THE fact that a recent study has shown that sex is increasingly being used by Jamaican youth as a bartering tool rather than as a component of a healthy relationship is deeply disturbing to chairman of the National Family Planning Board (NFPB), Dr Sandra Knight.
According to the 2012 HIV/AIDS Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviour Survey (KABS) for Jamaica, 53 per cent males and 23 per cent females surveyed had sex for money or gifts since the last survey in 2008.
In a story carried by the Sunday Observer late last year, the 2012 KABS cited the harsh economic climate as one of the factors driving this increase in Jamaican youths exchanging sex for money. The survey, which was done between January and February, revealed an increase in the number of youngsters involved in, or supportive of getting gifts or money from multiple partners in exchange for sexual favours.
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.
This, Dr Knight believes, is a tragedy, as it does not augur well for the preservation of stable family structures in the country.
"I would love for sex to become a part of a context where it's not a man-meet-woman-and-go-to-bed situation," Dr Knight told the Jamaica Observer recently.
"I want us to get back to the stage where we are thinking about our families, and thinking about a mate with which to have a family," she reasoned.
Dr Knight was particularly concerned that more and more Jamaican young women are lowering their standards to sleep with multiple males in exchange for material possessions. This, she said, has played a part in the negative perception some men have of women today.
"I want women to know that they don't have to jump into bed with every man that they meet. It is not going to get them any respect, it is not going to get them married. Men are going to lose respect for them, because they are going to say, 'if you jump into bed with me now, you are going to do the same thing with anybody'," she said.
"I don't know if women know this, that the men talk about them like garbage behind their backs. They don't think of them as anything, although they will sleep with them," she added.
According to the KABS, the rate of casual sexual partnerships also recorded an increase from 13 per cent in 2008, to 19 per cent in 2012 for women, and 55 per cent in 2008, to 57 per cent in 2012 for men. The increase in these types of risky relationships has raised concerns about the prospect for lowering the country's HIV prevalent rate.
"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," said the executive summary of the KABS.
The survey is carried out every four years, and is used by the Ministry of Health to gauge the attitudes and behaviour of the general public towards combating HIV/AIDS.
Dr Knight said the NFPB will be going on a retreat this month to formulate plans to address the risky sexual behaviours being practised by Jamaicans. Following this, the organisation intends to mount an intense campaign to get people to look at sex in a more wholesome way.
"We want to go on an extensive campaign to remind Jamaicans that the family is the unit of the community; and if you have strong families, you will have strong communities, and if you have strong communities, you have strong nations. Without strong families, we can't have a strong nation," she said.
"We want people to take a second thought about what they are doing with their bodies, and we want people to stop thinking of sex as just a pastime. Sex can actually be a very wholesome, satisfying experience."
The NFPB chair also issued a reminder that sex for money is prostitution, although she believes many persons engaged in transactional sex do not consider this to be the case.
She noted that while the current financial climate has resulted in an increase in these sort of transactions in both cohabiting and non-cohabiting relationships, the practice should not be encouraged.
"I understand the bills situation. But if you do have a relationship with somebody who you want to make a life with, then you can put together your resources with that person," she offered.
"It's about empowering yourself. Focus on getting yourself to pay your bills, because if you spend so much of your energy trying to get around those men to get money from them, then you won't have any time to spend on yourselves," she tells women.
Dr Knight said she wants to start seeing more Jamaicans enjoying a healthier sex life, especially because children are best served when they are cultivated in an environment where there is a stable relationship between their parents.
The findings of the KABS coincides with another finding coming out of the University of the West Indies in September last year, which looked at the social and psychological factors affecting adolescent sexuality.
That 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.