A new kind of sex tourism

Older white women are flocking to Kenya's beaches -- and they're not there to snorkel.

By Catherine Price
November 28, 2007 1:30AM (UTC)
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According to Reuters, there's a new form of sex tourism at work in Kenya -- older, rich, white women in search of young African lovers.

The article briefly profiles several British women in their 50s and 60s who have come to Kenya's beaches for some romance and companionship. Local authorities consider what the women are doing "unwholesome" and are trying subtle ways to dissuade the practice -- but it's not illegal, and is far less sketchy than a different kind of sex tourist that Kenya often attracts: child abusers.


According to the article (which, in turn, is referring to a joint study last year by Kenya's government and UNICEF), "as many as 15,000 girls in four coastal districts -- about a third of all 12-18 year-old girls there -- are involved in casual sex for cash," and up to 3,000 more boys and girls are in full-time sex work, engaging, in some cases, in what the report describes as the "most horrific and abnormal acts."

With that in mind, a couple of older women looking for fun doesn't seem like such an offensive idea, especially since the men interviewed for the article seem quite enthusiastic about the arrangement.

"When I go into the clubs, those are the only women I look for now," one young man is quoted as saying. "I get to live like the rich mzungus (white people) who come here from rich countries, staying in the best hotels and just having my fun."


So in other words, it seems like an industry is developing where one half is happy to barter for sex and companionship, and the other half is happy to take it. Then why do I still feel a little uneasy? Is it that having (sometimes unprotected) sex with a stranger in a country with a 6.9 percent AIDS rate seems stupid? Or is it that I'm frustrated that as mutually agreeable (if bizarre) as these arrangements seem, you can't really have it the opposite way? (Men, by virtue of often being physically stronger, and in possession of a penis, can abuse and dominate their female "escorts" in a way that these women likely can't.) I'm not sure. One of the women quoted in the piece phrases the question a different way -- which I'm sure will provoke some comments:

"It's a social arrangement," she said. "I buy him a nice shirt and we go out for dinner. For as long as he stays with me he doesn't pay for anything, and I get what I want -- a good time. How is that different from a man buying a young girl dinner?"

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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