Senegalese Sex Tourism

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

Many Europeans come to Senegal for sex. They do it because West Africa is poor, anonymous and convenient. Fancy resorts, with their attendant communities of tourists, are few and far between here. The country’s grittiness keeps away the judgmental gaze of Western visitors.

In coastal cities like Mbour and Ziguinchor, male prostitution is common. I have observed as older white European women embrace young, athletic Senegalese men for company, and I presume, for sex. In Mbour, I’ve seen the men exercise on the beach, flexing muscles: auditioning. They later approach female tourists, who take their pick. Some men, after their workouts, have traipsed up to me as I’m reclining on the sand, hoping I might be interested. Perhaps it’s clear after I respond to them in a local language that I’m not a tourist with money to spend.

Inland, where I live, female sex work is more common. The main hotel in Kolda, a leafy oasis with a pool, a sports bar, a restaurant, and wireless internet, is the hang-out for European men and their Senegalese “girlfriends.”

These men spend their days in the bush outside Kolda somewhere, being driven around in 4WDs, walking through the forest in their camouflage-print outfits, shooting at game. On days when I use the internet at the hotel, I see them arrive in the evening with their Senegalese guides trailing them in matching camo gear dragging their furry catch. If these men wanted to hunt, they would have headed to East or Southern Africa. Here they settle for warthogs, squirrels and pigeons.

By night, the Europeans sit at long dinner tables by the pool, each of their arms slung around young Senegalese women. It’s like they are all on a singles retreat or at a swingers’ party. Everyone canoodles with everyone else.

There seems to be a lot of pretending going on. The Senegalese women pretend to be girlfriends, spending time with the men, talking, laughing and sleeping with them. While I’ve never seen money change hands, the monetized nature of these relationships is something everyone talks about. A woman my age who I teach English to after her shifts as the hotel hostess says she’s embarrassed to sometimes be confused with the other young women who hang out there as prostitutes.

Perhaps there are deeper romantic connections I’m unaware of between the European men and their Senegalese paramours, but given the attractiveness of these women, I doubt that overweight, middle-aged men from the South of France would be their ideal mates if it weren’t for the monetary and immigration issues at play.

Some say that this is a harmless win-win for everyone. Senegal’s HIV/AIDS rate, at 1%, is one of the lowest in Africa. Locals I talk to about it seem ambivalent: they seem quietly disgusted by sex tourism, but then shrug it off, unable to come up with a more viable financial alternative.
There is also the argument, propounded by some economists, that African women who choose to engage in sex work are making an extremely rational economic decision, one that could improve their lives in real ways.

All that aside, I still can’t help but be sickened by the obvious power differential between an affluent Westerner making a kept woman or a kept man out of a Senegalese local. I have a visceral reaction to this form of inequality. Sex tourism, with its explicit racial components, seems like colonialism of the most intimate and worst kind.

4 thoughts on “Senegalese Sex Tourism

  1. I absolutely agree with you, it is colonialism of the worst kind this kind of ‘control/ownership’ is always rampant upon poor people be it in prostitution, brothels, ‘massage parlours’, porn, strip joints etc always the majority of the ‘workers’ will be poor. It’s like how the armed forces have higher success rates in recruitment of the under classes, and seek to recruit them more, not just because they’ll have a better chance but at the end of the day the poor people are easier to use to get the dirty work done be it as sex slaves or to be killed on the battlefield. Then you get some glamourisation on the subjects like showing the few who actually like their jobs and highlight the ‘benefits’ of such a position and people start to believe that it’s not so bad and that the majority of the trade is like that when it’s not. It’s horrible that people buy and sell each other, they should have been priceless, such contempt for others and the need to use or be superior to someone else is lowlife in my opinion.

  2. What an informative blog entry! It is sad but I enjoyed reading it a lot. I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda and coming up to Dakar to visit in January. I had a few questions about Senegal if you wouldn’t mind answering them. Can you email me so I can email them to you? Thanks so much. john.emami @

  3. This is an ugly situation. It is only a hopeless person that will swallow what he/she does not want, just to make life better. I wish greed can give way to true love, and curruption to fade away. I have seen families of four living with less than dollar a day. Blessed countries, greedy leaders, poor masses. God help us. (

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s