Connect to share and comment

The Jordanian desert's other delight: sex tourism

Sign of the times or serious taboo? Female sex tourists sample the delights of Jordan's desert.

A study abroad student in Egypt at the time, she was living in Cairo, one of the most polluted, crowded cities in the world. As in most Arab cities, it’s often difficult for Westerners to cross the cultural divide and immerse in the local culture. For Anne and many of her friends, the Egyptian oases provided both an escape from the city and a way into the local culture.

“It was so romantic to go out and be in the White Desert and I guess it was a little bit of trying to integrate too,” she said. “It’s just such a beautiful place and [the guide] knew where he was going, he was so confident, so there was that. But for some other people, it was just fun for them.”

After spending a year in Egypt where she had a casual relationship with a Bedouin guide whom she came to consider a close friend, and working for two years in Jordan, Anne said that she’d met many young women who'd had a desert fling. On a camping trip of all girls, she said, it would be very normal for at least one girl to hook up with one of the guides.

“It’s fun, and if you’re not dating anyone else then why not? You’re spending all night with these people, if you were going out to a club and you ended up spending all night with someone, I mean, chances are something is going to happen,” she said, adding: “They cook you dinner, too. It’s pretty nice.”

During one of his first trips as a tour guide, Suleman Zalabeh said he was startled when a European woman began making out with another guide in front of him. Three years later, Zalabeh, now 21, said he’d had sex with more than 25 tourists. He recently got engaged to a local woman and said he'd stopped having relationships with other women and that his wife didn’t know about his past.

Although Zalabeh enjoyed most of these encounters, looking back he said he now felt conflicted. “I’m not proud of these things,” he said. As a Muslim, he said he felt some remorse for having sex outside of marriage.

According to Attayak Zalabeh, manager of a tour company in Wadi Rum, experiences like Suleman Zalabeh’s are common. Most guides begin working when they are 18 or 19 years old, a prime age for sexual experimentation. After several years, they get married and shortly move into management jobs where they spend less time working directly with groups in the desert.

As a young man, Attayak Zalabeh, now in his mid-30s, had several relationships with foreign women. Now married, he said he advised his young employees against doing as he did.

“If you are a guide, you find out it’s true [that you should avoid relationships with foreign women]. As a guide, it’s not good to try to go with women, because it’s not good for business,” he said, explaining that if a tour guide is busy focusing on one woman, they neglect the rest of the tour group and create unhappy customers. More importantly, he worried about young men getting sexually transmitted diseases and violating their commitment to Islam.

Read more on female sex tourism:

Introduction: for love or money?

Senegal draws tourists with sun, sea ... and sex

Q&A: Romance on the road and what women want