Sex. It’s not often discussed on travel blogs, but it should be. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, if you’re sexually active it is an important thing to think about before you set off on your trip. It could be a two-week holiday, it could be a round-the-world, year-long adventure – whatever the case, if there is even the slightest chance that you will have sex (yes, I’m including you coupled-up folks as well), there are a few things to consider. While many of these tips are common sense, and should be applied at home as well as abroad, I thought I’d share my opinions and pointers on the subject. Whether or not you want to believe this is from personal experience…well, I don’t kiss and tell. Sort of.
Please note: these are just my opinions. I am not a doctor, therapist, sociologist, or sex guru of any kind*.
1. Before you even set foot on the road, think about what precautions you can take to ensure that you have happy and healthy sex. If you are a woman on the pill or other forms of birth control, make sure you are stocked up or up-to-date for the duration of your trip. In Canada, for example, you need a prescription for birth control pills, but some countries, like Thailand, allow you to purchase the pill over-the-counter. I would not rely on this, however, as pills can change country to country and it’s always best to talk to a doctor before taking anything of the sort. You may want to consider other forms of birth control (IUD, Implanon) as pills come with risks: they can be less effective if exposed to extreme heat, they can be stolen or lost, you can forget to take them every day, or they can be ineffective if you become sick or use antibiotics. Women may also want to consider the HPV vaccine. Again, talk to your doctor about all of this, and talk about it well before you leave.
2. Similarly, bring condoms. I can’t stress this enough. Condoms vary around the world and you will feel better (and safer) if you travel with a stash of the brand you are comfortable with. I have had to buy condoms while on the road a few times and it was never a pleasant experience – you often have to speak to someone face to face at a pharmacy and, unless you know the word for condom in that language, you will have to act it out. Let me repeat that: you will have to mime that you need a condom. Also, some countries will simply not stock condoms. I once rode a motorbike in Sri Lanka with my boyfriend at the time for three towns until we found a pharmacy (it also may have just been a shanty on the side of the road) that had one lone box of condoms. Enhanced condoms. Seriously, do yourself a favour and bring them from home. Hell, think optimistically – bring a LOT from home. Make sure they don’t expire before you return home, and throw them away as soon as they expire.
3. OK, so you have a backpack full of prophylactics and you arrive in your destination. You’re single, and you want to…I refuse to type mingle but oh God I typed it anyway. If you do meet somebody you’d like to spend the night with, remember that it will still carry the same weight as spending the night with someone at home. If you don’t like having one-night-stands, doing them while you’re travelling won’t feel any better. If you’re hoping to parlay a travel fling into a long-term relationship, be upfront about that – some people do see being on the road as a chance to have sex with as many people as possible, and don’t want any emotional involvement. Trust me, I’ve met them (including one girl who was determined to have sex in every European country she visited). I never, ever judge someone on who they want to sleep with or how many people they want to sleep with, but make sure that your potential partner is on the same page as you. Travelling with a broken heart is the worst.
4. Be safe. I don’t just mean practice safe sex, I mean be smart about your potential partner. Whether a local or another traveller, you want to make sure that you trust this person and know that he or she will bring you no harm. Introduce him or her to your friends, and tell them where you’re going. Always, always watch your drink and don’t accept drinks from strangers. This does not just apply to women – I met a man in Thailand who had been roofied and then robbed. Trust your gut; if something feels wrong, it probably is.
5. You’ve met someone you like or you want to have some alone time with your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife…make sure it is exactly that, alone time. Please, for the sake of every single hostel-goer out there, do not have sex in a dorm. Yes, there are bathrooms and beaches and cars just waiting to be defiled, but it would most definitely be beneficial for all parties involved if you just splurge and get a private room. Usually, a private room for two people is not that much more than paying for two dorm beds, and you have the comfort and privacy that a dorm room most certainly will not give you. And no, hanging up a sheet in front of your bed does not mean I won’t be able to hear you or know what you’re doing. No matter if you think you are being subtle and quiet, someone will be always be awake and be annoyed. Oh, and to the people who had sex in the top bunk while my friend was below – you are disgusting. To the other people who had sex in the top bunk beside my top bunk, forcing me to face the wall and pray that my very audible coughs would make you stop – you are also disgusting.
6. For the love of all that is holy, use condoms. If you are in a monogamous relationship and have chosen not to, that is your prerogative. Every single other person, however, has no excuse for not using a condom, every single time. Even if you have known or travelled with this person for months, you still can never be sure of their sexual history and you don’t know their current health status. Not using condoms puts you at risk for sexually transmitted infections, and, for heterosexual couples, pregnancy. STIs can stay dormant in the system for months and years, so people may not even know that they are infected with something that could easily be passed to you. I don’t need to list the transmittable diseases here, you know them, but it really is in your best interest to always stay protected. If someone won’t sleep with you because you want to use a condom, run quickly in the opposite direction.
7. Know the laws of the country you’re in. Some countries have very strict rules on who you can have sex with, where you can have sex, and even how you have sex (don’t ask me to elaborate). Casual sex is often looked down upon, especially when with a local. I’m sure you’ve heard of couples arrested in the Middle East for fornicating on the beach or even just kissing in public. Even if you don’t agree with the rules, you have to know the consequences of breaking them. You’re not in your home country anymore, so you can’t always apply your home country’s laws. I think it’s pretty safe to say that most countries frown upon public sex, so be wary of that the next time you get the urge while, oh, I don’t know, in a bulldozer on the side of the road in Malaysia. I swear I’m just picking that example out of thin air.
8. Don’t sleep with prostitutes or anybody you pay to have sex with. I said previously that I don’t judge people on who they sleep with, but I lied – I judge people who sleep with prostitutes. Not because they are horny and want sex, but because they are keeping alive an almost-always deplorable and degrading business. Many people around the world are sold into the sex trade against their will, and are kept as slaves for their entire lives. Many are just girls or boys at the time they are sold. Do not perpetuate that corrupt world. Male prostitutes in Cuba, teenage girls in Thailand, children in Cambodia, and women in the windows of red-light districts: I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen men and women openly going with prostitutes or sex slaves, and it’s sick. It may seem obvious to say, but really, just don’t do it.
9. Don’t forget about loving yourself. Yes, you know what I mean. Sometimes you just don’t meet anybody you click with or your significant other isn’t in the mood. Travelling doesn’t have to thwart your, ahem, time by yourself. Once again, just make sure you truly are alone.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
10. Finally, you don’t have to have sex. There is a strong sense of “YOLO-ism” in today’s society, and it applies to travellers as well (When will I be in Peru again? I gotta eat this guinea pig! When will I be in New Zealand again? I gotta skydive! When will I be at a full-moon party again? I gotta sleep with that hot Swedish guy!), but it’s important you never put pressure on yourself to do anything, sex-related or not. If you don’t want to do it, whether it be tucking into a plate of cuy or tucking into bed with Sven, don’t do it. You’ll only feel disappointed, regretful, or depressed if you force yourself to do something you’re not comfortable with. And whatever you do, don’t compare yourself to anyone. I’ve met backpackers who have done some wild and crazy things, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to rush out and do the same things just to keep up. Do whatever you’re comfortable with.
I’ll admit it – I’ve had sex in some very exotic locations, and it’s been amazing. I’ve travelled with boyfriends, but I’ve also had travel flings, and I’ve had incredibly romantic experiences with both. I’ve always been safe, and thankfully, I’ve been with wonderful people and I have wonderful memories to match.
Be safe and be smart and you’ll have a fabulous sex life, no matter where you are in the world.