Academic calls for freer sex rules in Thai jails

THAILAND - Sex among prison inmates is controlled in Thailand under strict regulations, but inevitably there is involvement between individuals and the issue needs to be dealt with more seriously, a recent Bangkok seminar on the subject was told.

It heard, for example, how prisons in some foreign countries allow well-behaved detainees annual private times with their partners.

The event discussed research by a Mahidol University lecturer entitled "Sex in Prison", which gives jaw-dropping but realistic details of how Thai prisoners deal with their natural impulses during lengthy jail terms. The subject is so taboo in Thailand that there have been only four research papers and a book on the subject since 2000, when the first paper was completed.

The five papers, including "Sex in Prison", reveal that sex among inmates does occur "technically illegally" behind prison walls, in Bangkok and other unspecified provinces, both in men's and women's facilities, although it is not allowed "by the book". Many inmates, of both sexes, are not homosexual but made to perform passive roles with same-sex partners, said the research, made public to the seminar by Assoc Prof Siriwan Kraisurapong.

Male heterosexual inmates date openly gay men, or make men of their choice their "wives", while female heterosexual inmates perform a masculine role and date female partners. Such gay female inmates are called "men", not the generic title of "tomboys" used in the outside world. Masculine homosexuals of both sexes retain their regular roles in the prisons, and inmates in all types of relationship engage in love triangles or jealous rage like people outside, the research said.

Sex activities practised are oral sex in males and females and sodomy in males. Sexual acts are returned with an exchange of money, items, protection and simply gratification. Sex in prison is used as an emotional tool to cope with natural demands and allow inmates to pride themselves on "personal freedom from house rules", the research said.

There are modifications, including enlargement and beautification of sex organs mostly among male inmates, and traditional body tattoos. Objects made from plastic or soda bottles are commonly adapted - in the belief they increase sexual arousal in women.

Thailand and its correctional authorities have no policies for allowing inmates to have sex or any activity openly to release their urges, which may result in violent fights stemming from attempted rape and resistance from the unwilling, or the spread of Aids and venereal diseases through secret unprotected sex, the research said.

Sex in prison can be adopted positively to help prisoners cope with their impulses through good management, and consent of participating partners. "The chance should be open [for sex in prisons in Thailand]," said Siriwan.

The research cites permission granted for sex in prison in unspecified countries and condoms being made available for inmates. Well-behaved inmates of both sexes in prisons in certain foreign countries are granted two days a year to meet with their spouses or partners in private, or inmate partners can have their private times together.

"Sex is human nature, but in Thailand prisoners are deemed to deserve to be restricted totally from everything. Think about an inmate serving a 20-year term with total absence of sex - this means his/her basic rights will be lost throughout," said Siriwan.