Understanding survival sex: young women, homelessness and intimate relationships

This article seeks to explore gendered experiences of homelessness through an examination of survival sex. Survival sex is usually understood to be the exchange of sex for material support, however, this research found a greater complexity in the intimate relationships being undertaken by young women experiencing homelessness. In-depth interviews were conducted with 15 young women aged 18–25 years living in Melbourne, Australia. Participants were asked about their experiences of intimate relationships and survival sex while homeless in order to provide a better understanding of gendered practices of marginalisation. This research found that young women experiencing homelessness are subject to the pressures of individualisation that have been produced by the neoliberal policies of Western capitalist societies. As such, they are required to find individual solutions to structural problems and, for young women experiencing homelessness, sex and intimate relationships are among the few resources at their disposal. The reasons provided for engaging in intimate relationships included material support, physical protection and emotional security and stability. Some avoided intimate relationships or engaged in intimate relationships that challenged gendered expectations of survival sex. This article argues that survival sex and intimate relationship management occur within a context of gendered discourses regarding young women experiencing homelessness and their sense of personal responsibility for managing their situations.

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Journal of Youth Studies