Massage parlors in Thailand, as well as in other parts of the world, such as the United States, have often served as legitimate fronts for prostitution, advertising sexual services as “massage therapy.” Prostitution is illegal in Thailand, but its de facto legal-political status is controversial, since many politicians, businessmen, and other people of influence openly support the practice.
Two particularly important pieces of legislation in the government’s attempt to regulate the sex industry have the Entertainment Places Act of 1966, and the Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act of 1996, which–while refraining from legalizing prostitution–allowed, in practice, for massage parlors to operate as disguised brothels, and ensured that the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, and abuse related to prostitution, would be reduced.
Although Thailand is widely known as a popular destination for sex tourism due to its widespread prostitution, most prostitution in Thailand–and especially sex services offered through massage parlors–actually cater to local people rather than foreigners. For tourists, there are escort services and special bars and nightclubs that serve as venues for the practice.
There are many advocates and practitioners of traditional Thai massage, a 2500-year-old Ayurvedic healing technique, who lament the spread of erotic massage parlors in Thailand that are connected with the sex industry and offer sexual services to their clients. Generally speaking, traditional Thai massage has nothing to do with the erotic massage that is linked to prostitution. (To find out more about the traditional practice of non-sexual Thai massage, check out the “Thai Massage” tab above.)