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What I’ve Learned about Sex & Romance from Travel

It’s Valentine’s Day in Sri Lanka, my friends!

I’ve never been one to shy away from writing about personal topics on the internet (see: chronic pain, job rejections, therapy…), but this is a new level even for me. The thing is, I’ve always felt this topic is so important to the experience of travel (especially now that I’m always traveling as a digital nomad) — I was just afraid to write about it.

(Except this one time. But it wasn’t about me.)

I’m still afraid to write about it. But I’m gonna do it anyway.

Girl in black bikini standing in front of rocks on Koh Tao's Sairee Beach with white outline doodled
Photo by Jeremy Blooms and doodle by Madeline Kawalek

It’s been a JOURNEY for me when it comes to travel sex and romance.

There was the time a guy sent me handwritten love letters for two months after a mere 24 hours together. The time a guy who had a broken leg somehow disappeared down three flights of stairs out of my locked apartment building when I went to the bathroom for less than a minute. The time I was invited to have a foursome with people from my coworking space who I would see at work the next day…

Alas. This is not a post of sex stories. It’s about what I learned from those experiences.

**A note on the photos: To protect everyone’s identities, no names or faces of past lOvErS are included here. Obviously it was tough to decide what photos to use, so I thought it would be entertaining for us all if I grabbed screenshots of guys booty-calling me 😀 For the record, some of them were successful and others were not.

Text message asking you awake? from 3:35 am

One night stands are the least satisfying thing in the world…But often the only choice

Sadly the culture around travel includes a lot of one night stands and casual sex. There are many reasons for this: there is, of course, the logistical constraint of only knowing someone for a short period of time. This is probably the main framework that travel-sex culture was built upon.

But there are also layers of party culture (alcohol and drugs) and the disinhibition of that, plus expectations and sex-related goal setting (like guys on lads trips who want to ‘check things off the list’ like having a threesome or having sex with a blonde Swedish girl etc. and yes this is a real thing I’ve heard guys talk about).

Texts asking where are you? and what are you doing? from late at night
Persistent!

When you have a one night stand while traveling, you’re most likely having sex with someone you don’t know and that means you don’t know each other’s bodies and you don’t know each other’s minds. You have almost nothing to connect on besides maybe some sort of chemical attraction (which is a thing, I’m not trying to downplay it completely).

More often than not, one night stands are forgettable. A blip in the radar.

Boys are fucking afraid of feelings

I am.

So sick.

Of emotionally constipated men.

You know what’s sexy? Being able to experience the vast, rich array of human emotions. Being strong enough to let yourself be vulnerable in front of — GASP! — a woman.

The fallacy of the whole thing is they don’t want to feel because they don’t want to become attached because they don’t want to get hurt.

But if you never take a risk, you will definitely never even qualify for the reward.

English accents never stop being sexy

Listen. I mean…

Yeah I know this is the most stereotypical American girl thing to say but I cannot deny after all these years, I still find English accents sexy.

My friend from Spain said she feels the same way about Argentinean guys when they speak Spanish with their Argentinean accents. Is it because we’re speaking the same language but there’s a novelty to the way the other person does it that’s intriguing…? I don’t know!! Help me out, what do you think?

Along those same lines, apparently American guys don’t stand a chance. I haven’t dated or slept with an American in 6 years (!!)

Dating is more intense and there’s way more pressure

There may be a lot of casual sex while traveling but there isn’t a lot of casually dating.

If you’re gonna date while traveling, there seems to always be way more pressure and commitment involved. For example, you might have to fly to another country just to see if an exciting but shortlived spark you had with someone has any potential. And yes, I’ve done this, and yes my digital nomad friends have too.

Female pleasure is fascinating and mystifying

Female pleasure is a fascinating, under-discussed topic. Namely: what makes a woman come?

The fact of the matter is, it tends to be easier and more mechanical for a man to come during a heterosexual encounter than a woman.

(If you want to fight me on the statement, please see: your nearest heterosexual female friend. And also this peer-reviewed study of over 50,000 respondents wherein 95% of heterosexual men said they usually always orgasmed when sexually intimate while only 65% of heterosexual women said the same.)

Oh should I then? 😉

I recently watched a TED talk in which the speaker argued (with data to back up her argument of course) that women don’t necessarily dislike casual sex because they’re “too emotional” to have sex without feelings, but because casual sex just doesn’t..feel..that..good. Like physically, not emotionally.

The main thing I’ve learned about female orgasms is the brain is the most powerful sex organ and you can harness its power to your advantage. How?

  • Flirt and tease. Build tension. What happens outside the bedroom can be as important to the quality of the sex as what happens inside.
  • Don’t try to make her come. Just be excited to be there and don’t care about the outcome (she can feel you caring about the outcome and it adds pressure to the experience.)
  • For the ladies: feel yourself even when your partner isn’t around. Listen to sexy music. Wear clothes that make you feel sexy. Replace your old crappy underwear with new, sexy underwear and wear it even if you know no one will see it.

This is just the beginning. I feel like there’s so much more for me to learn, which brings me to…

I keep learning new things about sex and romance while traveling

Just when I think I’m done and I’ve reached a certain conclusion about something, I have a new experience and change my mind completely.

For example, I thought great sex happened when you are mutually emotionally invested in the relationship. Turns out it’s not necessarily physical attraction or emotional connection, but actually intimacy that turns me on. And you can have intimacy without physical attraction or emotional connection. *mindblown*

Oo also: I used to think rough sex was terrible and painful and all a big male-centric pornstar show. But as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable in my skin and had different types of partners I’ve realized it can be good fun.

In general, it seems Westerners outside the US are more openminded and I’ve been delighted to expand outside my American puritanical comfort zone.

I will never stop believing in love (between people who meet while traveling)

A lot of people will argue with me about this but I personally believe you can build a long-term meaningful relationship with someone you meet while traveling. Like A) I have to believe this because what’s the alternative for me? B) I think the more I believe it, the more it’s possible.

Promising…

All of my friends tell me I’m crazy for ever expecting to find a real relationship while living abroad, especially when I was living on a Thai “party island”. I get it. Trust me, I do. I have ONLY been disappointed by the men I’ve hooked up with while traveling. Across all my years. Like literally only disappointment.

But I refuse to accept that that’s the only possible outcome. I know so many people who have met someone while traveling or living abroad and ended up in a serious relationship with them.

I mean for one: my parents. They met while on a ski trip in Vermont. Also my friends Megan and Craig. They met in Bangkok when they both moved there to teach English. My Australian friend Jordan met his girlfriend in a bar in New York while he was visiting on holiday. My neighbors on Tao met while diving on Koh Tao and now they have two beautiful, wonderful daughters they’re raising there.

I could go on! Maybe it’s not the statistical norm but I have to believe it’s possible. And nothing you say will change my mind on this. I can’t go to a specific place or live my life a specific way just because I *think* that’s how I’ll meet someone and fall in love. I have to just do me and it will happen when it happens.


Related:

We Need to Talk About Tinder

Sex and Travel: Interviewing Travelers on Their Experiences

Koh Tao, Why Don’t You Love Me? A Breakup Post

It's been a journey for me when it comes to sex and romance while traveling. Here's what I've learned so far about it all.
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2 comments

  1. Rachel Sasser says:

    Yes and yes, I agree with all of this. And it IS possible! I met my British boyfriend (yeah, that accent) at a rooftop hostel bar in Saigon during my year backpacking around the world… that sounded ridiculous as I typed it. And we’ve made it work for 2.5 years now! But yeah, I’ve also had the stalker-we-hooked-up-like-once-and-how-did-you-find-my-email-address-I-am-home-now-leave-me-alone issue too… Travel and dating, so many extremes. Things escalate quickly!

    • mishvo says:

      Hahaha the accent! Yes!! Yeah see this is what I mean – it definitely happens for people, it just hasn’t happened for me yet. It *does* sound ridiculous but I guess there’s no right or wrong way to meet a future partner. Thanks for sharing this, keeping my hope alive haha.

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