The HIV situation in virtually all southern African countries is a generalised epidemic. Despite the fact that almost all adult age and social groups have high HIV prevalence estimates, sex workers are disproportionally affected, with prevalence estimates higher than the general population. In a qualitative study of 61 male and female sex workers in Swaziland, we found that while poverty drove many into sex work, others reported motivations of pleasure or “sensation seeking”, and freedoms from the burden of marriage as perceived benefits of sex work. We also found that penile-vaginal sex was not universal in male-female sexual encounters; and motivation by sex workers for non-condom use included intention to earn more money from unprotected sex, desire for sexual pleasure, and not having time to use condoms. Many sex workers expressed doubts over an alternative lifestyle, even if that change afforded them money to meet their daily necessities. The findings from this study suggest that treating sex workers as a homogenous group that is driven into, or maintain sex work only because of poverty may be problematic, and could hamper HIV-relevant interventions aimed at reducing their vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections.
Shalote Chipamaunga, Adamson S Muula, Ronald Mataya