The "sex-tourists" of Madagascar

Yesterday I made an excursion to Montadia National Park in order to observe the largest species of lemur – the Indry Indry.  In the end, I was able to observe, and photograph a whole troupe of them and some other species of lemur as well.  I also visited a refuge for various reptiles and paid a visit to my favorite reptiles: the chameleons.  Words cannot describe their beauty.  I saw a couple of wild chameleons and, of course, some geckos as well.
My driver spoke somewhat decent English and the drive was a long one, so I posed many questions to him about Malagasy culture, the various ethnic groups (there are 18 major ones), burial traditions, monuments, traditional dress, marriage customs, language etc. etc.  I mentioned something that a hotel owner in Morondava had told me.  He had said something to the effect of, “the Malagasy do not like the French so much.   The French raped them in the past and they still do so today; look at all the sex-tourists”.  I wasn’t sure what the hotel owner meant by “sex-tourists” but it was clear that, in his opinion, any form of prostitution is equal to rape.  I couldn’t help but notice that this expat American’s wife was considerably younger than him and was clearly of Asian descent – not African like most of the people in that part of Madagascar.  The man was obviously well-off.  I wondered if it was purely coincidence that a young, beautiful Malagasy had fallen for him and that his prestige/money had nothing to do with it.  I thought that he might be a bit of a hypocrite – but I don’t know him personally so I cannot pass judgment upon him.  But back to my conversation with the driver.  I was curious about this odd, and despised, animal known as the “sex-tourist”.  Do men really travel over 5,000 miles just to have sex in a backward country?  Are there not many legal, and safe, brothels in Europe?  I’ve seen many people here in Madagascar.  I’ve seen many natives and many tourists, most of them (apparently) French.  Not once did I see any obvious signs of the “sex-tourist”.  Maybe they’re nocturnal.
I asked Andjry, my driver, what he considered a “sex-tourist”.  Is anybody who visits Madagascar, and hires a prostitute, a “sex-tourist”?  His answer was that anybody who comes here with the intention of preying upon children is a sex-tourist.  As for hiring prostitutes, many natives do it – as do many tourists – but this is merely a transaction between adults.  Nobody gets hurt and nobody  cares.  In fact, having been a prostitute does not even carry a stigma among Malagasy women.  Their future potential husbands rarely care.  When he told me all this, I told him my own theory:  The hotel owner in Morondava is a “sex-tourist” and his mentality is a colonial one.
When foreigners visit a country, and impose their own morality upon the natives, this is a form of colonialism.  In America, prostitution is “naughty”, “evil” and usually criminal.  It is not socially acceptable.  But this American attitude is not shared by much of the world.  Many indigenous cultures view sex much more openly than do Americans.  The Trobriand islanders are a classic example.  I think the world has much to learn from Americans – but our uptight, Puritan, views on sex should not be for export.  This being said, I do think there is a fine line between casual, commercial sex on the one hand, and a sexual invasion on the other.  If large numbers of foreign men visit a land in order to take advantage of their women, this will obviously have negative consequences.  For example, the large number of African men streaming into Europe are “sex-tourists” of the worst kind.  They bring disease and violence and they have no intentions of ever leaving.  The early European sailors, who colonized Polynesia, might be considered “sex-tourists” and they diluted the native populations of many islands.
I spent a lot of time on, and near, the beach in Morondava.  I didn’t see any men hunting for prostitutes.  Nobody walked up to me and asked, “hey, where can I get some local children to have sex with”.  I did see two women, who were obviously prostitutes, loudly and aggressively trying to sell their services on the beach.  They tried to push themselves upon me – so if there was a “victim”, it was yours truly.  I just ignored them.  Were those two women desperately poor?  Were they starving and lacking any other alternatives?  This was not the impression I got.  It seemed to me they just wanted some easy extra money.  As far as I could tell, there were no takers.  If they did find a customer, then I’m sure all parties would have been happy; no need to call the authorities or get upset that “sex-tourism” had taken place.

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24 Responses to The "sex-tourists" of Madagascar

  1. Henoch Albright Telesse says:

    African Sex Tourist ?! in Europe–Guessing Europe is becoming to diverse in culture and race for you,
    africans traveling you europe to sex children ?? is highly in accurate
    and extremely biased..violence ?? this stigma comes from your
    racially biased mindset apparently because any type of person can be violent and sexually deviant to an extent.
    please… that’s non-sense and very discriminant.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Obviously you didn’t understand my post at all. Perhaps you should have somebody who knows English better explain it to you.

      • Poopity says:

        I’m a native english speaker and I too am confused at your point here.
        You mention the “large number of African men streaming into Europe” who “are Sex-tourists of the worst kind”.
        Can you elaborate on this point?
        The poster above took worst kind to mean those who seek child prostitutes – a fair assumption given the subject of your arcticle.
        It comes across as you saying Europeans don’t undertake sex tourism, but Africans? They do! Hence the racial bias comment.
        I think I get your message -that large numbers of men seeking sex in any given country is bad – but it is fairly garbled and using African men heading to Europe needs sourcing as, ironically, you’re creating the exact same Strawman argument against them that you’re trying to counter with your article.
        Look forward to your reply.

        • john kane says:

          I exchanged some comments here in 2014, as we can see above, and it is interesting to see what I said then. Since that time I have abandoned my own blog. I am on a path to a PhD in demography at one of Asia’s best universities and I am doing academic-style research regarding sex work. I just got an email about a comment I made recently – but I do not recall making a new comment here. I do not remember saying anything about African or European sex tourists.
          I am in the initial stages of research to follow my hunch that many sex tourists – especially older ones as most are here in Bangkok – are motivated by loneliness. I was pleased to see that back in Jan 7, 2014 I mentioned Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” because it is central to my opinions about loneliness now. If my conclusions are received positively by the academic community, loneliness is a much better, and milder, motivation for sex tourism that the common narrative that sex tourists are brutes who only rent women’s bodies to do anything they want for their own pleasure as is the widely held extreme feminist point-of-view.
          My old blog – UnderstandingTrafficking – is about to expire and I must make a decision whether to renew that name or just let it go. It would be a big project to make the changes it will require. But it is a great name. Since 2014, I am so much more knowledgeable and I would say things in much different ways now. The commitment to do a blog faded away long ago as new directions have emerged.

          • jewamongyou says:

            That’s a very powerful commentary John. Of course many “sex tourists” are just lonely men, and some are heartless predators. Others may fall somewhere inbetween. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s fashionable to sympathize with lonely men. The general attitude toward them is one of indifference or cruelty. As for what I wrote about African sex tourists to Europe, I’ll have to elaborate on that when I have more time.

          • johnxkane says:

            I love this place where I can pull my thoughts together and tell others what they might not understand. I would be curious to know if say 20 or 50 years ago sex tourism was more about first world men taking advantage of much younger women, even children, in third world countries and, therefore, deserved stigmatizing? That may still be completely true some places. And maybe not!
            From a demographic point of view starting in the 70s we collectively rose to the alarm of over population. Now in most places fertility has declined substantially and population is declining too. The new issues for demography are the disproportionate numbers of elderly people (over 60) compared to the productive age groups of 15 to 60. And second, the huge decline in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs thanks to technology. I like this quote: “Every ATM machine contains the ghost of six unemployed bank tellers.” ATM machines provide no micro-social contact as tellers used to do. A smile or a few words exchanged are important. Developing world men used to migrate to jobs, but now there are often no jobs at home or across borders either, except service jobs for women. Women migrants now exceed numbers of male economic migrants. Many are sex workers.
            Loneliness comes next! There is research claiming loneliness can be a more serious health issue than smoking or obesity. Divorce is easier now than 50 years ago; families are smaller so if one or two children move away, as they must for work, traditional family support ceases to exist; it is more common for people to go home after work and have no contact with co-workers off the job; and people are out growing the role of churches.
            In my life time inner-racial marriages (miscegenation), gay marriages, gay sexual acts (sodomy) were all illegal. Now they are common. Things change. If men openly travel to places where women are more welcoming, it is a perfectly reasonable to expect that sex tourism will lose stigma attached to it now.
            My mother’s nursing home cost $7,500 a month. I can give you example after example of 70+ age first world men who are in serious long term relations with 45+ Thai women surrounded by her family in a caring relationship not available to or not affordable by him at home. This often starts when the man visits as a sex tourist before retiring. This is a side of sex tourism that the anti-sex, extreme feminists don’t want anyone to consider when they label all men as brutes.
            But who am I to hold these opinions? Well, I am a man who is living it and also studying it in a fine university. This is at the core of my academic research. The world changes and it is certainly changing now.

  2. Captain Obvious says:

    You are in massive denial.
    Only sex tourists, and sex tourist apologists, would perform the mental gymnastics necessary to come to any of the conclusions you came to in this article.
    Stop playing dumb. It is common knowledge that men travel 1000’s of miles in search of sex. Even more common is the knowledge that these men pray on children. This happens everywhere from Cuba to Thailand.
    Unicef estimates that 30%-50% of the prostitutes in Madagascar are under the age of 18.
    Think before you write, because this article is disgusting.

  3. John says:

    I just came back from two months in Madagascar and I have to agree with our original writer. The entire issue of sex trafficking and prostitution is highly exaggerated. Extremist feminists in the US have spoken openly about trafficking laws and publicity as being the tool they need to attack all prostitution yet offer no alternative to the thousands who support their families that way. I have been lots of places around the world and yet saw a lot less prostitution in Madagascar than I have seen many other places – Kenya, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Thailand, Cambodia, even Vietnam. There was no evidence of and no offers of children for prostitution. I saw no pimps and no women who didn’t seem to be making their own choice in that business. And I am experienced at looking for these things. I met a policewoman in Tana who patrols places where prostitution is available. Prostitution is legal by the way. The UN and the US State Dept will sell you a bill of goods and it is hard to resist taking everything they say at their word – but it is wrong in this case.

  4. ron says:

    i would love to save up and go there madagascar girls are hot

  5. poojawho says:

    experiences will differ based on who and where you are. i’m staying at a hotel that costs close to 50 euros a night and there are three elderly foreign men here who can be seen and heard with a young local woman – i’d rather not gauge her age. perhaps it’s relevant to add that she sounds miserable every night and seems to be doing her best to put on a superficial face when sighted during the day. also, as a non-white female traveler, i left a coffee shop in a hurry because an elderly french speaking man letching across the room was about to come up and talk to me and i had no interest in fighting. hardly the safest travel environment. if you still have doubts, i’ll spell it out: the ego issues and stereotyping that created obedient colonies have yet to get over their hangovers.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I agree with your last statement, and even said as much in another post. It’s sad. But there is no such thing as racial/ethnic equality. Somebody’s always advantaged and somebody’s always disadvantaged. There are always winners and losers.

    • johnxkane says:

      Elsewhere I talk about loneliness. Did you even think about what you said here? You offer a good example of the problem when you say you rushed away when an older French speaking man (in a French speaking country) approached you in a cafe. Since you mentioned race, apparently race was central to your issue too. I can’t imagine what he must have thought considering the way you describe this.
      Your attitude is common in some places from my experience, but not in Madagascar and not in Thailand! I had an odd experience in Wash DC. I was dressed like a normal 50-ish $120,000 a year bureaucrat, which I was then. A waiter sat me next to a table with three professional women a little younger than me. As I was being seated one was on her cell phone. Immediately all three were on their cellphones. This was so blatant that I was convinced, as I suspect I was supposed to be, that they held a fear, not unlike yours, that I might say hello and, yes, attempt some causal conversation. I saw an Ann Landers column once where a woman said her neighbor, an older man, said hello to her when she left the house. Her question for Ann was whether she should “take a chance” and talk to him? Her own neighbor!!! Take a chance! What is the world coming to! This is not the world we find when we move around the developing world. The scuba diving in Madagascar was amazing. I met people as a scuba diver. No one seemed to avoid me even if I looked like every middle aged feminist’s notion of an evil sex tourist.

  6. John says:

    Poojawho raises some interesting points. When she says “I’d rather not gauge her age.” Does this imply the young women she saw are likely under 18? From my experience I think “elder men” off on an adventure like this are thrilled with the idea that they can be with a much younger woman than they can meet elsewhere – and they might do it badly. During my time off in Madagascar I enjoyed company of 38 and 42 year old women and it seemed mutually rewarding. I have no interest in very young women 18+/-.
    Madagascar is one of several countries where unemployed women, often with middle class roots and education, are happy to see their own country at someone elses expense and stay in good hotels much better than their own living arrangement. If they enjoy or even tolerate sex and get some extra money too, they can be very happy. I saw the same thing in Kenya and Dominican Republic where what I call “”prostitutes of opportunity” latch onto a guy and don’t want to leave.
    Regarding Poojawho’s personal story about avoiding conversation with a man in the hotel, I am reminded of women in America who are age appropriate for me and probably complain to their friends that there are no men in their life. Yet they will avoid even looking at me as we pass on the street or make a cellphone call to avoid exchanging a few words if we sit near each other in a restaurant. In Asia women smile and are pleased to talk a bit with me almost everywhere. I recommend the book by Robert Putnam “Bowling Alone” to understand the death of “social contract” especially in First World countries. For many men women seem to be afraid of the simplest interaction common years ago. But it isn’t that way in many other countries like Madagascar.
    I observed several expat Italian and French business owners in Toliare and Nosy Be who appeared to be in long term relationships with younger Malagasy women. The women were openly affectionate with them. It becomes impossible to know exactly what is going on. I am currently in the Philippines. I saw my British dive shop owner walking with a lovely, but much younger Filipino woman – his step daughter. I was jealous of his loving relationship with seven grandchildren. Many blogs will take advantage of these kinds of misinterpretations to solicit donations based on half truths. There are times we should mind our own business and work on our own relationships.
    And I apologize if I wrote to much.

    • jewamongyou says:

      No apology necessary; it was a great comment. People see me walking around with my oldest daughter and I can tell that some of them think we’re a couple. It doesn’t bother me or my daughter.
      By the way, I couldn’t help but wonder if you’re the British guy I met in Antananarivo. We visited the crocodile park together.

      • John says:

        I just got back from three weeks in Philippines (some scuba diving) and with one day at home I went to a Thai university town to give a short talk about sex trafficking. Things are starting to happen that way for me. In addition to two or three blogs I might be able to more speaking.
        No, I am American and retired from the US Dept of State. We exchanged emails off line and I have some things to ask you later. I will ask for your permission to repeat some of the things you wrote about Madagasgar on my blog.

  7. jewamongyou says:

    Re: John,
    You may quote this blog as much as you like. Just please link back when you do.
    I look forward to your questions.

  8. coco says:

    Malagasy women refer to the Mulatta and Afro-Asiatic breeds, right?

  9. mongerplanet says:

    Good article. A transaction between two consenting adults is no crime, there are no victims. Its a critical interfering morality that we all need protecting from. Im considering a trip to Madagascar maybe with some sex thrown in. Why not? I guess some of the local women are very exotic

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