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Risk behaviours among internet-facilitated sex workers: evidence from two new datasets


Sex workers have historically played a central role in STI outbreaks by forming a core group for transmission and due to their higher rates of concurrency and inconsistent condom usage. Over the past 15 years, North American commercial sex markets have been radically reorganised by internet technologies that channelled a sizeable share of the marketplace online. These changes may have had a meaningful impact on the role that sex workers play in STI epidemics. In this study, two new datasets documenting the characteristics and practices of internet-facilitated sex workers are presented and analysed. The first dataset comes from a ratings website where clients share detailed information on over 94 000 sex workers in over 40 cities between 1999 and 2008. The second dataset reflects a year-long field survey of 685 sex workers who advertise online. Evidence from these datasets suggests that internet-facilitated sex workers are dissimilar from the street-based workers who largely populated the marketplace in earlier eras. Differences in characteristics and practices were found which suggest a lower potential for the spread of STIs among internet-facilitated sex workers. The internet-facilitated population appears to include a high proportion of sex workers who are well-educated, hold health insurance and operate only part time. They also engage in relatively low levels of risky sexual practices.

  • Prostitution
  • bacterial infection
  • risk behaviours
  • sexual practices

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