The Cartagena Sex Industry 

Photo: Clock tower plaza, Cartagena 

Captain Cool and I were sat at a table outside of our favourite salsa bar enjoying a refreshing drink one hot humid evening (OK, they are all like this). I saw a young woman with lots of make up, high heels and very short shorts standing outside the club. I asked CC, “Oo! Is she one?” He replied, “Of course!” I had heard about all the prostitutes here, but as almost everyone dresses skimpily with high heels, never really paid much attention.  

Prostitution (with adults) is legal here. The women are supposed to go to a health clinic every Wednesday to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Mind you, it takes three months for HIV to turn up, but they can receive a fine if the police ask and they don’t have the most up to date check. 

For whatever reason, prostitution has always fascinated me. I remember reading about Jack the Ripper at a young age and being far more interested in the prostitution than I was in the murders. I always want to know why someone has gone into the sex industry and whether they enjoy it. How much do they make? Do they have boyfriends/husbands? How do they view sex? Do they kiss on the mouth? Do their families know and what do they think? And so many more questions. 

I patiently waited for CC to finish his drink and off we went to the plaza to see the main business market. There were groups of women and single women standing in the plaza, all wearing skimpy clothing and high heels. Some were sucking on the cliche sucker. CC said, “Here you go.” I couldn’t believe it! There were police at every corner and about 20 prostitutes in the centre. There were also men wearing VIP shirts trying to entice tourists into their bar, food and drink carts and tourists walking by completely oblivious. It was a scene I had never before experienced and couldn’t quite believe.

A group of four white men were standing in the middle holding drinks and buying more as they emptied. One of the men went up to every prostitute, chatted for a while and then left. I wasn’t sure if he was wagering prices or just enjoying the chat! They were there before us and were still there when we left an hour later so I never did find out. 

More and more women came. It was clear who were the regulars as they would greet each other with a kiss, talk for a while and then break apart to do their pout and play with their hair as they waited for clients. 

One young white woman with blonde hair saw a white man in his 60’s who greeted her with a smile. He ran up to her and gave her a big hug. He patted her stomach as if to say she had lost weight. She giggled and flirtatiously wrapped her hair around her finger. They chatted for a while and then he left. She looked disappointed. She went over to the kebab cart and ordered a chicken and beef kebab. She sat slouched in a chair with a childish pout as she watched the other women and ate her kebabs. Actually, a lot of the women ate at the food carts and they chatted as if they were co-workers. I wondered if they ever traded services…

About half an hour into the live show, I saw a stunningly gorgeous olive skinned woman with long straight black hair, long legs, beautiful brown eyes and pink painted lips walk into the plaza. She was by far the most beautiful and best dressed of anyone there. I looked at the other girls as no one greeted her. They just looked at her and in some of their faces I could see the “oh great,” looks of disappointment. The guy from the group of Europeans who was talking to everyone came towards her. She walked away and shouted in Spanish, “I have nothing to offer you. Noooo.” Her irritation only added to her sex appeal. She was so beautiful I couldn’t understand why she hadn’t found a rich man to marry her so she didn’t have to work the street. That’s what so many of the beautiful Colombian women do. 

I watched her as she elegantly held her designer looking handbag in front of her. She wore a pouty expression as if she was waiting for someone who was late. One of the VIP men went up to this beautiful woman and pointed to two white guys. As she went over to talk to them, two other white guys walked by her and stopped her. Her face lit up into a beautiful smile and her eyes sparkled. One of the guys couldn’t keep his jaw from dropping and looked her up and down as if he couldn’t believe his luck. I swear I saw drool seeping from his mouth. I’m sure if I would’ve looked down, he would’ve been sporting a tent. They chatted for a couple moments and she shook her head no. The drooling guy just stood there having sex with her with his eyes. 

She approached the original two guys, gave her award winning smile and an agreement was made. The three of them walked off only to return a couple minutes later. His friend wanted a girl too. They stood in the centre and pointed out girls as if they were in a food market ordering what they wanted to eat. Eventually he found one and the four of them headed to the city centre, no doubt to have a little dance and party before the bedroom dance began. That’s part of the deal here. Before the sex, the women ask for alcohol or drugs. That gives me a hint as to how much they enjoy their job. 

CC dared me to stand in the middle and see what happens. He bet it would take five minutes for me to find a client. I said I’ll do it another time when I’m more skimpily dressed and wearing my wedges. I joked, but sat there in utter disbelief as to what I was seeing. I don’t judge these women as I don’t know their stories. Maybe I should feel bad for them because they have terrible histories or were forced into this profession. Or maybe I should respect their career choice as they enjoy it. All I know is that I have a silent respect for someone who can work in that profession. Not because I want to do it, but because some of them no doubt have horrible stories that have led them to this profession in order to make a living. Even if they enjoy it, after seeing some of the men they walked away with, I had to respect their ability to sleep with such unappealing men. 

What really struck me was the clientele. All of them were foreigners, European or North American. Countries in which prostitution is illegal. I watched them, wondering if they would be so open in their own countries and if not, why all of the sudden it was okay to do so in another country. I wondered what they thought of women in general, if they had girlfriends, if they did this before, if this was the reason they travelled here. Don’t forget my background is psychology, I always have and probably always will be, fascinated by all types of human behaviour! Sadly with the clientele, I couldn’t stop my judgment and felt a little bit disgusted by them. It’s not the actual act of buying a prostitute that rubbed me the wrong way, it was the way they looked at these women as sex toys with such little respect. Whether someone is offering sexual services or not, they are still human. It was obvious in some of the women’s body language that they were clearly uncomfortable by some of the more aggressive behaviours. 

As in almost all countries, whether the sex trade is legal or not, there is a dark side here as well. I worked as a therapist in that field for eight years and have had more than my share of that side of the story so I’m choosing not to write about that. 

Prostitution has been around for centuries. Think what you may of it, but there’s obviously a demand for it. Especially since this was on a Wednesday night. We went back on a Friday night at midnight and there were hundreds of women, always coming and going. It’s crazy to see such a high demand for prostitutes. 

As a side note, if you’re thinking of coming here for the sex industry, Cartagena has the highest rate of HIV in Colombia and one of the highest rates in the world. If you’re willing to take the risk of a lifelong terminal illness, at least try and limit the chances by using a condom!!!!


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