Non-consensual Sex

Non-consensual sex takes many forms, including forced sex, transactional sex, cross-generational sex, unwanted touch, and molestation. Perpetrators can be strangers, peers, intimate partners, family members, and authority figures such as teachers. In any form, nonconsensual sex has negative consequences for its victims. Some risks of nonconsensual sex include anxiety, depression, social isolation, academic trouble, sexually transmitted infections, unintended pregnancy, abortion, and a propensity for risky behavior in the future.

In the developing world, two types of non-consensual sexual relationships are widely practiced: transactional and cross-generational or age-disparate. Transactional sex is performed in exchange for material gifts, favors, or money. Cross-generational or age-disparate relationships occur when a girl or young woman, who is usually under the age of 20, engages in a sexual relationship with a man who is at least five years older. Individuals, especially young women,  engage in these types of partnerships for many reasons, including to support their basic survival, emotional comfort, perceived educational, work, or marriage opportunities, and/or monetary and material gifts. Young women who consent to these sexual experiences may not fully recognize their vulnerability to abuse, exploitation, and reproductive health risks. The power imbalance that exists between cross-generational partners, and the transactional nature of these relationships, often result in inadequate communication about risk, which ultimately leads to decreased condom use. Unprotected sex, along with the higher likelihood that an older male partner is HIV positive, increases the risk of HIV infection for these young women. In sub-Saharan Africa, young women ages 15–24 are three times more likely to be infected with HIV than young men of the same age.

Youth are especially at risk for nonconsensual sexual experiences. Individual risk factors include financial need, alcohol consumption, history of abuse, and involvement with multiple partners. Environmental and structural risk factors include poverty, patriarchy, gender inequity, early marriage, weak educational and health systems, and ineffective policies and laws. More research is needed on how to effectively address non-consensual sex among young people.


Sex Without Consent: Young People in Developing Countries

This book presents a disturbing picture of nonconsensual sex among girls as well as boys and among married as well as unmarried young women in a variety of settings. It documents the expanse of non-consensual experiences that young people face — from unwanted touch to forced penetrative sex and gang rape. Although focusing on young females, it also sheds light on the experience of young males as both victims and perpetrators (2005).


Protecting Young People from Sex Without Consent

This is brief overview regarding how to tackle the issue of sex without consent, the consequences of nonconsensual sex for youth, promising interventions, and policy and advocacy implications (2011).


Cross-generational and Transactional Sexual Relations in Uganda: Income Poverty as a Risk Factor for Adolescents

This report describes the results of a two-year, primarily qualitative study in Uganda. The findings provide evidence of the high incidence of cross-generational sexual relationships in the research sites, but also of its severity as a child protection deficit in both rural and urban contexts (2014).


A Review of Interventions Addressing Structural Drivers of Adolescents’ Sexual and Reproductive Health Vulnerability in Sub-Saharan Africa: Implications for Sexual Health Programming

This article reviews interventions that address the multiple structural factors, such as social norms and gender inequality, and how they reduce economic drivers that increase sexual risk behaviors. Conclusions highlight the importance of flexible intervention design when addressing adolescents, and the need for coordinated efforts among different stakeholders (2014).


Cross-Generational Relationships: Using a 'Continuum of Volition' in HIV Prevention Work among Young People

This article addresses youth, gender and HIV/AIDS prevention in Malawi. It describes the ‘Continuum of Volition’ developed by Save the Children as an explanatory model to help understand the motivations of young women for engaging in cross-generational relationships, as well as to guide the development of appropriate intervention strategies (2006).


Identifying Appropriate Livelihood Options For Adolescent Girls: A Program Design Tool

This tool guides users through a series of diagnostic steps to understand how particular groups of adolescent girls are put at risk of HIV infection by their lack of access to and control over social, natural, human, physical, and financial capital. By guiding the user to identify and consider various socioeconomic and cultural factors in the lives of adolescent girls with which he/she intends to work, the tool helps to pinpoint particular constraints and opportunities faced by those girls, and ultimately, the type of livelihood interventions that may be most appropriate for them. More specifically, the tool offers a menu of livelihood strategies that may contribute to overcoming the identified socioeconomic constraints or utilizing the identified opportunities to strengthen adolescent girls’ power to make and act on decisions that protect them from HIV infection (2009).


Cross-Generational and Transactional Sexual Relations in Sub-Saharan Africa: Prevalence of Behavior and Implications for Negotiating Safer Sexual Practices

This literature review assesses the extent of sexual relations between adolescent girls and older male partners in sub-Saharan Africa, the extent of transactional sex, and the behavioral dynamics of girls and men involved in these sexual relations (2002).


Addressing Cross-Generational Sex: A Desk Review of Research and Programs

This review identifies the range of programmatic approaches that be used to prevent or reduce cross-generational sex. The Interagency Gender Working Group [IGWG] collaborated with the IYWG in funding this project (2007).


“Something for Something” Love Campaign

The Young Empowered and Healthy Initiative in Uganda launched this campaign to raise awareness and promote action against transactional and cross-generational sex (2011).


Speak Out: Youth Report Sexual Abuse: A Handbook for Learners on how to Prevent Sexual Abuse in Public Schools

This handbook is designed to help create a safe, caring, and enabling environment for learning and teaching in public schools in South Africa. The handbook equips learners with knowledge and understanding of sexual harassment and sexual violence, its implications, ways to protect themselves from perpetrators, and where to report incidences of sexual violence or harassment (2010).


Forced Sexual Relations among Married Women in Developing Countries

This brief explores experiences of forced sex within marriage in a variety of socio-cultural contexts and examines the link between gender power imbalances and sexual violence.  The paper concludes with recommendations for action (2004).


The Adverse Health and Social Outcomes of Sexual Coercion: Experiences of Young Women in Developing Countries

This paper outlines associations between early coerced sex and compromised sexual and reproductive health, poor mental health, and psychosocial challenges.  The brief concludes with recommendations for action (2004).


Stepping Stones Training Package on Gender Communication and HIV

Stepping Stones is a life-skills training package that addresses gender, HIV, and communication and relationship skills.  These materials were developed in response to the vulnerability of women and young people in sexual decision-making due to gender norms that promote patriarchal domination of women and repressive attitudes toward youth (2011).