The top sex tourism countries in the world

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(Last updated on: 21/05/2020)

Sex tourism countries. We typically either don’t visit them or don’t speak of them. The sex tourism industry is one that many people hide away from. We don’t want to speak of it and we many do not admit that they may be classified a ‘sex tourist’.

But the reality is, sex tourism is BIG business. Sex tourism bring in huge revenues in many countries. It lifts people out of poverty. It provides mothers with much-needed money to feed their children. But still, it is often viewed as the elephant in the room.

In this article I am going to tell you a little bit more the global sex tourism industry. I will answer some common sex tourism FAQs and I will then provide a summary of some of the world’s most prevalent and popular sex tourism countries.

The top sex tourism countries in the world

What is sex tourism?

In a nutshell, sex tourism means travelling to somewhere different for the sake of sexual activity.

The WTO (World Tourism Organization) defines sex tourism as “trips organised from within the tourism sector, or from outside this sector but using its structures and networks, with the primary purpose of effecting a commercial sexual relationship by the tourist with residents at the destination”.

I’ve written a detailed article all about the sex tourism industry and what it all means. You can learn more about sex tourism here.

Sex tourism is often overlooked in discussions about tourism – people tend to keep their sex lives to themselves. For this reason, it is hard to establish the true scale of sex tourism around the world.

This post aims to delve into this secret side of tourism, and introduce you to some of the top sex tourism countries worldwide.

FAQs about sex tourism

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about sex tourism.

There is no concrete answer to this.

In some countries, sex shows are legal and so is prostitution – in other countries there are many grey areas.

Different countries have different rules; sometimes it is the sex worker that is breaking the law, and sometimes it is the client.

There are no blanket laws that cover sex tourism as a whole.

Why has sex tourism increased in popularity?

Throughout the history of tourism, it has become easier (and cheaper) for people to travel to different places, so the demand for sex tourism has increased.

This echoes the increased in popularity for every aspect of travel: there are now more hotels, more tour companies, more suitcase manufacturers etc.

As travel continues to be relatively easy and affordable, the commodities that go alongside it will continue to become more popular, including sex tourism.

Does sex tourism exist outside of Asian countries?

For many, thinking about the term ‘sex tourism countries’ would probably conjure up images of Thailand and Cambodia.

It’s easy to forget, however, that actually, sex tourism is something that occurs worldwide.

The Netherlands, for example, is famous for lax rules surrounding prostitution – and Germany and France have red light districts in some major cities too.

The top sex tourism countries

Sex tourism is incredibly popular in the following areas: The Gambia, various areas of the Caribbean, Thailand, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, the Philippines and Cambodia.

They are all trendy tourist destinations anyway, with beautiful beaches or bustling cities or famous monuments to discover…

But they all have something else in common: they are popular sex tourism countries! Below I will tell you a little bit more about these sex tourism countries.

The Netherlands

For young people living in Europe, and particularly the UK, there is one destination that just about everyone has been to… Amsterdam!

Amsterdam is a beautiful European city, famous for its canals, cyclists and chocolate box buildings. Not to mention the lax rules in terms of marijuana and, of course, its red light district.

Amsterdam attracts over 4.63 million international tourists annually. And remarkebly, sex tourism provides more than 5% of the Netherlands’ GDP.

The Netherlands is definitely one of the mot famous sex tourism countries – people just don’t always label it that way….

But everyone has heard of the concept of the red light district, and there are an estimated 30,000 prostitutes across the Netherlands.

There are some elements of the sex tourism industry in Amsterdam particularly that are tamer: a bit of fun. These include solo and couple sex shows in theatres as well as shops selling erotic books/DVDs and all manner of sex toys.

This National Geographic documentary will teach you all about Amsterdam’s famous sex tourism industry.

The Gambia

Research shows that it is mostly men that partake in sex tourism- not a rash generalisation, just fact!

But in The Gambia this actually isn’t true.

This part of West Africa is really popular with female sex tourists, who hope to attract younger Gambian men. Local young men known as ‘bumsters’ work on the streets of the famous Senegambia Strip, looking for the women who are already looking for them. 

There are no official statistics when it comes to sex tourism in The Gambia. But it’s likely to be the case that a fair chunk of tourists engage in sexual activity when visiting The Smiling Coast. And it is mostly European women who travel to The Gambia, one of the world’s top sex tourism countries, to seek out young black men. 

Find out more about sex tourism in The Gambia here.

Female sex tourism differs slightly to the male-led sex tourism that tends to be popular in other parts of the world. Female sex tourists often look for a sense of intimacy and a bit of romance as well as physical sex. The female sex tourism industry is definitely smaller than its male counterpart, too.

The Caribbean

The Caribbean is another part of the world where female sex tourism seems to be fairly popular.

While The Gambia has its ‘bumsters’, areas of the Caribbean have their ‘rastitutes’, ‘beach boys’ and ‘sanky pankies’.

But traditional male-led sex tourism is definitely more in favour here, with around 10,000 female sex workers across the Dominican Republic alone.

This interesting documentary looks at the perspectives of female sex tourists around the world.

The top sex tourism countries throughout the Caribbean are the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica and Barbados.

As the Dominican Republic is highly accessible from the USA and Europe, it is no surprise that it is a popular sex tourism destination.

Sex work here is “not legal, but not illegal” in the words of the locals. It seems anything is possible if you pay enough money; prostitution is normalised here due to the seasonal nature of many jobs within the hotel industry.

Sex tourism in Cuba is common.

Many locals will engage in sexual activities with the tourists who are looking for it, in exchange for help getting off the island. And society turns a blind eye to the typical prostitution that many men pay for when visiting Cuba.

Jamaica also has a lot of sex tourism.

It is particularly common in Kingston – whilst illegal, it is widely tolerated.

There are plenty of female prostitutes who solicit sex from their own homes or hotels, and massage parlours often act as a front for more illicit activities. Official newspapers even advertise these.

Occasionally people will offer themselves up for sexual activities in exchange for cash in the hopes of it leading to a long-term relationship and, ultimately, a chance to get out of the country.

Barbados is another of the Caribbean’s top sex tourism countries.

It is more low-key than in other countries, but Barbados does have a red light district in the Nelson Street area. Prostitution is illegal, but it still happens.

Thailand

In Thailand, statistics suggest that 70% of male visitors are sex tourists.

‘Thai brides’ are something most people will have heard of – they work with various agencies, and it is a popular practice. Women will often leave Thailand with a male sex tourist, in order to send money home to their families. Female unemployment is a huge issue in Thailand, which is why this option appeals to so many.

Prostitution is illegal in Thailand and has been since 1960. The responsibility is on the client – the sex tourist, rather than the sex worker. But club owners and those who run brothels are also criminally liable. However, this often gets overlooked as local authorities tend to have some sort of stake (financially) in prostitution. 

Thailand has various red light districts, and sex shows are common. These can be found in local ‘Go-Go bars’. Sex tourism in Thailand is commonly found in Bangkok and Pattaya, amongst other places.

Learn more about Thailand’s famous ‘Thai bride’ industry in this video.

Cambodia

While prostitution is illegal in Cambodia, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Go to any tourist area and you’ll likely see evidence of it. Massage parlours and karaoke bars seem rampant with it, and street prostitution is popular too.

Allegedly the prices are considerably lower than in Thailand; with over 600 adult entertainment venues across the country, Cambodia is definitely one of the world’s top sex tourism countries.

Unfortunately, Cambodia also seems to be the worst in terms of child sexual labour – and the law doesn’t seem to clamp down on it hard enough.

This heart-wrenching video shows you how hard life can be for children involved in the sex trade.

Spain

To some, Spain is known as the ‘brothel of Europe’.

Prostitution is rife across the country, especially in big cities like Madrid.

There is no specific law prohibiting prostitution in Spain, though there are laws around pimping, for example.

With statistics varying, it’s hard to say how many sex workers are active in Spain – the numbers range for 70,000 to 400,000.

Being such an accessible country for many within Europe, it is no surprise that it is one of the most popular sex tourism countries in the world. Flights and accommodation can be found dirt cheap, and you can drive to Spain from various other European countries. For sex tourists, it’s almost too easy.

This is another fascinating documentary demonstrating what the sex tourism industry in Spain is like.

Brazil

Prostitution is actually legal in Brazil. Owning a brothel or employing sex works in other ways is not, however.

Copacabana is a popular area for sex tourism in Brazil; Vila Mimosa in particular has plenty of bars and shops that, underneath the surface, are actually brothels.

Brazil is also renowned for its popular ‘sex hotels’, where people can rent rooms by the hour.

Vagrancy laws are used against sex workers, but Brazil is still one of the top sex tourism countries worldwide – it is just hidden away.

See what a sex hotel looks like in this short video clip.

The Philippines

The Philippines is another country where the mail-order bride trend is a big part of sex tourism.

Male-led sex tourism is definitely most popular in the Philippines, and while prostitution is illegal sex workers are employed as guest relations officers, singers, waitresses and more.

Sex tourism is rife in the Philippines, if less so than the likes of Thailand and Cambodia.

Learn about some of the ‘true’ costs of sex tourism here.

Sex tourism countries: To conclude

Sex tourism is big businesses throughout the world- just because people may choose not to talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Whilst sex tourism has been around almost as long as the tourism industry itself, it has become more developed in some countries than others. This includes The Gambia, various areas of the Caribbean, Thailand, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, the Philippines and Cambodia.

3 Comments
  1. Romeo Bungdon

    Yes, I studied Master of Tourism Management, post graduate and I am leading a university in my city. Infact, the information contained herein is very helpful as sex Tourism is not directly taught openly in my country.

    Reply
  2. Nadine Bardieu

    I think in everywhere ,there is a sexual tourism ,only that’s change by % …in Paris and Marrakech as well, there are some tourists looking for sex, like in Bali and Brazil too…

    Reply
  3. Khun Mark

    Sex tourism is HUGE in Thailand! It’s a multibillion industry! Female, male and shemale sex workers are a plenty!

    Reply

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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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