Sex Tourism and Legal Change

Christopher Ewing is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at Virginia Commonwealth University and in summer 2019 was a visiting scholar at the Dahlem Humanities Center, working with Ulrike Schaper on a project examining overlapping discourses of (male) homo- and heterosexual sex tourism. His past work examines race and male homosexuality in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1945 more broadly and has been published in Sexuality & Culture, The Bulletin of the German Historical Institute, and Sexualities.

Through much of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, European colonies served as places of refuge for same-sex desiring German men fleeing legal persecution under Paragraph 175 and, after 1935, Paragraph 175a. At the same time, they also allowed German men to pursue their desires for exoticized men and boys – a trend dating back decades and often based on contradictory conceptions of racial difference.

Although West Germany decriminalized sexual acts between men over the age of 21, many same-sex desiring men continued to seek sex abroad, often traveling to places which they thought offered greater sexual freedom than the Federal Republic. In the context of shifting laws de/criminalizing homosexuality, sex work, and tourism, often in the wake of decolonization, many West German men determined their travel on the basis of the enforcement of laws (or second-hand reports thereof). This information could sometimes stand in opposition to racialized desires; however, it nevertheless helped shore up understandings of West Germany as politically and sexually progressive over the course of the 1970s and early 1980s.

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