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Romance on the road: what women want

A Q&A with Jeannette Belliveau, author of "Romance on the Road," on women who travel for sex and companionship.

Bedouin men in Petra, Jordan, where local guides and other tourism industry workers who offer sex to women on vacation have been dubbed "Malboro Men." (Tom A. Peter/GlobalPost)

Female sex tourism: for love or money? In a series of stories, GlobalPost looks at the women of means who find "romance" on vacation from Jamaica to Jordan to West Africa.

GlobalPost: How widespread is female sex tourism?

Jeannette Belliveau: The overview that I have found in my research, this is pretty much global. You can pick out the Bedouin, or Jamaica, or Italy, or Kenya … going on anywhere there’s a resort that women go to in the entire developing world. Even places you wouldn’t call resorts — places like Nepal. If a woman is going there to hike a mountain, then there’s some opportunity for her and the guys, or surdars, to get involved.

This is going on everywhere from Fiji to Peru, well outside of the Caribbean and Africa and southern Europe. It’s very global, it’s very longstanding — the first women who traveled for romance were English and American women in the 1840s who went to Italy. It sort of skyrocketed after jet travel occurred — I guess the jet engine was invented in 1958 and then we had resort travel.

The minute jets hit places like the Gambia, Uganda ... there was sex tourism there. Bam, someone built a hotel and then the men and women get together.

GP: Is this practice any different from the prostitution trade, which overwhelmingly targets largely men.

JB: I very firmly don’t look at this as prostitution because so many of the countries even within the Caribbean, the more affluent men would be very insulted if you gave them money and the poor men won’t accept it.

The same thing is going on either case — the woman is away from home and she’s free to do what she wants, and she’ll get involved with a local guy, and he could be a university professor or he could be a fisherman. Depending on what he is … she might give him a gift.

I guess you do have overt cases probably more with the European women than with the Americans. They bring cash and they pay for what they get, but there’s many hundreds of thousands of women who engage in it and for the most part, they don’t pay for it.

In about one out of 30 cases it leads to a permanent relationship.

Which means, within all these various activities there’s some very, very sincere dating going on — a long-distance version of what does happen in Boston.

It’s just that you met a guy on your trip to the Bahamas versus at work.

The woman, her pluses … they’re not just money, often it’s very good health compared to the local women — she’s very healthy especially for her age and she also represents opportunity to whole continents of men.

Literally outside my door in Baltimore is the $25 blow job prostitution that drug addicts engage in to buy their next hit. Then there’s a big continuum up to and including the $2,000 call girls in Hollywood who don’t walk the streets. 

The Italian women who pay for sex, and the women who pay for sex in Jamaica, they’re really outliers for a phenomenon that isn’t that different … .

But I went to Greece and I had affairs with local guys. I didn’t dream of paying them. I think that that is just far more likely. There’s some women out there paying for this, yes, but I would wager a guess that 98 percent of the women are just doing … the Shirley Valentine type of thing — just a holiday in the sun with a little fling and there’s no money, not even a meal purchased for the guy.