Colombia’s press has been full of stories about increased sex tourism in the South American country, something that according to the sex tourists themselves is mostly a matter of offer and demand.
Those involved are open about their trade, and conduct their business in full view of the public, with email addresses and contact phone numbers available with a quick internet search.
Colombia Reports interviewed foreign men who are or have been involved in organizing trips for foreign visitors which would constitute sex tourism, in an attempt to paint a clearer image of the sex tourist, and share their opinions on what many see as the country’s ugly side of tourism.
“Since men lived in caves, the best hunters with the biggest caves got the most women. While some things have changed in this regard, many have not. Blaming foreigners for the ills in one’s society is an old practice. An original practice would be to accept responsibility for your shortcomings and make an honest effort to fix them.”
While local organizations are trying to turn public opinion against those who visit Colombia to pay for sex, these men argue that sex tourists are merely taking advantage of a service available here which is not available at home, and with women who they claim are much more receptive to the behavior of sex tourists.
Why sex tourists come to Colombia
A common theme in the sex tourist organizers’ responses was that men visit Colombia because of what they view as a liberal attitude to sex and relationships, compared to the prevalent conservative social norms and morals in countries such as the US.
Two of the men interviewed believe that men are tired of the female dominant societies that exist in their home countries where men allegedly are made to suppress their sexuality, and where having an active and varied sex life is viewed negatively.
Additionally, both men mentioned that culturally a man dating a woman a lot younger than himself is not viewed as negatively in Colombia as in other countries.
“I felt old and tired in my over-regulated USA culture and wanted to experience what it was like in a culture that did not over-regulate its people, with laws and taboos about sex and age in general,” explained Peter*.
The two sex tourism organizers both said Colombia — and Latin America in general — grant an important role to sex in relationships and of men’s need to be sexually fulfilled, regardless of their age.
The sources’ responses suggest that the sex tourists, primarily the older men, feel that sex has become unavailable to them in their own countries. They are denied sex because of their age, their looks or a lack of willing partners.
“Latin women instinctively know that meeting their partner’s sexual needs is a core responsibility. Industrialized women, having less interest in meeting the sexual needs of their partner, will often seek instead to convince him sex isn’t one of his needs. Besides, any man who’s ever been married or divorced will tell you that sex is never free,” said Steven*.
Legality, availability and cost of sex tourism
“I think there is too much risk in paying for sex in the USA and other countries that men come here from. Here they do not have to worry about losing their job or freedom for paying for sex.”
Prostitution in Colombia is legal, so paying for sex could not land you in prison like it could in the US.
Many of the sex tourists now in Colombia previously traveled to Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic or Thailand to get thei paid sex legally.
This move to Colombia can be linked to Costa Rica becoming more of a well-traveled tourist zone, and thus the prices of hotels, food and drinks and in turn the rising prices of sex tourism rising, and police and hotels taking a hard-line when it comes to sex tourism in fear of gaining a bad name and losing trade and customers.
“Like many goods and services in a global economy, sexual satisfaction is being outsourced to places with the best product and service, at the lowest possible price. You may have to come to terms with the fact that work you are unwilling to do will be done by others for far less than you demand,” said Steve.
Taxi drivers often work hand in hand with prostitutes or prostitution networks who provide sex workers, and will deliver tourists directly to the apartment of the sex worker for a small commission. Red light areas exist in all of the main cities, and due to the lax laws in relation to prostitution, customers can indulge without fear of criminal prosecution.
Men will expect to pay between $15 to $30 dollars for paid sex with a prostitute in Colombia, and more for higher class escorts who frequent high end hotels. This is much cheaper than the services in countries such as the USA or Canada.
One source said that most high-end hotels in Colombia make money off prostitution by charging an extra guest fee of between $15 and $30 for invited prostitutes.
A Colombian problem
In the US, many men would feel uncomfortable behaving in the way that these sex tourists do during their trips in Colombia, and would receive a negative response from others. These men view Colombia as a free land where they can behave in a manner which would be frowned upon in their own cultures.
“I still hope we have a few good years to go, before these beautiful freedoms here in Medellin are completely removed. That’s why I’m here and why I encourage men from conservative cultures to come experience the sexual freedom as well as the freedom of age disconnection that are all but gone in most every other culture.”
They can openly date women considerably younger than them, splash their cash in expensive restaurants and bars with groups of barely legal girls, openly pay for the services of sex workers and expect little comment from those around them, and no problems from local police.
This objectification of women as sexual objects is not just linked to sex tourism however. Since the narco trafficking heydays of the eighties and ninetie,s the image of the Colombian woman — especially that of women from cities like Medellin and Pereira –has become deeply sexualized.
The growing narco culture saw a rise in plastic surgery, skimpy, revealing clothing and an overtly macho culture which has continued until today.
This fashion for breast and buttocks implants, botox inflated lips and long hair extensions has become embedded in the image of Colombia, and one only needs to walk the streets of a major Colombian city to see that it is not only an image, but a reality here for many women.
The legality of the situation, the macho culture and objectification of women present in Colombian culture makes it easier for a sex tourist to justify his actions.
The fact remains that the abundance of prostitution in Colombia remains a Colombian problem, which cannot be blamed entirely on foreigners, some of the sex tourism organizers said.
“Of Medellin’s hundreds of brothels, only one is oriented towards foreigners. The many brothels, strip clubs, and avenues of Medellin’s red light districts are populated with over 98% local Colombian men. The suggestion that sex tourists are somehow corrupting the local society is utterly ridiculous,” said Peter.
It is easy for the government and the media to focus on cases of foreigners caught in sex scandals, but according to the sex tourists, the reality is that they play a small part of a much bigger issue.
Who are the sex tourists?
It appears that four main groups of sex tourists exist.
Generally younger travelers who want to see the sights but also indulge in the darker side of Colombian tourism like drugs and prostitution. Due to their shared accommodation in hostels and shoestring budget, their involvement with the sex trade will probably be limited to quick encounters in dark alleyways or love hotels.
The package deal tourist
This group consists of older men with more money behind them, which they are willing to spend. Generally these men have had a working career to save money and their ages would range from between 40 and 70 years old. They tend to visit cities like Medellin and Cartagena for short holidays and generally alone or in small groups.
These sex tourists often use the services of men like source Peter who runs a website advertising his services as a facilitator, to show men around the city, and organize parties, prostitutes, sex tours and if necessary a full package in which the guests can stay in a fully serviced apartment.
“Most guys on vacation end up lonely at night because finding a reliable date in a short period of time is difficult on your own. I know lots of beautiful fun reliable girls, and I’m here to arrange things for you!” Peter’s website.
As part of the service included is showing the men the city, and translating in Spanish, it could be presumed that these men are from other countries, predominantly the U.S.A and Canada.
The sex hobbyist
Steve is a U.S national who has lived in Colombia for a number of years, who runs a website which acts as a forum for those who visit sex tourism zones around South America. The website offers maps and reviews of the best areas to pick up sex workers, reviews of the services of the sex workers themselves with photos and discussion of fair pricing.
From the users comments it is clear that many of these men visit cities like Medellin and Cartagena regularly. It appears that some are so enamoured by the world of cheap sex and partying that they spend every available holiday in Colombia. This would suggest that the men involved are from wealthy backgrounds, or possibly receiving government pensions.
There appears to be a community of men who live in big cities Medellin, who regularly go out together with the sole aim of meeting girls and paying for sex, however the forum also discusses visitors who are shown around the city and provided with sex workers. These men appear to be based in Colombia, or at least have some type of long term residence here.
Carl* said that the majority of his customers were businessmen in town for conferences or short leisure trips to Colombia.
The US national advertised his services as a facilitator online, and was bombarded by men willing to pay a fee in US dollars if he showed them a good time. The men would also offer to pay for the night’s expenses in terms of drugs, alcohol, dinners and often sexual encounters.
His memoirs paint a varied range of sex tourists from doctors and pastors, all of whom had money and wanted to blow it in manners not readily available back home. This source was the only one to mention drugs. He said that many men were drawn to Colombia by the attraction of partying and using easily available cocaine.
* Names of the sources were changed to protect their privacy