OBJECTIVES: During the 2008 HIV prevalence survey carried out in the general population of Cotonou, Benin, face-to-face interviews (FTFI) were used to assess risky behaviours for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STI). We compared sexual behaviours reported in FTFI with those reported in polling booth surveys (PBS) carried out in parallel in an independent random sample of the same population. METHODS: In PBS, respondents grouped by gender and marital status answered simple questions by putting tokens with question numbers in a green box (affirmative answers) or a red box (negative answers). Both boxes were placed inside a private booth. For each group and question, data were gathered together by type of answer. The structured and gender-specific FTFI guided by trained interviewers included all questions asked during PBS. Pearson chi2 or Fisher's exact test was used to compare FTFI and PBS according to affirmative answers. RESULTS: Overall, respondents reported more stigmatised behaviours in PBS than in FTFI: the proportions of married women and men who reported ever having had commercial sex were 17.4% and 41.6% in PBS versus 1.8% and 19.6% in FTFI, respectively. The corresponding proportions among unmarried women and men were 16.1% and 25.5% in PBS versus 3.9% and 13.0% in FTFI, respectively. The proportion of married women who reported having had extramarital sex since marriage was 23.6% in PBS versus 4.6% in FTFI. CONCLUSIONS: PBS are suitable to monitor reliable HIV/STI risk behaviours. Their use should be expanded in behavioural surveillance.