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Female Sex Tourists in Jamaica

by Julie 

Posted: 21 June 2004
Word Count: 4340

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Two flights are due into Montego Bay airport, one from Toronto, the other from London. Clinton waits on the beach for the new arrivals, hoping one of them will bring him good fortune. ”I look for the milk bottles” he told me, explaining how ultra-white skin is a giveaway, “the ones who’ve just arrived. Milk bottles that need filling…“

Negril, with its seven mile stretch of beautiful white sand, turquoise sea and glorious blue skies attracts the majority of Jamaica’s 1.3 million tourists every year, primarily from the US, Canada and Europe. It is known as a ‘swinging’ resort, where anything goes. Home to Hedonism 11, where nude marriages and orgies in the Jacuzzi are a common occurrence, it has been described as a place where visitors can ‘let it all hang out’.

Many white, western women come to Negril to do precisely that. Clinton is one of the hundreds of young men working the beach, and like most of the beach boys, is desperately poor. His primary income comes from accompanying lone female travellers who want sex with Jamaican men.

He lives with his family in a shanty town above Negril in a tin-roofed shack with no electricity or running water. In contrast to this extreme poverty, the hotels and apartments that line the beach are luxurious. Jamaica is a country where resort hotels cost $200 a night and hotel workers make $80 a week. While some beach boys may be content to have their entertainment and meals paid for, the ultimate is marriage to an American or European and a ticket out of the poverty.
Clinton’s dreadlocks, wide smile and good physique make him attractive to many of the white female tourists.

Clinton has a ‘regular girlfriend’, a 45-year-old Canadian professional, who comes to see him four times a year. “She’s a good friend and looks after me. Sends me money when I can’t pay me rent.” He told me he works ‘in the tourist industry’, and won’t openly admit he is a beach boy. “If I take a tourist out, and she wants to help me out as a friend, give me money and let me stay with her in the hotel, what’s wrong with that? Of course I have sex with them, but that’s cos I’m not gay – I like women.” Clinton’s current ‘girlfriend’ is a fifty-year-old grandmother from the US, whom he met yesterday on the beach.

Negril, like some resorts in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, is renowned as a place for white, middle-aged women to come in search of the ‘big bamboo’. UK researchers Jacqueline Sanchez Taylor and Julia O’Connell Davidson found that the usual analysis of sex tourism does not allow for the possibility of women as the buyers of sexual services, because “Prostitute-users are, by definition, male, and this assumption is shared by many researchers and theorists…” The researchers interviewed 240 women in Negril, and two similar resorts in the Dominican Republic. Almost a third of the women had engaged in one or more sexual relationships with local men during the course of their holiday. Although sixty percent of them admitted to certain ‘economic elements’ to their liaisons, these women did not perceive their sexual encounters with local men as prostitute-client transactions or view their sexual partners as prostitutes.

Those who admitted that they come to Negril for sex all believe they are helping the men, and the local economy, by giving them money and gifts. However, much of the local community is scathing about the beach boys, and think the women are misguided and naive. “These men earn $100 dollars each time they have sex with the women” Richard, the manager of the Nirvana Apartments told me, “ For oral sex, which is taboo for Jamaican men, they can earn more like $150”. However, what the women and the beach boys told me, is that many of them will act as a guide to the island, and throw in sexual services, often for as little as a hot meal and a place to sleep.

HIV and AIDS figures reflect the fact that condom use by the beach boys is sporadic. In the main tourist areas, the number of those infected is higher than elsewhere on the island. Between 1 and 2 percent of Jamaica’s 2.6 million people have AIDS or are infected with HIV, and the numbers of people infected are doubling every 12 to 18 months. Currently, almost two and a half thousand Jamaicans are known to be suffering from AIDS, seven and a half percent of whom are under the age of sixteen. Factors contributing to this rise include growth in the sex tourism industry. Research on safer sex practices of tourists in European holiday destinations reveals that women are less likely to use contraception or protection against STDs that at home. Many people on the island confirmed this. Stanley Gottlieb, an American who owns the Nirvana beach apartments in Negril is shocked at what he has seen in his 20 years on the island. “The women do things here they would never do at home. They have unsafe sex with risky men, walk along the beach drunk, get into cars on their own”.

In the Irie bar Anna, a 40 year old business woman from East Anglia, sways to the loud reggae coming from the huge sound system, her hand resting on BB’s knee, a Jamaican from nearby Green Island. The list of cocktails on sale include ‘Big Bamboo’, ‘Dirty Banana’ and ‘Jamaican Steel’. She would describe herself as an ‘accidental sex tourist’. “I was reading all about the sex stuff in Lonely Planet on the way here, and thought “Oh my god, I didn’t realise it was like that. I suppose it made me curious”. Anna developed an interest in African and Caribbean culture through hanging out with her Nigerian boyfriend back home. “But I didn’t only come here because I wanted to shag the pants off some Jamaican guy”. Anna met BB on the beach, hours after she arrived on the island, and had sex with him that day. “I knew he was angling to do it without a condom, but I don’t know him well enough for that”.

She says it is the attention, more than the sex that she enjoys. “ I wondered what it would be like to be with a Jamaica man. The notion I have of them is that they love English women. I thought I’d be popular and accepted, but I had no idea that you really could have the pick of the bunch. They’re around you like bees round a honey pot.”

Like the other women I spoke to, Anna eroticised black men, and was taken with the myths about their sexual prowess. “You’ve heard the phrase ‘once black, never back’? Well I can understand it”.

Anna admitted that she is expected to pay for “most things” and that when they first met, BB asked her directly for money. “But he hasn’t asked me for anything today”. It is 1pm on the second day. BB showers her with compliments and tells her she is the ‘most beautiful woman he has seen all year’. At first I didn’t believe him. I mean, look at me, I’m hardly an oil paining, and I’m overweight. But they love big women – to them it’s a sign of wealth.”

Seventeen percent of Jamaicans live in poverty. Many children from poor, rural communities are not enrolled in school, and four thousand drop out every year. Tourism and agriculture are the main sources of income. For fit young men with no job opportunities, hustling on the beach – either by selling cigarettes, fruit, ganja or sex - is their only way to feed themselves and their dependents. “You can buy anything on Negril”, said Alphonso, an elderly Rasta who sells jewellery on the beach, “a man for your woman, a woman for your man, a woman for your woman”.

The Jamaican government have made half-hearted attempts to curb the behaviour of the beach boys. During the late 1990s winter seasons, harassment of tourists in nearby Ocho Rios and Montego Bay received such intense publicity that the government proposed to double the fines for harassers and to establish a night court to swiftly process offenders. Nothing much has happened since, although civilian security teams patrol Negril beach day and night.

One man security keeps an eye on is Robin. He decks his speedboat on the water’s edge, and waves to a group of older German women. They giggle and wave back. I am told by one of them that he is a ‘full-time gigolo’ and that she ‘dated’ him the previous evening’. Robin is 25, skinny and shaven headed. He has badly pockmarked skin and a lazy eye. Although he is hardly a conventionally good-looking hunk, tourists seem to love him. “My reputation gets around the island” he tells me. “Jamaican men can keep going at sex for over an hour. Back home they say their husbands can’t even go for 10 minutes. Some guys just say ‘you gotta pay me to fuck you’, but I make a friend of them.” Women routinely approach him for sex. “Some girls say ‘you’re really black, I like your skin, you’re nice and tall’. Especially the bigger girls – they always nice to me you know. They see me swimming and say ‘hey, you got a bigger dick than my man back home”.

His regular girlfriends take him shopping and give him money to spend. Robin usually has two or three women on the go at any one time. “Understand – if I work for you, I want you to pay me, I like to be independent, I don’t want no-one using me. I’m not a gigolo, I’m a player. I love girls.”

His favourite tourists are black American’s, because they have ‘fewer hang-ups than others’, although he likes being seen with white women (“I can get a black woman anytime”). Like the other ‘baldheads’, he is critical of ‘rent a dreads’. “They grow their hair for the tourists, cos they all want to fuck Bob Marley. No way are they real Rastas. They stink, but the women like that. They just pick up the tourists for money, but I like to give them a good time!”

Debbie, a 43-year-old tour operator from Canada, has been coming to Jamaica twice a year since she was 20, and is a veteran sex tourist. Brash, loud, overweight and striking looking, she was keen to tell me about her success with Jamaican men. The guys have always approached her. “They are very up-front. They come up to you and say ‘I like you and want you’, and then you pick and choose which one you like and which one you want. It’s so simple. I think, OK, I like that one cos he’s got locks, or I like him cos his teeth are white, or he’s got muscles”. Debbie comes to Jamaica primarily for sex with local men, and is very specific about the type of guy she likes. “My current one is gorgeous! Not one ounce of fat on his body, and locks down to his knees!” She is not looking for love, and is scathing of those who are. “You know what, if you can control these guys you can have a great time. Some of the women go all gaga on them, but I don’t want anything permanent – just to enjoy myself”.

Debbie loves the sex, but admitted that some of her friends are disillusioned. “A lot of men here smoke ganja, and because life is so hard they drink a lot, and the combination can make a man not perform that well. So they’ve been extremely disappointed, because they’re after the marathon fuck, two weeks of banging, and are thinking ‘what’s going on, I’ve got this huge Rasta with locks down his back and I aint got nothing’. I’ve actually had to go and find another one for my friends, cos she’s said ‘this one’s no good!’”.

The relationship between beach boy and female tourist is seen by many as ‘romance and fun’. Not one of the men would admit to money being a prime motivation for their liaisons with the women, although some of the women did. For them, that still did not mean they were sex tourists, but were simply ‘helping out’. Many of the men are so poor that they will have sex with a woman for food. Debbie told me “they will come up to me and say ‘I wanna eat today’, which means ‘I will do anything for a hot meal’. That means oral sex, fucking, even a massage, if I buy them some rice and peas”. The knowledge that many of her sexual partners are desperately poor does not seem to spoil her enjoyment.

In the distance, groups of fresh-faced, attractive young American women walk along the beach in revealing swim wear, and are ignored by the beach boys. O’Neill, a barman at Cool Vibes told me “they don’t have much money to spend, so they are less fun than the older women.” When the ‘spring breakers’ arrive in town, much welcomed by the bar owners and hoteliers, the men complain that their business is affected.

I bump into Anna and BB at the Roots Bamboo beach party one evening. BB is glued to her side. “He doesn’t like me to talk to other guys” Anna told me, “They (Jamaicans) are like Africans. Very possessive. Mind you, I wouldn’t trust ninety percent of the Jamaicans, but I trust this one”. Later that week I saw BB a couple of miles along the beach, with his arm around a French Canadian woman.

Robin took me out on his glass bottom boat, and, like all the other beach boys I interviewed tried to persuade me that I needed an escort during my time on the island. Each time I asked the men to describe their ideal woman, they would describe me, hoping I would change my mind and be flattered by the regular compliments they showered on me. “It’s their job to be nice” said Patty who works at the Risky Business beach bar. “They run a weird sort of protection racket, moving in initially when the women are having hassle, and then hanging around constantly as the woman’s minder. I see sixty year olds hanging on the arm of some young Rasta. As soon as her money runs out, he’s off with the next one. I wish they’d learn, but they never do”.

While many women come to Jamaica purely for sex, others get snared by local men who exploit their vulnerability. The self-delusion of these women is rife, often believing that the men they have hooked up with are in love with them. Carrie is 35, and “not considered attractive back home”. She gave up her job as a lifeguard in Toronto to tour the Caribbean. Her long-term partner had recently died, and she had been ‘used and abused’ by men at home since her bereavement. Carrie met Winston on arrival in Negril (“I was being ripped off in a bar, and he stepped in and helped me out”). After two weeks of ‘hot romance’ she moved on to another island, but found she was missing him so much she came back.

During the thirty minutes I spoke to her in the club where Winston was DJ, no fewer than five of Winston’s friends came up to check on her. “He wants to make sure I’m OK, and not hassled by any other men”. Cynics might say he was protecting his meal ticket. Although Carrie admitted paying for everything, and lending Winston money, she denies that his motive is financial. “I knew the reputation for that. Of course I buy him drinks and stuff – I want to do that. He looks after me in other ways. He borrowed a few bucks, cos his gig was cancelled. But I expect it back”. She told me she loves him, and that the sex is “great. They (Jamaicans) are so attentive, and have great bodies. I could never pull guys this fit and handsome in Toronto”.

Carrie was considering moving to Jamaica to be with Winston long-term. Winston told me he likes it when the women come back. “I have two American girlfriends who come to see me about twice a year. They always bring me nice presents, and look after me while they are here. I need a wife though, someone who can get me off the island.”

When women come to Jamaica to start a new life with the beach boys, that’s when things can dramatically change for the worst. Andrea Johnson, a Corporal with Negril police, told me “The relationship ends up sour and we have to intervene. I’ve seen some nasty domestic violence towards the white women who move in with their boyfriends. The men sometimes steal from the women, or beat them when they run out of money.”

Anna approached me on the beach to talk more about BB. It was as if she needed my reassurance that BB was not after her money. “Is there much theft on the last day?” she asked. Robin had told me about the men who rip the women off. “The dreads mon, they can’t do their jobs properly if they need to steal from the women. If she likes you, she give you what you ask for. If you diss them, they won’t come back and ask for you next time she’s in Jamaica”.

“They are always nice to me, whatever I do. It’s their job to be nice to women” says Chloe, a 50 year old sports instructor from Yorkshire. Chloe has been coming to Negril for 5 years, since she discovered her husband was having an affair with a friend from her aerobics class. “I thought, great, I’ve devoted 25 years of my life to this arsehole, and put up with his habits, boring sex and bringing up his children. Now it’s my turn to have fun”. Like so many other women, her inspiration to come to Negril was the 1998 film How Stella Got Her Groove Back, where Stella, a divorced black woman in her 40s takes some time off work and travels to Jamaica where she meets and falls in love with Winston, a local man who is half her age.

Chloe has ‘boyfriends’ every time she comes to Negril. Her current one is Clarence, a 23-year-old Rasta who sleeps on the beach and operates a Jet Ski when he can get the work. The rest of the time, he hustles white women like Chloe.

“The first day I met him, he asked me if I wanted to go to a reggae party that night. Actually, we didn’t make the party (laughs). I said to him ‘I can listen to Bob Marley at home, but I can’t get this there’, and grabbed his crotch! can’t believe I did that! He asked if it was OK to stay in the hotel with me, and could he order from room service? I said ‘sure’, I didn’t realise it would be as cheap a night. When I first came to Negril I was told they ask for $100 dollars for sex. I would never pay that, but I was willing to barter him down.”

Like a number of other women I spoke to, Chloe was not very impressed with the sex. “I had to almost force him to go down on me. I suppose it’s because strict Rastas don’t eat meat, so why should they eat that! After I got wise to the ways of Jamaicans, who are very much wham bam thankyou mam’, I made sure I taught them all how to do it properly.”

Michele, a local woman who works at one of the beachside bars, wonders what the tourists see in Jamaican men. “They know what it is I suppose, but I don’t see the attraction! Our men are lazy and good for nothing. They are not good lovers, all they do is get us pregnant and leave us to cope with the baby, while they’re off doing their own thing.” Police officer Andrea Johnson is also puzzled as to the attraction. “They say there’s non-like the Jamaican men. I don’t know why! They must know the reason, but it’s a secret to Jamaican women”. Klaus de Albuquerque, who researched Caribbean society and tourism, suggests that “Perhaps Euro-American women are prepared to accept their nights with the big bamboo as just another holiday activity: pleasurable, if not completely satisfying, like tourists everywhere”.

Certainly many of the white women have a notion that they are transgressing racial boundaries by having sex with black men, although the majority I spoke to did not do so at home. “White girls like walking with a black man, going to a party. They think it looks cool to mix up the colours”, Robin told me. “They say to me, ‘I hear black men big down there!’ Most have never been with a black man before, but once they do, they’re hooked!”

Lucy, 45 from California, fell in love with her first Jamaican man when she was 19. He since married a German woman and moved off the island, but her experience changed her perceptions of men. “Since then I have always gone for dark skinned men. They are so much sexier than white. And you know what, it’s true, black men have bigger penises”. Lucy is looking for romance, not just sex, on Negril. “It is the one time of the year that I feel I can have my pick of the bunch. Back home, cos I’m fat and not exactly beautiful, I tend to settle for men that aren’t that special looking. Here, they are gorgeous, and I can have any one I want, just about. I wanted to come here and feel all the feelings I had back then.” Sanchez Taylor and O’Connell Davidson argue that the reason that many of the tourist women delude themselves that they are not prostitute users reflects their racialised power over the men. “Racist ideas about black men being hypersexual and unable to control their sexuality enabled them to explain to themselves why such young and desirable men would be eager for sex with older, and/or often overweight women, without having to think that their partners were interested in them only for economic reasons. The men in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are not selling sex, but doing what comes naturally to them. Only women who had entered into a series of brief sexual encounters began to acknowledge that ‘it’s all about money’.“

Lennie, an older Rastafarian who sells trips on glass bottom boats, has a sideline of fixing up female tourists with beach boys. “The women are told to come to me when they book into their hotel, so I can fix their ‘company’ for them. Sometimes they ask for a tour guide – someone who knows the island well and will take them to parties. Other times they are more direct. They tell me what he should look like, smell like, even fuck like!” One hotel that caters mainly for German women offers a young male ‘guide’ for the week in with the price of the room.

Women like Debbie and Chloe, the ‘veterans’, are very clear. They are not looking for romance, but sex, and are happy to pay for the privilege. Others, such as Carrie and Anna fall in love, and naively believe that their love is reciprocated. They are often victims of bad relationships, low self-esteem and loneliness back home. The beach boys will exploit this, often treating them badly and ripping them off. However, whatever the intentions of the women who arrive in Negril, they are all excising their racial and economic power over the beach boys. Ignorance and lack of concern about the abject poverty and lack of choice that is the reality of those men’s lives results in a romanticisation of their actions. These women are exercising power they cannot use at home – their race, and their relative affluence.

Third hand, I heard a story of a teenage boy being locked in a hotel room and sexually assaulted by several American women. Whether or not this is the stuff of myths, there is no question that the behaviour of some of the women is abusive.

There are some obvious differences between female and male sex tourism. Although the beach boys are objectified and often sexually humiliated by the female tourists they tend not to fear or experience violence and sexual aggression in the way that female prostitutes routinely do, such as being beaten and raped. Neither are the beach boys vulnerable to criminalisation for their prostitution activities, unlike female prostitutes whose activities are illegal. The female sex tourists who chose to migrate to live in Jamaica usually find themselves in extremely abusive relationships with the very men who treated them ‘like queens’ when they were on the island as tourists.

What I found in Negril was complicated; I would return to my apartment depressed after a day of observing grey haired, sad women desperately seeking the love and approval of handsome young men, feeling worthless without a relationship, and beach boys so desperate for a hot meal they would agree to be treated as a commodity. One man who tried to pick me up for the week told me that as long as I wrote a letter supporting his visa application to visit the UK, he would take me out, and even pay for my drinks. “But let me give you the money first” he asked, “cos I aint gonna be seen by my friends buying a white woman’s drinks”. This warped sense of masculine and racial pride, coupled with desperation to better themselves, leave the Jamaican beach boys, and their country, with very little opportunity to shake off the legacies of slavery.

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Comments by other Members

Jubbly at 17:47 on 21 June 2004  Report this post
Hi Julie and welcome to WW, I've read a few of your articles over the years and always found them lively and well written. I enjoyed the Female Sex Tourists very much, it's a very absorbing topic full of issues that need addressing. I assume it's been commissioned or already published. I found the writing evocative and I was easily transported to the West Indies, I could also picture your chosen interviewees as clearly as if they were accompanied by photos. I recently returned from Thailand and found the same thing only from the more traditional male client perspective. Oh well, needs must I guess. Only found one typo, you left out the 't' in oil painting. Once again well done and I'll look forward to reading more of your work on the site.



Fearless at 18:59 on 21 June 2004  Report this post

Interesting perceptions on what strikes one as exploitation, insecurity et al. Reminds me a of a film I saw years ago about female sex tourism - 'Smile Orange', directed by Trevor Rhone. Ostensibly a comedy, it showed many of the attitudes and 'plays' you articulated so well. Good piece.


Account Closed at 20:40 on 21 June 2004  Report this post
Hi Julie,
A fascinating article. I'd heard about Jamaican men being attracted to overweight, white women, but I didn't realise that it was a form of male prostitution. I can imagine you felt depressed at the end of your stay.

I found this sentence didn't read properly: her hand resting on BB’s knee, a Jamaican from nearby Green Island. = the knee gets in the way!

Look forward to more of your work

anisoara at 23:14 on 25 June 2004  Report this post

This is very, very interesting. I had not heard of this before, but it's not surprising, is it? Excellent, well written article.


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