Male and Female Sex Tourism

By Emma Houser

In the process of reading these two articles I found myself very frustrated. The way that we view prostitution is problematic in two ways. First, it completely victimizes women. The fact that we don’t view/acknowledge female sex tourism as prostitution suggests that the essence of prostitution relates only to women. It portrays them as weak and powerless against men and completely delegitimizes any agency they have in the situation. As Taylor mentions, it ignores the fact that viewed as an asset that women can trade. Second, to almost contradict my first point, local men who engage with female sex tourists are not viewed as prostitutes and are believed to be acting according to their own free will. In my opinion, both the local men and the local women are in very much the same position, although I will acknowledge that women have slightly less power than do men in a patriarchal society. They both have willingly chosen to engage with male and female sex tourists. At the same time, they are both engaging in the same power constructs in comparison to the affluent tourists

One thing that both articles discuss but is largely ignored during conversations about prostitution is the role that race plays, especially in relation to power and control. One of the reasons why we are quick to view the female prostitutes as victims is because, among racially homogenous couples, patriarchy determines the distribution of power. However, when the relationship is between an affluent female tourist and a low-income local man, gender plays a much smaller role in the distribution of power. In this situation, the woman controls when and where things happen because she is the one paying. Her race and economic status give her far more power and control than the local man, putting both local men and women in a very similar situation due to their “ethnic status.”

I also found it very interesting to read about western men and women’s reasons for engaging in sex tourism because it’s not really something that I had thought about before. Largely due to the gendered power system we have in our country it seems natural for women to be enticed by the power and control they have as sex tourists. Throughout this course we’ve discussed the power that men have in the hookup culture and through many aspects of society, so one could see why women want to experience a relationship where they are in control and don’t have to worry about rejection. For once, they are able to “obtain sexual access to young, fit, handsome bodies otherwise denied to them” (Davidson & Taylor). This is their fantasy. Similarly, men were looking to fulfill their desire to have a high degree of control in their sexual relationships. Also largely due to our patriarchal society, the masculine ideals encourages them to want a docile and submissive sexual partner. As a result of feminist gains though, western women have become far less passive. So, men looking for control are forced to go to a foreign country where their money gives them power and control while also allowing them to ignore the issue of prostitution because of the way that the informal nature of the transactions at resorts blurs the lines between prostitution and romance.

For both men and women there was the idea that in order to experience the country one needed to engage in some sort of sexual experience with the locals. I think that this is one of the most underrated aspects of this issue. When we discuss prostitution we often think of women and men being objectified, but in this case the entire culture is being objectified and sexualized. It is dangerous for us to ignore race when we discuss the issue of prostitution because it ignores the power that we have over these individuals to define their way of life. Davidson and Taylor discuss the idea that many people view sex a society’s “way of life,” making it something natural. Although it implies that the local men and women who engage in sexual relationships with sex tourists have some kind of agency and gain some kind of pleasure, it ignores the fact that they are being completely objectified. In many cases the tourists also feel like they are helping the local men and women because they are often using the money they make to pay to feed themselves and their families. Regardless of whether or not this is true, it’s dangerous for westerners to use their power to establish control and delegitimize other nations.

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8 thoughts on “Male and Female Sex Tourism

  1. Jihmmy N. Sanchez

    Emma, you make a very good point in your last paragraph the fact that it is very underrated that many sex tourists male and female think it is the natural order for men and women to engage in these sexual transactions. Which most Western men and women do not see as prostitution even though they are paying for a sexual favor from some of the locals. In Taylor and Davidson’s article Fantasy Islands it mentions how it is more common for western men and women to view the locals they solicit sex from as coming natural to them. The western women interviewed in Fantasy Island mention that they view the local men of the DR and Jamaica as having a wild and uncontrolable sexuallity, wester men view local women as wanting to engage in sexual acts with the tourists.

  2. Brittany Juliano

    I agree that reading these articles was frustrating. The way that Davidson and Taylor in particular casually referred to female inferiority was difficult to stomach. I did however find it interesting, as you mention, they different perspective that both articles offered about the reasons men and women participate in sex tourism. From a sociological perspective, I had never considered the desexualization of Western White women discussed in Fantasy Island. This is the driving factor that pushes men towards racialized and ‘exotic’ prostitutes, over whom they hold complete power. Gender, race and economic status all place Western White men in a superior position to the ‘LBFM’s.’ In comparison, White women hold more structural agency and therefore pose more of a threat to man’s sexual power. I had never considered that this may be threatening, but like the rest of the article, I find it fascinating and disgusting.

  3. Sophie Furman

    Emma you’re first reaction in your response when you say “it portrays them as weak and powerless against men and completely delegitimizes any agency they have in the situation” reminded me of the movie Pretty Woman and how once she has his money and buys herself new clothes, and splurges on his room service she only has what he is given and has no power in the situation really because he’s giving her things she couldn’t imagine having. Now I know that this movie glorifies the situation and that it’s not reality, the concept of being “powerless” and “weak” does show. When really we should be focused on how to get people out of prostitution and not giving a false representation of an “easy” way out.

  4. Sarah Wills

    Just like Emma, I also found the articles to be frustrating due to the double standard between men and women when it comes to prostitution. It is not as stigmatized or shamed upon for men as it is for women when it comes to prostitution. However, just like you mentioned, I did find to comparison to the western women very interesting. When the western women were described as feeling empowered and in control by being able to acquire a fit, young man for pleasure, it made me think differently about the situation. Usually, we view women as prostitutes and men as the tourist. However, this article points out how there are women that seek out male prostitutes. It is very logical that this could make women feel empowered because they are taking on a male role that gives them a lot of control in the situation

  5. Gina Pol

    I found the reasons that were provided through both articles on why men and women engaged in sexual activities in other countries very disturbing. In “Fantasy Island,” most people in the study considered sex in third world countries as “natural” and therefore it is not prostitution. They assumed that third world prostitutes enjoyed their work and they both received pleasure from sexual engagement. Those from third world countries were deemed as “barbarous”, while they considered themselves the “civilized west.” This difference was an affirmation of their superiority since they were capable of controlling prostitutes with the use of money.

  6. I like your comment about how men go to other countries to have sex to exercise power, but I think an underlying theme that kept running through both of these articles, which kind of runs against that, is how similar men and women really are when empowered with money. Both men and women will gladly spend money on exploitative sex if they see themselves as superior to the person they are having sex with–they both have the “you know you want it” mentality. This, of course gets racialized–the often white westerners see themselves as something to be desired and the people of color who are exploited are nothing but sexual animals. It’s very troublesome that the simple possession of money, and the way we have constructed it, allows us to contort the images of those without it so that they will bend to our every whim.

    Patrick Gallagher Landes

  7. Gracie Hall

    I’m glad you brought up the integral piece race plays in this whole situation. Outside of what you wrote about, I thought one really interesting part in Fantasy Island was the comment that practicing sex tourism helps individuals sustains a “white identity”. And that this white identity, is reinforced when they are being “served, revered, and envied by Others”. Although this comment is in reference to white men, I think that it is also relevant to the discussion of white women who practice sex tourism.

  8. Sophie Sharps

    Your sentence about the entire culture being objectified and sexualized really resonated with me. Essentially, this is exactly what is occurring. We have discussed this in class, but we often think of our norms and standards as lacking culture, just like “white” lacks a race and “men” lack a gender. In this same sense, it is much more exciting, exotic and “cultured” to go to a far away, “other” land and experience these new and different people, customs and “ways of life.” Interestingly enough, we otherize so much that we forget similar issues occur in our own country.

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