An attractive woman sips a cocktail under a bamboo shade. The sand is dazzlingly white, the sea aquamarine. A handsome young man approaches her and showers her with compliments: she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, he says. For the first time in years, she truly believes she is desirable.
But this holiday romance is not all it seems. The woman is white, in her late 50s; the man, black, 18 - and paid for his attentions. The scene - from the controversial new French film, Heading South, which opened this weekend, starring Charlotte Rampling, makes us confront uncomfortable truths about sexuality in a globalised world, and the legacy of colonialism.
In the film, an intelligent, provocative take on sex tourism in the late-1970s, Rampling plays Ellen, an American professor, who spends every summer at a private resort in Haiti, where beautiful, muscled black boys are available to the female clientele, mostly affluent single women in their forties, who despair of finding mates through more conventional means. "More than sex, they are seeking a tenderness that the world is refusing them," the film's director, Laurence Cantet, explains.
Fast-forward 30 years, and the reality of sex tourism is anything but tender. Today beach resorts in developing countries such as Kuta in Bali, Negril in Jamaica and Boca Chica and Sosua in the Dominican Republic have become Third World pick-up spots for women tourists. Tour companies even market package deals as sex holidays for single and unaccompanied women. Forget Shirley Valentine, these women - who range from grandmothers to teens - don't want a long-term relationship. And there's plenty of live flesh on sale.
Take Jamaica, where 17 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Hustling on the beach is the only way that some young men can feed themselves and their families. No wonder they choose older women who pay better than younger ones. InNegril, the men can earn $100 (£60) for sex with a female tourist, £90 for oral sex, which Jamaican men usually regard as taboo. Many others are hired as a guide to the island and throw in sexual services, often just for as meal or a place to sleep. (read more)