Female Sex Tourism in Barbados: A Postcolonial Perspective

By Phillips, Joan | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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Female Sex Tourism in Barbados: A Postcolonial Perspective

Phillips, Joan, The Brown Journal of World Affairs

THE PREVAILING IMAGE OF SEX tourism is one in which a Western male sex tourist travels to the developing world-particularly Southeast Asia-to find an otherized female sex worker. Early studies on sex tourism tended to focus on this image, posing the worker as a victim of both economic and patriarchal power. ' However, since the mid-1990s, there has been growing acknowledgement that sex tourism is a dynamic feature of the tourism industry, with gender variables constantly changing.2 One now has the opportunity to study either one or both sexes together, theorizing how behaviors and roles are given gendered meanings, how labor is divided to express gender and gendered differences symbolically, and how social structures incorporate gender values and convey gender advantages in hierarchical relationships.3

Based on this broader framework, it is suggested that many of the sex tourists traveling to the developing world are female.4 Indeed, the entry of women as consumers within the sex tourism industry dates back to the early 196Os. At that time, Scandinavian, British, and German women began to travel to other European destinations-particularly to Italy, Spain, and Greece-in order to engage in situational sexual relations with local men. The arrival of mass tourism allowed women to travel farther afield to find young men.5

This article explores the interactions between white female tourists and local men in Barbados, and the implications of these relationships for indigenous gender and sexuality. It also seeks to examine the experiences, views, and attitudes of "beach boys" engaged in sex tourism, and explore the implications of female sex tourism for local communities. It is based on observation, group discussions, and in-depth interviews conducted by the author in Barbados from 1998 to 2000.


Theorists have argued that men journey to developing countries to reaffirm the superiority of their race, gender, or sexuality.6 However, to explain and conceptualize women's entry into sex tourism, some researchers have noticed a shift from earlier conceptual frameworks towards the notion of "romance tourism."7 For example, Suzanne Pruitt and Deborah Lafont, in their study of Jamaica, maintain that "these liaisons are constructed through a discourse of romance and long-term relationships, an emotional involvement not usually present in traditional sex tourism."8

Other commentators, however, argue that these relationships must also be understood from the context of postcolonialism.9 This perspective provides a context for a fuller understanding of the phenomenon under question. For example, studies on Caribbean tourism have long pointed to the link between prostitution and tourism and the postcolonial context in which it takes place. Researchers have arrived at a general consensus that tourism plays a large part in the othering and neocolonizing of people.10 Tourism and, by extension, sex tourism in the Caribbean is the crossroad at which race, gender, and the politics of sexuality intersect.11 These encounters must be understood in the international, historical, and contemporary socio-political contexts in which they take place. Thus, postcolonial theory offers a theoretical historical framework from which to understand the interactions between black Barbadian men and white female tourists within the ex-slave society of Barbados.


Some past research has pointed to Barbados as a haven for sex tourism.12 In many ways, the dynamics of its tourism industry, along with its impacts on the host community, are typical of the Anglophone Caribbean. A former British colony and the most easterly of the Caribbean islands, Barbados is eulogized in song as "the gem of the Caribbean Sea." With its white, sandy beaches; friendly people; and well-established infrastructure, Barbados is among the leading visited destinations in the Caribbean.

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