Love and Lust: American Men in Costa Rica
MONGERS IN HEAVEN:
SEXUAL TOURISM AND HIV RISK IN COSTA RICA AND
IN THE UNITED STATES
Jacobo Schifter, PhD
In a talk given at the Albany campus of Massey University of New Zealand on the epistemology of
research, Chris Ryan and C. Michael Martin (2000), authors of Sex Tourism: Marginal People and
Liminalities,1 provided a metaphor likening research truths to an onion. In their study of prostitution in
Thailand, they found that the women involved in the industry of sexual tourism had different answers
to questions posed by different people in different circumstances. They described this as being like a
sheet of an onion, which has its own truth, and its own logic that changes each time you peel it. They
postulate that, as sex researchers, we confront partial truths. The truth lies in the whole onion rather
than at a ?core? or at one single layer.
Sexual work aims to please others and offers a theatre where fantasy and reality intermingle. This is the
reason why sex researchers, who enter a brothel, nightclub or massage sauna, will receive a variant
representation, generally the type of information they themselves want to hear. ?Are you doing STI
prevention?? our ethnographer asks a prostitute. ?Yes, we are all concerned here and use condoms all
the time,? she responds. Yet, later she charges a client double to perform sex without a condom.
If the people who work in the sexual industry know that researchers belong to a nongovernmental or
private organization in the health prevention field, they will probably say when questioned that safe sex
is generally practiced, that the consumption of drugs is low or nonexistent, and that they work inside
the industry because of harsh economic difficulties. Although we found other realities in our 2000
1 Chris Ryan and Michael Hall, Sex Tourism and Liminalities, Routledge, New York- London, 2001, p.xiv.