The fact that it took me almost twenty five years to realize I was a female sex tourist is not a defense. Check the screaming tabloids and anti-prostitution literature to confirm that sex tourism is totally unacceptable. Zero tolerance.
Flash back to Cuba 1978. I was a 25-year old teacher working on a fly-in Indian reserve in northern Canada and I managed to escape for a week in the sun over the Easter break. The woman who was supposed to go with me cancelled at the last minute, so I got the bonus of having a double room to myself.
Picture me stretching out on a white sand beach. There I am, slowing thawing from the biting cold and relishing the heat of the sun and smelling the salt of the surf. Walking along the beach comes a youngish Cuban man, somewhere around my age. He — I will call him Carlos — started chatting to me is Spanglish and we ended up making a date for that evening.
At 20:00 or so I met up with Carlos and a friend and we went off to a local pizza place. No tourists, and seriously bad food. The two guys didn’t have much money so I covered the bill. Then we went off to a nightclub where there were other Canadian women, also with Cuban men. A woman in her early 20s from Toronto was in Cuba for the third time — with her father in tow — and was trying to arrange a visa to get her boyfriend to Canada.
About 02:00 or whenever, Carlos and I went back to my room and had drunken sex that wasn’t very good. When we met the next day Carlos wanted something from the tourist shop that wasn’t accessible to locals so I got it for him. When we went out that evening, I again picked up the check.
Frankly, I didn’t think anything of covering the tab. Living with Native people in Canada I was used sharing expenses. For example, look at what would happen when it was time to go to the bootlegger to buy more beer because we had run out. Then people with jobs – like me – were expected to contribute more money in the base-ball cap being passed around than those who were unemployed. So if fair is fair when it comes to Canadian drinking, so why would it be different in Cuba, which was, after all, a socialist country?
As happens with holidays, it was soon time to get back on the plane to the land of ice and snow. Carols suggested I should give him a “present” and I ended up buying him a jacket or giving him the cash to do it himself, can’t quite remember which.
Flash forward to 1996. I was a lecturer at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand. My research focus was how women learn to work safely in the sex industry. And, believe me, hanging out in the brothels was a lot more fun than spending time in the faculty club.
It must have been a slow news day, as a conference paper I wrote on sex tourism in the land of the long-white-cloud caused a media feeding-frenzy. The definition of “tourist,” for clarification, is someone who is away from her usual place of abode for more than 24-hours. So a client from Wellington who visited a sex-worker in Auckland was, in fact, a “sex tourist.”
Anyway, I ended up on the front page of every newspaper in the country. A politician from the far north demanded the university fire me; callers to talk-back radio screamed that I be deported as well as sacked. Staff at the university wouldn’t have anything to do with me until they knew which way the pontifical smoke was going to blow. People in the bar pointed and whispered about “that” woman. The locals were outraged that I would darken New Zealand’s reputation for being squeaky clean.
The hurricane in a champagne flute culminated with “60 Minutes” doing a favourable piece on my research. It flared up again when Toni, a madam, and I were invited to launch our sex industry advertising site, “Between the Sheets,” at a tourism conference, but that is a story for another telling.
The Service Industry Side of Sex Tourism
Now let’s have an adult discussion about sex tourism, shall we? First of all, what’s wrong with it? So long as it is between consulting adults over the age of 18 and doesn’t involve children, animals or dead people, who cares?
Tourists are on holiday to relax; they want to have some fun and spend some money. And what better way to do it than with an attentive companion? Carlos kept me amused for a couple of days, took me to places I wouldn’t have found on my own and introduced me to his friends. So what if I paid the bills and gave him a present? It was my choice, neither of us felt exploited. We both got what we wanted. People seem to forget that the sex industry is a service industry. Waiters work for tips and so, too, it seems, did beach boys in Cuba in the 1970s.
Further, as long as there have been tourists there has been sex tourism, so it isn’t as though it is a new phenomenon. Carlos told me – and remember this is in the 1970s before the media had even thought of sex tourism being a vice – that he had been with over 700 women. Most of them, I assume, paying in cash or kind.
And with all the bad sex out there, the honesty of buying sex gives boomer women an option and moves them closer to a level playing field with men. Female sex tourists of the world unite and pay for it!
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Jody Hanson escaped from the university and is now a freelance writer who lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She is an insufferable travel junkie who has visited 107 countries, lived in eight and holds passports in three. Her — some would say irresponsible — retirement plan is to keep going until she drops. At that time she wants a Muslim burial: wash the body, wrap it in a white sheet and plant it by sundown. In the meantime, Hanson continues to have more than her share of adventures and misadventures, both of which she embraces equally.