleeps with him because she genuinely likes him very much, not just for the money. The man now feels that no matter his age or looks, he can still be attractive to beautiful women”.


There were a couple of points I guess I wanted to raise in the interests of dialogue. The first is that, as you say, bargirls lie to you and to themselves. They lie to you probably because of the intimate nature of the job. In my experience, everyone needs some privacy in some way, and the true life and feelings of a bargirl therefore are clearly off limits to the average punter. That being so, I am not sure that you ever really get to know any of the girls. They may have opened up to you more than to any other foreigner, but still you are unlikely to have got much truth, as you yourself acknowledge. That makes it difficult to understand the girls, who are presenting a 'face' to you, tailored to meet your needs. I suspect that the better you are as a client, the more likely you are to not be told the truth. After all, what advantage is there to a bargirl in telling you of her needs and fears? You are paying for pleasure and fun. Charm is a part of the job.

There are numerous studies that attest to this fact: If you want the truth, you have to not be engaged in a financial relationship with a prostitute. Otherwise, as you suggest, it’s a buyer's market.

The second point is that, while I agree with you that the Asian mentality in relationships between men and women is very different, and possibly we Western women could learn a little from our Asian counterparts, there is clearly an unpleasant power relationship going on here. The Western prostitute handing over a sex act rather than a ‘relationship’ is in some ways being more honest than the prostitute in Manila. The nature and duration of the transaction is clear to both parties, and that is a dignified, shame free experience.

The Western prostitute is not ashamed of selling sex: so there is no need to dress it up as something else. She doesn’t need to pretend she is your girlfriend (although you can pay for a girlfriend experience), because she isn't. And those bar girls weren't your girlfriends, either. They pretended to be because, in a strictly Catholic country like the Philippines, a girl who is a prostitute is ruined, unfit for marriage, and considered shameful. Pretending that there is no money involved makes her feel less ashamed, in a country where she would be considered a disgrace. That, I suspect, is the reason for not saving for the future: What future does she have to save for? She can’t go back to the provinces and get married, the time span in which she can work is limited, and when she is too old, there is no futurefor her. I mean, what actually happens to old bargirls?

The image or perception of the snaky, charming but cheating Asian bar princess is an old one, covered extensively in literature and film, and bought into by many Europeans, often in an attempt to justify behavior which would not be acceptable at home. So, while it is interesting that the girls clearly opened up about their lives to some extent with you, and this may have given you some partial insight, it would still be dangerous to generalise from your own limited experience.

You have to remember that not all who go to Asia for sex are nice but sex-deprived fellows. A goodly proportion will have desires that are difficult to fulfill in the West, violence, rough anal, no condoms, very young girls (and boys). Others are too old, too fat, too stupid, or too ugly to get laid in the West. Bargirls have to be just as nice to these customers. And, moreover, there is little or no institutional protection in the Philippines from violence, humiliation and degradation.


Because you are fundamentally a decent fellow, you assume that all men are the same. I can assure you that a good proportion of Westernsex touristsboth like and get off on the power relationships that you felt uncomfortable with. They can also get away with things that would be punished severely in any Western country.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous positions we in the West can take in relation to Asian bargirls is that they are ‘different’ to us, that they like their work, that hospitality and charm are reflective of their true feelings. In countries with no social welfare, we should not confuse a smiling face with a suggestion of free choice.

In Sydney, there is a slow burn going on about brothels specialising in Asian women, promising the 'Asian' experience. Quite a number of the women are trafficked, and some are very young. The stories which have surfaced from these brothels have shown that the average Sydney guy who wants an 'Asian' experience is after an experience with a submissive woman who will do what he says, meekly, and make him feel a hundred feet tall afterwards. He wants to feel powerful in relationship to a woman, and from that power flows sex.

Sex and power have always been linked, and power can be very sexy, both to the more and less powerful participant, but what is going on here is more related to these men feeling powerful by dominating, rather than just by purchasing sex. That is unpleasant, and can be very degrading to the woman. At least Western prostitutes set limits, and start from an equal perspective. 'Asian experience' prostitutes consistently tell of not being allowed to say no, even to humiliating and painful sex acts, also including sex without condoms, which is clearly unsafe. Where do you think those men go if they can't have their 'Asian experience' in Sydney?

While I acknowledge your insights into the lives and feelings of bar girls, forgive me if I decide, on balance, to give the ‘Asian’ experience a miss. 

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About the Author

Linda Atkins is a specialist medical practitioner working in reproductive health. She is interested in social medicine and the effects of media on modern life. While winning several awards for writing in her teenage years, she has recently returned to writing with a primary interest in small, non-fiction works because they fit into a full time specialist career and the demands of three children.

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