All of us have very good reasons to travel. Some people like to see different landmarks, hear different languages and taste different cuisines. Or, some even like to visit the holiest of religious shrines, in the Middle East or in Asia. Over the years, we have also witnessed the transformation of sex-tourism, into a booming global industry.
In several small corners of the world, sex is sold as openly as vegetables at a farmer's market. It is a commodity, as common as a sack of potatoes.
These places may sound like heaven to some horny, sex crazy, persons I know in this country.
A colleague in Chicago, who had been fond of regular excursions, once shared with me his his reason for his frequent travels, abroad; this had been undertaken, for a personal reason--in search of sex, with women, he had deemed 'exotic'
He had mapped out two legs of one long erotic journey, one in the Caribbean and the other in southeast Asia. He had planned stops in sex worker hotspots, places where prostitution is legal, or where, police just may look the other way - places, we may even call as 'sexual Disneyland'.
In the U.S., sex is almost exclusively arranged in the confusing context of 'dating'. However, in the tourist infested, neighboring Caribbean countries (islands) like Cuba, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic, sex is a transaction.
Outside the murky, green waters of romance, it's much simpler to negotiate. If you are a male, you do not have to seduce the lady, saying sweet nothings about your undying love and commitment. You just have to say the right price.
Three years ago, my son who worked for an international Cruise Liner Company, arranged for me a complimentary pass to fun-filled, sunny Caribbean islands. On the shores of Santo Domingo, located in the Dominican Republic, prostitution is legal.
In the nearby cafe', I took time to relax, and tried casually, sipping the famous 'espresso coffee'. Language is a huge barrier in the city, since the population is predominantly Hispanic. I wanted to go downtown. Holding a map in hand, I approached a pretty young lady, with cute looks, and asked:
'Do you you speak English, Ma'am?
'Yes...leetil,l... leetil, please...' came her reply, in a sweet, melodious and broken, voice.
'How much do you....' I wanted to ask her about her knowledge of English, and her language skills!
'Fifty Dollars...Sir' Pat came her loud, and clear response!
Men from all income levels can purchase some time with a 'seducer', in the Dominican Republic. Whether you want a cheap street walker or a high-end escort, buying pleasure, is straightforward and convenient.
In Costa Rica, where prostitution is also legal, sex workers are built into the fabric of the culture. A college teacher confided to me, that is not at all uncommon here, for young Latin American men to have their first sexual encounter with a sex worker, paid for by dad, who is eager to test his son's 'manhood'.
These men then, continue buying sexual services well into old age. It was further added to my knowledge that 'elderly men are endlessly spotted seeking out hookers, in San Jose' bars'In Cuba, prostitution is technically illegal, but no one seems to give a damn. Pimping is especially prevalent here, although Cuban pimps, known as jineteros, have a terrible reputation for their treatment of 'sex tourists', or simply put 'the tourists'.
The United States Department of State defines jineteros as 'street jockeys'who specialize in swindling tourists. Most jineteros are smooth-talking English speakers who go out of their way to appear friendly. However, most of these men are career criminals, and do enjoy their habit of using violence, to ultimately rob tourists blind. In Cuba, prostitutes have perfect accommodations to the 'get busy', with their clients - these exotic landmarks called love hotels, and they offer anonymous pay-by-the-hour bedrooms.
Thankfully, the Cuban government doesn't police these areas. Quite the opposite, the country recently announced its intentions to open state-run love hotels, to cut down on the ever-popular practice of public sex. My traveler friend, I mentioned earlier, had planned about a week in each Caribbean country, then had set his sights on Southeast Asia.
The most appealing tourist spots of southeast Asia offer much more than young women in mini-skirts smoking cigarettes outside of seedy motels. The culture seemingly revolves around sex workers and their clients. The nearby bars and restaurants, hotels, massage parlors and saunas, live entertainment productions like peep shows and cabarets, all profit off these interactions, as well.
Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines are famous sex destinations, also famed for their red light districts. Sex shops, strip clubs, brothels and bars make these spots adult playgrounds for the sexually adventurous. In Thailand, there are an estimated three million sex workers. These young women congregate nightly at 'girly bars', where the typical American social experience, is usually, turned on its head!
Women throw themselves on, even the most unattractive and socially awkward of men. They laugh at all their corny jokes and express fascination with every mundane story. One may likely buy them drinks, throughout the course of the night, and at the end, you spend a few extra bucks to have what you 'want' with them.
My Chicago colleague, had mentioned to me that in his previous 'travails', once he was a little worried about being duped by one of Thailand's well-known 'ladyboys', transgender women or effeminate gay men, who are nearly indistinguishable from the female sex workers. Finding out that he had been flirting with a beautiful 'male', might bruise his fragile sexualities, but he had decided it was a risk worth taking. Well, the saying goes: When in Rome, do as the ........!
Just like in Thailand's girly bars, sex workers in the Philippines typically masquerade as bar girls. Upon entering one of these 'go-go' bars, that are spread around the beaches, one is likely to stand in front of a stage, and watch the ladies dance. If a tourist likes someone he sees, he may get the manager, to fetch her. A love seeker can interview her, to see if she'll perform whatever kinky act, the client had had in mind, and then come to an agreement on the price.
The sexual fantasy this Asian vacation land called Philippines, had come to embody, had begun falling apart, once the visitor shifted the focus to another exciting stop --Cambodia! In this fantasyland, prostitution is illegal, but still tolerated. The country has held the reputation, and all the same promise as Thailand and the Philippines, if not for one pronounced problem: sex trafficking and child exploitation.
Of course, these concerns had popped up once or twice when researching other sex tourism hot spots, but in Cambodia, extreme poverty exacerbates the sex industry's darkest consequences.In this poverty stricken, god forsaken land, parents sometimes sell their own children into the illicit and notorious sex slavery, while others are tricked into the industry.
A child's virginity is very valuable and is often auctioned off to the highest bidder.Turning over in the tourist minds, this horrendous black market, their once thrilling vacation plans always begins to feel tainted. The idea of unwittingly contributing to a market for trafficked children, overwhelmed any ideas of so called cheap threesomes with exotic prostitutes, imagined by aspiring tourists who visit this country.
A number of studies have found that while international trafficking and child exploitation do occur, they amount to a small portion of the sex industry.However, anxieties do build in the fantasy seekers, the sex tourists, to still overwhelmed them, and thus, could possibly put on hold, a Dream sex tourism vacation in an exotic, faraway land.
I have traveled to many continents, Over the past two decades, I interviewed scores of men who had paid for sex-in legal brothels and illegal massage parlors, and on the street. I have listened to every justification from these men, including one about helping women feed their kids with the money exchanged for sex.
Although prostitution-both buying and selling sex-is illegal across most of the U.S., very few sex buyers are ever arrested. Prostituted women, however, are heavily and unjustly criminalized, despite the available evidence that the vast majority are coerced and exploited into the sex trade.
In the United States, Nevada is the one state in which prostitution-including pimping, brothel owning and sex buying-is legalized. It is allowed in only seven of its counties, but research has shown that legalization has resulted in prostitution becoming normalized across the entire state. The majority of visitors to Las Vegas believe that prostitution is completely legal in the city. That allows men, to easily justify paying for sex.
With debate currently raging in Nevada about whether or not to close its legal brothels, and pro-prostitution lobbyists in New York City now pushing for its sex trade to be decriminalized, it is imperative that the focus shifts from the women selling sex to the men who drive the demand.
So far, strict law enforcement has ensured that the moral fabric, and social structure has remained very much intact, despite signs of decay. Is this only a matter of time, before the United States caves in to public demands? If we ever overcome our fears to follow through, Cuba, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Thailand, the Philippines and Cambodia will be waiting for us.
Until then, those sexual Disney lands will remain other unfulfilled fantasies!
God bless America. We have a long way to go!
The writer is a former educator based in Chicago
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