Sunday, 1 July 2018

From abusive sex tourism by the privileged to Love Island

I have been reading a terrible book. It's called Sultry Climates by Ian Littlewood. The book's subtitle is "Travel and sex since the Grand Tour". Within its pages, you will find an uncritical, morally lazy look at sex tourism of the privileged without any voice given to the people with whom these men - and a few token women - were having sex.

A direct line can be drawn between the apologia for pederasty by men such as Byron, as recounted in this book, and the horrendous advocacy of sex between grown men and 13-year-old boys by deeply insecure, attention-seeking troll-for-hire, Milo Yiannopolous, who is rapidly becoming a fringe figure as he desperately tries to stay relevant. 

For many, Milo's comments were a bigotry too far - after being totally fine with his racism, sexism and Poundland economics - just as the fan bases of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris rightly withered away after revelations of their sexual abuse of minors came to light. It is a sign of an improved society that child rape - for that is what paedophilia is - is looked upon by most people as being abhorrent. 

In Sultry Climates, Littlewood quotes the writings of white, wealthy British men (and the rather dreadful Paul Gaugin) who could afford to travel to Europe as well as countries such as Algeria, Morocco and Tahiti, in centuries gone by. Some of these men are gay and the book does nothing to dispel the myth that all gay men are paedophiles. Excerpts, mostly from diaries and letters, about seeking out inevitably "beautiful boys" and men procuring these kids for each other, are published without any real critique, except to say that travelling away from conservative Britain was a blessed release for gay men in a less enlightened time.  

There is no attempt by Littlewood to find out who these boys were, whether they were prostituted at the behest of poor families, what physical and emotional damage was left behind when these selfish, self-indulgent men returned home. Obviously, it is appalling that until relatively recently, it was very difficult and indeed illegal to be openly gay on Britain - but that does not excuse child rape. 

And it's not just gay men getting their rocks off with children who are romanticised by Littlewood. There is an account of a man having sex with a girl of 12, again written about with any real thought to what the experience would have been like from the point of view of the victim. It's just something men do because they can, because while abroad, they are free of the apparently terrible constraints that prevent them from raping girls. That particularly disturbing passage was all about how the man in question could not believe his good fortune.

And when the book shares accounts from further afield in South Pacific, you can almost hear Littlewood's hand furiously grinding away in his underpants as he again lets the privileged men describe their encounters with local women. These women were, as far as they were concerned, all willing participants, offering themselves to ship-weary travellers. Like the "beautiful boys" who were picked up in Europe and North Africa, all the women of the South Pacific are described as physically magnificent to the point of fetishising them. He describes the men who were drawn to the South Pacific as "rebel spirits" when "rapists" is more accurate. But there is zero research conducted into the lives of these women by Littlewood or the real consequences of men landing on their shores and colonising their bodies as well as their land.

Indeed, women take a secondary role across the entire book, aside from a few paragraphs here and there. The women are, like the men in this book, wealthy enough to afford to travel in pre-Easyjet times to places where they can enjoy sexual freedom away from Victorian expectations of marriage and childbirth. The stories of their sexual encounters, in which they miraculously seem able to steer clear of abusing kids, are dropped in with minimal research. 

Embarrassingly, the book concludes with references to Club Med as a latter day equivalent to the sexually free tours of abusive posh gits in days of yore. I had forgotten Club Med was still a thing and, having taken a peek at their website, I am amazed that it still is a thing - their prices are ridiculous and the search engine is terrible.

Obviously, the "what happens on tour stays on tour" mentality still exists for many people (most of us know of at least one married or partnered-up person who uses business trips as an excuse to shag around) and there are still plenty of British men who sexually exploit women while on holiday - and this is no longer limited to wealthy men in this era of more affordable international travel. It would be naive to think otherwise - but these exploits are not necessarily romanticised in the way Littlewood does in his pitiful tome. 

And that brings us to Love Island, which has people across the nation glued to ITV to see which of the nubile young contestants will be "coupled up", who will get "mugged off" and whether it is possible to form a serious relationship while doing "cheeky challenges" for the cameras.

It is all too easy to sneer at Love Island, to consider oneself to be socially, morally and intellectually above the contestants. But it is more honest and wholesome than any of the abusive behaviour that happened when wealthy, privileged men escaped Britain to chase sex elsewhere with scant regard for consequences or consent. Sure, Hayley thought Brexit might mean that all the trees will be cut down, but she epitomises the not-uncommon phenomenon of the physically glorious young woman who has only had one lover. For all the moral panicking going on out there about teenage sexual behaviour, research from the Next Steps Project found that one in eight people aged 26 are still virgins, a much higher proportion than around one in 20, as studies of earlier generations found. 

So far, only two, maybe three, couples have had sex in the current series of Love Island, with the first couple "doing bits" on episode 16. Only a seriously tedious prude would consider that rate of shaggery as some sort of orgy. The fact they refer to sex as "doing bits" tells you everything you need to know, bless 'em.

And unlike the wealthy creeps of centuries past, the sex that's happening on Love Island is consensual. Nobody is underage, nobody is being exploited, nobody is bothered about social class, and even if "doing bits" is a euphemism that makes me think of grinding things with a mortar and pestle rather than one's genitals, the young men and women are able to talk about what they're getting up to without rushing to either confession or their mothers. Only the nation's dreariest wet blankets are getting upset. 

Give me a society where sex is consensual and discussed without embarrassment over one where sexual freedom is only for the privileged few at the expense of the vulnerable in faraway lands. Whether they realise it or not, the Love Islanders are flipping a massive bird at past hypocrisies and for that. I salute them.

Photo by Oliver Sjöström from Pexels


  1. Clearly Love Island is an innocent, harmless jape compared to the serial abuse of children (especially when the latter is accompanied by the carte-blanche of them being mere foreigners as well) but I do wonder whether it's entirely true that, as you say, "nobody is being exploited". These young people are being sold the story that physical attractiveness (of a horribly standardized variety - the presence of visible body hair on male or female alike would blow their minds) and the grail of celebrity will bring them fame and financial security. For a few of them it may be the case but there are going to be plenty of casualties; not just the participants, but the kids who watch the show too. Clearly it's nowhere near as bad as Gauguin giving syphilis to 12-year-olds on Tahiti, but it still makes me feel a bit queasy.

    1. Right on cue, news broke this morning of a distressing trick the producers played on Dani Dyer in the Love Island villa that was exploitative. I may need to update the blog post to reflect this.

      Everyone on the programme is chasing fame, love, money and sex, although not necessarily in the same order for everyone. I do think TV producers have a duty of care towards the people who go on such programmes but if there is informed consent and they are adults with agency, they should be aware of the risks. It's not as if stories of fame-gone-wrong are rare or unreported.