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Massage Plus Plus: Indonesia, Happy Endings, and Child Sex Tourism

Michelle Kaufman’s second travel stop for the sake of relationship science was in Indonesia—Jakarta and Bali. This time she talked to many businessmen, expatriates, and local Indonesians about their experiences with sexual pleasure and transactions.

If there was one word I would use to describe sex in Indonesia based on my few weeks there, it would be “massage.” Massage is everywhere you turn in Jakarta and Bali. You can get a head massage, a foot massage, a traditional Java or Balinese massage, and, of course, a massage with a happy ending, or what Indonesians call “massage plus plus”.1 (Makes us wonder what that + in “Google+” is all about.) And every man I talked to about living or working in Indonesia said the same thing: try a massage.  Curiously though, I don’t hear many American men living in the US singing the praises of a good deep muscle massage…

Massage is a practice of healing, no doubt. You can get a legitimate, blissful hour of being walked on, poked, and soothed for as little as $10 USD in Indonesia. But for some businessmen traveling through, the massage seems to be an avenue for a little sexual release in addition to an hour of healing. One French man living and working in Jakarta told me of a woman who comes to his flat on a weekly basis. When I asked if it was a traditional massage or something a little extra, he simply gave me a sly smile and said, “You can have whatever you like.”

An American man I spoke with has been married for more than two decades but claimed that he has not had sex with his wife in two years. He is in Jakarta on business on a regular basis and told me that he often hires massage therapists/sex workers in order to get some relief because it does not carry the risk of an emotional attachment—it is simply a transaction. Essentially, he hires a girlfriend for an evening and is back to work the next morning. Finding these companions is not at all difficult. I picked up the English newspaper one morning and found several ads for women looking for new clients:

Ababaeil Miss Modella: Spcl Full Body Mssg. High class 4 expat! Good svc n

enjoy ur self to htl, apt, hse. JULIA (24hrs).

Absolute Delights Special: Massage for expats. Delight fully talented females

come to your place! Want the finest? Call Cindy.

Acquiessence Special Massage for EXPATS: Your wish is our command!

Magnificently talented females to you fast! Call Porscha (24 hours).

The hotel in which I was staying in Jakarta is swarming with business travelers from the oil industry, airlines, and Fortune 500 companies. Men from Singapore, China, the US, Australia, and England fill the multiple restaurants, the lobby in the morning, and the bars and nightclubs at night. For every woman there are at least 10 men. After dark you start to see petite Indonesian women in tight clothes and high heels appearing, reapplying lipstick and giggling into these guy’s shoulders. The next morning I often see the women riding the elevators back to the lobby in similar outfits, adjusting their dresses and hair in the elevator’s mirrored walls. And on weekends these unlikely couples are at the executive lounge having breakfast or playfully splashing each other at the pool.

But when you talk with Indonesians about these relationships, many just say these young women are clever entrepreneurs. While in Bali, a huge tourist destination for Australians and Brits, I sat with a female shop owner.  She explained that these women often have multiple boyfriends all over the world who send them money and gifts and take them out for a good time when they are in town—all in exchange for sex, of course. When I told her of the much older white men I observed fondling young Indonesian girls at a local pub the night before, she just shook her head and laughed. When the girls are underage, this is a problem in her eyes. Indonesia, particularly Bali, has become a destination for foreigners wanting to engage in child-sex tourism. This is because of the dire socioeconomic factors in the country that make children vulnerable.2 But according to the shop owner, many families take pride in their daughters (and sometimes sons) being taken out by older, wealthy, foreign men.

Are all businessmen who like massage also getting something extra? Of course not. A majority are probably there strictly for business. But traveling has been shown to be linked to sexual risk behavior for some, 3, 4, 5 as travel allows people a little more freedom to pursue things they might not normally do when in their own countries. Interestingly, while Indonesia has a strict law banning pornographic material (including images, gestures, or talk),6 sex tourism and “plus plus massage” seem to be all the rage. 

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1Thee, M. (2010, March 2). The men behind Indonesia’s ‘massage parlors. http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/home/the-men-behind-indonesias-massage-parlors/361542

3Apostolopoulos, Y., Sonmez, S., & Yu, C. H. (2002). HIV-risk behaviours of American spring break vacationers: A case of situational disinhibition? International Journal of STD & AIDS , 13, 733–743.

4Matteeli, A., & Carosi, G. (2001). Sexually transmitted diseases in travelers. Clinical Infectious Disease, 32, 1063–1067.

5Mulhall, B. P. (1996). Sex and travel: Studies of sexual behaviour, disease and health promotion in international travelers—A global review. International Journal of STD/AIDS, 7, 455–465.

6Indonesia passes anti-porn bill. (2008, October 30). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7700150.stm 

Dr. Michelle Kaufman - Science of Relationships articles
Michelle conducts research on sexual health and how power in heterosexual relationships influences sexual risk and family planning. She has conducted research in South Africa, Nepal, Tanzania, and Indonesia, and teaches a course on Qualitative Research Methods at Jimma University in Ethiopia.

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