Opinion: Not only can women have sex like men, they can buy sex like men


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What to make of reports from Kenya that more and more (old, rich, white) women are traveling to the country solely to cavort with (young, poor, black) locals?

According to Reuters — which follows two white English women, aged 56 and 64, as they troll for “big young boys who like us older girls” — the country’s tourism board isn’t pleased with the “unwholesome” situation, wherein women exchange gifts for sex. Officials stopped short of condemning it in the way they have male sex tourism, however. And the women Reuters interviews seem to see it as a far lesser crime — comparing it to ordinary courtship rituals like a man buying his female date dinner.


It’s certainly not so tame, despite sugar-coated terms for the trade like “romance tourism” and a slew of films that neuter the sexual fantasies and fetishes which many female pleasure-seekers want to fulfill. Before “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” there was “Shirley Valentine,” a British housewife bored of preparing her husband’s meals, who wins a vacation and finds her groove with a Greek man. Even the gritty, straightforward “Vers le Sud” — featuring the ever-experimental Charlotte Rampling — explores what happens when the female sex tourist feels romantic and even falls in love.

Responses to the female sex tourism trend vary from disgust to vague unease. No one’s willing to make this out as a victory for feminism, even if it’s a case of women acknowledging sexual desires and having purses of their own to gratify them. (Heidi Fleiss would be proud, and possibly annoyed that her future clientele can find the frisson they seek for cheap overseas.) And it’s older women at that—not the ones who are usually chided for ‘having sex like men.’

I’m going to put my vote in the “vague unease” camp. The acts can be considered consensual or, at worst, mutually exploitative. Establishing consent is a bit easier here than where men are concerned, as Catherine Price noted on Salon, since a female purchaser is unlikely to have the physical power of a man, and can’t dominate or abuse her escort. (In any case, danger is probably a desired part of the female sex tourism package.)

But mostly I’m uneasy because the United Nations links the sex tourist trade—mostly male, but also female — to severe child exploitation of both boys and girls in Kenya. Also, prostitution is illegal in Kenya — though, as one Kenyan official notes, unofficial exchanges of hotel stays and meals for compliments and sex may not qualify. Then there’s the reluctance to use condoms despite Kenya’s 6.9% AIDS rate.

And more abstractly, there’s the obvious racial fetishes sex tourism perpetuates. Even Reuters wasn’t immune. The article says that one solicited Kenyan male named Joseph resembled an “Olympic basketball player.” (They all look alike, don’t they?) The story then describes a dance club as filled with “Joseph look-alikes.” (Hey, they do all look alike!)

Photo courtesy Shadow Distribution