Travel: Women are sex tourists too

Is it the romance that women are paying for in Jamaica? Or is it a feeling of power that they can't get at home?
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The Independent Culture
THE CARIBBEAN is marketed as Paradise. And for many, an important element of Paradise is being adored. Many single white women visiting Jamaica will discover that there is no shortage of Jamaican men willing to earn money from spending time with female tourists. Some are paid cash, but more often than not their payment is in the form of meals, clothes, or the promise of a visa to the West.

A British sociologist, Jackie Sanchez-Taylor from Leicester University, has found that almost half the women she questioned in Negril, Jamaica, had had one or more sexual relationships with a Jamaican man while on holiday. Their justifications were not unlike those made by their male counterparts - that the people they have sex with are not like "ordinary prostitutes" and are less critical than partners at home.

"Today, some female sex tourists are travelling to reaffirm their femininity," Jackie Sanchez-Taylor explains in her book, Tourism, Travel and Sex. "Women who feel rejected by men in the West are `sweet-talked' and `loved' by men abroad, and once again find that they exist as sexual objects."

So, as Shirley Valentine demonstrated, by travelling across the world, it's possible to be fawned over by highly desirable men. But not all women are overcoming insecurities. Some are just looking for an unpressurised good time, aren't they? In this case, what they get is power - the power to decide how long the relationship lasts, and to have a relationship with the type of person not normally available to them.

"Where at home they might be stigmatised for having relations with black men, younger men, `womanisers', or for having many sexual partners," says Ms Sanchez-Taylor, "in holiday resorts such as Negril, they are permitted to `consume' the black male, the younger boy, the playboy or as many men as they desire while maintaining their reputation back home."

So, for once, they can experience feeling more powerful than a man - and particularly a black man, a person who they may stereotypically think of as "hypersexual" or "dangerous" at home.

But control over a sexual relationship is not the main objective for all female sex tourists. Many prefer to use their power to affirm themselves as kind, caring women. For example, one Canadian interviewee, a divorcee near retirement age, conducted a long-distance romance for 18 months with a Jamaican "countryman" 20 years her junior, who "lived the simple life of a farmer in the mountains". She sent him money and brought gifts from Canada and taught him to read, write and appreciate classical music.

"She said she didn't want someone who would swamp her with emotional demands. When she visits, she spends her time buying him shorts and shirts and cooking him big pots of food because when she goes back to Canada `he eats very little,'" explains Ms Sanchez-Taylor.

So by being the farmer's "civilising" influence, the woman is using sex tourism to reassert herself.

Many tourist women find the idea of caring for and taming a "noble savage" romantic. "Gigolos" in Negril are quick to tap into this demand and many claim to be "country farmers" who only venture into Negril now and then to sell products they have grown or made. They become mirrors which reflect the female sex tourist's chosen image of femininity.

`Tourism, Travel and Sex', Eds S Clift and S Carter, is published by Pinter later this year