No moral qualms about transactional sex? Materialism and objectification
Changkai Chen (Nanjing University), 2016, 44(11), 1803–1814

This arresting title caught my attention! To my surprise, the author was not discussing prostitution or professional sex transactions, but the exchange of sex for tangible benefits, such as drugs, money, or career opportunities. While transactional sex has been seen as a poverty-related survival strategy to gain essential resources for life, people also use sex to acquire expensive commodities, such as electronic products or fashionable clothing and accessories. Thus, the author stated that, in a prosperous society, materialism is involved in transactional sex.

As the lives of materialistic individuals are largely guided by the acquisitive desire to possess more material goods, they see transactional sex as an easy way to obtain expensive commodities. This exchange would be straightforward except that sex exchange is for many reasons thought to be morally flawed. For example, being involved in sexual behavior that is not embedded in a system of meaning—namely, love and marriage—can bring about negative moral emotions, such as shame and guilt, for the individual. To overcome this moral problem, individuals can find a solution by objectifying their body, a process that the author defined as “the denial of difference between human beings and objects” (p. 1805). The sex transaction then becomes morally neutral, like any other commodity exchange.

Participants in this study were asked in one task to morally evaluate a news item about a young woman who went from a small town to a city hoping to become an actress. She found the transition very difficult, and finally succumbed to a famous director’s promise of a movie role if she had sex with him. Although the movie did not make her famous, she became able to partake in transactional sex with ease and obtain expensive commodities from her “boyfriends.” Results showed that after exposure to materialistic cues, participants who had a tendency to objectify human beings had a more positive attitude toward transactional sex.

The author concluded that there are significant implications for people who partake in sex exchange. That is, although their material needs may be temporarily met, there will be disastrous consequences for their health and social relationships. Thus, an understanding of the psychological mechanism underlying transactional sex, as advanced in this study, may contribute to the well-being of the people who are most likely to take part in this type of sexual activity. 

Katharine Samuel | Copyeditor
Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal