University of Sussex Media Release.
. The hidden history of sex-seeking tourists

30 May 2001
For immediate release

For centuries tourism abroad has been presented as a path to cultural enrichment or self-development. What has largely been unacknowledged is that a major, underlying motive for the British to cross the Channel has been the pursuit of sex.

Well before Shirley Valentine rediscovered her libido on a Greek island, the Brits saw the Continent as a place for unbridled pleasure. The Grand Tour of the 18th century was a convenient vehicle for well-heeled young men to frequent local brothels, while many Victorians were as much taken with the sensual delights of their destination as with the great museums and art galleries.

These are among the aspects of travel explored by Dr Ian Littlewood, senior lecturer in English at the University of Sussex, in his new book, Sultry Climates, Travel and Sex since the Grand Tour (John Murray, £17.99), to be published on June 14, 2001.

"The idea of tourism as primarily a cultural pursuit is the official version," says Littlewood, "but a glance at the sort of letters, diaries and travel memoirs I came across while writing literary companions to Venice and Paris makes it clear that it was also a sexual venture."

The 18th-century journal of James Boswell is a case in point. His Grand Tour of Europe was intended to turn him into a connoisseur of the finer things in life, but the daily record he kept reveals an erotic agenda that took him in quite different directions.

The warmer countries of the south have always held out a sensual welcome to English travellers, and this has been celebrated or deplored by writers as different as Dickens and D.H. Lawrence, Oscar Wilde and E.M. Forster. Byron sums it up in his poem Don Juan: "What men call gallantry, and gods adultery, is much more common where the climate's sultry."

"Hedonism has always been part of travel, but this was rarely acknowledged until the 20th century when tourists became sun-worshippers," points out Littlewood. "The naked enjoyment of the sun shifted the emphasis from cultural pleasure to sensual pleasure and introduced a new openness about our motives for travel. People still go abroad hoping for a sexual encounter that will change their lives, and still claim to find it."

Notes for editors

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