Ladies, your holiday man awaits

MATTY SILVER
Last updated 13:56 08/02/2013
holiday

PARADISE LOVE: This acclaimed 2012 documentary split audiences between vehement disgust and fervent praise.

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Love & Sex

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Global female sex tourism - or romance travel - is on the rise.

Women - especially wealthy, single, older women - plan their holidays to have romance and sex with a companion who knows how to make them feel special and give them attention.

While men often choose Asia for their sex tourism trips, the hotspots for women are Southern Europe, the Caribbean (led by Jamaica, Barbados and the Dominican Republic), Gambia, Kenya and Senegal and, more locally, Bali and Phuket.

Female sex holidays are not a new phenomenon. In recent years the industry has grown in popularity, although the subject is still very much taboo and has provoked ongoing debate between filmmakers, writers and researchers. Due to its secrecy, there are no reliable figures showing how many women have taken part in sex tourism since the 1980s, but according to Reuters, approximately 80,000 North American and European romance-seeking women travel to Jamaica every year.

One of the first mainstream movies that tackled the topic was made in 2005, the French Heading South, starring Charlotte Rampling, which focuses on a group of middle aged American and European women who visit Haiti in the late 1970s. They lavish the impoverished local boys, some of them still teenagers, with money and gifts and the boys are very eager to provide them with sex.

Another movie, a documentary shot by Singaporean writer and director, Amit Virmani, was about the most well-known open secret of Bali - the 'Kuta Cowboys'. He came up with the idea of making Cowboys in Paradise after meeting a 12-year old boy in Bali who confessed an eagerness "to grow up and be of sexual service to Japanese women".

These men and boys are the controversial beach ambassadors who made Bali one of the leading destinations for female sex tourists, landing the director with death threats from disgruntled locals. When the trailer went viral on YouTube after the film's release in April 2010, the Bali police arrested 28 'cowboys', but they were subsequently released.

The film touches upon occasional unsafe sex practices and concerns are raised about sexual transmitted infections - though there is no mention of the locals receiving any sexual education or having regular STI screenings.

Rent-a-Rasta, by J. Michael Seyfert, follows the lives of Jamaican men who offer their 'services' to foreign women in exchange for money, gifts or sometimes the promise of a better future abroad.

The latest film, Paradise: Love is directed by Austrian director Ulrich Seidl and competed at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The film is a confrontational, often ugly depiction of different forms of desperation and exploitation set against a sex tourism backdrop at the beachfront of Kenya, splitting audiences between vehement disgust and fervent praise.

I became interested in the topic when I saw a 42-year-old client in my practice, who split up with her husband some years ago. She loves archaeology and last year went on a holiday to Jordan to see Petra. She is quite well-off and she hired a private tour guide, who showed her around. They got on really well - he was 28 and told her he was writing his PhD and was a guide to support himself through his studies.

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My client is very attractive and believed him when he told her that she is beautiful and he loved older women. He was intelligent, good looking, gave her attention, compliments and affection. She had been single for a while and when they ended up having sex, some days later, she could not believe her luck. She had completely fallen in love with him - and she believed he felt the same about her.

When the holiday finished he told her he would save up money to visit her in Australia, but he first had to finish his thesis. She was so love-struck that she offered to send him money every month so he could give up his job and study full time. As a farewell present she bought him a brand new laptop so they could Skype to stay in touch.

They did keep in touch, and she sent him money. He then asked her if she would pay for a plane ticket for him to come to Sydney to visit her and look for a job in Australia, because he missed her so much.

When my client told me the story she admitted that at the time she really believed him, but now felt so stupid. After transferring $5,000, she never heard from him again. She was so embarrassed that she did not tell any of her friends and she really came to see me to debrief.

She's not the first woman who has been conned and she won't be the last.

Perhaps if the female sex tourism industry received more publicity and scrutiny, it would be safer for everyone?

-  Sydney Morning Herald

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