Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements Book Review (2020)

Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements by Erica Lorraine Williams presents an eye-opening outlook on the idea of how tourism, culture, exploitation, and meeting touristic demands intersect and overlap a region’s historical reference. When heritage and cultural studies are discussed, the concepts of sexuality and the individuals that encompass that dynamic often are not presented in correlation to one another. In essence, even though both worlds often collide due to the interests of those invested in crafting a specialized cultural experience, it is often not discussed. 


If often formed politically and other times, the specialization of culture can be systematically crafted to maintain order and oppressive control of a particular ethnic group. But just as other forms of life and tradition, relational and sexual habits and histories also work to tell the story of its people and its geographic region. And overall, Williams makes the strategic effort to showcase the dynamics of sex tourism from both a literal and holistic viewpoint. Also, she supports sex tourism outcomes while providing historical context and explaining how and why society developed these particular facets.  

Williams, an assistant professor at Spelman College, has completed extensive research in cultural anthropology and sexual politics. Alongside Sex Tourism in Bahia, Williams has published articles that follow sexual tourism and sexuality among Brazilian women and culture. Throughout the ethnographic research presented in the book, she highlights factors such as “blackness,” “eroticism and exoticism,” and “morality,” three concepts among others that often weave around the cultural make-up of regional heritage and collective perception. 

Author Book Discussion on Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements

Williams presents a compelling account of how women in Brazil are viewed and perceived based on the historical implications of sexual exploration and experimentation when it comes to tourists. Given the perspective presented features of a dominant culture and dominant presumed and represented gender, the topics of discussion that Williams presented rang similar to those we experience and see within the minority representation of women in the United States and other countries.

What’s fascinating is how these perceptions are often crafted based on both the insider’s and outsider’s fantasies and misconceptions. This narrative is also complicated because the sex tourism trade is often regarded as a secretive underworld. Many cultural theorists and heritage studies professionals have identified that it is not; it is usually hidden from the widespread discussion. As the conversation develops within the book, Williams points out that Brazilian and African Diasporic women often fall under the unfair assumptions of having primitive and animalistic characterizations. It is these characterizations and other stereotypical generalizations that often influence violence and abuse. 

Yet the fundamental connection between all concepts revolves around the implied usage of escapism from both individuals and society when it refers to issues that support and deconstruct problems that often go against the personal and political agendas we find prevalent in exploitative behavior in Sex Tourism of Bahia.

Nevertheless, Williams does an excellent job in which she doesn’t share her opinion but instead allows the stories and experiences of the workers and patrons featured in the book to shine forth in their most natural and straightforward form. Williams provides the reader with literary and visual representations of the strength yet vulnerability a community of people has had to display. Even in my analysis, I realize that the sexually exploitative world that is crafted around women of color, in general, causes me to notice the glaring social oddness of describing sex tourism and sexuality as having elements of strength and vulnerability when referring to these individuals. 

However, Williams’ illustration, along with the reality of identifying the issues and problems presented in this world and line of existence, is a beautiful contribution to both cultural heritage and cultural healing and preservation. Sex Tourism in Bahia: Ambiguous Entanglements truly establishes the mark for courageous cultural sharing and bold acknowledgment that a culture can not and will not be defined by one aspect alone despite worldviews.