Research

Characteristics, sexual behaviour and risk factors of female, male and transgender sex workers in South Africa

M L Richter, M Chersich, M Temmerman, S Luchters

Abstract


Background. In South Africa, information on sex workers' characteristics, sexual behaviour and health needs is limited. Current social, legal and institutional factors impede a safe working environment for sex workers and their clients.

Objectives. To describe characteristics and sexual behaviour of female, male and transgender sex workers, and assess their risk factors for unprotected sex.

Methods. Repeat cross-sectional surveys among sex workers were conducted in Hillbrow, Sandton, Rustenburg and Cape Town in 2010. Sex workers were interviewed once; any re-interviews were excluded from analysis. Unprotected sex was defined as any unprotected penetrative vaginal or anal sex with last two clients.

Results. Trained sex workers interviewed 1 799 sex workers. Sex work was a full-time profession for most participants. About 8% (126/1 594) of women, 33% (22/75) of men, and 25% (12/50) of transgender people had unprotected sex. A quarter of anal sex was unprotected. Unprotected sex was 2.1 times (adjusted odds ratio (AOR), 95% CI 1.2 - 3.7; p=0.011) more likely in participants reporting daily or weekly binge drinking than non-binge drinkers. Male sex workers were 2.9 times (AOR, 95%CI 1.6 - 5.3; p<0.001) more likely, and transgender people 2.4 times (AOR, 95% CI 1.1 - 4.9; p=0.021) more likely, than females to have unprotected sex. Sex workers in Hillbrow, where the only sex work-specific clinic was operational, were less likely to have unprotected sex than those in other sites.

Conclusion. Tailored sex work interventions should explicitly include male and transgender sex workers, sex work-specific clinics, focus on the risks of unprotected anal sex, and include interventions to reduce alcohol harm.

Authors' affiliations

M L Richter, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ghent University, Belgium; African Centre for Migration & Society, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

M Chersich, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ghent University, Belgium; Centre for Health Policy, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

M Temmerman, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ghent University

S Luchters, International Centre for Reproductive Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ghent University, Belgium; School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand; Centre for International Health, Burnet Institute, Mel

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Keywords

Sex work, prostitution, HIV, STI, sexual behaviour, alcohol

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2013;103(4):246-251. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.6170

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-07-27
Date published: 2013-02-19

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