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Exploring the Meaning of Sex Tourism

Updated on June 28, 2017


Sex tourism is defined as travelling to another country with the intent of soliciting sex (CDC, 2016). Some countries such as Netherlands have legalized prostitution and is a common destination for sex tourists (Wonders &Michalowski 2001). In some regions, sex tourism is regarded as being a deviant behavior and social abomination. Various perspectives have been taken in approaching sex tourism. However, tourism and sex tourism are both liminal behaviors. Liminal behaviors are actions that are carried out but exist on the border between what is acceptable by society and what is not. Prostitution is an activity that is closely linked to sex tourism; in fact, they accompany one another.

Diversification of sex tourism

Sex tourism is diversified in various perspectives. For instance, there are female sex workers who mainly serve male clientele, male prostitutes serving female clientele, male prostitutes serving male clientele, females who service other females and those serving both sex. In addition, there are also cases where children are involved in sex trade.

Sex Tourism in Different Countries

Prostitution is inherent in many countries around the world with significant variations of legal aspects attached to it. In most cases, it is not recognized by the law as an income generating activity; yet it continues to run and thrive while employing many people directly and indirectly. Prostitution occurs as a ‘fuzzy legal’ activity. Around the world, some countries have legalized prostitution, others have regulated it through legislation and in others, it is completely illegal. There are also countries that have no law at all concerning prostitution. However, one common feature around the world is that prostitution does take place and it is tolerated albeit differently due to its generation of income. In another perspective, some regions around the world tolerate sex tourism due to its contribution to the economy derived from foreigners.

Motivation behind Sex Tourism

The major motivation behind engagement in sex tourism by those involved is economic purposes. Most of the men and women in the business are there because of economic consistency. For many of them, they are drawn into the business because of the harsh condition in life, and other psychological aspects. Further, studies have established that most of those who engage in prostitution are those with experience in psychological disorders such as depression and anguish, thus they engage in the business as a form of dealing with psychological problems.

Literature Survey

The literature that will be surveyed will explores sex tourism, its impact on economies and associated aspects of both elements. According to Ryan and Glendon, (1998) tourism is a widely acceptable source of leisure (Ryan &Glendon 1998). However, associated activities such as sex tourism influence perceptions of tourism. Ryan and Kinder (1996) argue that sex tourism and tourism are similar activities with misconceptions about sex tourism. However, sex tourism is associated with human rights abuses such as child sex tourism (Fraley 2005). Cliff and Carter argue that sex tourism is a search for identity as well as exploitation (2000).

Wonders and Michalowski investigate the impact of globalization in fueling the prevalence of sex tourism; with a focus on Amsterdam and Havana (2001). From their study, they established that the poor move around the world in search of opportunities to make a living while the rich travel around the world looking for pleasure (Wonders &Michalowski 2001). From this perspective, sex tourism is an opportunity for the poor to earn income from rendering services. Discussions about sex tourism are usually sensationalized while discussions about tourism and prostitution are speculative (Ryan & Hall 2001). Ryan and Hall argue that media culture has influenced the portrayal of sex tourism by focusing on a moral and sensationalizing agenda that are based on sexual taboos and cultural blindness (2001).

Despite the existence of sex tourism around the world, it has been associated conventionally with travel of tourists (mostly male) from developed countries to less developed countries in search of sex (Ryan & Hall 2001).

Research on male and female trends in sex tourism has been inclined towards a perspective of male tourism as the most common while female sex tourism is considered ‘romantic tourism’ (Carter& Clift 2000). Female sex tourists are considered as ‘lonely women’, which speaks a lot in the definition of gender roles (Carter& Clift 2000). While females who look for male sex tourists are considered prostitutes, their male counterparts are not known as such, a sign of double standards in the perception of sex tourism (Carter& Clift 2000). Motivations for sex tourism vary. Some cite the feeling of absence of social constraints found in their home country as motivation. On the other hand, others use the opportunity to exploit countries that earn a lot from tourism and ignore acts such as sex tourism (UCSB, 2016).

Around the world, there are no defined laws that regulate sex tourism. However, acts related to sex tourism such as sexual abuse of children in foreign countries are punishable by law in the United States for its citizens (Department of Justice, 2016). American citizens are liable for prosecution for any infringements of the Extraterritorial Sexual Exploitation of Children that combats sexual exploitation of minors in a foreign country. In Australia, it is illegal to engage in sexual activity with a child under 16 while in a foreign country under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995(Commonwealth of Australia, 2015).


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