Trick Town

Boys will be boys, especially in Nuevo Laredo, Where legal prostitution draws generations of Texas men across the border for cheap, sleazy and anonymous sex

Here's another that captures the complex dichotomy of lust and pity that fills clients: "As she laid back and I mounted her, I had a good time but had a very difficult time looking at her because you could tell she was only doing this to survive, and I couldn't help but think that this was about as close to doing a dead corpse that I could think of."

Sex researchers pay lots of attention to what drives men into the bedrooms of prostitutes but tend to ignore their needs as consumers. Buss, whose book delved into the cycle of infidelity and jealousy, says the main drive of johns is as simple as you'd think, despite their emotions during the strange, abbreviated courtships.

"Prostitution is an outlet for variety. It's also an outlet for men who find it difficult attracting partners through normal channels," he says. "It occurs across the globe. It isn't a product of culture, I'll tell you that."

The Border Patrol is always present at the bridges that span the border, but they are helpless to stop waves of pill-heads and johns who indulge in Mexico.
Joe Pappalardo
The Border Patrol is always present at the bridges that span the border, but they are helpless to stop waves of pill-heads and johns who indulge in Mexico.

In other words, hard-up men are everywhere, and they all want to have sex without consequences. Whether their behavior blindly follows their desire is what separates those at home with their wives from those with their pants down in a seedy Nuevo Laredo hotel room. "Not all desires are expressed in behavior," Buss notes. "We'd all be in big trouble if they were."

The foreign location of Nuevo Laredo also grants distance for their actions. Boys Town is a fantasy world, an X-rated Epcot Center that gives people a trip to a realm of sexual conquest without consequence, of steamy nights where moral and social constraints can be dropped and recovered as easy as a shot glass.

Getting laid there is as easy and hassle-free as buying a Twix, yet many men will want to hang out with the women before they whisk off to a room. In La Zona you see it everywhere--in the way the men drink with their women, flirting and touching, like Heath Ledger on a hot date with fawning groupies. Old men hug and caress the younger women, while younger men down beers while their women cavort on their laps. It's the polar opposite of the typical hip American bar scene. Everyone's set up to score. The men are at ease, friendly and confident.

"They [johns] do kind of fall in love; that's the big secret," says Scott, recalling his own rebuff of woman after woman, seeking one that carried herself well and looked good. "They were all so ugly, I was on my way out of La Zona when I saw her. And that was it. It was over for me."

It's a meat market, but it goes both ways. Seducing men is an art that Mexican prostitutes must master if they are to work in Boys Town. Luckily for them, men are easily manipulated. If they weren't, the place wouldn't exist at all.

"I went in with this awesome-looking girl," says Jason from Houston, joking with friends outside a Boys Town club. "These guys were like, 'How'd you get that?' And I said, 'Easy, man. Patience and a little discipline.'"

Jason has an emotional history in Nuevo Laredo. He lost his virginity here at the tender age of 14. "My brothers brought me down here. They said I had to go. God, what a trip," he says, smiling wide under his cowboy hat. Now it's 10 years later and he's in college, but he still comes to Nuevo Laredo every couple of years. "Of course I keep coming back. Why not? What's not to like?"

The john's logic: The true abuse is desperate economic conditions that drive women to sell their bodies, and the remedy is to have sex with them and pay them off. "I do feel bad for them, but I never feel that bad," reflects Scott. "I mean, what else would they be doing?"

Aggressive recruitment of women into the sex industry is a chronic problem in Mexico, according to the research conducted by The Protection Project and international children's protection groups. The recruitment often begins with promises of steady entertainment jobs in a city, an offer that is transformed into hooking to pay off debts the women allegedly incurred. This resignation can lead to sexual servitude that can take many forms, with the worst possibly being exportation to another country.

According to research from the United Nations and The Protection Project, Mexican crime syndicates traffic women to the United States to staff brothels that service migrant workers and to Japan to work in brutal Yakuza-run whorehouses. The Protection Project documented the bust of one international ring last year that alone exported more than 1,000 Mexican women, ages 18 to 30, to Japan to become prostitutes.

"In the face of such horrors, the Mexican government is focusing enforcement efforts on the kidnap and export of women and children and letting the 'lesser evil' of red light districts run themselves, as usual. A lot of countries are struggling with this," says Lederer. "Mexico is slowly, slowly taking a look...But if they really want to enforce the law they should start with the export of children."

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