When visiting a new country, you should make it a priority to taste as much of the culture as possible: eat local delicacies, walk the streets, and perhaps most importantly, sleep with the natives. You see, taking a lover during your travels is one of the best (and most fun) ways to experience a foreign locale, providing a penetrating insight into a society’s psyche, mores, and taboos.
The English word “souvenir” is directly adopted from the same French word, which means “memory.” Rather than cramming your carryon with tchotchkes, stuff yourself with souvenirs of that scruffy Italian fisherman with whom you spent a weekend in his dingy seaside cottage or that alluring Argentinian cocktail waitress with a bottom like two ripe honeydews.
While others flock to the Eiffel Tower, I’d rather take Eiffel’s tower. Keep your Big Ben and give me a night with Ben. I’ll pass on visiting the Taj Mahal to hook up in the Taj Hotel.
One of my favorite things about being gay in the age of Grindr is the ability to interact with other gay men no matter where I am in the world. When I travel to a new place, I’m much less interested in following Frommer’s than experiencing its true essence, and to do that you’ve got to get down and dirty.
If your social interactions are based solely on shopkeepers, waiters, and tour guides, you’ll ultimately have a one dimensional Epcott-view of the place you’re visiting. Get naked with any of them and you’ll bypass the façade for a much realer perspective. Put old stereotypes to the test — are Brits really aloof, French rude, and Italians all pantomimes of joviality?
You can derive an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about a people by how they make love. Italian men have a reputation for being sensitive as lovers, almost like women. They love the art of seduction; they adore and vocally appreciate a beautiful woman when she walks by. South American men are proud and chivalrous. Put this in the context of a civilization’s history and you can begin to weave a deep understanding of its modern culture.
By dropping the guidebooks and dropping into the local boîte, you are no longer just a passive sightseer, but someone who is actively participating. Your experience has the potential for transformation. Who knows what you might learn from a lover — at the very least you’ll pick up a few naughty vocabulary words they left out of your phrase handbook. More likely, though, that won’t be all you gain. The sweet nothings you share as you lie together in bed can be more insightful than an afternoon spent in a museum. Those paintings and statues tell the story of a country’s past. Your lover tells you a story of its present.
An added benefit is that by taking a local lover, you’ll have a tour guide who can not only show you the real attractions (for free), but also introduce you to their friends (who you may or may not also be inclined to sleep with). Building a local network means that you can return and always have a place to stay if you cultivate real relationships.
Even on a domestic level, these types of experiences can be enriching and aid in understanding diverse local cultures. As a gay man living in Los Angeles (and specifically within the homogenous enclave of West Hollywood), one might be misled into thinking that all gay men live at the gym and have their waxer on speed dial. Travel to my home state of New Jersey and you’ll find that the unfortunate men who have stayed there tend to be precisely the type of people who give credence to the state’s moniker as the “armpit of America.” In Miami, the men are more coiffed and buff; in Wisconsin, they are wholesome and handsome.
While I am of average to above-average attractiveness depending on my location in America, in India, I get a taste of what it would be like to inhabit Brad Pitt’s body. Because of a leftover colonial inferiority complex that has instilled a deification of whiteness (where most Indians avoid the sun and skin bleaching creams are sold in every drug store and offered as spa treatments), I am seen as a special delicacy.
Globally, it has informed my perception of my own attractiveness. Beauty is truly in the eye of the passport holder in this sense. Growing up in suburban America, and attending preparatory school, my attraction was subconsciously steered towards the dominant preppy jock. I internalized feelings of inferiority because I was not this — I am, and have always been, short, slight, and slightly exotic-looking.
In most of America, a fair skinned, Anglo-Saxon attractiveness is revered as the pinnacle of desirability — look no further than People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive list over the past 30 years for confirmation. Traits that might make you feel unattractive at home are sometimes desirable elsewhere. In France, which does not share America’s obsession with fitness and instead revels in a louche life of wine and cigarettes, men are slimmer, and often prettier than their Yankee counterparts.
Differences don’t end at the physical. I’ve remarked that both Eastern European men and Arabs share a machismo attitude (I once stopped seeing a Lebanese guy because of his penchant for referring to me in female terminology). Indian men tend to be overly earnest in courtship. Germans have a reputation for being into kink.
Each culture can impart something to make you a more socially aware, open-minded and possibly even a better lover — imagine if India hadn’t shared the Kama Sutra with the world.
What you realize through sexual tourism is that, fundamentally, we’re all the same. We might have different packaging, different accents or languages but we all communicate the same language of love when our clothes are off.
In a utopian sense, if we all slept together, we’d realize that our differences are trivial and maybe we’d stop fighting, just start ignoring each other and lob the occasional passive-aggressive text.