by Tony Valenzuela on Poz.com
I don’t consider it paying for sex. It’s giving them what I call a ‘money donation,’” says Drey, an American moderator of popular website gaytravelbrazil.com, referring to Brazil’s “rent boy saunas”—a combination of bathhouse and entertainment complex where tourists and locals go to socialize and hire sex workers. “It’s kind of like a gentlemen’s club,” explains Drey, who speaks Portuguese and travels to Rio several times a year for business—and pleasure. “It’s not about going down and getting discounted sex,” he says in earnest. “It’s really about getting to know the people, their lifestyle, their culture. [I] treat them with respect.”
Besides helping gay male tourists book vacations and teaching them the essentials of safely navigating Brazil, Drey’s site also hosts online forums where gay men discuss and share photos of the country’s most popular sex escorts. “Some of the guys have really tough lives,” Drey says. “Some guys take a bus for an hour from the poor sections outside Rio, just to come in to make a little bit of extra money.” Drey claims much of the sex is safe and that the saunas’ management provide condoms and lube to customers who hire the men by the hour. “I absolutely adhere to condom use,” Drey says. “I don’t really have an option. That’s the only way that [the sauna boys] will do it.” He pauses then adds: “The reason they’re very careful is that a lot of them have wives and girlfriends. They don’t want to bring anything home.”
To some people, Drey’s rosy depiction of respectful attitudes and safe-sex practices may sound as realistic as a travel agent’s sales pitch. But whether its reality is darker than its depiction, sex tourism—defined as travel with the intention of hiring sex workers—is a booming industry especially popular in the warm, tropical nations that also suffer higher prevalence rates of HIV and rampant poverty. The industry is full of tales of pleasure and danger; it juxtaposes the levity of vacationers with the gravity of the existence of those who serve them. The sunny side of sex tourism is clouded over by the risks both parties take if the sex is not safe.
Sex tourism encompasses a complex variety of activities and behaviors that facilitate—for a price—social and sexual interaction between people. Around the world, the names for those looking to get paid for sex are as varied as the locations in which they work; in Brazil, they are “sauna boys”; in Jamaica, “beach boys”; and in the Dominican Republic, “bugarrones” or “sanky pankies.”
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