Gay tourism, ‘lewd adverts’ and the sex industry in Tel Aviv

An article in’s Travel section reports that a map-brochure to attract gay tourists to Tel Aviv contains advertisements for saunas and sex shops. The pictures and presence of adverts for certain businesses cause offence to some, and comments from readers focus on how the image of Israel, as a nation (the Holy Land), may be damaged by advertising gay sex. Since the story doesn’t say who exactly feels offended and uses the morally biassed word ‘lewd’ to describe the adverts, it would seem to be Ynet itself that objects. I’ve highlighted in bold some words that stand out. Here are the pictures, one of a community centre:

Gay tourism leaflet promotes sex shops in TA
Yoav Zeitun, 18 May 2009

A Tel Aviv city map that was distributed throughout Europe in recent weeks in a bid to promote gay tourism to the city contains lewd adverts for sex shops and sauna bars. The map was jointly commissioned by the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, the Tel Aviv Municipality and the municipal center for the gay community. The map, which is written mostly in English, advertises 50 businesses that cater to the gay community, including gay-oriented nightclubs, Israeli travel agencies that specialize in “gay tourism”, pubs and restaurants. At least four of the businesses are part of the sex industry.

One of the largest ads is for the Paradise sauna bar on Allenby Street, which offers visitors a dark room, private booths and “relaxing massages.” Another ad promotes Sauna City on Hahashmonaim Street, which offers similar services. The ads also contain provocative images of muscular, half-naked men. Additionally, the map contains two ads for sex shops.

The leaflet’s front cover features a photo taken during the local Gay Pride Parade, while the back cover shows four men playing on the beach. Photos of lesbian women are nowhere to be found in the publication, except for in advertisements.

The Tel Aviv Municipality said in response: “To the best of our knowledge these businesses are not illegal, and therefore should not be prevented from advertising.”

The images appear conventional and harmless to anyone living in a contemporary big city. Is the Pride Parade itself annoying? What does the reporter mean to imply by pointing to the absence of photos of lesbians except in advertisements? I wonder whether the complainants in this case object to the ‘sex tourism’ most, to the fact that the sex tourism is gay, to sex workers or simply to the existence of out gay entertainment venues.

There is a widespread tolerance within segments of gay communities for commercial sex, whether opportunistic, veiled or cheerfully open. The result is that many ordinary gathering places tolerate sex workers and cater to their clients without making a fuss or distinguishing them from other patrons. This tolerance can be perceived as moral decay, as we see daily in both Christian and Muslim objections.

Tolerance for sex work within gay entertainment venues is felt as a relief by many, but can also mean a sort of reverse stigma, as explored in a Kenyan sex worker’s story.

4 thoughts on “Gay tourism, ‘lewd adverts’ and the sex industry in Tel Aviv

  1. peripheries

    Tel Aviv like Sidney is a world famous destination for Gay tourism. The question is why, to some extent, a place like London is not except for Parisian weekenders.

    I was asked by one of my Thai gay friend why there is no Go-go boys bar in London. I explained I did not really know… To some extent some activites would be illegal. My friend then suggested opening one, to which I replied, “that would be interesting!”

  2. Laura Agustin

    You’d have to apply for a licence under the sex-establishments clause of the Licensing Act, the one that’s causing brouhaha at the moment because it’s proposed to bring lap dancing under that regulation. Councils, applications, inspections, rules.

  3. Marc

    Gay city tourism marketing is also a famous field for gay activits and entrepreneurs alike in German cities (Cologne, Berlin…). However not always welcomed, they have already founded international bodies like int. gay lesbian travel agency (IGLTA) and a network of gay travel agencies.

    We have had the only one gay gogo boy bar in Berlin for some years: Babylon. But the venue was to hot to survive. Some additional prostitution business in the back room and some months to young boys and some to few tax money delivered…

    More on Tel Aviv:
    Documentry Gan – Garden
    Hustling for drugs and survival in Tel Aviv, Gan Area
    Film by Ruthie Shatz and Adi Barash
    85 min

  4. caspi

    Tel Aviv best sauna for gay bi-sexual man New professional management team . sauna three floor, dray sauna, bar, origic room, privet room, professional massage, open every day from 11:00 – 06:00 st. galil 2 corner of manchem bagin 28 Tel AVIV


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