"Women's bodies are shops": beliefs about transactional sex and implications for understanding gender power and HIV prevention in Tanzania

Arch Sex Behav. 2011 Feb;40(1):5-15. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9646-8. Epub 2010 Jul 21.


Although transactional sex has been linked to undesirable sexual health outcomes, there is a lack of clarity as to the meaning of the practice, which appears to extend beyond behaviors related to women's economic circumstances. This article explored the perspectives of parents and unmarried young people on motivations for, and beliefs about, transactional sex in rural Tanzania using an ethnographic research design. Data collection involved 17 focus groups and 46 in-depth interviews with young people aged 14-24 years and parents/caregivers. Transactional sex was widely accepted by both parents and young people. Male parents equated sexual exchange to buying meat from a butcher and interpreted women's demand for exchange before sex with personal power. Young men referred to transactional sex as the easiest way to get a woman to satisfy their sexual desires while also proving their masculinity. Young women perceived themselves as lucky to be created women as they could exploit their sexuality for pleasure and material gain. They felt men were stupid for paying for "goods" (vagina) they could not take away. Mothers were in agreement with their daughters. Although young women saw exploitation of the female body in positive terms, they were also aware of the health risks but ascribed these to bad luck. Interventions aimed at tackling transactional sex in the interests of women's empowerment and as a strategy for HIV prevention need to understand the cultural beliefs associated with the practice that may make it thrive despite the known risks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / ethnology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Work / ethnology*
  • Sex Work / psychology
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology*
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Social Perception*
  • Tanzania / epidemiology
  • Women's Health
  • Young Adult