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Fact Sheet: HIV & Sex Work
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Are you involved in sex work, or do you know someone who is?
Find out now to protect your sexual health & prevent HIV transmission.
What is sex work?
Sex work involves the provision of sexual services in exchange for money/goods, either regularly or occassionally. 1
Sexual services could include:
- oral sex
- penetrative sexual intercourse
- using sex toys to stimulate pleasure
- performing fantasies and/or fetish sex.
Sex work can take place in a brothel, on the street or in any other place.
Sex work is criminalised in many countries. 2
As a sex worker, you still have rights.
Sex work and HIV transmission
- Sex workers may be more vulnerable to HIV due to multiple factors:
- large numbers of sex partners
- unsafe working conditions
- barriers to negotiating condom use
- social stigma & marginalisation
- criminalised work environments. 3
These circumstances may put you as a sex worker at risk of HIV transmission.
Remember, clients may have large sexual networks that could have exposed them to HIV... always use a condom to protect yourself. 4
Don’t let the promise of more money influence you to have unprotected sex and risk your health.
You have the right to access HIV prevention, HIV testing and HIV treatment to protect yourself.
Know your status and get treatment early if you test HIV-positive.
Protecting yourself from HIV
- Use condoms consistently and correctly. Use a female condom if the client refuses to use a male condom.
- If the client refuses to use a condom, offer non-penetrative activities such as masturbation, external ejaculation or using clean sex toys. 5
- Use lubricant to reduce friction and prevent the condom breaking, especially for anal sex.
- Access emergency contraception and emergency HIV treatment (PEP) if the condom breaks.
Read AVERT’s ‘ Emergency HIV Treatment’ fact sheet for more information.
- Refuse offers of more money for unprotected sex.
- Many sexually transmitted infections (STIs) do not have symptoms so access regular sexual health check ups & HIV testing.
- Do not trust or assume your client is HIV-negative or has no STIs.
- Avoid using drinks or drugs before you engage with a client.
- Avoid working alone - have friends you can call on.
Sexual health check-ups and HIV testing
It is important to have regular sexual health check ups even if you never have unprotected sex.
Some STIs can be passed on even if you use a condom.
Having an STI makes you more HIV vulnerable to HIV infection.
Know your HIV status to protect your own health and that of others.
If you are a HIV-positive sex worker
If you test positive for HIV:
- access HIV treatment to reduce the level of HIV virus in your body and improve your health.
- take HIV treatment and use condoms consistently if you continue sex work.
- condoms reduce the risk of HIV transmission to partners or clients.
- access HIV counselling for advice about living with HIV and managing your work.
Male sex workers and transgender sex workers and HIV
If you are a male or transgender sex worker, advice around HIV is similar to that for female sex workers.
In addition to this: 6
- access counselling and advice about having post-surgery sex.
- if you use drugs to improve sexual performance such as Viagra, make sure you know the facts about them 7
- use plenty of lube for anal sex. 8
Know your rights
- refuse a client for any reason
- insist on using a condom
- be free from forced sex work, either by an employer, a manager or a client
- be aware of the law on sex work in your country.
- 1. American Jewish World Service, accessed on NSWP (July 2013) ‘ Sex Worker Rights – (Almost) everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask’
- 2. International Planned Parenthood Federation - Criminalise Hate Not HIV portal (accessed 2013) ‘ Countries where sex work (‘prostitution’) is deemed illegal‘
- 3. World Health Organisation (December 2012) ‘ Prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in low- and middle-income countries – Recommendations for a public health approach’
- 4. World Health Organisation (December 2012) ‘ Prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in low- and middle-income countries – Recommendations for a public health approach’
- 5. Global Network of Sex Worker Projects (accessed 2013) ‘ Making Sex Work Safe’ PDF Document
- 6. Global Network of Sex Worker Projects (accessed 2013) ‘ Making Sex Work Safe’ PDF Document
- 7. Global Network of Sex Worker Projects (accessed 2013) ‘ Making Sex Work Safe’ PDF Document
- 8. World Health Organisation (December 2012) ‘ Prevention and treatment of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections for sex workers in low- and middle-income countries – Recommendations for a public health approach’