Is Sex Tourism Morally Wrong?

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Amsterdam, Bangkok, Las Vegas, Ibiza, all these cities and many others come to mind when you think of sex tourism and prostitution. Why do people feel compelled to pay for sex whilst travelling? Is it for the act itself? Or is it to assert dominance and control? Or maybe it’s for the feeling of power which surely comes with owning someone else’s body, in exchange for money?

Purchasing sex abroad is a growing epidemic, our lad holidays and stag dos are almost becoming synonyms for paying for sex. Maybe it’s the taboo nature of buying sex in the UK that makes soliciting sex abroad so enticing for so many. According to The Independent, a recent survey conducted found two-thirds of men admitted to having used prostitutes abroad. If true, this is alarming, why is buying sex abroad so high on the priority list when travelling the globe?

There are so many ethical dilemmas that come with purchasing sex, of course, the argument for allowing prostitution is rhetorics such as ‘It’s the world’s oldest profession’ or ‘It’s their livelihood’ and that ‘It is empowering for the woman.’ Perhaps all this is true, and perhaps you’ll find the one in a thousand sex worker who are doing their job because they absolutely love it. But what if you’re not with a sex worker like that? What if you are buying sex from an individual who has to do this because they have no other choice, maybe because they have no other means of getting money or they have a family to support or worst of all because they’ve been trafficked into the sex industry against their own free will. Is it still all fun and games? And is it still sex or is it now rape?

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Swarming cities across the globe just to buy sex obstructs the beauty of travelling to these locations into something quite disturbing.  The majority of individuals who have reported paying for sex abroad are young men who have at least one or more sexual partners at home. So the popularity of sex tourism doesn’t really seem to be anything to do with the physical act but more to do with living out the dark fantasy of owning a woman, or for some it’s to impress the culture that tells them that paying for sex makes them a ‘lad’.

I guess the real question is what shall we do about this social issue? The laws across the globe vary dramatically but many believe the Nordic model is the one we should all follow. In Sweden, it is illegal to pay for sex but not to sell sex. The belief behind this is that sex workers are often at high risk of being attacked and yet cannot come forward out of fear of prosecution. With this law in place, they are more likely to come forward and even more free to report if they are being forced into the sex industry in the first place since it won’t mean they themselves face punishment. Maybe all across the globe we should be adopting a model similar, one that does not punish sex workers but instead criminalises those who fuel the sex tourism industry. Of course there are several counterarguments to the Nordic model but one way or another this issue needs to find a resolution that prioritises the safety of all sex workers.

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Former English Student | Travel Editor 2016-17 |Current MSc. International Politics | Editor at Wessex Scene for 2017-18.

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