News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Sunday April 21st 2019

Sex and shopping: Consumerism drives teen sex habits

Brenda Nkuna

Teens growing up in post-apartheid South Africa have to negotiate a sexual minefield in which they are exposed to the “brutality and violence” of transactional sex, where sex is seen as a form of rebellion against authority and where pregnancy is feared more than HIV/Aids. These are some of the findings of a study released this week that aims to provide a behind-the-scenes insight into the experience of growing up in contemporary South Africa.

“Growing up in the new South Africa: Childhood and Adolescence in Post-Apartheid Cape Town” took place over a four year period and involved 5,000 Cape Town residents aged between 14 and 22.

Although its findings on transactional sex are shocking, experts working in the field say there is nothing new about teenage girls exchanging sexual favours for material goods from older men.

However, what the study does highlight is the growing influence of consumerism on sexual behaviour. It notes that although girls in the study were drawn from different socio-economic backgrounds, they had similar “consumerist aspirations” even though the consequences of these aspirations differed.

In richer areas, girls often received financial support from their parents, but in poorer areas, girls expected to receive gifts of clothing or other markers of style and success from the boys or men with whom they had sex.

“This makes them more vulnerable to the brutality and violence which often seems to accompany ‘transactional’ sex,” said the study.

Shockingly, despite nearly six million South Africans living with HIV/Aids, the study said knowledge of HIV/Aids “plays almost no role” in shaping sexual behaviour. Rather, girls feared pregnancy because it attracted stigma.

Experts working with teenagers confirm similar experiences to those exposed in the study.

Planned Parenthood Association of South Africa (PPASA) CEO Patsy de Lora said vulnerable young women were easily drawn to older working men for “material favours”, and in return they offered sex.

She said many young women felt “left out” when they did not have brand-name clothing, money and cellphones. By getting these status symbols through sexual favours they felt as though they could fit in and belong.

A 16-year-old from Makhaya, Khayelitsha, who did not want to be named, admitted to dating older men, mainly shop owners aged between 40 and 50.

She said these men had the latest cars and were able to “spoil” her. The relationships also gave her status with her school friends as she could afford to buy take-aways every day with the money she was given.

When she visited one of her boyfriends, she was given money, taken to movies and “classy” clubs in the City where most of her friends in her neighbourhood had never been.

She said she was aware that the money and treats were a “pay back” for sex, but was grateful, because she was able to buy expensive brands like Polo, Nike and Gucci.

“Who wouldn’t want money from a person offering to give? Sex is nothing,” she said.

LoveLife youth writer Nyaladzi Sibanda said some of the reasons why young girls exchanged sex for goods was because they wanted to be fashionable. Others needed money because they were bread-winners in their family.
He said sadly only a few young girls spoke out about their problems when then needed help.

Study author Rachel Bray said it was difficult for teenagers to talk about sex with their parents, because of traditional ideas which dictated they had to show “respect”. — West Cape News

Tags: health aids hiv

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