Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



Force or coercion are often a part of sexual relationships in South Africa, especially among adolescents. This coercion is also often pinioned by an economic exchange: gifts or favours for sex. Studies have pointed out the negative consequences of the exchanges which are often characterised by large age differences (‘sugar daddies’) or power imbalances. Perhaps more pervasive but largely ignored, gift-giving in same-age relationships also may be associated with sexual leverage, an exchange which somehow entitles one partner physical and sexual rights to the other’s body. The circumstances surrounding gifts and favours may shape young women’s and men’s sexual experiences, their ability to negotiate the circumstances of those encounters, and the possibility of concluding or remoulding a relationship into another form. Using focus group discussions collected in the Durban metropolitan area between September and December of 1999 among adolescents age 14-22, we examine the economic context of gift giving or receiving and its relationship to patterns of risky sexual behaviour such as unsafe sex practices, and reports of sexual coercion or force. We find that gift-giving among same-age adolescents is common and important to shaping sexual relationships. Adolescents associate money or cash with prostitution, but do not consider gifts as such. Types of gifts and their meaning varied considerably by racial group and by gender.