Study of sex tourism – Intimate Tourism Markets Discussion

Please write 300-word for each question SEPARATELY with references attached. I will also provide you with students’ examples.

QUESTION 1: Study of sex tourism

What do the studies by Denise Brennan and Susan Frohlick contribute to the understanding of “sex tourism”?


For me personally, when thinking about sex tourism, my mind immediately goes to the realm of exploitation on the part of the women involved in the exchange. Generally, ideas about sex tourism involves a disproportionate power dynamic between typically a white man and some ‘othered’ woman who is being exploited. Brennan (2004) and Frohlick (2013) introduce new dimensions to sex tourism discussion. Frohlick (2013) is successful in introducing sex tourism within a female foreigner and male local dynamic. This shows that sex tourism does not only affect local women but also impacts local men and their ideas about power, sex and tourism. For local men in Costa Rica, “Northern women held the promise of a range of tangible and intangible things, including a cosmopolitan masculinity [and] a sense of ‘coolness’ amongst peers.” (Frohlick 2013, p. 140). This shows how local men within the country were active participants in sex tourism with European and American women who were attracted to the “unspeakable” nature of transnational sex.

Additionally, Brennan (2004) also was helpful in opening up discussions about how women can also be active participants in sex tourism and are not always exploited. Women, introduced by Brennan (2004), use sex tourism as a legitimate means for earning money. These women exercise their own agency and use sex tourism as “an advancement strategy” (Brennan 2004, p. 710). Sex tourism can earn these women more money than the ‘typical’ female jobs within the service industry like cleaning hotel rooms. As stated by Brennan (2004), “[this disputes claims that] all sex workers in all contexts are powerless victims of violence and exploitation.” (Brennan 2004, p. 711). Many of these women have different experiences with sex work and some of them do not even self-describe as sex workers. Some Sosúan sex workers view themselves as “selfless, responsible and caring mothers” (Brennan 2004, p. 715). In my opinion, works by both Brennan (2004) and Frohlick (2013) help to change generally held ideas about sex tourism and even sex work as a whole and brings to light the problematic tendency to homogenize the experiences of all sex workers and to dub them as victims no matter the context or situation.

Brennan, Denise. 2004. “Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips: Macho Men and

Stigmatized/ing Women in a Sex Tourist Town.” Anthropological Quarterly 77 (4): 705-733.

Frohlick, Susan. 2013. “Intimate Tourism Markets: Money, Gender and the Complexity of Erotic

Exchange in a Costa Rican Caribbean Town.” Anthropological Quarterly 86 (1): 133-162.

QUESTION 2: Agency and Constraints

Ethnographers, as Denise Brennan suggests, “face the inevitable tension of how to adequately attend to both agency and constraints” (2004, 708).

How does Brennan present female sex workers and their involvement in tourism? Does she portray them as exploited and dominated by larger forces? Does she (adequately) attend to both agency and constraints?

Reference Cited

Brennan, Denise. 2004. “Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips: Macho Men and Stigmatized/ing Women in a

Sex Tourist Town.” Anthropological Quarterly 77 (4): 705-733.


I would say that Brennan portrays female sex workers as active agents within a broader system in which they are oppressed. She claimed that she saw “a great deal of what Ortner calls “intentionality” in these women’s use of the sex trade”(710). She noticed that each situation varied, and many women, although coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds, were able to be successful financially, and even support their loved ones through remittances. The author noticed that sex-workers were often making significantly more per month than male service workers. Through this, “Sosia’s sexual economy shapes its gender relations and ideologies around earning, spending, and saving money” (708). They do not only out-earn men, but they control much of the working conditions, since they do not have any intermediaries like pimps. This gives them even more freedom and agency to work as they please. That being said, there are negative aspects of sex work in the Dominican and other places, such as abuse, rape and trafficking.

Although portraying these women as active agents, the author also acknowledged the areas where they are stigmatized and discriminated against. One example is the way that they are treated in comparison to their boyfriends or significant others. While sex workers in Sosuia are subject to new kinds of expectations-within their own community of sex workers-men in Sosuia experience a kind of loosening of expectations (among other migrant men) on their behaviour” (707). The women, essentially, are stigmatized for doing too little or easy work, whereas the men who receive remittances from the working women are praised for working less. This just shows how although the women are the primary breadwinners in these families, the pre-existing gender roles trump this.


Brennan, Denise. 2004. “Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips: Macho Men and Stigmatized/ing Women in a Sex Tourist Town.” Anthropological Quarterly 77 (4): 705-733.


Denise Brennan presents female sex workers as autonomous, but she also demonstrates how these women are held to a “Code of Behaviour” which limits their freedom, power and control. “Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips” starts out by explaining that women enter the sex tourism industry in Sousa by choice because it provides great financial benefits to them and their families. She also presents sex-workers as powerful because they are changing gender relations and stereotypes in their culture and communities (Brennan 2004). However, as the article continues the tone shifts. As Brennan starts to explore the ‘darker’ side of sex-work and sex tourism, she explains that the power women gain in their own communities is retracted when it comes to their interactions with European men. The women use these European men as a means to get off the island, but on the other hand, these European men use the women to live out their racialized sexual fantasies, which perpetuates gendered and racialized stereotypes. These women that Brennan examines in her article are also not as financially autonomous as they were portrayed in the beginning of the article. She explains, “even though poor women earn more money in sex work than they can in other jobs available to them, they end up spending most of it picking up the financial obligations abandoned by absentee fathers” (Brennan 2004, 728). Female sex workers gain little ground when challenging gender stereotypes and gaining freedom. Instead, they are held to an invisible “Code of Behaviour” which tells them what they can and cannot do in the sex tourism industry. They are held to this code because gossiping polices them into acting accord to the code. In this way, female sex workers are dominated this larger force. Lastly, the sex workers in Brennan’s article are exploited because they are not only used for European men to live out their sexual fantasies, which perpetuates the gender stereotype of women as submissive and passive. But women go into sex work as a “survival strategy”, rather than an autonomous choice (Brennan 2004, 720). Female sex workers are presented as autonomous and powerful, but this is a mis-presentation of the facts. Unfortunately, these women are being exploited in a way that disguises itself as a choice, but instead it is a means for survival (i.e. financial means to support their children or a means to get off the island due to desperation).

I think Brennan does adequately attend to both the agency and constraints that are placed on female sex workers in Sosùa. She explains how women are given more financial means through working in the industry and how they are given more opportunities to leave the island. Brennan also spends most of the article comparing how female sex workers think they have free choice, but at the same time it is not a choice. Instead, Brennan presents sex work as a means to an end. She also explains how the women in the sex industry understand they are held to a code of behaviour, but at the same time they cannot challenge this or else their reputation will be ruined. I think Brennan focuses her article on the constraints, but I think this is warranted when discussing this topic. The female sex workers are pigeonholed into an industry that perpetuates gender stereotypes and exploits women (men as well, but this article focuses on female sex workers). She explores the dichotomies that exist in the sex industry, such as: exploited vs. exploiting, unifying vs. dividing, and rewards vs. stigmas. Which I believe adequately attends to both agency and constraints of female sex work in Sosùa.

Brennan, Denise. 2004. “Women Work, Men Sponge, and Everyone Gossips: Macho Men and Stigmatized/ing Women in a Sex Tourist Torn.” Anthropological Quarterly 77 (4): 705-733.


Brennan notes that there is “intentionality” in sex workers’ use of the sex trade, arguing that rather than a survival strategy, their participation in the industry is more of an advancement strategy. In this sense, she stresses the importance of understanding the women’s agency within the trade and their ability to use something that can be seen as exploitative as an opportunity to achieve economic security. Selling sex for visas, they hope to find a male partner who will be willing to take them out of Sosua. Just as sex tourists see them as exploitable, sex workers see their clients as exploitable as well. However, the sex workers are also constrained by local/global forces. They are both “independent and dependent, exploiters and exploited” (Brennan 2004, 713). Because mutual exploitation inevitably fails, it is the sex workers who are ultimately dominated. Even if they are able to maneuver within this industry and exercise agency, acting intentionally with their own ambitions to fulfill, hopes are dashed too commonly and the scales are ultimately tipped in favour of the sex tourists, who remain dominant in the unequal power relationship. Only a few regularly receive money from their European partners, even fewer actually leave for Europe, and of those who do succeed in migrating, most eventually return to DR and are back to where they were before (Brennan 2004, 725). The gender disparity in power between heterosexual couples is not just present in female Dominican sex worker & male white sex tourist relationships; the imbalance is in sex workers’ relationships with local Dominican boyfriends as well. Take Maria for example; her Dominican boyfriend relished in the financial success of her relationship with her German boyfriend, so much so that he actively urged her to continue it, pressuring her through abuse. In the end, she was not (never was) the one who reaped the benefits of the relationship and “her greater earning power over Juan’s translated into exploitation and abuse” (Brennan 2004, 726).

Even the sex workers themselves play a role in restricting their own agency, namely via gossip with each other that keeps them constrained within expectations for how they should present themselves. Even if they find success and financial stability in sex work, they are unable to flaunt it because the very nature of sex work contradicts the pervasive gender roles and ideologies in their society, which expects them to be “good mothers”. They restrict each other through criticism and condemnation over actions they are also doing themselves. On the other hand, men in their lives are able to benefit from their own indirect involvement in the sex industry as boyfriends of sex workers because society does not restrict them. In fact, they are lauded for “finding success” in having a girlfriend with a dependable foreign partner. Gossip surrounding men is not to shame them, but to praise them.

I believe Brennan adequately attends to their agency and constraints; she writes that ‘sex workers’ is not a homogenous group and participants have various motivations, experiences, and values. They are a diverse group and they have agency, but it is limited. While they have the opportunity to take matters into their own hands within the industry, they ultimately fall short because “their migration and labor strategies do not necessarily ensure a reconfiguration of gender roles and ideologies that works in their favor” (Brennan 2004, 727). The overarching forces are too ubiquitous, and the same ideologies are continuously perpetuated both by themselves and those around them.