'Something for something': the importance of talking about transactional sex with youth in South Africa using a resilience-based approach
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Transactional sex is a common feature of sexual relationships in South Africa but has severe health implications for those who engage in it. This paper presents perspectives on transactional sex based on interviews and focus group discussions with young people in Gauteng and Limpopo, South Africa. The discussions were part of an evaluation of a peer education programme promoting HIV prevention called Vhutshilo, aimed at 14-16 year olds. The session on transactional sex entitled 'Something for Something' evoked strong responses from youth. Youth recognised transactional sex as a common phenomenon in their communities and associated it with many risks. However, when comparing young people's qualitative responses to the impact of the session as measured by the quantitative impact survey, no significant differences were discernible between youth in the programme and those in a control group who were not exposed to the session. Further analysis showed that the content of the session was limited to the negative consequences and health risks of transactional sex and focused mostly on the adverse contexts in South Africa that force youth into such relationships. The session did little to situate transactional relationships within the everyday realities of sexual decision making and youth values of peer status and consumerism. We argue that the session's findings reveal a narrow understanding of the dynamic contexts under which transactional sex occurs and fails to take into account the resilience of youth to make choices of whether or not to engage in such relationships, and how they can engage in these types of relationships safely. We conclude that HIV prevention curriculums need to leverage youth resilience and protective skills within the confines of difficult economic and social circumstances to allow them to successfully navigate safer sexual relationships.
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