Transactional sex refers to sexual relationships where the giving of gifts or services is an important factor. Transactional sex is a superset of prostitution, in that the exchange of gifts for sex includes a broader set of (usually non-marital) obligations that do not necessarily involve a predetermined payment or gift, but where there is a definite motivation to benefit materially from the sexual exchange (Hunter 2002). The participants do not necessarily frame themselves in terms of prostitutes/clients, but often as girlfriends/boyfriends, or sugar babies/sugar daddies (Hoefinger 2010, 2013). Those offering sex may or may not feel affection for their partners.
In the western world, transactional sex occurs ubiquitously in the form of sex in exchange for rent, phones, clothes, drinks, drugs, grades, or school tuition, to name just a few examples.
Transactional sexual relationships are particularly common in sub-Saharan Africa, where they often involve relationships between older men and younger women or girls. In many cases, the woman in a transactional sexual relationship may remain faithful to her boyfriend, while he may have multiple sexual partners. In other cases, the woman may have multiple partners. In both of these cases, transactional sex presents an increased risk of HIV infection. As a result, transactional sex is a factor involved in the spread of AIDS in Africa.
The pervasiveness of transactional sex in sub-saharan Africa, common in non-marital relationships across all income categories, is closely linked to socio-cultural expectations of gender whereby a man is expected to act as a provider to their partners and women expect a compensation for 'giving' sex. This results in implicit assumptions of exchange, whereby for example a man might buy a woman a drink and her acceptance implies a willingness to have sex. Transactional sex is also becoming a vehicle for migration in places where younger women have intimate relationships with older men from for example Europe or North America (Groes-Green 2014).
The general consensus among those studying transactional sex is that it is associated with the joint onslaught of poverty and the influence of Western consumerism, the differences in economic power between men and women, and the breakdown of traditional African marriage customs involving bridewealth. Some scholars also associate transactional sex with the use of female erotic power and new inter-generational strategies and argue that these are part of a broader moral economy where the money young women earn from transactional sex is redistributed to kin and peers (Groes-Green 2013, 2014; Cole 2010).
Though these relationships are common in Sub-Sahara Africa, they are also increasingly common in other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia.
- Suzanne Leclerc-Madlala. "Transactional Sex and the Pursuit of Modernity". Social Dynamics 29(2): 213-233. 2003
- Heidi Hoefinger. Negotiating Intimacy: Transactional Sex and Relationships Among Cambodian Professional Girlfriends, PhD dissertation, Goldsmiths, University of London, July 2010 http://eprints.gold.ac.uk/3419/1/Heidi_Hoefinger_Transactional_Sex_PhD_2010.pdf
- Heidi Hoefinger. Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia: Professional Girlfriends and Transactional Relationships, London, Routledge, 2013.
- Mark Hunter. "The Materiality of Everyday Sex: Thinking Beyond 'Prostitution'", African Studies, 61(1): 99-120.
- Christian Groes-Green. "To Put Men in a Bottle: Eroticism, Kinship, Female Power, and Transactional Sex in Maputo, Mozambique", American Ethnologist, 40(1):102-117. 2013. Groes-Green in American Ethnologist
- Christian Groes-Green. "Journeys of Patronage: Moral Economies of Transactional Sex, Kinship and Female Migration from Mozambique to Europe". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 20(2):237-255. 2014. Groes-Green in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
- Jennifer Cole. "Sex and Salvation". Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.
- Minki Chatterji, Nancy Murray, David London, and Philip Anglewicz. The Factors Influencing Transactional Sex Among Young Men and Women in 12 Sub-Saharan African Countries, POLICY Project, October 2004. (pdf)
- Helen Epstein. "The Fidelity Fix", first published in the New York Times, June 13, 2004
- Luke, N.; Kurz, K. Cross-generational and transactional sexual relations in Sub-Saharan Africa: prevalence of behavior and implications for negotiating safer sexual practices. International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), USA, 2002. (pdf)