Driving Factors for Transactional Sex in Timor-Leste


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Transactional sex is a broad term, referring to non-commercial sexual interactions in which sexual favours are exchanged for material benefit. It is commonly referred to in terms of ‘sugar daddy’ relationships, but may also include one-off exchanges of sex for money or goods. It does not include people who self-identify as sex workers, so in Timor-Leste women or men who engage in transactional sex are sometimes referred to as ‘hidden sex workers’.

The purpose of this research was to investigate the social driving factors of transactional sex in Timor-Leste, to assist UNFPA in Timor-Leste to improve their HIV-AIDS prevention work.

Carrying out such sensitive research in a conservative, predominantly Catholic country required a strong methodology and ethics framework, protecting the physical and emotional safety of the research respondents. Given the sensitivity of the research and the vulnerability of research respondents, sampling took a purposive sampling approach, working through relationships of trust with respondents choosing how and when to meet. The interview process was designed to give respondents as much power over the process as possible, encouraging them to tell their own stories in their own way. Common themes and experiences were then analysed and further focused interviews were conducted to validate findings.

Research results indicate that while some community outreach programs exist for commercial sex workers, those engaging in transactional sex are typically not captured. As such, transactional sex is a potential pathway for HIV-AIDS transmission in Timor-Leste. Transactional sex carries various risk factors, including a general lack of protection during sexual intercourse.

As an internal UNFPA research document, this report and its findings have not been published.

The research was conducted in 2017.

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