Research Transactional Sex Amongst Young People in Rural Northern Tanzania: an Ethnography
Wamoyi et al. Reproductive Health 2010, 7:2
Transactional sex amongst young people in rural
northern Tanzania: an ethnography of young
women's motivations and negotiation
Joyce Wamoyi*1,2, Daniel Wight3, Mary Plummer1,2,4, GerryHilaryMshana1,2 and David Ross1,2,4
Background: Material exchange for sex (transactional sex) may be important to sexual relationships and health in
certain cultures, yet the motivations for transactional sex, its scale and consequences are still little understood. The aim
of this paper is to examine young women's motivations to exchange sex for gifts or money, the way in which they
negotiate transactional sex throughout their relationships, and the implications of these negotiations for the HIV
Method: An ethnographic research design was used, with information collected primarily using participant
observation and in-depth interviews in a rural community in North Western Tanzania. The qualitative approach was
complemented by an innovative assisted self-completion questionnaire.
Findings: Transactional sex underlay most non-marital relationships and was not, per se, perceived as immoral.
However, women's motivations varied, for instance: escaping intense poverty, seeking beauty products or
accumulating business capital. There was also strong pressure from peers to engage in transactional sex, in particular
to consume like others and avoid ridicule for inadequate remuneration.
Macro-level factors shaping transactional sex (e.g. economic, kinship and normative factors) overwhelmingly
benefited men, but at a micro-level there were different dimensions of power, stemming from individual attributes
and immediate circumstances, some of which benefited women. Young women actively used their sexuality as an
economic resource, often entering into relationships primarily for economic gain.
Conclusion: Transactional sex is likely to increase the risk of HIV by providing a dynamic for partner change, making
more affluent, higher risk men more desirable, and creating further barriers to condom use. Behavioural interventions
should directly address how embedded transactional sex is in sexual culture.
The exchange of sex for money or gifts in sub-Saharan
Africa has been widely reported. It is generally inter-
preted as a consequence of women's poverty and eco-
nomic dependence on men (e.g [1-6]). Many have noted
that impoverishment deters women from negotiating
safer sex [7-10] and makes younger women vulnerable to
the enticements of older men or 'sugar-daddies' [3,9-12].
However, several detailed studies have suggested that
material exchange for sex (or 'transactional sex') is not
always engaged in through immediate material need.
Many Senegalese prostitutes in the Gambia were
reported to be from non-impoverished families ,
while Tanzanian Haya women practising prostitution
were reported to be both poor and relatively well-off .
In southern Uganda, secondary school girls were
reported to exchange sex to pay for necessities their par-
ents cannot afford, but half those in a qualitative study
said that, whatever their affluence, they would not have
sex for free. This would be humiliating since the gift 'rubs
off the cheapness of being used' . In Mwanza, Tanza-
nia, girls are said to negotiate sexual deals to their own
advantage , and in Dar es Salaam, many young
women who had experienced abortions were found to be
'active social agents, entrepreneurs who deliberately
* Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 National Institute for Medical Research, Mwanza, Tanzania
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
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