We know all too well about Thailand’s sex tourism, saturated with stale, pale, male’s looking for sex with young girls and women. Lesser in the spotlight is Africa’s sex tourism for stale, pale females- or for a perhaps more deservingly sympathetic description: ageing white women who after having felt rejected by their male counterparts within their society, have travelled to sex tourism hotspots like The Gambia and Kenya as a final attempt at some intimacy.

If you are interested in visiting these places or you’re just intrigued to know more about Africa’s sex tourism, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love (2012) is a compelling film to watch and learn. 

Paradise: Love (2012)

Paying homage to the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos in its slightly dystopian style, as a viewer, we’re a fly on the wall witnessing Teresa’s first experience as a sex tourist beginning in her small home in Vienna. She drops her teenage daughter off at a friend’s place, and soon arrives in Kenya at a resort filled with other ageing women (and men) like herself. She soon convenes with her friend, seemingly a regular and keen sex tourist who we can assume has convinced Teresa to come out and join her. Together they form a small friendship group with two other women, and we follow their daytime activities: organised ‘getting to know each other’ games at the hotel resort with the old women and the young men, or less organised, more chaotic encounters on the stark white beach, where the groups of men try to gain the attentions of the older women.

At night time the action is set in the backdrop of the small local bars- small shacks lit in greens and reds within the surrounding darkness, African music and dancing. Teresa at first rejects advances towards her and cuts short a sexual encounter- she is not used to the unnatural and clinical feel of arranged intimacy. However, once she happens to come across Junga on the beach, the only young man who doesn’t  hassle or attempt to gain her attention, she becomes invested. It gradually became apparent however, to the viewer and to Teresa that Junga’s feelings are not sincere; he needs money to feed his partner, whom he claimed was his sister, and their baby. Once Teresa feels she has been deceived she only becomes more aggressively desperate to have some form of real intimacy- but sadly, it never happens and most of her encounters end leaving both the young men and herself feeling humiliated. 

Paradise: Love (2012)

In Paradise: Love, nobody is an absolute villain, reflecting the reality of sex tourism for older women. This is a story of one oppressed group degrading another oppressed group: with an outcome that often leaves both parties feeling dissatisfied or worse, humiliated.

This is what, in my opinion separates it from sex tourism for older men. The older women that come to the sex resorts are more likely to come because they feel they have no other option- they have been made to feel by society that their ageing bodies are undesirable and shameful, and have felt pressured to keep their bodies to the western standards of female attract-ability: slim, youthful, fully shaved etc. Here, there is the idea that African men like real, natural bodies. Secondly, because there is the aspect of money involved, they are guaranteed to be accepted for what they are. Therefore, they are freed from the pressure of up-keeping their bodies to the unrealistic societal standards. In addition, the older women that come are not only looking for pure sex, but a human touch that is more emotionally rooted. They’re not just hungry for sex, they are often lonely having felt sidelined by men their own age, even their husbands. 

In comparison, the men that come to sex hotspots like Thailand are on the whole, not victims in the same way. Their primary reason for going to these places is for sex specifically with younger women. They don’t go to Thailand as a last resort, but because they know that there, they have easy access to a large majority of younger, more attractive women. 

That’s not to say that the sex tourists coming to Africa are innocent- far from it, as the film depicts. Here, in the sex resort, the women might still be oppressed in their own way: ashamed of their bodies, embarrassed that the young men can’t get an erection for them, but they still seize this opportunity to use whatever power they have over the men. Throughout, we see how Teresea’s friends, and gradually Teresa too (as she becomes more frustrated), objectify and dehumanise the men, often talking about them as though as they’re pieces of meat, laughing, saying how they ‘can’t understand what we’re saying’, patronising them and shouting orders at them. The film made me wonder how much the sex tourism in Africa encourages this sort of behaviour- in that, when the women still feel undesired and dissatisfied, they take out their frustration on the young men. A heartbreaking moment at the end of the film, is when in a desperate last attempt, Teresa attempts to make a man who works at the hotel have sex with her. The man never advertised himself as a sex worker, and her attempts to coerce him are incredibly uncomfortable to watch. He refuses to do it, explaining that he finds the situation sad. And it’s true that throughout the film there is a hollow sadness in the mechanical attempts to commodify companionship. 

We see Teresa change from a lonely woman looking for true and natural intimacy, to, as a result of  not getting what she wanted, (and from being influenced by her more lecherous friend), a woman even more lonely than when she arrived, desperate for any form of sexual touch, and willing to degrade the young men around her to get it. To me, I found the film suggests that sex tourism in Africa breeds unhappiness and degradation for everyone involved. I wonder if this is the reality. 

 

Art
Feminism
Films
sex tourism
Sex Work
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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