(Jamaica Observer) The harsh economic climate has been cited as one of the factors driving an increase in Jamaican youths exchanging sex for money, according to the 2012 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviour Survey (KABS).
Transactional sex — one of the riskiest forms of sexual encounters involving the exchange of gifts or money for sexual intimacy — was cited in the report as being especially high among young Jamaican men and women between 15 and 24 years old, who are in both live-in and non-cohabiting relationships.
Casual sexual relationships among youths was seen to also be on the increase, with 52 per cent of those surveyed being in casual relationships, as opposed to 44 per cent in 2008.
The survey, which was done between January and February, shows an increase in the number of youngsters involved in, or supportive of getting gifts like cellular phones, clothing and jewellery from multiple partners in exchange for sexual favours.
The survey showed that those actively involved in this behaviour, or supporting in their attitudes, moved from 39 per cent in 2008, to 42 per cent in 2012.
The changes have sounded alarm bells for those working to control the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“The prevailing harsh economic climate has continued to impact the HIV epidemic, making the young increasingly vulnerable to high-risk practices,” reads the executive summary, which also points to the disturbing decline in condom use.
“What is even more disturbing, however, is that only 50 per cent are protecting themselves in these situations by using a condom all or most of the times, and 69 per cent of those who do not now use a condom have no intention of changing.
“Similarly, 19 per cent of those who use condoms sometimes, have no intention of using a condom the next time they engage in these high-risk transactional encounters,” the report said.
“Faced with growing economic challenges, there is a high risk that the patterns observed with casual and transactional sex could become a worrying sign for the national HIV programme,” noted the report.
It is estimated that there are 32,000 persons living with HIV in the island.
The KABP survey has been used by the Ministry of Health over the last few years to track people’s behaviour and attitudes towards HIV/AIDS and to monitor interventions aimed at reducing the country’s prevalence rate.
A sample of 1,800 persons between the ages of 15 to 49 years old was selected for the islandwide survey.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, chair of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Dr Sandra Knight, said she was very concerned. She argues that the economic challenges being faced by Jamaican youths should not be used as an excuse for engaging in risky sexual behaviours, which, among other things, leads to unwanted pregnancies.
“This is no excuse, because guess what, these are not transactions for food and they are not transacting for money to go to school. These are transactions for phones and shoes,” she said.
“They are looking for items that they don’t necessarily need. If you are a 16-year-old, why do you need a BlackBerry, what is wrong with an ordinary little phone? So I am not necessarily sure the current economic problem explains it all,” she said.
The findings of the KABS, she said, coincides with another finding coming out of the University of the West Indies in September of this year, which looked at the social and psychological factors affecting adolescent sexuality.
The study, which was shared with the NFPB, shows that three in every four Jamaican teenager agreed with at least one statement that encouraged transactional sex while, 34 per cent of adolescents surveyed believed that sometimes a person has to have unprotected sex simply to avoid hurting their partner’s feelings.
According to the KABS report, only 85 per cent of males between 15 and 24 years old endorsed the use of condoms every time they had sex, in comparison to 89 per cent in 2008.
Seventy-three per cent of them supported having one faithful, uninfected partner, in this year’s survey, a drop from 83 per cent in 2008.
Meanwhile, the use of condoms found less favour with females within the same age group, as only 80 per cent of those surveyed endorsed the consistent use of condoms. This is a significant dip from 92 per cent in 2008.
Seventy-three per cent of young Jamaican girls endorsed having one sexual partner in 2012 as opposed to 80 per cent in 2008 a drop of 7 per cent.