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Table 1 Main themes with illustrative quotes

From: Young women’s perceptions of transactional sex and sexual agency: a qualitative study in the context of rural South Africa


Illustrative quote

Aspirations of education and financial autonomy

“I want to complete grade 12 and go to the University and learn so I can get a job....I want to have my own money” (FGD5, low SES).

“I want to work for them [parents], build a house and further my studies while working because [these] are the things my parents didn’t succeed on” (IDI 5, age 20 y).

“I want to be educated so that I can able to take care of my family” (IDI 16, age 20y).

Sexual relationships

Feelings of love:

“You won’t sleep with someone if you don’t love him; you sleep with someone if you love him” (FGD1, low SES).

Boyfriend’s ability to provide:

“The reason why I date the handsome guy it is just because he have money and people will take you serious and I will be famous, something like that” FGD 4, high SES.

Like when I need money to use he was able to help me. And he was able to buy for me things like hair extensions.... I was feeling happy about it [receiving money]. IDI 18, aged 20y

Peer social acceptance and feeling valued:

A friend like when we are together and maybe she says my boyfriend bought me this and then I decide that I have to find a boyfriend so he can buy things for me also. IDI17, aged 20y

“I will feel good [if he can buy gifts] and I will see how serious her is” IDI 19, aged 20y.

“…because I want to look the same with friends”, IDI 17, aged 20y

Subtle position of transactional sex

I’m not ready to be paid because we never agreed upon money we just loved each other. He was able to buy for me items like hair extensions. When I wanted it, he was able to give me money to buy it. IDI 18, 20y

Expressing agency

‘It’s true if you have a relationship with someone he will want to sleep with you so he can do anything you want’ FGD 2, high SES.

When probed on how they would react if their boyfriends did not provide them with money or gifts:

“I would argue with him, but it would not change anything in the relationship, as I love him” IDI 9, 22y

Constrained agency and potential HIV risk

P1 “because nowadays young woman, if she wants something from the boy she thinks she cannot get it without having sex with that boy

P2: It is not good because she will sleep with the person who is infected then she will get infected. FGD 4, low SES