Narratives of transactional sex on a university campus

11 Sep 2013

Given the imperatives of HIV and gender equality, South African researchers have foregrounded transactional sex as a common practice that contributes to unsafe and inequitable sexual practices. This paper presents findings from a qualitative study with a group of students at a South African university, drawing on narratives that speak to the dynamics of reportedly widespread transactional sex on campus. Since many of these relationships are inscribed within unequal power dynamics across the urban-rural and local-‘foreigner’ divides, and across differences of wealth, age and status that intersect with gender in multiple, complex ways, it is argued that these may be exacerbating unsafe and coercive sexual practices among this group of young people. The paper further argues for a critical, reflexive position on transactional sex, pointing to the way in which participants articulate a binaristic response to transactional relationships that simultaneously serves to reproduce a silencing of a discourse on female sexual desires, alongside a simplistic and deterministic picture of masculinity underpinned by the male sexual drive discourse.