This article challenges the pervasive assumption that exchanging gifts and money in adolescent sexual relationships is transactional.
Data were derived from a multi-method, qualitative sexual health needs assessment of 31 out-of-school adolescents in rural southwest Uganda.
Grounded theory analysis allows contextual meanings of exchange to emerge. Adolescents have developed gendered courting and exchange models that parallel marital relationships in this cultural context. Whereas exchange is considered transactional and immoral in some types of relationships, in adolescent relationships, it is not.
Young women are not ashamed of, or stigmatized by, the exchange; they are proud of it. The exchange signifies several things: self-respect and a partner’s willingness to wait for the relationships to become sexual and, therefore, that they are valued and respected by their partners. This demonstrates commitment from a partner, whose role is as a provider. To expect no gift or to have sex for pleasure are the hallmarks of the worst kind of woman-a malaya. “Need” is the only acceptable rationale for extramartial sex for any woman in this sexual value system.
Interventions promoting longer courting and sustained support for one partner would encourage a delay in debut for young women and encourage greater monogamy in young men.