The New Cur­rency

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Ginelle Nel­son Ginelle Nel­son is a Con­sul­tant Clin­i­cal Psy­chol­o­gist / Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor (PsyDA Con­sul­tancy Ltd). PsyDA (pro­nounced ‘Cider’) Con­sul­tancy pro­vides psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices in­clud­ing in­di­vid­ual and fam­ily psy­chother­apy, psy­cho­log­i­cal evalu

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.

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