Sex Tourism – The Dark Side of Travel


Defined as travel with the sole purpose of having sex in a country where sex work is known to be much easier to get and/or legal, Sex Tourism is indeed a thing. For years, people would book flights to places like Thailand, Brazil, Bali, Amsterdam, and the Netherlands to, sure – enjoy these places, but also to get in on what can be described as ‘easy sex’. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) themselves describe it as “travel planned specifically for the purpose of sex, generally to a country where prostitution is legal”.  Up to them: participants can either choose to partake in domestic sex tourism which occurs by them traveling to have sex within their country, or they can opt for transnational sex tourism where they leave their country of residence and cross international borders. 


When it comes to “sexual relations undertaken without serious intent or emotional commitment between individuals who are not established sexual partners or do not know each other well,” better known as casual sex, men are more likely to partake. It’s reported that men who spend more than one month traveling either alone or with friends, with alcohol and drugs in the mix and a side of being single… well, it’s not hard to picture that scenario. Though in conflicting data gathered, this time in Sweden, they’re saying that travelers spending less than five days are likely to engage in casual sex. Now, don’t get me wrong, women do engage in the no strings attached sex but it is the men that have been found more likely to seek out or engage in casual or risky sex behaviors (e.g., multiple partners, unprotected intercourse) while traveling. In fact, as reported by Tropical Diseases, Travel Medicine and Vaccines, “A study from the United States showed that female travelers had a greater preference for travel to European or tropical countries, and that sex was more likely to occur on group tours, sightseeing or backpacking holidays lasting fewer than 14 days. Female sex tourism has also been described in Caribbean destinations such as Jamaica, with Euro-American women purchasing the services of so-called “Rent-A-Dreads”, local men who seek out relationships with tourist women for economic gain. Younger women were reported to prefer expatriates and other tourists as sexual partners, while men of all ages and older women were reported to exercise a preference for local partners.” 


Now, while this tourism type might be acceptable in certain parts, there’s a grand number of individuals worldwide who frown upon the act.  You see, when travelers seek out casual sexual relations with commercial sex workers, they toy with the risk of contracting an STI. For example, “different categories of sex worker in the region of Bangui in the Central African Republic, and found that 1 in 4 of ‘Pupulenge’, the higher class sex worker more likely to cater to foreigners, had poor regular usage of condoms in the previous 3 months. Then over in Jamaica with alcohol and drug usage in the mix, “ male sex workers in Jamaica, who regarded themselves more as long term romantic partners of female tourists, and as such had low levels of condom usage.” It’s since been concluded that the practice of safe sex depended on the destination traveled to.  Though, take a look at this, it’s not hard to see why sex tourism is a contributing factor to the maintenance of STDs in communities: “A study in Singapore showed that 87.5% of local men used condoms when engaging a sex worker in Singapore, but when traveling the rate dropped to between 44 and 77%, depending on location. This finding was supported by research from Hong Kong, which also showed that heterosexual men reported lower levels of condom usage when visiting sex workers outside of their own country. Hsieh et al. proposed that the clients of sex workers could facilitate the spread of STIs between different nations and networks to a larger degree than the sex workers [themselves], while also contributing to STI prevalence within their own communities.”


Then there’s the reality of Sex Tourism and that is Child Sex Tourism and Human Trafficking. Some see all three going hand in hand and some would even argue that without Sex Tourism, both Child Sex Tourism (CST) and Human Trafficking wouldn’t exist. Twenty-two years ago, in the year 2000, it was reported by International Labour Organization that 1.8 million children were forced into a life of prostitution and pornography.  Defined as “the exploitation of children for sexual purposes by people who travel locally or internationally to engage in sexual activities with children” by the United Nations, it was estimated in 2017 that upwards of 10 million children have been prostituted worldwide. This comes with the hefty annual price tag of a whopping US$5 billion. Now, countries such as South-East Asia, Central America, and Brazil have a long and winding history of CST, there’s friendliness toward South America, South, North-West, and East Africa, India, and Mongolia. Though, to be noted is that CST Tourists mostly originate from advanced countries including European and North American countries, as well as Russia, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and New Zealand.  These people don’t look like your average person on the corner looking to score pleasure for the night, oh no, you’d quickly find them in your suburban, middle-class neighborhood or at your son’s game with the other parents.  


In 2021, it was reported that Latin America was a hub for sex with young girls. That the younger the girl is, the more money would be paid to have sex with her.  Latin America is particularly favored due to the popularity of single-parent households, teenage single-parent households, and the alarming poverty rate.  Human Trafficking is rampant there because of the widespread poverty, which acts as the driving force due to the need for things – and basic things at that.  Girls who can’t provide for themselves are favored by Traffickers and so begins the well known tale. The evidently struggling teenage mothers are approached and are told of the many ways their lives would improve at the hands of these men, via promises made. This sounds immaculate to the girls so, in what can be best described as a bait and switch, they are led into a life of forced activity in exchange for minimum financial support.  Though, it all goes hand in hand in the eyes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sex tourism supports human trafficking (slavery), one of the largest criminal industries in the world…Millions of children around the world are victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Children abused by sex tourists suffer not only sexual abuse but also physical, emotional, and psychological abuse, as well as poverty and homelessness. They suffer from health problems including addiction, malnourishment, injuries, STIs, and emotional trauma.”     


Touted as the top 10 sex tourism destinations in 2021 were Germany, the Netherlands, Colombia, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Spain, Malaysia, Kenya, Philippines, and Brazil. In conclusion, I ask this: Exactly where does one draw the line between good and downright unacceptable sex tourism? Is there a good at all?



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