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By Julie Bindel
Published: 00:56 BST, 26 August 2013 | Updated: 17:52 BST, 26 August 2013
They are called ‘bumsters’ in Gambia, ‘Rastitutes’ or ‘beach boys’ in the Caribbean and ‘sanky pankies’ in the Dominican Republic.
These are the men who, in increasing numbers, are providing sex in return for money or goods to women who want a holiday ‘romance’.
The men are invariably from impoverished families, have little or no education and are sometimes illiterate.
According to the beach boys, there is little shame or stigma in selling sex to older white female tourists, and some claim earning money this way affirms their masculinity (photo from the 2012 film Paradise Love)
Most of the women are white, middle-aged or older and come from Europe and North America.
They travel alone or with female friends and often have a history of unhappy relationships with men at home.
They are looking for attention and excitement but end up, often without realising it, being one half of a prostitution deal.
Barbara is one such woman. In her late 50s and divorced, she travelled to Jamaica for her first holiday alone last winter. She had fantasies about sunbathing on white sand and swimming in a clear blue sea, but no plans for a holiday romance.
Her destination was an all-inclusive resort in Negril, on the western tip of Jamaica, one of the biggest destinations for female sex tourism.
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‘I got off the plane at Montego Bay and — boom! — there he was,’ she tells me over the phone from her home city of Sheffield.
‘I have never seen a man as fit as Chris. His dreadlocks were down his back and his legs were like a footballer’s. I thought: “Why is he looking at me like he fancies me? I’m not his type.”’
Soon Barbara threw aside her inhibitions and realised she could behave in a way she would never dare to at home.
‘It was like total freedom. Chris was all over me and I couldn’t get enough of that beautiful body,’ she says.
‘He showered me with compliments about my legs, my hair, how I smelled, everything. He even said he liked my accent.’
Barbara’s previous marriage had been abusive and damaging, leaving her feeling, as she puts it, ‘worthless and like no man would ever look at me again’.
She says: ‘Chris made me feel gorgeous and special straight away.’
Yet this was the beginning of not a holiday romance but a commercial exchange between a relatively rich Westerner and an impoverished ‘beach boy’.
It is prostitution, but often only the seller, and not the buyer, is aware of that.
Barbara realised Chris viewed her as a sex tourist only when one day he told her, ‘No money, no sex’, after she refused to give him cash for a drug deal.
According to the beach boys, there is little shame or stigma in selling sex to older white female tourists, and some claim earning money this way affirms their masculinity (posed by models)
Barbara, like many women who find ‘romance’ in Negril, says she is shunned by men of her own age in the UK, ‘because they want thinner, younger women and for some reason can get them’.
Over the past decade, I have been researching the increase in female sex tourism in underdeveloped and poorer countries.
I made contact with Barbara through a social networking site where I had discovered women exchanging details about long-distance romances with men in Jamaica.
Not one of the women used the phrase ‘sex tourism’, but most of them discussed how they had sent money to their ‘boyfriends’ to pay an urgent debt or to rent accommodation in time for their next visit.
None would give me their full names, because their friends and family members are not aware they have been going abroad for sex.
‘Chris moved into my hotel room with me and we had wild sex every night,’ Barbara says.
‘At first, he insisted on paying for everything, but after a couple of days he said he was owed money by a business contact and I had to bankroll him until it came through.’
Barbara is on an administrator’s salary in the UK, but one evening in her £120-a-night hotel would cost any of its own porters four weeks’ wages.
‘Chris never got that money he was owed,’ she says. ‘I ended up paying for everything and once, when I refused, he told me he could pick up any white woman he wanted who would be happy to give him money.’
Despite this, she remained under the illusion until the end of her holiday that Chris was her boyfriend.
She says now: ‘If he pretended to fancy me when we were together and just slept with me for money, does that make him a prostitute — or just a lying b*****d?’
The stereotypical image of the sex tourist is a Western man who travels to Thailand or the Philippines to pay for sex with young women and even children.
But in the past three decades the numbers of women travelling primarily for sex with local men is thought to have increased significantly.
The practice has become less stigmatised, and tour operators even add thinly veiled references to sex tourism for women as a marketing strategy.
Racial difference plays a significant role in the female sex tourist experience (posed by model)
Phrases such as ‘fantasy island’ are bandied about, feeding off a mythology about male sexual prowess, perpetuated by the beach boys themselves because it’s good for business.
It is not just sex the women are seeking, though. Academic researchers often class women such as Barbara as ‘romance tourists’, as they usually believe the men they meet on holiday are in love with them.
Middle-aged and older women with low self-esteem and a history of failed relationships are more likely to fall for the delusion.
In the film Shirley Valentine, the central character travels to a Greek island craving love, attention and genuine emotional attachment.
The reality of sex tourism is very different.
I have visited Negril. The resort’s biggest attraction for tourists is its four miles of stunning white sand.
It has a population of almost 6,000 and is host to travellers from all over the world.
American spring break students arrive between March and April, and Europeans and North Americans during the winter months.
In 2008, an estimated 351,404 tourists came, making up approximately 20 per cent of Jamaica’s total.
Since then, the numbers have continued to rise, according to the Jamaica Tourist Board.
The beach boys I met in Negril were all desperately poor and vulnerable, yet outwardly confident and hyper-masculine at the same time.
I spent several days with one of them, Clinton, during which he never stopped trying to get me to have sex with him.
When I asked why he ‘dated’ only older women, he said: ‘If I take a tourist out and she wants to help me out as a friend, give me money and let me stay with her in the hotel, what’s wrong with that? Of course I have sex with them, but that’s because I’m not gay — I like women.’
I asked Clinton what he looked for in a woman and he told me: ‘I look for the milk bottles (white women who have obviously just arrived on the island).’
Most of the beach bars advertise cocktails with names that are well-used euphemisms for a large penis, such as ‘Big Bamboo’, ‘Dirty Banana’ and ‘Jamaican Steel’.
I was on the island during spring break and Negril was thronged with young, conventionally attractive, bikini-clad female students — but the beach boys paid no attention to them at all.
At night, in bars playing loud reggae, young men would pull older white women to their feet and show them how to do ‘dirty dancing’, by way of ‘introducing them to my body’, as one man told me.
It was an unusual sight — women, some in their 70s, bumping and grinding with men young enough to be their grandsons and drinking Red Stripe beer out of cans.
‘I was sick of the men on offer back home,’ says Linda, when I speak to her on Skype, having made contact with her through the same social network on which I found Barbara.
Linda is a Londoner who runs a pub with her daughter. She has a ‘string of failed relationships’ behind her.
‘They were all the bloody same,’ she says. ‘Expect you to treat them like God’s gift, treat you like you don’t matter and never consider what it is you want.
'The men I have been with (in Turkey) are a damn sight more handsome than they are and yet treat me like they’re grateful to be with me — the opposite of what I’m used to.’
One young man told me the white women he had sex with made him feel sick. ‘They stink, have rough skin and look like old dogs. No wonder they have to pay for a man’
Barbara and Linda are in good company. Each year, as many as 600,000 women from Western countries are said to engage in sex tourism. (The statistics in this area are little better than guesswork, given that few would confess to engaging in the practice in a self-reporting survey, but the figures for men are thought to be many times greater.)
In 2001, research based on 240 interviews with women on the beaches of Negril and two similar resorts in the Dominican Republic suggested that almost a third had engaged in sexual relationships with local men in the course of their holiday.
Of those 80 women, nearly 60 per cent admitted there were ‘economic elements’ to their relationships, but they did not think of themselves as sex tourists, or their sexual partners as prostitutes.
Only 3 per cent said their relations were ‘purely physical’, and more than half considered them to be about ‘romance’.
According to the beach boys, there is little shame or stigma in selling sex to older white female tourists, and some claim earning money this way affirms their masculinity.
At the same time, the comments I heard in Jamaica about the women seen with younger men were often misogynistic and cruel — there is far more acceptance of older, obese men partnering conventionally attractive younger women than the reverse.
One young man told me the white women he had sex with made him feel sick.
‘They stink, have rough skin and look like old dogs. No wonder they have to pay for a man.’
A hotelier told me the women were ‘all ugly and fat’.
‘Men won’t touch them where they come from,’ he added. ‘I would be ashamed to be seen with any of them.’
Some female sex tourists who move to live permanently with Jamaican men are beaten or abused.
First ladies: Female sex tourism was first mentioned in the 19th century, in the U.S. and Turkey, as feminism grew
Andrea Johnson, a corporal with the Negril police, told me: ‘The relationship ends up sour and we have to intervene.
'I’ve seen some nasty domestic violence towards the white women who move in with their boyfriends.’
Dawn, a regular visitor to Negril, says: ‘They often talk about white women as if we are old slappers.
'I used to think Derrick was respectful of me and really loved me, until I heard him laughing with the other boys one night. It turned my blood cold.’
Dawn met Derrick on her first trip to Negril in 2006 and has since returned twice a year to spend time with him. Derrick is now 27 and Dawn is 30 years older than him.
‘I fell head over heels with him when we first met and he couldn’t get enough of me, but I’m not daft,’ she says.
‘I knew he was as keen on my money as he was on me but they have nothing here and live like paupers.’
Once a month, Dawn sends Derrick £20 for food and when she visits the island she pays for everything, from meals, drinks and taxis to clothes and spending money.
‘What do I get out of it?’ she says. ‘A lot of fun, and a beautiful body to have my wicked way with whenever I want.’
Racial difference plays a significant role in the female sex tourist experience. White women who would never consider being openly involved with a young black man back home feel free to do so while travelling and often use this as an example of their ‘anti-racism’.
However, the same women will often treat their ‘boyfriend’ as little more than a servant.
There is still a tendency to focus on the men as exploiting tourist women economically, emotionally or sexually, rather than being exploited by them. Yet there certainly is exploitation on both sides.
The sex tourism problem has become so great in some countries that there have been half-hearted efforts to reduce it.
During the 2002-2003 tourist season, the Gambian law-enforcement agencies, in collaboration with the national tourism association, launched an ‘anti-bumster’ campaign.
Uniformed security personnel rounded up obvious-looking bumsters, shaved off their dreadlocks and began routinely patrolling the tourist areas along the coast. A similar initiative has since been tried in Negril.
But the women travelling for sex and love are not being deterred, and nor are the impoverished young men who have only their own bodies to sell.
A version of this article appeared in New Statesman.
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