Call me a prude, but for me this raises several red flags. To begin with, what kind of protection is available? If you aren’t using a condom - and going without is apparently a fairly routine practice in Petra - what is your risk of sexually transmitted infection (STIs)?
What about personal safety? I was flattered by the Bedouin's invitation, but thrown off by the idea of spending any time alone with him when I saw that he had a knife. When I asked about it, he told me that it was fashioned from the horn of a gazelle for killing animals, his main source of food. This is culturally fascinating. But seriously, did I really want to be in a cave in the middle of the desert with a man with a knife that he uses to stab animals with his bare hands?
And what about rape? The combination of a young woman on vacation seeking adventure, a handsome stranger and several remote locations seems like a breeding ground for a potentially unwelcome sexual encounter. In fact, there are some claims about women being drugged and gang raped in Petra, although they can't be verified.
What about me? I didn’t go to Jordan looking for sex. If that's what I was after, I probably would have chosen a vacation destination where the penalty for pre-marital sex was not three years in prison. I wanted to see Petra, take photographs and write in my journal, all normal activities for an anti-social writer from Brooklyn who finds herself on the other side of the world. However, my presence as a woman by herself in a foreign place was interpreted as a desire for a sexual encounter, even though my shoulders, arms and legs were completely covered.
When you are an adventure-seeking young woman traveling by yourself, it can be difficult to know where to draw the line between being paranoid and being prudent. It can be hard to determine when a friendly invitation becomes an unwanted, creepy come-on. It's even hard to figure out whether you're facing a legitimate danger or just cultural discomfort.
To be honest, sometimes - especially when you're a long way from home - it can be hard to know where to draw the line.
“It’s about the moment, the connection to nature, exhibiting a sense of freedom and experimenting with gender identity, doing things that they’re not particularly judged for because no one from their own particular society is there to see them,” Jessica Jacobs, a research fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London said in a GlobalPost story about sex tourism that ran in 2010.
Clearly, some women are making a different choice than I did. Where would you draw the line?