Tourism and Sex Outside the “Sex Tourism Paradigm”: Tourists' Perspectives and Practices in a Sun and Beach Destination

Tourism and Sex Outside the “Sex Tourism Paradigm”: Tourists' Perspectives and Practices in a Sun and Beach Destination

Milene Lança (Faculty of Economics and Research Centre for Tourism, Sustainability and Well-Being (CinTurs), University of Algarve, Portugal) and Fernando Bessa Ribeiro (Sociology Department of the Social Sciences Institute and Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (CICS.NOVA), University of Minho, Portugal)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3156-3.ch017
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The relationship between tourism and sex has been intensively explored over the past decades. The great majority of the studies examining this relationship focus disproportionately on commercial sex tourism as if all the sexual encounters in tourism context are related to prostitution, commercialization, trafficking, inequalities, and disrespect for the human rights. Despite these contributions, the purpose of this chapter is to show that most of the romantic and sexual encounters that occur in a tourism setting are positive, gratifying, and nonpecuniary. Therefore, these relationships should be analyzed outside “sex tourism paradigm.” Results from 29 in-depth interviews with tourists in the Algarve (South Portugal) confirm the strong relationship between holidays and romantic and sexual behaviors, due to the liminal nature of tourism. In addition, results show different perspectives and behaviors according to gender, due to the continuous sexual double standard.
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The literature is relatively unanimous about the sexual nature of tourism. Tourism and sex have commonalities in providing the satisfaction of basic psychological and physiological needs of human beings (Cansel, Ekiz & Bavik, 2009). Moreover, sex is part of life and if people participate in sexual activities at home, then certainly one must expect them to participate in sex when they travel (McKercher & Bauer, 2003). In fact, it is supposed they would engage in sex more frequently or even with more intensity due to the liminal nature of tourism and the anonymity provided by the destination (Zhang & Xu, 2019).

Most of the studies produced about the relationship between tourism and sex has focused, however, on commercial sex tourism, child sex tourism, tourist orientated prostitution, human trafficking, gender inequalities, violation of the human rights and the spread of HIV as a result of sex tourism, especially in the less developed countries (Carter & Clift, 2000; Cohen, 1982; De Albuquerque, 1998; Kempadoo, 1999; Michel, 2009; O’Connell-Davidson, 2001; Oppermann, 1999; 1998; Piscitelli, 2004; Ribeiro & Sacramento, 2006; Sanchez-Taylor, 2000, among others).

Despite the great importance of these studies, helping raise awareness of legitimate issues, the commercialization of sex is only a small portion of the total spectrum of human sexual behavior during tourism (Carr & Poria, 2010; McKercher & Bauer, 2003; Ryan & Hall, 2001). Sex is an inherent element of tourism, not a specific segment (Cantalice, 2009) and most of the romantic and sexual encounters that happen in tourism context are satisfying and nonpecuniary (McKercher & Bauer, 2003; Oppermann, 1999). For many people, especially couples or families on vacation, sex is an «incidental» activity that represents the continuation of their regular sex lives, although possibly at a higher frequency and intensity (McKercher & Bauer, 2003). In fact, the vast majority of people who have sex when traveling, do it with their regular partners or with new found partners in a short but consensual and non-commercial relationship (Idem).

The purpose of this chapter is thus to examine tourists’ perspectives and practices related to sex and romance in one of the most recognized ‘sun and beach’ tourism destinations in Europe - the Algarve (south Portugal). The Algarve is not a sex tourism destination, meaning tourists do not come to the region with the purpose of engaging in commercial sex. At least, the results of this study show this is not their motivation for traveling. Nevertheless, the Algarve is a destination for families, couples, and friends on vacation, where sex plays a central role, far away from home and the daily life constraints. As stated by McKercher and Bauer (2003: 13), “(…) since most tourism involves traveling with one’s partner and family, it is also apparent that most sexual activities away from home involve lasting relationships. Such activities have generated little academic interest because they are neither controversial nor out of the ordinary”. Therefore, there is a need to understand tourists’ sexual behaviors outside the “sex tourism paradigm”, integrating a new perspective, that of “sex and the sexual during people’s leisure and tourism experiences” (Carr & Poria, 2010), (see Figure 1).

The results are part of the first author’s PhD thesis and suggest a strong relationship between vacation trip and romantic and sexual encounters, both in terms of new involvements and in strengthening the lasting relationships. The liminal nature of tourism provides new opportunities to engage in sex and romance with the usual partners or with new found partners at the destination. Because vacation time is limited, tourists perform sex and romance in an «extra-ordinary» way, creating good memories about the experiences and the destination.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Sex Tourism Paradigm: The tendency to mistake sexual relationships during tourism as “sex tourism” or “commercial sex tourism.”

Romance Tourism: The belief that in tourism context, men seek tout court sex, while women are more interested in love and romance.

Sexual Double Standard: The belief the men and women should have different sexual behaviors.

Liminal Nature of Tourism: A spatial, temporal, mental, and sensorial border that is crossed when someone is touring, allowing to adopt completely different behaviors of that of the daily life.

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