Older Women and Sex Tourism

As I was surfing the blogosphere for the elder beat, I came across this Reuters report:

Older white women join Kenya's sex tourists
By Jeremy Clarke

MOMBASA, Kenya, Nov 26 (Reuters) - Bethan, 56, lives in southern England on the same street as best friend Allie, 64.

They are on their first holiday to Kenya, a country they say is "just full of big young boys who like us older girls".

Hard figures are difficult to come by, but local people on the coast estimate that as many as one in five single women visiting from rich countries are in search of sex.

The 2006 movie Heading South comes to mind, described by the New York Times reviewer Elizabeth Hayt as a film...

"...about older single women visiting 1970’s Haiti in a female version of sex tourism.

The women in the film, in their late 40’s and 50’s, are spending a vacation at a resort where impoverished local beach boys serve as holiday gigolos. The teenagers devote themselves to nourishing the women’s starved libidos in exchange for food, gifts and temporary refuge from the perils of the island’s repressive regime.

Are these indicators of sexual liberation for older women? Amy at Amy's Robot emphatically says yes and salutes these women in her post Young Kenyan men enjoy same gifts-for-sex benefits young women have had for centuries..

She gives a nod to the old adage of what's good for the goose is good for the gander:

Old, wealthy sugar daddies everywhere have long enjoyed taking much younger women out, showering them with gifts, and having sex with them. Some might go so far as to marry them (Billy Joel, Donald Trump, Fred Thompson, Ben Kingsley, Les Moonves, I could go on all day) but plenty more just enjoy the arm candy for a while then drop them (George Soros).

She also believes that the young men in service to these women receive benefits in return:

At last, young men from poor countries with little opportunity for living in economic security get to enjoy the same temporary access to nice clothes and fancy dinners that young American women have been hustling to get their hands on forever! Why should sex-for-goods be exclusively a rich man/poor woman transaction? I'm so glad to see these enterprising young African men are finally able to exploit their youthful hotness with all the savvy of a midwestern high school dropout draping herself over aging producers at Hollywood parties.

22 year-old Joseph, a Kenyan man who says he has slept with over 100 white women, says:

"When I go into the clubs, those are the only women I look for now," he told Reuters. "I get to live like the rich mzungus (white people) who come here from rich countries, staying in the best hotels and just having my fun.

At Under the Canopy, blogger Ipanema suggests there might be no harm in these holiday trysts:

Perhaps these ladies are having a good time. And I think it is not bad to enjoy the years when personal happiness is underneath sagging skin. At 50+ and 60+ and financially secure, they have means to satisfy what seems to be an arid sex life. I am beginning to think that perhaps 60 is the new 40.

But, African American author/blogger Monica Jackson calls out the racism in these sex holidays:

...older white women are sex tourists in Kenya! They are going there just to get boned by fine young black men. Don't they realize that once you try black you don't go back? (snort)

And, Jill at Feministe calls out the power imbalance and exploitation in this arrangement "...where black men are accessories for consumption, kind of like the beaded African necklaces the women take back home."

People are not souvenir beads; they are not exotic pets to experiment with on vacation. I’m not against sex work, and I’m not suggesting that the men discussed in this article have no agency. But I am suggesting that it’s impossible to divorce this scenario from a history of racism, colonialism, and the use of black bodies for the pleasure and service of white people.

You can count on me to be the first to jump up and applaud older women who are comfortable and confident in their sexuality, particularly in a culture where such women are reduced to unseemly caricatures (the current ageist/sexist lexicon being the MILF and the cougar). I also appreciate why some bloggers sing the praises of bold women who visit a tropical locale to pursue their sensual desires, women who know what they want and go out and get it.

However, as explored in the feminist and African American blogs, this is a scenario with many disturbing intersections, a collision of racism, economic and social inequality, European colonialism, the possible emergence of another AIDS vector in these groups of women (the incidence of AIDS in people over 50 increased by 500% between 1995 and 2003), and gender stereotyping.

An aspect that has not been considered is the sheer sensationalism of this Reuters report. Female sex tourism has a long history, mentioned in academic papers and popular literature (James Michener's voluminous "Hawaii" includes an entire chapter dedicated to the story of a virile Waikiki beach boy charged with the intimate care of wealthy female visitors). Clearly, this story has been told before, why is this being brought up now?

The racist and exploitative issues notwithstanding, what has been most troubling to me were the ugly ageist responses to this story from primarily male bloggers:

"What hath the feminist revolution brought? In Kenya it has brought wrinkled white women looking for a good time with a young man."

"A word of warning: don't think about a middle-aged or elderly woman you know while you read this story. It'll put you off your lunch."

"It seems lot's of old gals are hiking up their support hose, smearing on the red lipstick, festooning the wig and headin' off to Africa for a safari....a love safari...a very wrinkly love safari."

But, what's new? These same tired insults are hurled at any older woman enjoying her sexuality, whether on the beaches of Mombasa or Miami, with a hired lover or her own husband.

Grace Davis, Contributing Editor, Life/Elders, also blogs at State of Grace

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