Sex tourism is the traveling with the primary motivation to engage in commercial sexual relations. Every year, millions of sightseers visit the sex tourism hubs of underdeveloped or developing nations in search for sex, intimacy, exoticism, adventure, and freedom from social constraints. Many sex tourists seek an experience beyond the realm of their everyday lives without the usual consequences or cost that accompanies inappropriate sexual behaviors. These motivations have become the main reason behind the commercial sexual exploitation of women and young children around the world.
Commercial Sex Around the World
While sex tourism has become a popular recreation for Americans and other affluent Western travelers, the industry itself is linked to the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Prostitution and sex trafficking generates nearly $99 million dollars each year while forcing 20.9 million women and children into sexual bondage. These industries make up a significant percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP) in some of the most popular countries for sex tourism. The Netherlands is one of the first nations to legalize prostitution in order to document and provide sex workers with basic labor rights and social security. This transition may be the first step to regulating the commercial sex industry and sex trafficking.
Destinations for Sex Tourists
Sex work and sex tourism can be almost found anywhere in the world. However, the most attractive locations for sex tourists are often countries in tropical regions where the cost of sex is much lower than in most Western nations. The Caribbeans, Cambodia, Thailand, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic are just a few countries that are well-known destinations for such tourists.
Economic disparages between Western nations and global peripheries might explain why certain nations transform into hotspots for sex tourism. Poor women in underdeveloped areas are more likely to enter the sex industry voluntarily if they have financial commitments (debts, dependents, family) and no other means of income. In one qualitative study of Sosùa (a tourist town in the Dominican Republic), sex workers are shown to have more economic mobility than most working men in same social bracket. Prostitution has become a vital survival strategy for women in developing nations who lack other avenues of gaining sufficient income.
Developing countries are often under extreme economic pressure to develop general tourism as a source of income, which positively correlates with the growth of sex trafficking. A study done by a Thai university estimated that the sex sector is nearly 12 percent of Thailand’s gross domestic product and is projected to increase in the coming years. The governments of countries that profit off of sex labor, like Thailand, are unlikely to pay attention to the devastating effects of sex tourism on the community.
Who Are Sex Tourists?
The demographic of sex tourists has changed in the recent years as the sex tourism industry grows. As certain parts of Asia become wealthier, sex tourists are increasingly coming from Asia itself, particularly from Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and more recently China into poorer Southeast Asian countries. Middle-aged, heterosexual Western women as well as homosexual men are also adding to the consumer pool of sex tourism. Some sex tourists seek novel sexual experiences abroad that might otherwise be criticized in their home countries, while others are entranced by the possibilities of meeting “passionate” and “exotic” tropical lovers.
The Internet and Sex Tourism
The rapid growth of the Internet has become a highly effective tool in promoting the sex industry. Websites on the Internet dedicated to the selling of commercial sex provide international forums where individuals can promote and sell sex tours, sometimes advertising packages for travelers complete with airfare, hotel, and directions to local brothels. More than 100 websites promote teenage commercial sex in Asia alone. The website owners may charge an average of $100-$150 in membership fees and offer extensive information about the sex industry in specific locations. The Internet has made finding and selling sex worldwide much more accessible.