Coping with HIV/AIDS in Durban's commercial sex industry

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This paper describes coping mechanisms used by commercial sex workers (CSWs) and their partners in confronting the threat of HIV. Data are part of a study exploring sexuality and HIV-related issues among members of the Durban commercial sex industry. Participants were 100 female CSWs, 25 male trucker driver clients and ten male personal partners. Data were collected using semi-structured questionnaires, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. Analysis revealed high HIV-awareness and high prevalence of risky sexual behaviour. While they were acutely aware of the sex industry's potential role in HIV spread, study participants chose to remain sexually involved and engage in high risk sexual practices with both professional and personal partners. Men and women adopted several strategies to cope with the possibility of HIV infection: (1) denial of risk, (2) fatalism, (3) economic rationalization, (4) partner categorization through selective condom use, (5) purposeful ignorance of HIV status, and (6) abnegation of responsibility for practising safe sex. Among the most significant findings is the difference in study participants' handling of HIV risk and employing coping mechanisms in personal versus professional sexual situations. The implications of these coping strategies for HIV education, message development and intervention in the commercial sex industry and in general are discussed.

Document Type: Original Article


Affiliations: Health Transition Centre, National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, Australian National University, Canberra

Publication date: June 1, 2001

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