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As the night unfolded and the dancing increased, paranoia circled.
We were two single white Western women of an age that could no longer be considered our twenties and we fit the profile of Sex Tourists perfectly…save for our complete unwillingness to participate in such a vile form of exploitation.
Two tables over a pair of females perched on the wrong side of their 30s and looked set to share a buff man so slickly oiled I had to wonder if they would get any traction.
To our left a woman plied her young man with drinks and whispered hell-knows-what into his ear while a woman I assumed to be her mother sat across from the ‘love-birds’ staring into a middle distance that had to be preferable to the reality in front of her.
In The Gambia it is middle-aged Western women that are throwing down rolls of Dalasi, the local currency, in exchange for a grapple with the firm bodies of the young Gambian men.
I have not led a sheltered life and my friends would place my behavior closer to sinner than saint.
I don’t suppose for a second that I have the power to end prostitution, but I can spend my Dalasi wisely, encouraging a different, more wholesome kind of tourism by using local tour guides, buying fruit from the beach sellers, eating in local restaurants and investing in handicrafts. Did we consider the preferential position of going under the company of two men and therefore warding off the advances of many? Did we decide it was much easier and far less risky to stay home alone with our own club beats? The Gambia is a very beautiful country with many men and women earning a living outside of sex tourism.With paranoia ramping up, I pulled my cardigan closer across my body and stopped making eye contact with the men.An invitation to dance, an opportunity to meet new friends – usually innocent encounters, but not in The Gambia.But is the situation different if the person selling their body is male? I’m sure many of the women involved in The Gambia’s sex tourism justify their actions on the basis that the men get to have sex and get paid for the fun of it, so is there really any harm? Our conversation extended to the waiter, the taxi driver on the way home and a number of locals at our hotel and the answer was consistent amongst us – a resounding yes: it is a problem and there is harm.Any ‘relationship’ that is born out of need rather than want is exploitative regardless of whether it is a man or woman paying for sex.