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Senegal draws tourists with sun, sea and sex

Female sex tourism in Senegal attracts women who will pay for romance.

Middle-aged European women go to Senegal's beaches to find romance with young men like these two who are playing beach football in the capital Dakar, May 24, 2005. (Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters)

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. 

DAKAR, Senegal — Women — often white, European and "of a certain age" — flock solo to Senegal's shores year-round for what one hotel manager called "the three 'S's: sun, sea and sex."

The growth of Senegal's female sex tourism has its roots in poverty and the lack of jobs for the country's young men. Senegal's unemployment for youths is estimated at 30 percent, according to the International Labor Organization, and the average person in Senegal earns about $3 a day, according to the World Bank.

“It’s a question of survival. Life is hard. If I didn’t have these women, I’d be struggling," said Moussa, a 31-year-old dreadlocked drum player who has been "dating" female tourists since 2003.

“The women come here alone. They hit on you, and you go with it,” Moussa said. “They like men with rastas who play the djembes [drums]. It’s part of the ambiance.”

"Besides," he added with a sly smile, "they know men who play the drums are powerful in bed."

Moussa flipped through a stack of photos. In one image, an overweight, Spanish woman — his first "girlfriend" — has her arms around his small frame. She gave him $500, he said, before heading home. Another photo is a self-taken shot of him with an Italian woman who he said gave him the $650 to open his souvenir shop in Dakar where we now sit, drinking spicy Touba coffee.

He pointed out the gifts tourists send him: CDs, USB drives, a guitar, an MP3 player and a DVD player.

“I don’t ask for money," he said. "We go out. They pay for everything. We have sex. Before they leave, they give me a bit cash to help me out."

Some call it male prostitution, while others say it's just women doing what middle-aged men have been doing for centuries: Taking up with someone half their age and giving that new friend an all-expenses-paid ride in exchange for sex and a new lease on life.

Moussa meets tourists primarily through referrals and friends of friends. He sees himself as “a tourism guide who offers some extra services,” that include sex and at times helping male tourists negotiate evenings with female prostitutes.

But, others in Senegal say it is not that innocent. It's exploitation on both sides, they say, and sex tourism has sullied the country's reputation and corrupted its youth.

But, closing up his shop back in Dakar to head off to drum practice, Moussa said he's not worried about what other people think.

"I haven't met her yet," he said, "The woman who's not so old, who loves me, who's willing to do anything. The woman who will get me a visa and a plane ticket out of here."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/senegal/100428/senegal-news-sex-tourism