Paradise Lost? Female Sex Tourism in Belize

Thumbnail Image
female sex tourism, sex tourism, Belize, sex work, liminal travel
Lori, Danièle
As the global transnational sexual economy proliferates, female sex tourism too is on the rise, particularly in the Caribbean region. Yet little is known about the experiences, perceptions, attitudes and beliefs of those who participate in this phenomenon, nor of the communities who observe it. This research contributes to ongoing scholarship by converging the seldom-heard voices of four distinct populations from the island destination of Caye Caulker, Belize. A passive snowballing technique was used to recruit local male sex workers (5), female sex tourists (2), local residents (2) and expatriates (2) for in-depth qualitative interviews. Observation conducted over peak tourism seasons (2013-2019), informal discussions with key informants (42), and member-checking were among the ethnographic methods integral to this study's unique design. Tourist women reported suspending reality, eroticizing otherness and relational intimacy as key motivations for involvement with local men, and leveraged their privileged positions to exert influence over relationship outcomes. Local men described pursuing tourist women to attain lifestyle upgrades, sexual gratification and peer recognition, and employed affective labor, ethnocultural commodification and masculinity performance as strategies to those ends. These findings challenge the dominant discourse which posits binary conceptualizations of tourist women as either 'exploited' (romance tourism) or 'exploiters' (female sex tourism), advancing the argument that these be reconsidered and reframed as stages in a developmental process.