ANNA BELFRAGE

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time

Different gender, different standards

There has, apparently, been an upsurge over the latter years in trips to Gambia. Now why is that interesting? Well, it’s not your normal little holiday trip, no, the people who go to Gambia very often go to scratch one particular itch, namely their need for sex. The majority of these tourists are middle-aged European women. Maybe they’re lonely back home, maybe they like diversity, but whatever the case, they fly down to Gambia to hook up with a (much) younger Gambian man and spend the coming fortnight in a pretend relationship involving partying and sex. I imagine these ladies return home refreshed and energised by their recent sejour in warmer climes, sporting a nice sunburn and a sizeable collection of photos. I hope they are savvy enough to ensure that is all they come home with.

Interestingly, when journalists dig into this version of sex-tourism, there’s no condemnation. In fact, I would argue the angle is often that the European women are the victims, in that they gaze at their handsome young men with starry eyes, while he, cad that he is, is only in it for the money, milking his female companion as much as he can. Of course he does. He’s sleeping with women old enough to be his mother (and then some) with the sole purpose of making a living. That’s what prostitutes do. I would also argue the women are fully aware of the rules – plus they’re perfectly comfortable with how things work. They spend generously on their young man, they have a good time, and return home with no obligation to ever contact him again. Like an extended zipperless fuck, to paraphrase Erica Jong.

What happens in Gambia doesn’t stay in Gambia; it also happens in Bali. Caucasian women descend on the Bali beaches and are courted by handsome young Balinese. Very many of these gigolos have wives and children they support with the money they earn from the attention/affection starved ladies who throng their beaches. Their wives don’t seem to care overmuch as to how their men make their living. The men seem perfectly happy with the arrangement, and the female tourists return year after year, which one must assume indicates a high level of satisfaction with the arrangement.

Yet again, documentaries will lean towards depicting the women as victims – or at least no more than females with high sex drives, and isn’t it nice how things end up in a win-win situation? He earns enough to buy a new scooter, she leaves with a collection of love bites. It’s amusing rather than disturbing, a muffled little chuckle at the expense of these pathetic old cows. I mean, how can they possibly think these youngs studs have any genuine interest in them?

But what if the tourists descending on Gambia and Bali were men? What if it were middle-aged Caucasian MEN who trotted off to indulge their sexual urges with women young enough to be their daughters? Oh dear, oh dear! Horrible dirty old men, to believe these pretty young things could get anything out of sleeping with them! The poor women must be coerced, they probably have starving children to support, they live in sheds of corrugated steel in abject misery and their only lifeline to survival is to hook up with a wealthy tourist and sell their bodies. Documentaries and journalists would probably angle their stories in such a way as to depict the women as victims, the men as abusers – and we would all agree, thinking they’re slime-balls, those men who travel overseas to buy sexual favours. Different standards it seems; what is not okay for a man to do, is perfectly forgivable if a woman does it.

Maybe the reason why we view this so differently depending on the gender of the buyer lies in our inherited views on sex. Men who sleep around become experienced lovers, women who do so are slags. Therefore, it is less of a social stigma – in our Western eyes – for a man to be a gigolo than it is for a woman to be a whore, ergo it follows that the male prostitute is happier with his choice of profession than his female counterpart. One could almost go as far as to suggest the male prostitute ENJOYS his career choice, while it goes without saying that the lady hooker doesn’t – not unless she is an extremely depraved person.

Personally, I believe most people who prostitute themselves do it out of lack of choice. I don’t think very many girls (or boys) grow up dreaming of being a hooker. But then, I don’t think all that many grow up fantasizing about using a hooker either. Ultimately, it is all rather sad and sordid. But just to set things clear, the women buying sex are not the victims – no more than the men who do it are. Money talks, people. In some cases it talks loud enough to buy a pretend love affair for a fortnight, or an hour of dramatized sexual passion. Prostitution may be the world’s oldest profession – bar accountants, of course, how would the world cope without accountants? – and one thing never changes; the prostitutes do it for money, and most of them would much prefer to do something else. They’re the victims here, no matter their gender.

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