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Can transactional sex ever foster genuine emotional intimacy?

Tan-colored painting of Cambodian dancers. from: PWCD - Transactional Sex.

‘prostitutes’ or victims of poverty – the reality is that professional girlfriends utilize their sexuality as a way to achieve their goals and therefore lead a hybridized lifestyle of entrepreneurship and emotional vulnerability (Hoefinger, 2011). The title of professional girlfriend is fluid – once a woman has found a boyfriend that provides what she needs, and including the genuine emotional intimacy, she is free to leave the bar hostess scene and continue her relationship simply as a girlfriend.

A Worldwide Phenomenon…

The Sugar Daddy phenomenon in Sub-Saharan Africa results from age and socio-economic asymmetries between older men and younger women – and this is not to say that the phenomenon is found only in Africa; it is worldwide – as Kenya and Durban were targeted for case studies. Unfortunately, in Africa, Sugar Daddy culture and transactional sex come at a price – the spread of severe STI’s such as HIV and AIDs have been associated with such relationships.

In Kisumu, Kenya, 27% of girls aged 15-19 carried HIV – unlike only 5% of males in the same age bracket (Luke, 2005). These figures may result from older men who are more likely to carry STIs than their younger male counterparts – having more wealth, and therefore more sexual partners (Luke, 2005).

In Durban, South Africa, transactional sex focuses on wants rather than needs – the women that engage in commercial sex acknowledge that their needs are fulfilled via other means such as their professional jobs or families (Leclerc-Madlala, 2003). Instead, they pursue their partners for material commodities in the pursuit of modernity – sometimes through peer pressure and social media. Women in Durban do not see this as survival sex – this type of sexual exchange in not to achieve economic necessities. Therefore, prostitution misrepresents the ‘character of relationships where implicit understandings link material expectation to sex and are not entirely separate from everyday life’ (Leclerc-Madlala, 2003, p220). Instead, Leclerc-Madlala claims that the rise in transactional sex in Durban is due to growing globalisation of Africa, post- apartheid and Democracy. Women looking for a material commodity in exchange for sex do so to appear more sophisticated and achieve a more westernised modernity – following the latest fashion trends, wanting mobile phones and modern technology (Leclerc-Madlala, 2003). In addition to this, having multiple partners is also associated with modernity as only one partner cannot fulfill every desire of a woman. One of the women Leclerc-Madlala spoke to stated that ‘sex is something valuable’ and cannot be given away for free (Leclerc-Madlala, 2003, p. 228 ). In Kisumu, women with rural families were chastised for not selling their virginity for a set price (Luke, 2005). Unfortunately, some of these relationships are abusive as the men understand the depth of their socio-economic asymmetries. In Durban, taxi-men are highly sought after due to their wealth and local celebrity. One woman interviewed by Leclerc-Madlala stated:

‘Those guys, they can beat you anyhow, anywhere, even in front of your family. They don’t care, because they can have so many girls’

(Leclerc-Madlala, 2003, p. 223)

As much as the women exploit their boyfriends for material gain, they are still at risk of abusive relationships, pregnancy, and contracting HIV. TURN PAGE

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