Sex workers in China continue to engage in unprotected sex acts that put them at risk for contracting HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). The purpose of this study was to explore women’s work history, the context of sex work, condom use, HIV testing services, and potential barriers to condom use in a sample of FSWs (female sex workers) in Guangzhou, China.
In-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews were conducted with 24 FSWs in Guangzhou, China. Informants were recruited using a purposive sampling technique. Qualitative data were coded and analyzed using NVivo 8.0. The majority of respondents were internal economic migrants who had entered the sex industry in pursuit of greater financial reward. Most women in the study were married or had steady boyfriends, and were young, with secondary education and limited knowledge about HIV and STIs. Most were not satisfied with their current living conditions and expressed a desire to leave the sex industry. Women reported that they were more likely to use condoms during sex acts with commercial partners than with non-commercial partners. The potential stigma of being seen as a sex worker prevented many from accessing HIV testing. Three key factors put these FSWs at risk for HIV and STIs: unreasonable trust toward clients, stereotypes and assumptions about customers, and financial incentives.
These findings suggest that social and economic factors play an important role in shaping sexual decision-making among female sex workers in Guangzhou. We argue that greater insight into and attention to these factors could enhance the success of HIV prevention efforts.