Breaking it down: The economics of a sex worker in Thailand

The World

Nam doesn't tiptoe around her work. She chose to enter the sex industry in Thailand because it was the best option financially for her and her family and, frankly, because she likes the freedom and flexibility of the job.

She says she has a hope to open a produce market in Chiang Mai. At her current earnings, it would take her four more years of paid sex work to do it. 

I started wondering what made this work so much better financially for her than other work she could do. How much was she making as a sex worker each night? Did she have set rates for her services? And, what exactly were those services in the first place? It seems like an obvious question, but the night photojournalist Josh Meltzer and I spent with Nam at the bar where she works in Chiang Mai, she made her money on kickbacks from drinks a couple of Western tourists bought for her, not from sex. She told us later that she only has sex with customers two or three times a month. 

Obviously, Nam, one of up to 400,000 sex workers in the Southeast Asian nation, doesn’t represent the sex industry in Thailand as a whole. But she does represent a small corner of it. And learning the specifics of her work helped me get a better sense of the economic situation many Thai girls like her are facing. 

This is the latest in a video series we're doing on the sex industry in northern Thailand. Check out our previous videos below.

PART 2: Supporting a family through sex work in Thailand

PART 1: Sex trafficking in Thailand... it's complicated.