‘Eventually I wanted something more’: sexual self-reflections of South African women engaged in transactional sexual relationships with blessers.
The term ‘blesser’ emerged social media in South Africa, typically denoting an older man who provides a younger woman with money and/or luxury items in exchange for sex. Within an increasingly consumerist culture, such transactional sexual relationships hold powerful appeal, and remain highly prevalent. An estimated one in three Black South African women have engaged in transactional sex. While these liaisons are associated with negative health outcomes for women, especially in high HIV prevalence settings, attention to how they affect Black women’s sexuality is under-studied-especially with respect to emotional and sexual development-an important part of sexual rights and wellbeing. We used qualitative methods to investigate 22 women’s experiences with blessers. A sexual rights framework was utilised to explore human rights dimensions. We found women’s rights to engage in consensual sex, pursue sexual pleasure and ensure their bodily integrity were compromised. Many participants recognised the psychological costs and limitations of engaging in blesser relationships. Women communicated that they realised such partnerships failed to meet their emotional and relationship needs. Against the backdrop of structural gender inequality, Black South African women’s narratives should inform research, programmes and educational interventions aimed at advancing women’s sexual development, rights and wellbeing.
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