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Glob Public Health. 2019 Dec;14(12):1803-1814. doi: 10.1080/17441692.2019.1625941. Epub 2019 Jun 26.

A review of transactional sex for natural resources: Under-researched, overstated, or unique to fishing economies?

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Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences and Master of Public Health Program, Cornell University , Ithaca, New York , USA.
Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University , Ithaca, New York , USA.
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School , New Brunswick , New Jersey , USA.
Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University , Evanston , Illinois , USA.
Kenya Medical Research Institute Center of Global Health Research , Kisumu , Kenya.
Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University , Evanston , Illinois , USA.


Environmental change is projected to decrease the availability of key natural resources. Decreasing availability of resources that support food security and livelihoods for vulnerable populations is hypothesised to increase engagement in transactional sex. Therefore, we systematically examined the peer-reviewed literature to characterise what is known about transactional sex for natural resources, document the natural resources that are exchanged for sex, and identify qualitative trends. Of the 1063 articles, 33 were retained for full abstraction. A majority of articles were published after 2005 (93%) and focused on Africa (90%). Two-thirds of articles focused on sex-for-fish exchanges. Reports of transactional sex were also found for other resources, including agricultural land (12%) as well as food, water, and fuel in emergency contexts (12%). Migration and altered resource availability were described as underlying causes of transactional sex. Some studies described an increased risk of sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, as a health consequence of transactional sex. We offer three possible explanations for why the preponderance of previous studies have focused on sex-for-fish rather than other natural resources, and suggest directions for future research.


Fish-for-sex; HIV risk; climate change; environmental change; resource availability

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