The New Currency
At a popular Saturday night ‘fish-fry’, a mother approaches a group of Caucasian men, whom she assumes are non-locals, and offers to them her twelve year old virgin daughter for EC $500. A fifteen-year-old secondary school student confesses to his classmate that every Friday night at a famous street party he “makes a bomb” and earns enough money for school the following week, in addition to ‘top-ups’ and clothing. A mother ignores the overt sexual advances being made by her partner towards her underage adolescent daughter so that the supply of food and payment of bills remain consistent. As disconcerting and downright troubling as these situations are, they, and a host of others similar in nature, have become everyday occurrences in Saint Lucia, and the societal nonchalance and tacit acceptance of such is alarming.
Eons ago persons traded using goods and supplies. Individuals would barter using crops, vegetables, animals and even items of jewellery. With the advent of bills and coins, money soon became the mode whereby goods were bought and sold, a practice still dominating the exchange of products. Many have postulated, though, as to the currency that will be used within the next 20 to 30 years. Marketing gurus, in their analysis of trade, purchasing patterns and brand loyalty have predicted that ‘loyalty points’ earned by shoppers will replace money as the mode of currency, specifically with high-end mega companies such as Amazon, Nike and Wallmart.
In the 2011 must-see sci-fi thriller ‘In Time’, starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, time is the universal currency in the year 2169 that is used to pay for dayto-day expenses. In our neck of the woods, Saint Lucia and neighbouring islands are currently in the process of developing a new type of currency that is utilised in the trading of goods and products. That emerging currency is sex. Many may argue that this form of trade has existed for centuries and is only becoming more conspicuous. However, in times past, money was the currency used to purchase sex mainly from “tourism workers”, with sex being the product or good received. Recently though, sex has become the currency used to obtain goods such as money, phones, furniture, food and any other tangible. Unfortunately, this paradigm shift, which is often borne out of severe economic circumstances, has the propensity to dispel the social and psychological mores and norms governing a society and catapult a downward spiral of immoral behaviour.
It is undeniable that sexual behaviour on a societal level during periods of economic hardship dramatically changes. Economic adversity, which encapsulates high levels of unemployment, chronic societal stress and a pervasive sense of hopelessness, restricts the power of individuals to make conscious, responsible decisions regarding their sexual interactions. The act of sex as a bartering tool is manifested in many patterns of sexual behaviour. For example, the number of cases involving sexual harassment against women at work appears to be escalating. In most cases, male supervisors use the threat of retrenchment to cajole female subordinates into engaging in sexual acts. Sadly, the more desperate and vulnerable the employee, the more likely is this situation. Commonly, single parent females are faced with a conundrum: keeping their honey and dying with their dignity as Singing Sandra, a calypsonian from Trinidad, puts it, or partaking in a sexual relationship in exchange for a monthly or fortnightly salary. For the moralists with three school-aged children and no other source of income, this is psychological hell.
Another example of trading with this emerging currency involves soliciting. By its very definition, solicitation describes requesting something from another as in ‘soliciting responses’ or ‘soliciting donations’. But it also refers to offering something to someone. Prostitution is cited when the thing being offered is a sexual act in exchange for money. Here in Saint Lucia there are many cases similar to those described above of mothers offering their daughters and sons in exchange for financial assistance. It is also becoming more and more common for adolescents to willingly engage in these activities. Sexual intercourse is being offered by adolescents below the age of 16 for not much more than cinema tickets to the newest movie release. It should be noted though, that not all these situations involve statutory rape and/or abuse of minors. It has also become commonplace for adult males and females to enter into ‘arrangements’ with seemingly affluent individuals, offering to perform sexual acts themselves for favours, financial or otherwise. The ‘Sugar Daddy Syndrome’ is also on the rise in Saint Lucia and describes a symbiotic relationship, usually between a young female and a much older man that is solely based on the latter’s financial provisions. In return, sexual favours are granted.
As a psychologist, it compels me to highlight the pernicious domino effect of societal apathy regarding the use of sex for trading goods and services. Subtle endorsement of such sexual behaviours will engender changes in the moral underpinnings of the society, as misconceptions concerning the purpose and nature of sexual intercourse are formed. Sex will no longer be considered an intimate physical expression of love between a couple. The new conceptualisation of sex as a means of acquiring a product, good or service will see the creation of new, more liberal value systems, attitudes, mores and norms and may inadvertently lead to increased social problems such as adolescent pregnancies, sexually violent crimes, prostitution, and abuse against minors.
Similar to the political and economic sectors of our country, the social sphere of Saint Lucia also requires urgent attention. Undoubtedly, this new currency of trade and the perpetuation of sexual transactions are largely contingent on the tolerance level of the society. To protect our young people, collective thought must be given to the value system regarding sexual practices that will be passed from generation to generation and steps must be taken to ensure that that which is internalised as acceptable, is that which we, as a society, are prepared to live with.