A Study into the Seldom-Discussed Realm, “the other side of sex tourism”
I first traveled abroad nearly two decades ago (wow, how time flies!!). Back then, I spent over a year exploring and experiencing the wonders of Southeast Asia. The vast majority of my time was spent in Thailand, because I lived there as an exchange student in a Thai university.
As someone who was raised a sheltered American and did virtually no research prior to my trip, I was woefully unprepared for what I encountered throughout Southeast Asia and especially Thailand. I found many of the unexpected sights simply flabbergasting. Among them was the incredible abundance of sex tourists. Just about everywhere I visited, even so-called “off the beaten path” spots, I’d be almost guaranteed to encounter a sex tourist ‘couple’, usually an older Western man with his decades-younger local ‘girlfriend’.
Behold, the universal stereotype of the sex tourist: Western men (usually some combination of elderly, unattractive, overweight, or awkward) who travel to poor countries to either pay for prostitutes, or ‘attract’ a needy local girl looking for a sugar daddy.
Males hold a near monopoly on the sex tourist industry and have rightfully earned this unsavory reputation. However, there are always exceptions. Today I’d like to discuss the other side of the spectrum: females who travel abroad primarily for one thing: sex with underprivileged locals in developing countries.
My First Encounter With a Female Sex Tourist
My friend Sam and I, returning from a visa run to Myanmar, had just settled into a rustic bungalow in the town of Ranong, Thailand. We were enjoying an early afternoon beer out on the porch when our neighbors showed up: A masculine Caucasian woman, clearly a butch lesbian, along with her partner, an attractive young Thai beauty. As the pair ascended the steps towards their bungalow, the Western lesbian glanced over and gave us a knowing smirk. Sam and I, in disbelief, exchanged curious glances but withheld comments for the moment.
Awhile later, as young men often do, we went out looking for local girls ourselves (of the non-prostitute variety). Sadly for us, our expedition proved unsuccessful. Eventually we called it a night and returned to our bungalow, where we were kept awake long into the night by the unmistakable sounds of loud love-making coming from the lesbian ‘couple’ in the next hut over. Each time the Thai babe loudly moaned with pleasure, or whenever their bed began creaking rhythmically, Sam and I cringed.
Neither of us were homophobic; on the contrary, we actually developed a fledgling respect for the Female Sex Tourist. If Western men were going to invade the region and exploit local women, why couldn’t Western women follow suit? I wondered if she’d paid for her companion straight up, or if it was more a sugar-daddy (mommy?)-type arrangement. I’ll never know for sure.
What Makes a Female Sex Tourist?
My tale of the lesbians in Thailand aside, most female sex tourists are actually heterosexuals in search of male companions. According to Wikipedia, there are three primary types of female sex tourists:
- Traditional Sex Tourists: These women basically are the counterparts of male sex tourists commonly found throughout Southeast Asia: their primary objective of traveling is to visit a poor country where they can take advantage of cheap prostitution.
- Situational Sex Tourists: Women traveling for the usual reasons (work, leisure, experience) who aren’t planning on paying for a male prostitute, but are exposed to them in one way or another (either propositioned directly, seduced somehow, or simply engulfed within the culture) and eventually decide, “Ey, what the hell? I’m on holiday!” and subsequently indulge.
- Romance Tourism: Women who travel to poor countries not necessarily to pay for sex with a prostitute, but to find a mate which breaks the traditional conventions of their home cultures, and hopefully ‘fall in love’ with an exotic partner.
It’s worth noting that male sex tourists can be placed into the same categories. I’ve met many fellow travelers who’d never pay for a prostitute straight up, but would always be down to hook up with a needy local if the situation presented itself.
Southeast Asia is full of Western men who have married local women. Some of these relationships were spawned in the comforts of a brothel, while other couples met over dating websites or more traditional (and less sketchy) methods.
VERDICT: Using the above categories, how would I rank the lesbian sex tourist in Thailand? I can’t be sure, but she probably fell into the Traditional Sex Tourist category.
Female Sex Tourist Hot Spots
When you’re in Southeast Asia, particularly sex tourist hot spots like Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Cebu City, or Bali, you’ll see no shortage of male sex tourists. But where are the primary centers of female sex tourism?
Central America and the Caribbean
Along the touristy coasts bordering the Caribbean Sea, from the islands to the Central American mainland, roam young local men. Usually quite buff and well-toned, these youngsters spend their days strolling along the beach and selling refreshments and cheap souvenirs to tourists.
However, many of them have a thinly-veiled side job: If they spot an unencumbered Western woman lying alone beneath an umbrella, especially if she’s older and relatively unattractive, the men will saunter over and begin their flirtations, which will soon lead to blunt propositions. More often than not, neither party leaves disappointed.
These Caribbean gigolos are called ‘Rastitutes’ or ‘Beach Boys’. Usually black fellows with long, flowing dreadlocks and stone-hard six packs, it’s not uncommon to witness a short meet-and-greet conversation, followed by them walking off with elderly or overweight Western women. Destination: the woman’s suite at her nearby resort.
Sometimes the tryst is a brief, one-time occurrence where the Beach Boy departs soon afterwards (with a ‘donation’). Often, he becomes the woman’s de facto ‘boyfriend’ for the duration of her holiday. The gigolo will accompany his benefactor to the beach, for meals and excursions. In these situations, it’s an unwritten rule that the woman pays for everything. It’s just part of the business arrangement!
When I was traveling through Central America, I first noticed the phenomenon on the islands and along the coast of Belize. I saw my fair share of ‘couples’ in the Caribbean regions of Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica as well. They almost always consisted of an older or mediocre white woman, with her black boy toy by her side.
Unlike Southeast Asia where nearly all sex tourists are male, in the Caribbean region the vast majority will be female. While I haven’t witnessed it firsthand, I’ve heard the leading sex tourist hot spots in the Caribbean are Jamaica, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. But there’s no shortage on the Central American mainland as well.
Dex, a Belizean Beach Boy
During my stay in Belize, I became acquainted with a cool local dude named Dex. We met on a basketball court (Belize is one of the few places in the world where I can hold my own in basketball with a group of tall, musclebound black men!) and became fast friends.
Dex was extremely friendly and we hung out a lot during my four-day stay on his island (Caye Culker, a popular locale for Western tourists). A few times he’d join me on the beach. We’d just chill and hang out, but whenever an older Western woman passed by, he’d quickly excuse himself and saunter over to her. He flirted exclusively with unattractive women, which I found downright flabbergasting.
Dex was a young man with a lot of bulging muscles. Why in the world would he be interested in these mediocre old geezers? The obvious hung in the air, but I was too ignorant to realize it at first. Whenever a younger, thinner, bikini-clad Western babe strolled by, Dex would pay them absolutely no attention. A few times I’d prod him to go talk to a younger hottie, but he’d brush me off.
Finally, I couldn’t take the absurdity anymore.
“Damn Dex! You sure have strange tastes, man!”, I said.
“The old ladies know how to treat me better, mon” he casually replied.
Several weeks later I was back on my own again, exploring the town of Flores, Guatemala. During my walk, I was startled when a tuk-tuk loudly screeched to a stop right in front of me. Thinking I was about to get robbed, I only became more befuddled when Dex himself jumped out with his arms spread out.
“Hey mon! Remember me? It’s Dat Nigga Dex! Come on, get in!” he beckoned.
I squeezed in between Dex and a chubby, bespectacled British woman. By that point, I didn’t need any explanation as to what their relationship was. Dex had clearly found what he’d been looking for back on the beaches of Caye Culker. Apparently, the British tourist was sponsoring him to accompany her on her Central American trip.
The next few days were spent mostly in the company of Dex and his new girlfriend. We smoked and drank a lot, and most of the time were relatively intoxicated. I was intrigued by Dex’s ‘relationship’ and asked many questions about it. He wasn’t shy to provide detailed answers.
Dex explained how he’d seduced the Brit back in Belize, while she tanned alone on the beach. She’d been flattered by his attention, something she wasn’t used to back home. The woman was impressed by his ‘game’ and his body, he explained. Needless to say, it didn’t take Dex long to bed the broad.
I asked if she was paying for his services, and listened with great interest as he detailed their arrangement. She didn’t pay straight up for sex, but that was basically the unspoken deal. Dex would accompany her as long as she wanted, but since he was a poor “Beach Boy”, she’d have to pay all expenses. Food, accommodation, transportation and the like.
My Belizian gigolo friend also explained how easy it was to pry ‘petty cash’ from his benefactor. He’d simply tell her his brother needed some money, or he urgently had to repay a loan. He’d prod her to ‘buy gifts for his mother’ and she’d usually fork it over without second thought. I wondered exactly how much Dex had managed to ‘earn’, but he didn’t elaborate.
VERDICT: What type of sex tourist was Dex’s British girlfriend? Since she was younger, I’d say she’d most likely fall into the Situational Sex Tourist category. Besides, the pair went to northern Guatemala, more of a backpacker region. The woman had probably been a bit lonely and bored, turned on by Dex’s advances, and thought to herself, “why the hell not?”
This peculiar arrangement brings up another question: who was really the victim? Was it Dex, for seducing his mark and managing to ‘earn’ money from his services? Or the Brit, for ‘using’ Dex for a holiday sex mate? An interesting topic to ponder…. often we consider sex tourists themselves as exploiters (for very good reason), but it’s wise to remember they’re also being used.
Perhaps an even bigger region of female sex tourism that I was exposed to was Sub-Saharan Africa. All along the lovely beaches of Senegal, I noticed hoards of ‘couples’. It wasn’t uncommon to see groups of Western females, all collectively searching for their prey. I did a bit of research and found there actually existed legitimate tourist agencies, mostly run out of Belgium and France, offering local women sex-based tours to Senegal and other sex tourist hot spots, such as Tanzania and Kenya. How convenient; a flight of only a few hours, like-minded fellow tourists, locals that speak your native language, and cheap, easy sex with attractive men!
Things got even more bizarre when I arrived in the Gambia. Although Senegal is a French-speaking nation, the Gambia is English speaking. Since English has emerged as the world language, ladies of a wider variety of nationalities have been venturing into the Gambia for their kicks.
While in the Gambia, I couch-surfed with a lovely Polish expat (not a sex tourist) named Magda. As we hung out at numerous beach-side bars, we witnessed dozens of sex tourist couples and transactions taking place. Magda explained it wasn’t at all uncommon in the evening to see beach-side bars and clubs filled with elderly female Western vacationers on the prowl.
Senegal and the Gambia are very poor countries, and often local men have no other options for work. Many of these men even have local girlfriends or wives, but still supplement their meager or nonexistent income by going off with European or North American women.
Enna: A Finnish Traveler in Search Of….
I met Enna in the lovely Colombian village of San Gil. We got along well and spent the next few days wandering around the area together. Enna was a friendly, open-minded Finnish traveler/expat, who’d been living in Colombia for several months. She talked a lot about her Colombian fiance, a local guy she’d met in Bogota.
Enna and I became Facebook friends, although we’ve never reunited in person. We remain FB friends to this day, although it’s been over a dozen years since our time together in Colombia. She did end up marrying her Colombian boyfriend, although the marriage was short-lived. Soon after they returned to Finland, he divorced her. One can only speculate on the man’s intentions of marrying her in the first place.
Soon after her first marriage ended, Enna headed off to Senegal, where she met her next husband, also a local man. The second time around went much better for the international couple, I’m happy to report they remain married and even have a daughter together. Enna often visits her husband’s family and friends in Senegal, though their permanent home is in Finland.
VERDICT: Would anyone consider Enna a ‘sex-tourist’? Well, she certainly wasn’t the type who paid third-world male prostitutes for sex. By the definitions set out by Wikipedia, however, she’d definitely fall into the Romantic Tourism category. Enna wanted a non-traditional husband to spend her life with. She first tried with a Colombian man, then with a Senegalese man. And it looks to have worked out just fine!
Is there anything wrong with what Enna did? Well, it depends on the person who’s asking. To me, such a relationship is perfectly fine (my fiance is also a foreigner from a different culture). But it’s not so different from the gentlemen who travel to Southeast Asia in search of a wife (as long as they don’t find her in a brothel).
Other Female Sex Tourism Hot Spots
Females have long been frequenting countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey in search of an easy lay. Local men from these countries are notorious for being very promiscuous and not so picky. The difference is that in this region, straight-up prostitution is rare. The trysts are more of a short holiday fling which both parties are in search of.
The Arab World
By Western standards, Arab men are sexually repressed. A common stereotype throughout the Arab world is that all Western women are incredibly easy. While this may be extremely annoying to younger, more attractive Western travelers to the region, for women not used to the attention back home, it could be considered heaven. Countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, and the United Arab Emerites are known for having an abundance of females in search of local men for short flings. Like the Mediterranean, this region isn’t nearly as big on prostitution per-se, than Africa or the Caribbean.
As you can see, the demographics of sex tourism are markedly different between male and female sex tourists. The overwhelming majority of male sex tourists prefer Southeast Asian prey, possibly due the reputation that Asian women are small, petite, and subservient to men. Female sex tourists, by contrast, seem to prefer African (or black) men, likely because they are known for being well-endowed and quite skilled in the bedroom.
It has been suggested that Western sex tourists of both sexes may enjoy the exploitation of poor non-Caucasians in former Colonial lands, as it may help them live out fantasies of being the Colonial masters and having absolute power over their partners. I’m sure some of them have such twisted desires, although based on my travels I disagree this is the primary objective of most sex tourists. I feel most of them are either lonely and unable to attract partners back home, or have had a history of terrible past (and often current) relationships they yearn to escape from. They want something quick, easy, and fun, in a situation they can fully control.
Sex tourists, both male and female, do what they do for a variety of reasons. Some are looking for straight-up prostitutes. Others are simply on holiday and talked (or suckered) into the situation. Still others are primarily in search of romance, rather than just sex.
It can also be argued that sex workers (of both sexes) are guilty of exploiting sex tourists. Of course they are! The prostitutes are usually in it for money (or to find a spouse and relocate to a wealthier country for a new life). The sex tourists are in it for the sex, of course. Both parties are exploiting and being exploited. But as long as both are consenting (and the ‘victim’ isn’t some kind of sex slave), who am I to tell anyone it’s wrong?
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts about this situation? Feel free to comment below!