Why men suck– a response

A while back I read a piece called “Why men suck (and the women who have to)” in The F Word, Contemporary UK Feminism. The article was written by a woman who had come to Cambodia to teach English and has slowly realized that sex tourists and foreigners supporting the sex industry were not just gross old men, but “in reality, almost all of my male work colleagues were part of ‘the scene’. These men could have been any one of my male friends from England: they were young, intelligent, and, how can I say it? Well, normal. Scary as it sounds, it is a statement that has stuck with me because of the truth I see in it. I have very few male friends here. Let me rephrase. I have two: one of them is 9 and thinks girls have cooties, the other is the only decent guy I have met here (and yes, I am making a blatant judgment about how I feel about western, self proclaimed liberal men, who use the sex trade here). That said, maybe I am being unfair. There must be other men who come here and do not partake; I just don’t know where they are.

On a related note, I find it disturbing how many of the people who work in counter-trafficking and women’s empowerment programs (local and international), visit brothels and take home taxi girls. How do they not see a discrepancy between their work and their own behavior? How do you stop a system, break it down, when you also fund it?

Back to the main thread. There is one other piece/ analogy from the article that has stuck with me:

I soon learnt that the virgin/whore dichotomy is quite literal in Cambodia, with girls staying ‘pure’ until they are married and boys paying for sex from a relatively young age (16 is a rough guess). The fact that men pay for sex is totally accepted and, surprise surprise, it’s not the men who suffer for their actions but the prostitutes, or taxi girls, as they are known. As one friend put it, “sex is like going to the toilet, it’s not pleasant but it’s necessary”: The taxi girls (who come from very poor families and whose pay often contributes to the communal family income) have the unenviable status of a social toilet.

It’s the last part of this—the necessity of sex that strikes me. It’s something that I have heard repeated by male, liberal, western men as an excuse. As if it somehow justifies using another person. And the girls, they ones who take on all the blame, who are humiliated, tortured, tormented, hurt, subjected to disease—in so many ways are the proverbial toilet seat. It makes me sick to think about. It makes me sad.

What are your thoughts?

Some facts about prostitution in Cambodia (citations here):

  • Researchers found 87% of young men were having sex with their girlfriends or prostitutes; 10% were having sex with other males
  • There are 10,000 to 20,000 women and children in prostitution in Phnom Penh, a city of 1 million. Massage parlors and karaoke bars are frequently fronts for prostitution rings.
  • 35% of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18.
  • Many young prostituted boys live on the streets and at night wait for the male buyers who will pay $2 to $5 for sex.
  • Children as young as four have been sold into the sex industry in Cambodia.
  • Minors, some as young as seven, constitute more than 25% of the prostitutes in Cambodia’s sex industry,
  • The local industry for sexually exploited children is exploding for two reasons: Many Khmer — and other Asian men — believe sex with a virgin will renew their vigor and youth, and the fear of contracting HIV is fuelling a demand for younger and younger virgins.
  • A study of more than 6,000 prostituted girls found that one-third of prostitutes in Phnom Penh and Battanbang were between the age of 12 and 17.
  • 40-50% the prostitutes in Cambodian are HIV positive.
  • 60% of the young prostitutes interviewed in Cambodia were infected with everything from sores and warts to gonorrhea.




  1. DAS said,

    July 4, 2007 at 12:08 am

    What happens between two consenting adults really is nobody’s business, obviously. At the same time, it’s incredibly difficult to shake the fact that nearly all adult sex workers were forced into prostitution as minors. An overwhelming majority are rape survivors. Emotionally damaged early, many are compelled down a path of drug abuse and violent relationships, with sex work as their only viable means of survival.

    And trying to formulate a coherent response makes me realize how complex the issues are, and how deeply conflicted I still am on many of them.

  2. Clare said,

    July 4, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Hi DAS,

    Thank you for your comments. I think a lot of these issues are really difficult. After meeting prostitutes in many countries and reading the accounts of many others, I think I personally have come to the conclusion that in the majority of cases “consent” is not a factor. I think that being compelled as a child and the trauma of rape can lead people to feel trapped– as you pointed out. I also think economically there may be little other option for women, or at least little option that they see. Also, culturally, I think that once a woman has been forced into prostitution, they cannot get out because they have lost their virginity and feel spoiled. They can not, (by the why society views them and they way they have learned to view themselves) ever be on the other side of the dichotomy, the good girl again– that life in essence is lost to them. Finally, consent is not often a choice as they can not choose their johns. Most are controlled by a pimp, brothel owner, trafficker etc. These people (mostly men) can be very very violent if the woman tries to refuse a john. Also, they ultimately control the money and the woman’s livelihood.

  3. Heather said,

    July 8, 2007 at 9:03 am

    Hi! You left a comment for me some week(s) back and I am just now getting around to checking you out and answering! I am so sorry for the delay I will be honest and say I forgot. You wanted to know if I went to the link that I was linked to, and yes I did. I just brushed it off because I have no clue how I ended up there.

    As for the prostitution thing. I am sad as well. It saddens me that there is so much lost on the act of sex itself. Disrespect for a woman and her own body. Low self-esteem for her and her soul. I have little knowledge of how things work in other parts of the world but we were given a gift and it works the same all over the world. Then to be raised without the encouragement to enjoy and embrace it like a rare gem is very sad. I think that sex is so overrated in our times, and probably through history, it shouldn’t be abused. I could go on and on but I just wanted to say, it does sadden me as well.

    I am going to add you to my list of reading. I am very interested in all you have to say!

  4. Clare said,

    July 9, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Hi Heather,

    Thanks for the comment. I am glad you like the blog– you found it just a few days before I have a BIG move to the new blog, new job, new country– although the topics and material will be very similar.

    I am sure I ended up at the link because of my posting about porn. It is amazing how many people find my site and come here because they are searching for prostitutes, children, cheap, cambodia and such. Needless to say, I take comfort in the fact that they will only be disappointed.

    Thanks for stopping by and feel free to comment. I love comments. And I try to answer questions that people have (assuming they are legitimate questions).

  5. Philip Clifford said,

    July 22, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    Your observations are interesting.

    The only way to fight this is to try to help then as much as possible and one receives little help from the men or the Govrnment.

    Good luck with your degree.

  6. Clare said,

    July 27, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Thanks Philip! Got the degree and working on the job now.

  7. Jack said,

    October 25, 2007 at 4:43 am

    First off, much of the information you have written here is misleading, taken out of context, or completely false. Most of your ‘facts’ are over ten years old, and don’t say much about a changing country. Also, what you said about prostitution not being a choice, and most women in Cambodia are forced into it (either physically of economically) , is not true at all. They (at least the vast majority) aren’t forced, they do it because they make 50 times more than if they sold books or picked rice.

    What really bothers me, though, is that you talk about men having consensual sex with adult prostitutes, then without pause, you list a bunch of outdated facts about child prostitution and human trafficking, as if the former has anything to do with the latter.

    The reality is you don’t like the idea that women are socially marginalized in Cambodia, so you blame prostitution. But legitimate prostitution doesn’t sound bad enough, so you try to demonize it using a bunch of B.S. facts about underground prostitution.

    You would have the exact same problem if you were in Eastern Europe (that is to say, men running around acting like pigs and giving no attention to you). But in Eastern Europe you wouldn’t be able to blame prostitution, since there isn’t much to speak of.

    You need to stop being so close minded, and realize that the ‘women are princesses’ mindset is something that only exists in first world countries like the U.S., Canada, UK etc. I’m sure you think that men and women are treated equally in the U.S. But on a social level, no, it’s the same as Southeast Asia except reversed; many men are the ones who are socially ostracized.

    Once again, you need to stop and think about how narrow minded you’re being, and realize that the rules, both moral and social, of the country that you originate from, are not hard and fast for the rest of the world. Just because YOU have an idea of how things should work, that doesn’t mean it’s right, and it certainly doesn’t mean anyone else on the planet agrees with you.

  8. Clare said,

    October 25, 2007 at 5:03 am

    Hi Jack.

    I agree that some of the stats used are old. Admittedly, it was lazy on my part not to look up newer ones. On the other hand, they still are true. The country has not changed a lot. Given that I work with women, adolescents and children who have been forced into prostitution here, in Thailand and Vietnam, I actually do know what I am talking about. Can women make more money as prostitutes than selling rice? Possibly. Will they get to keep that money or actually see it go to their families? Unlikely.

    I am sorry that I have offended you, I assume in your frequenting of such establishments, as you seem to assume that I do it for lack of having a parter and am writing from a place of sexual frustration. I can assure you that this is not the issue. I am, however, a feminist who sees issues with the commodifying of women’ bodies and lives.

    Should prostitution be a choice? That is debatable– admittedly, it is highly debated. If you would like to read more of my thoughts on the matter, please feel free to read the five part series written on it here. (Also good conversation my both pro-legalization people and a ton of links)


    Finally, I would like to point out that there is a high correlation between child and adult prostitution in Cambodia as the majority of adult prostitutes started out as trafficked children.

  9. joe said,

    November 21, 2007 at 5:38 am

    Prostitution is an issue that reflects the reality of capitalist society, often revealing very dark attitudes about the value of people especially the most vulnerable. All relationships are about power and control, in the case of prostitution the poor women have no power and control, socially and economically. Very often the women come from poor families, their life opportunities are very poor, and prostitution is merely a means to survive. Prostitution has been around for centuries across all countries and will never go away, the only hope is to legalise it and run it by the state. The women would be offered education opportunities, financial support and counselling to help them escape. It is not a case that men exploit women, only that some men exploit women, as a socialist I do not believe in feminism or patriarchy but rather see that under capitalism working men and women are oppressed. You will find the most oppressed are the week and vulnerable prostitutes etc.

  10. China Mike said,

    October 25, 2008 at 9:03 am

    Recently saw an article/video, put out by an Arab news group (Al Jazeera I think), and how they found out that it ISN’T the foreign “devils” coming over and exploiting the underage girls, it’s the locals! Yep, 70+% of the clients are the Cambo men themselves.

    Same in China. All the Chinese want to blame the west on their ills: AIDS, rampant drugs, prostitution, yet when you go to the nightclubs, their full of married Chinese men, avoiding home life, and ask the Nigerians who they sell the most drugs to, it’s their good Chinese clients, same goes for the hookers.

    Would really like to see all these Asian countries stop blaming the foreign devils, and start looking in the mirror to see the real culprits of crime.

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