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Multiple motivations for ‘transactional sex’ need to be taken into account when planning interventions for African women
Roger Pebody, 2016-12-13 07:40:00

Many HIV prevention strategies identify ‘transactional sex’ as a practice that contributes to young African women’s extreme vulnerability to HIV, but partial or narrow understandings of what is meant by transactional sex are likely to hinder the development of effective interventions to protect women from HIV, according to a review article published last month in Social Science & Medicine.

Kirsten Stoebenau and colleagues conducted a comprehensive literature review on the nature and motivations for women’s participation in transactional sex in sub-Saharan Africa. They identified three broad narratives explaining the practice – ‘sex for basic needs’, ‘sex for improved social status’, and ‘sex and material expressions of love’.

“Any one paradigm taken alone provides an incomplete view of the practice,” the researchers say. “However, there is a tendency among donors and civil society groups to emphasize one paradigm at the expense of others.”

The researchers define transactional sex as “non-commercial, non-marital sexual relationships motivated by the implicit assumption that sex will be exchanged for material support or other benefits”.

Some studies have found that a majority of adolescent girls in African countries have engaged in transactional sex. Other studies have demonstrated a significant association between transactional sex and HIV infection.

Their search identified 339 different research articles, reports and books dealing with transactional sex in sub-Saharan Africa.

Other terms sometimes used in the literature include survival sex, commodified sex, intergenerational sex and sugar daddies. Of note, transactional sex is seen as distinct from commercial sex work (in which the exchange is explicit and sex is immediately remunerated).