How Much Am I Worth?: Sexual Tourism in the Caribbean

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When considering the ideas of female sexuality as it pertains to tourism in the Caribbean, people tend to envision call-girls at upscale parties and prostitutes that sell their bodies to the highest bidder. However, when taking a deeper look, one can see beyond the surface into the reality of the situation. Taking into consideration the ideas of female sexuality as it pertains to tourism in the Caribbean, people tend to envision call-girls at upscale parties and prostitutes that sell their bodies to the highest bidder. However, when taking a deeper look, one can see beyond the surface into the reality of the situation. The fact is that women in the Caribbean have found ways to manage their involvement in sex tourism, music and dance to their own advantage, thereby demonstrating agency.

Prior to exhibiting the truth about female agency within sex tourism in the Caribbean, it is necessary to call attention to the myths that suggest that most women are oppressed within the industry. According to Victoria Durant-Gonzalez, there is a theory that speaks to the “grace of sexuality” which suggests that women are placed into a detrimental situation at the hands of this theory: "In Jamaica, the number of women with social ties to a man is an indicator of his social status. In this way, women in the society reaffirm, reinforce, and in some instances determine male social status. An important aspect of female affirmation of male social status is the underlying assumption that these ties are sex-based....simply suggesting intimacy reinforces male status. It is from this suggestive element that the grace of sexuality is derived. Thus the grace of sexuality places men and women into reciprocal relationships whereby women receive access to sources of livelihood and men receive arbitration of social status.... The grace of sexuality persists because it is an efficient way of meeting and carrying out female familial responsibility." (Henry 1981, 7) These sentiments suggest that women are indeed disadvantaged due to the setup, which surrounds sexuality in the Caribbean. This is just one of the many untruths that need to be dispelled.

Another misconception is linked to the violence that female sex workers are subject to within the industry. When a group of researchers studied the sex industry in Barbados, Belize, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, the Netherlands Antilles, Suriname, and the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias, they called attention to this very argument. “Now, women's groups throughout the Caribbean are concerned that female prostitutes are increasingly becoming victims of violence. There are no government initiatives aimed at protecting or empowering the region's prostitutes” (Shephard 2010, 19). There appears to be a growing concern that these women are in such dangerous situations that they are unable to fend for themselves. This theory makes women victims and takes away the sense of agency that they have within the industry.

One last misconception which must be cleared is that women who participate in sex tourism in the Caribbean are reactionary in this work. “Women relate to sexuality in a predominantly defensive mode while men are urged to explore within hetero-normative practices (Lewis 2003, 135). The fact is that researchers, tourists, and foreigners alike have pictured female sex workers in the Caribbean as weak and incapable of acting of their own self-interest. However, there is evidence to suggest that these women do indeed have strength and choice in their actions. It can be assumed that some of their actions are deliberate.

In a book entitled What’s Love Got to do with it?: Transnational desires and sex tourism in the Dominican Republic, by Brennan, Mignolo, and Silverbatt, women's economic survival strategies are explored, in the face of extreme poverty and for most, single motherhood. Dominican sex workers navigate their own comfort zones, police arrests, threats of violence and AIDS. In...
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