In praise of sex tourism

Sex tourists aren't very popular. Discriminatory, prejudiced, stereotyped talk about this minority is all too common. And strangely enough, liberal intellectuals never object when this unpopular minority is being attacked.

One of the discriminatory stereotypes one often hears about sex tourists: they are ugly, old, bald, fat men who only can get sexual satisfaction in third world countries. Suppose this is true, what's so bad about this? I think every enlightened intellectual ought to applaud fat old men going to Thailand every summer. This way, the inequality in the world is being reduced - and this is after all the ultimate goal of the progressive thinkers. Men who are unattractive because of their fatness, baldness, old age etcetera are sexually worse off than men who are young, handsome, etcetera. This is a shameful form of inequality, and certainly not less of an injustice than the inequality in incomes that makes our western capitalist societies so outrageously unjust. Happily, the sexually disadvantaged have the opportunity to visit third world countries, where they can eliminate their disadvantaged position. One could say that sex tourism is the means towards the liberation of the sexual proletariat. It is incomprehensible to me why liberals would object to this important way of achieving equality.

Sex tourists are often criticized because they 'take advantage' of the third world prostitutes, who sell their bodies because they are forced by poverty to do so. This is a strange criticism. Everybody who cares about the welfare of the third world hookers should hope that they get as many western customers as they can handle. If sex tourists stay away from third world countries, the only effect will be that the poor prostitutes in these countries, after losing the income from the sex tourists, will become even poorer. In fact, the sex tourists are giving a kind of foreign aid, and a very effective kind of foreign aid to boot: for a change, the money doesn't disappear into the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, and it isn't being spent on weapons or senseless prestige projects either; instead, it goes straight into the pockets of the poor population. Add to this the fact that in general sex tourists act rather feminist: most of them practice a private form of affirmative action (without any laws forcing them to do so!): they prefer female prostitutes to male prostitutes. This way the disadvantaged women in third world countries are given the opportunity to advance their economic position and catch up with the men.

Sex tourists are also criticized because they don't pay the third world prostitutes enough for their services. Expressions like 'exploitation' are not uncommon. In this view, sex tourism is not bad in itself, only the fact that the tourists don't pay more than the prostitutes ask them to pay is bad. This is another peculiar criticism. Prostitution is not the only service that is relatively cheap in third world countries: other services like hotels, restaurants, transportation etcetera are also relatively cheap. Still, nobody is mad at tourists because they pay taxi drivers or restaurant owners no more than the market price. Why then should tourists pay prostitutes more than the market price?

A final objection to sex tourism: there are women in third world countries who are forced to prostitute themselves by threat of violence. But if one is to believe the reports in the western media, many women in the west are also forced to prostitute themselves by threat of violence. Those who agitate against sex tourism because of the violence some of the prostitutes suffer, ought to agitate against the whoremongers in the west as well. There is no reason to single out sex tourists for a special attack. On the contrary: when the whorewhoppers in the west decide to stop visiting prostitutes, the western prostitutes who lose their jobs can go on welfare, whereas for most prostitutes in the third world the only alternative is abject poverty.

Furthermore, it's a rather strange idea to abolish an entire industry just because there are some criminals working in that industry. It seems easier and more reasonable to try to stop the abuse. Today there are a lot of organisations like 'Fair trade' or 'Trans-fair International' which have followed in the footsteps of the Dutch organisation 'Max Havelaar' , the first fair trade initiative . These organisations offer their own consumer labels, which guarantee the liberal consumer that their snacks (chocolate, coffee, and the like) are made without child labour and other forms of capitalist exploitation. Why isn't there a progressive organisation that offers a consumer label for brothels in the Third World? This way, the enlightened sex tourist will be guaranteed that the women of his choice prostitute themselves of their own free will.

To sum up: the common objections to sex tourism are groundless. Sex tourism is an important means towards achieving three liberal goals: 1) it promotes sexual equality; 2) it combats poverty in the third world; 3) it advances the economic position of women. The current irrational taboo on sex tourism restrains many liberal and other conventional thinking men from realizing these praiseworthy goals during their holidays. So instead of preserving the taboo on sex tourism, all well-meaning and enlightened intellectuals and other do-gooders should promote it enthousiastically. 

Bart Croughs

Webmaster: P.A. Croughs

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