We met her at one among the quieter bars in Hua Hin, the closest beach city to Bangkok, where women of varied ages hung around pool tables in miniskirts and spiky heels, expecting their next client to settle on them. it had been Valentine’s Day.
With long, black, shiny hair and dark skin, Dao was older and friendlier than the opposite women. She was the sole one who smiled at me, an American woman out of her element. Like my husband, who stood beside me, every other patron was male.
I ordered a Singha beer and took quick sips, hoping for a buzz to calm my shaky hands. That’s when she approached us.
“Do you would like to play?” she asked.
My introduction to sex work as a customer started with strippers once I was in my twenties. Tipsy off dirty martinis, I’d whisper to my boyfriend at the time to hurry up and buy our drinks, so we could head to the closest strip club before I changed my mind. If he didn’t know where one was, that was no problem. I might have already done my research and presumably chosen our present bar or restaurant, supported its proximity to measure nude girls. While there, giddy and mesmerized by the parade of naked flesh, I’d hope everyone around me noticed what a cool and open-minded chick i used to be to bring my boyfriend here. This was my gift to him. Secretly, it had been a present to myself. Once inside, I’d hope my male chaperone would find some excuse to go away to me there alone, so I could muster the courage to buy a lap dance or, at the very least, flirt.
Like strip clubs, pornography was a daily companion to my relationships. I’d started watching once I was 12 years old, and grown hooked in to the fast and effective stream of endless novelty and titillation. No new boyfriend ever appeared to mind my casual suggestion to supplement our sex life. And, a bit like strip clubs, I always managed to convince him that i used to be bestowing a present. It made me feel powerful.
“If I’d already been ashamed about the pull these places had on me, I now felt an entire other layer of not being welcome.”
Flash-forward a decade and my husband and that i were living in Bangkok, taking advantage of its low cost of living. Suddenly, everywhere appeared to be in close proximity to measure nude girls. Known for its lively street vendors (which sell everything from dildos and Viagra to fresh coconuts and fried fish), its sacred shrines to Ganesha, its massage parlors, and endless bars, Bangkok can sometimes be an excessive amount of for the senses. I gravitated toward places like Nana Plaza or Soi Cowboy, the city’s infamous red-light districts— sometimes with my husband, but more often I used to be alone, when he was busy working gigs as a jazzman .
Without even entering salacious-looking nightclubs or so-called massage parlors, I could feast on the mere sight of those women spilling out of the bars and keep myself entertained for days on the fantasies they inspired. Sometimes they held signs over their heads advertising free head with a drink purchase. Other times they discreetly whispered to passersby about mythic Ping-Pong shows.
But they never whispered to me. i used to be just a lady walking down the incorrect street. They couldn’t see my hunger, or if they did, they wouldn’t have believed it. If I’d already been feeling shame about the pull these places had on me, I now felt an entire other layer for not being welcome, regardless of what proportion money was in my bank account .
The few times I did enter, I usually only had enough courage to scan price sheets or looked at the ladies as they waited behind glass like lobsters during a tank, before heading back out. Once, I asked the madam if any of the ladies took female clients, and during a room of quite 20, only two stood up. But their confused faces were as intimidating as my desire to explore further.
Although I identify as bisexual, my sexual experience with other women was extremely limited. Growing up during a Mexican American, Catholic family, you were either straight or gay—and it had been better to be straight. I quickly learned to shove my attraction to women to the farthest reaches of my brain. But beyond my unexplored sexuality, there was a desire for the direct transactional nature of the client-prostitute relationship—the straightforwardness of it, the power to invite just what I wanted without judgment, the sensation of being on top of things . Am i actually the sole woman who has felt this way?
Not exactly. Female sex tourism may be a growing trend in places like Gambia, the Caribbean, and therefore the Dominican Republic . In these cases, paying customers are typically middle-aged European women trying to find a vacation fling with a young, local man, often mentioned as a “beach boy” or “bumster.” Acting as romantic partner and guide , the lads are treated with gifts and money in exchange for his or her time and repair . during a 2013 Daily Mail article on the trend, gigolos explained that there was “little shame or stigma” in selling sex to older, white female tourists, and a few of them claimed earning money this manner affirmed their masculinity. What’s less talked about is female sex tourism where both the customer and sex worker are women.
On our Valentine’s Day getaway to the beach, I felt freed from the inhibitions that sometimes kept me from taking anything too far with women like Dao. Maybe it had been the alcohol making me feel more hospitable an experience like this. Maybe it had been her openness. or even it had been openness that I found in my relationship with my husband, which I’d never felt in any previous relationship. Since our youth , he’d been the type of hyper-observant partner who’d always noticed once I was holding back and encouraged me to urge vulnerable instead. He was nonjudgmental of my past, unthreatened by my attraction to women, and supportive of my desire to explore. He made me desire it had been okay to be myself, albeit i used to be still trying to work out what that meant—sexually and otherwise. just one occasion had we brought a woman home with us the last time we were in Thailand, years ago. But the girl had seemed disinterested, therefore the experience was but positive and I’d been itching to rewrite it. Here was my chance.
“With her hand on my knee, I felt like we were just girlfriends on vacation.”
Dao handed me a cue and combed her long, black, shiny hair together with her fingers as she nodded toward the empty billiard table .
“Do you would like to play?”
“No thanks,” I said, and invited her to drink with us instead.
Sitting so on the brink of me that I could smell the sweat and copra oil on her skin, Dao told us about her life. She got into the business after leaving her husband, the daddy of her three children. All of them lived in another city, and she or he sent a refund to them. Her husband hadn’t been kind to her, not nearly as kind as most of her clients, whom she spoke of fondly.
My husband leaned over and whispered, “Girls in these places all tell an equivalent sad stories.”
I shot him a unclean look. How would he know?
With her hand now on my knee, it almost felt like we were just girlfriends on vacation. She seemed genuinely curious about me and wanting to open up to me, and I’d always craved this type of attention from a lady , but somehow, during this moment, I just wanted to urge right down to business.
“So, Dao,” I started, unsure of the way to phrase an issue I’d never asked before. “How much is it for an hour?”
To my surprise, she didn’t tease me or shy away . She moved her hand to my thigh and asked if I wanted a “long time” or “short time,” and that i deliberated as she told me the worth for every . My mind raced with fantasies of how the night could go. A musty room, our bodies during a mess of damp sheets, the pleasure.
I felt a rush of power suddenly course though me. Whether I made a decision to pay the worth or not, I somehow already felt satisfied. Her face on the brink of mine, I could almost taste her, and that I wanted to understand what it might desire to take a seat together with her alone, like I so often wished in those strip clubs way back. To strap her to the rear of my motorbike, the one my husband drove because I used to be too scared, and whisk her away, a bit like numerous of the white men I envied everywhere in the city—their pretty girlfriends hanging tight to their waists, their masculinity blaring, their egos stoked. This was the fantasy I used to be wanting to buy, and somehow I didn’t feel so bad about it anymore. My money was even as good. My desire was even as valid.
Suddenly, it appeared like there was just the 2 folks during this bar. So what if I didn’t skills to drive a motorbike? Maybe she did. We could go anywhere.
Erica Garza may be a writer in l. a. , where she lives together with her husband and daughter. Her first book, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, is out now from Simon & Schuster.
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