The Other Side of Sex Tourism: The Bumsters of The Gambia

Whether it is South-East Asia or Latin America, sex tourism is something that not only exists, but happens in extremely high frequency and out in plain sight.  The subject is relevant almost everywhere you travel.  In fact, I have even written about it in the case of Costa Rica prostitution.  But the truth is that I’ve always seen one side of the topic.  I’ve only seen western men smoking cigars while enjoying the company of a half dozen young women all trying their best to look entertained.  However, in The Gambia I came to the realization that there is definitely another side to the sex tourism trade.

On just about every single beach in The Gambia you see it.  Strapping local boys, all chiselled to the core, walking hand in hand with middle (if not well beyond middle-aged) women.  They call the men “Bumsters” in the Gambia, although the term doesn’t only refer to the male prostitutes.  The Bumsters are everywhere, as are the women looking to “use their services”.  It’s something I didn’t expect to come across in my travels, nor is it a story you ever hear make the news.

To many of us the idea of a gigolo is almost amusing.  Whereas female prostitution is seen as a serious issue, we often joke about the male version as being the perfect profession.  And perhaps it’s because sex among men is seen as a privilege, but our optics when focused on the issue doesn’t look as punishing as it does when viewing the female circumstance.

Unlike the sad stories you hear of desperate women looking to earn a living when it comes to female prostitution, in the case of the Bumsters, I kept hearing about how the Bumsters themselves were the ones taking advantage of lonely European women shackled by years of work-imposed boredom.  In many ways, it comes down to gender doesn’t it?  Well, at least how we look at gender as a society.  But does the fact that historically men have held a sexual dominance make this case any less important?

The general perception of men in our society is of power, control, and command; whether we admit it or not.  So when we see a Bumster walking with a white woman in West Africa rarely do we look at the idea that he is being exploited by the woman because he is poor and needs the money.  Rather, we look at the Bumster as taking advantage of a situation, a means of income.  Hell, we even look at the bumster and think that he’s probably pretty happy with his means of employment.  I mean, a man being paid to have sex? It sounds like a dream come true to the juvenile men of this world.

The truth of the matter is likely completely different.  Although these men may in fact take some pleasure in their employment – truthfully the sheer mechanics of the male physical engine requires such – we have to wonder if the world will ever look at them as victims.

But really, who is taking advantage of whom?  Is anyone being taken advantage of?  Does it even matter?

You see, in many ways, seeing the trade being plied from the other side of the coin seems to give it different light.  I’m not for, nor against prostitution.  I believe in freedom of choice.  I believe that if one’s choices doesn’t negatively impact the lives of others than they should be given the freedom to do as they choose.  In much of the world, pimps create victims, in which case there are obvious issues.  There is also the issue of human trafficking which is also often link to prostitution.  However, in The Gambia, just as is the case in much of Costa Rica, these workers are freelancers and enter the industry by their own choice.

If I were a bumster would you judge me? Or High-Five me?

Who are we to say that their choice of how to make a living is right or wrong if it hurts no one in the process?  Sure, on the surface you can question the Johns, or in this case the Susans(?), on ethical grounds.  And you can of course derive a number of other questions such as should it be legal to do something that can damage your own being?  But at the end of the day, those who judge should learn to make their own peace with the decisions they make in life and hope that their teachings of what it means to be a “good” person carry forward.  Judgement is made by the weak and insecure, and as the old adage goes, unless you have walked in someone else’s shoes, one has no right to pass judgment.

In my opinion, the Bumsters of The Gambia are an issue.  They make certain people feel insecure, worried for their safety when walking the beaches alone, and annoyed by their persistence   But at the end of the day, the onus of their trade, and the status of their existence, relies entirely on those who buy into their service.  For me, I’ll avoid the beaches of The Gambia to avoid them.  But I’m not going to judge the women who travel to find companionship, even if they pay for it.  Regardless, the case of the Bumsters in The Gambia provides an interesting case study not only in regards to the other side of sex tourism, but also gender roles and perceptions in general.

What are your thoughts?


Author: Brendan van Son

Author: I am a travel writer and photographer from Alberta, Canada. Over my years as a travel photographer, I have visited 6 of the 7 continents and more countries than I have any desire to count. If you want to improve your skills, be sure to check out my travel photography channel on Youtube . Also, check out my profile on . to learn a little bit more about me and my work.

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27 Comments

  1. I’ve met a fair few women who have had flings with men local to the place they’re travelling in, though not all the guys have been part of an established scene like this. Female sex tourism is a fascinating topic, which is really worth more investigation.

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    • Val – I wonder if the women that have had flings you know… do they buy gifts, travel, etc. for these men… or is it just pleasure? There is such a fine line between a fling, being a sugar mommma, and using a prostitute it seems.

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    • Hi – I am making a documentary with Jodie Marsh about how women’s life choices are changing when it comes to sex and relationships. We are looking for single articulate women who travel abroad to have holiday flings with younger locals? Please let me know if you know anyone who may wish to talk to me further about this, many thanks, Cheryl Price

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      • Hi Cheryl,
        I don’t know anyone in particular, myself. However, spend a day or so on the beach in the Gambia and I’m sure you’ll find a half dozen.

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  2. Fascinating article. I’m not sure what to think. I guess each boy’s got different circumstances, different reasons for doing what he does. Some of those reasons must be tragic and I suppose not all of them would choose to spend their lives this way if they felt like they had other options. Long-term, what will they be left with when they’re too old to pull in the ladies? But… if it’s their choice, it’s their choice, right?

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    • Holly – Exactly the point I think. It’s their choice. The fact that we are having so much discussion about it alone shows that it’s an issue. However, does it really effect any of us other than we have to see it from afar?

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  3. Very interesting article Brendan. I found it very interesting to observe in Southeast Asia, once I got into the areas where it is extremely common. The interesting thing was that in Vietnam and Thailand it was all Western men and Asian women but Cambodia seemed more likely to go the way of the Gambia. There were lots of women with Cambodian men, and after talking to a local Canadian hotel manager, he said that Cambodian “boyfriends” were extremely common. The guys hoped for similar things to the women who partake in it: potential betterment of life, a little money, and some travel opportunity.

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    • Heather – I see the “boyfriend/girlfriend” situation all over the place too. That brings to light a whole new question doesn’t it? Is there a difference between being a sugar momma/daddy and prostitution??

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  4. Long before it was so common to see African street-hawkers in the resorts of the Canary Islands, I was sitting with a friend in a beachside bar when an African guy approached our table selling whatever it was he was selling back then. I’m guessing I was probably around 50 at the time. Although he wasn’t vulgar at all, and was completely friendly he made it very obvious that he was hoping to come across women like those who visit his country, which was Gambia. I had heard about it, so I wasn’t surprised, and as two independent women we found it very amusing, and we joked about it for days afterwards. It did cross my mind that some women might have found it intimidating though, and certainly in a different venue. I have to say that I very much want to visit Gambia but the idea of being pestered does put me off. It doesn’t scare me, but it would irritate me in the same time share touts irritate me.

    The idea of prostitution doesn’t offend me if it’s the person’s own choice, and not controlled by pimps. Although at this level I think it’s done out of desperation. Only those, male or female, making a lot of money could really deny that I think. I have known several guys from Gambia and their basic ideas about the sexes are really quite old-fashioned by our standards in the West……you know, men are kings & women are chattels – more or less.

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    • Linda – Interesting perspective. The problem in the Gambia is that the beaches are unoccupied, and this is where the bumsters operate. It’s completely remote and a little bit unnerving. Also, if you’ve ever encountered a bumster, you’d know that no doesn’t mean no. It means grab my arm and stop me… it does become a problem. In this sense, people are being hurt (or at least annoyed). Personally, I think the gov’t should do something to clean it up because it’s hurting their tourism industry despite the claims that sex-tourists bring in revenue.

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  5. The same thing happens on the beaches in Kenya- I think you’re right, if there’s a paying market, then enterprising people will find a way to meet the demand.

    I’m curious if these male sex workers also have sex with men? In the U.S. I worked with male sex workers and their main customers were other men. I think women are much more reluctant to pay for sex.

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    • Hi Emily – I think that from what I saw in Latin America it was the same as the US. Most male prostitutes had clients who were men. I think, however, that the clients in The Gambia were mostly all female. Homosexuality is illegal in The Gambia I believe and it would likely be a bit risky.

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  6. I just wonder why they call them Bumsters – it seems a more apt name for male homosexual prostitutes rather than heterosexual ones. I wonder where the name came from?

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    • Tom – I thought the same thing initially, but it’s apparently not the case. I was told the term comes from the fact that bumsters aren’t just male prostitutes but anyone trying to sell something forcefully to tourists. The word comes from the term “bum” as in, that good for nothing homeless “bum”…. from what I’m told.

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  7. The sex trade is one of the oldest professions known to man. There would be no point to judge it -it’s been around awhile and chances are good it’s not going anywhere. Do I feel that some are forced into the trade without a choice, yes. Do I feel that some feel they have no other options or abilities for other professions, yes. Would I want to see one of my children in the profession, no. You bring up a good point however, women can have sex without arousal…not so simple for men. So is it the same for young men and older women…who knows, perhaps they are aroused by the fact that someone will pay to have sex with them, regardless of the age factor.

    Now about middle aged women, at 43 I fall into that category and I think that we ladies should look after ourselves well enough that we don’t have to pay for sex. Men should just be interested in us . . . .

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    • Great points Michelle… And I guess I never thought of this… but I guess guys could always just use something like Viagra!

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    • hey these happen everywhere dont only talk abt Gambians, and not all the Gambians are desparate. I am proud to be a Gambia and we are Gambians to be proud say wht ever u like against us we will take it.

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      • Hey mister Solomon, the truth is that this doesn’t happen everywhere. I’ve been to over 50 countries and haven’t seen it in the same regard as I did in the Gambia. If you read my article, however, you’d understand that I wasn’t condemning the Gambia or bumsters in general. I really enjoyed the Gambia. The one thing, however, I would say is that the agressiveness of vendors, and bumsters was far too much. It made it hard to feel relaxed. You should be proud to be Gambian, but also take pride in doing your best to make sure the country is the best it can be in every way.

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  8. VIAGRA!!!! I never thought of Viagra either!!!! Yes that would make things work!

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  9. Exploitation of human beings should not continue specially women. I never knew that men could also offer their services to women as well. Something like this happens everywhere and its a sad thing.

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  10. The interesting thing was that in Vietnam and Thailand it was all Western men and Asian women but Cambodia seemed more likely to go the way of the Gambia.Many people who have been conned & cheated, just cut their losses, and retreat from Gambia leaving the con man or woman with the spoils of their work – which is why it seems to be such a good business for new bumsters.

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  11. Exactly the same thing is going on in Bali/Indonesia and in Jamaica. I have witnessed it myself and I see no difference between being a sugarmama/daddy or using prostitutes. In both cases money is used as a crutch to get love/sex.

    The worst thing is that women going to such places are labeled romantic/in search of true love and guys going to Thailand or the Philippines are labeled dirty sex tourists while there is no difference.

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  12. This unfortunate business is also quite common in the West Indies, where they’re known as “beach boys”. Either way you slice it, their existence is actually pretty sad.

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    • Jeanette… it sucks, but I guess people have to earn a living somehow. So I wouldn’t say their existence is sad, but the fact that this is one of the only ways they can earn a living is sad.

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  13. So called ‘Bumsters’ and sex workers in the Gambia are forced into this trade by an unfortunate situation of having no option to make ends meet in life. Though not every Gambian youth in the same situation will choose to sell sex, those who chose are driven by a wild ambition to travel, build a house, drive a car and live a so called flamboyant lifestyle. Traveling to Europe and America is seen here as a sure way of making it in life whilst securing visas are becoming more difficult for the average person so these youths believe having a relationship with a westerner pays from the onset with material and financial benefits, and for the medium and long term, marriage will secure them all rights to get a legal entry in countries where life will be much better for them. On the other side of the coin, western men and women interested in sexual relationships during their vacations benefits from an already existing product which is driven by their spending power. The issues here is ethics…if both are looking for honest relationships then there is nothing wrong with it but where one has hidden agendas, it is rather unfair on the other.

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  14. The Gambia does have a high rate of sex tourism. You only have to look around to see young Gambian males, many with women a lot older than themselves. I have seen women in their 70’s with 25 yer olds. As has been pointed out people will do whatever it takes when there is a need for money/monetary goods. The problems start when these guys pretend to love these women and promise the woman that they are “the only one”. Typically, Gambian men don’t have one woman, they have a few and many of them also marry more than one woman. They have polygamous marriages. Its quite strange that they often marry the toubab (foreign woman) when they are often already married to Gambian women or other foreign women(often unknown to the toubab). It is clear that they enter into these relationships for financial gain, its nothing to do with love. I’ve seen many women duped into these marriages, thinking its real love. Also, Ive known of lot of Gambian/white woman marriages where the guys real wife(Gambian) attends the wedding of the toubab. Very strange indeed!!! I guess its true that love is blind!!!!

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  15. The really interesting question for me is why are European women doing this?
    Is it: for a sex fling – no strings attached; a souvenir fantasy to take home? Or something else? Alot of women I know despair of men who are not interested in a serious relationship. The agonising inner dialogues of ‘should I phone him?’ ‘is he in to me?’ wear a girl out! The dating websites are doing massive business, but seem to encourage people to check out the next one and the next one. Likewise many women of a certain age feel “invisible” in our society: they’re simply written off sexually at an age when they may actually be both sexually confident and competent. The frank and flattering attention paid by men abroad is not least because courtship there is less fraught with uncertainty and many such societies are also less agist. Women aren’t paying for it after all. Many of these relationships end in marriage, some cynically for visas/flats true, but not all. Not all of it should be called tourism at all. It’s more of a reflection on our attitudes to relationships.

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