According to the definition of the World Trade Organization (WTO), sex tourism refers to organized trips, within or outside the tourist industry, to engage in a commercial sexual relationship. Sex tourism can be domestic (commercial sexual activity within the same country), or international, involving cross-border trips for the same purpose.
Commercial sexual relationship can engage adults and children. Child sex tourism is illicit, though it forms a major portion of a multi-billion-dollar, fast-growing industry linked to human trafficking and child pornography. Child sex tourism is mainly practiced in Thailand, Brazil, Cambodia and India, WTO figures show and is also associated with sexual exploitation of children - mostly of poor origin in underdeveloped countries - and is intermeshed with adult sex trade.
The United States has relatively rigid laws related to sex abuse of children, keeping track of people who have engaged in sexual relations with underage people and reporting to authorities when such offenders reside in the area. In general, sex tourists favor Thailand, the Philippines, Brazil, Kenya and the Dominican Republic among other preferred destinations.
Female sex tourism, or trips by women for sexual intercourse, is practiced in Southern Europe, The Caribbean, in some African countries and also in Peru, Morocco and El Salvador. Sex tourists usually go to countries where prostitution is legal or local laws are more relaxed, using the advantage of lower costs of services. Sex tourism is also believed to benefit both the sex industry and the tourism industry (taxi, hotels, restaurants and airlines).
Organizations protecting human rights alert on the negative health, cultural and social effects of sex tourism as it prospers on the basis of economic, social, age and gender inequalities. Others insist that sexual activity is a private issue and institutions should stay away.
Historically, sex tourism is linked to the post-Vietnam War period and the visits to massage parlors and brothels near military bases in Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines. Still, the historical link is not consistent as sex tourism developed in countries without such backgrounds such as Kenya.
Traditionally, sex tourism is related to male economic and financial domination over women, who are perceived as victims. In cases where women are not victims the concept draws from the Victorian age and the view of fallen women who are outcast from reputable society. However, the discussions on sex tourism and its consequences gained new edge with the rise of feminism and new concepts on the role of females in the sex industry (sex worker), the move toward free sexual expression supported by media and advertising and the awareness that women could play the dominant role in the commercial sex relation (male prostitution). But regardless of new terminology such as romance tourism (involving gifts for the sex work involved), the notion of commercial sexual relationship remains largely unchanged. Most sex workers in Europe and North America view their job as an occupational choice within their own educational, employment and social limits as a means of good income with flexible work hours and as not contradictory with their other female roles such as motherhood.
While prostitution in some parts of the globe (Asia) still involves female exploitation and female trafficking, sex tourism is also practiced in holiday resorts away from exploitation and porn industry. In her extensive works on the matter, Associated Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies at York University in Ontario, Canada, Kamala Kempadoo, argues that sex work in the Caribbean has some positive economic effects for those who practice it, giving sex workers the chance to break away from their poor backgrounds and earn money to start small business or engage in other economic activity.
The notion of sex tourism as organized sex tours has changed significantly since the growth of the Internet and easier access to sex workers. At the same time, the role of government agencies in addressing issues related to sex workers has increased since the 1980s with the spread of HIV/AIDS, which required popularization of safe sex practices and disease prevention campaigns.
In a nutshell, sex tourism is an intricate and obscure matter as it involves practices which are inconsistent with the traditional monogamous behavior and beliefs of the Judeo-Christian system. Sex tourists, in turn, are people who don't adhere to established modes of behaviour which are close to extramarital affairs, though the role of sex workers is somewhat different from the role of mistress.