What's in a Name? A Mixed Method Study on How Young Women Who Sell Sex Characterize Male Partners and Their Use of Condoms

Joanna Busza, Bernadette Hensen, Isolde Birdthistle, Sungai T Chabata, James R Hargreaves, Sian Floyd, Tarisai Chiyaka, Phillis Mushati, Frances M Cowan

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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Introduction: Young women who sell sex (YWSS) are at disproportionate risk of HIV. Reducing YWSS' vulnerability requires engaging their male sexual partners. To achieve this, we need to understand the characteristics and dynamics of their sexual partnerships to inform effective interventions.

Methods: We conducted a mixed-methods study to compare YWSS' qualitative descriptions of male partners with categories reported in a behavioral survey. Data were drawn from enrollment into an evaluation of the DREAMS initiative in Zimbabwe in 2017. As part of a respondent-driven sampling survey, we recruited 40 seed participants from 2 intervention and 4 comparison sites. We conducted semistructured interviews with 19 "seeds," followed by a behavioral survey with 2387 YWSS. We interpreted quantitative and qualitative data together to understand how YWSS perceived male sexual partners, assess how well survey variables related to narrative descriptions, and describe patterns of risk behavior within partnerships.

Results: Qualitative data suggest survey categories "husband" and "client" reflect YWSS' perceptions but "regular partner/boyfriend" and "casual partner" do not. In interviews, use of the term "boyfriend" was common, describing diverse relationships with mixed emotional and financial benefits. More than 85% of male partners provided money to YWSS, but women were less likely to report condomless sex with clients than regular partners (11% vs 37%) and more likely to report condomless sex with partners who ever forced them to have sex (37% vs 21%).

Conclusions: Reducing HIV risk among YWSS requires prevention messages and tools that recognize diverse and changing vulnerability within and between sexual relationships with different male partners.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)652-662
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Condoms/statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • HIV Infections/epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Workers/education
  • Sexual Behavior/psychology
  • Sexual Partners/psychology
  • Unsafe Sex
  • Young Adult
  • Zimbabwe


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