A total of 432 female sex workers were identified, of which 256 (59.2%) accepted to participate in the study and were recruited for participation.
The mean age of the subjects was 26.8 ± 6.1 years (ranging from 16 to 45). More than half of the subjects were born in Tehran (n = 138; 53.9%) and spoke Farsi as their mother tongue (n = 133; 52.0%). The rest were from provinces all around the country. One-hundred and two subjects (39.8%) were never married, 89 (34.8%) were divorced, 39 (15.2%) widowed, and 18 (7.0%) married. The educational status of the women was: 21 (8.2%) elementary, 91 (35.5%) middle school, 68 (26.6%) high school drop-outs, and 76 (29.8%) had a high school diploma or higher.
The subjects were selected in a manner that all areas of the city were covered to a reasonably moderate extent; 25 (9.8%) sex workers worked in the city center, 28 (10.9%) in the North, 97 (37.9%) in the South, 59 (23.0%) in the West, 26 (10.2%) in the East, and 21 (8.2%) did not mention a specific area.
When asked to name the STIs they recognized, the most frequently named STI was AIDS with 90.6%, followed by hepatitis (51.6%), gonorrhea (47.7%), syphilis (40.6%), warts (4.7%), herpes (3.9%), and scabies (3.1%). When asked how STIs could be prevented, 175 (68.3%) correctly mentioned condom use; reducing partners (38.6%), informing partners (18.1%), and incorrectly, OCPs (7.9%) were also mentioned as the method to reduce the risk of STIs.
Regarding the knowledge of the subjects, the methods of transmission known to the subjects are presented in . In addition to these, most subjects knew that AIDS currently has no cure (81.2%) and no vaccine (73.4%), and cannot be prevented by using contraceptives (62.1%). Only 20.3% knew that there are steps an HIV-positive mother could take that could reduce the possibility of her fetus being afflicted with HIV. Most also acknowledged that HIV is transmissible from people who do not know they are HIV-positive (59.4%), proper condom use can reduce the possibility of infection (78.1%), and so can having a single sexual partner (68.8%). Only 43.4%, however, knew that an HIV-positive person can seem perfectly healthy. On the other hand, 87.5% recognized that sexual intercourse with drug addicts bears a high risk for HIV infection.
Knowledge of routes of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission
Measuring attitudes of the subjects towards HIV-positive persons, only 45.7% would behave the same with HIV-positive persons as with non-infected persons. As much as 54.3% believed that HIV-positive persons should be kept away from society, 72.3% thought they should have separate medical care centers, 47.3% said HIV-positive children should not be accepted in ordinary schools, and 51.2% thought that HIV-positive persons should not be let into universities. Only 29.3% would buy food from an HIV-positive person and 42.6% believed that HIV-positive persons should be introduced to the public, although 52.7% thought an HIV-positive teacher could continue teaching.
Most (85.2%) would be upset by the death of an AIDS patient, but only 53.5% would be upset if the patient was homosexual and 41.4% if the patient was a drug addict. A 92.2% were admittedly afraid of AIDS, and 80.1% knew that they were at risk for AIDS. A 65.2% would prefer dying over getting infected with HIV and 85.8% would hide the fact if a family member were afflicted with HIV. HIV was related to a lack of ethic morals for 74.6% and a lack of religious morals for 63.7%.
Sex education was considered a necessity for 76.6%, 91.4% believed it should be included in the school curriculum, and 93.0% believed they needed more information about AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.