Before the holidays we left off our report on our sex workers’ needs assessment talking about the connection between addiction, as well as housing and food insecurity on condom use. Not surprisingly, these factors can often make it more challenging to assert condom use, particularly if you are relying on someone else to provide them for you, and they don’t want to use condoms.
In addition to addiction, housing insecurity and food insecurity which can each act as an incentive to participate in condomless sex, the respondents reported other challenges in the negotiation of condom use. The following is taken directly from the report:
"First, it should be noted that two respondents with lived experience reported that they consistently use a condom when engaging in sex work, despite receiving pressure not to:
Well and that’s the thing too, because there’s pressure too, like when you’re on a call, well just do, just suck my dick. And it’s like, well, oh. You know. I’m a 19-year-old girl and you’re a disgusting old man and you smell funny. So it’s, for me it’s that cover, that protection piece not only for the sexual, but that wall between me and you kind of thing, yeah. [P7, Person with lived experience]
You know, he wanted to have sex without a condom and I just said, you know, that it doesn’t matter if we’ve been doing this for three years, five years or 15. The fact of the matter is that we are going to be using a condom every time. [P1, Person with lived experience]
Pressure to not use condoms
However, it was frequently noted that men, and male youth, often do not want to use condoms. As was stated earlier, johns may also charge the sex worker for using a condom, or, besides offering more money, may offer other extras (an additional pill or a meal, for example.) In other situations, coercion (physical assault or verbal manipulation) may be used.
I remember talking with one client in particular who mostly didn’t [wear condoms while engaging in sex work]. And we did a lot of work around the benefits of using condoms and where she could get them, which was also minimal… I did a lot of work with her around that because for her she got paid more money or she’d get an extra pill if she didn’t. [P9, service provider]
Condom Negotiation in Strip Clubs
Condom negotiation is particularly difficult in strip clubs, where dancers are reportedly not allowed to carry condoms or bring them into the club, for fear that they might be used as evidence of prostitution (and therefore become a liability to the business.) This is an example of how the criminal laws surrounding prostitution can interfere with the ability of sex workers to negotiate and protect their sexual health. This problem was mentioned several times by sex workers as well as service providers:
They talked about how in the dancing world some of the places you can’t have that stuff there, and it’s not– because then it makes the club look bad, things like that. But customers will charge, like will make them pay off their price to use that. So they [the johns] are the ones that can carry that on them, but the girls can’t. [P4, Person with lived experience]
The stories that I heard about condoms in the strip club, were just awful. Like johns charging sex workers like $40 for a condom… Which makes sense from the point of the stripper because she’s going to make $300 with that condom. But, still. You know? [P2, Person with lived experience]
Two sex workers suggested that internal condoms (“female” condoms) can be used as an alternative, which can help to “take the power” back in negotiating condom use. However, internal condoms are also not without their problems.
[With the female condom] just the control that gets kind of taken back. Like they [the john] don’t have to put on a condom, you don’t even really need to have a conversation about it. You know, [but] I guess if they’re sober they’re probably going to notice. [P6 Person with lived experience]
I would even talk to some women around the female condom, but everybody hates it. I’ve never met one single person that was like “that was awesome!” [P9, service provider.]
While successful condom negotiation is possible as evidenced by some of the sex workers above who maintain their preference and insistence in condoms with clients, those most vulnerable are women who are in urgent need of food, housing, drugs or money, and/or are performing sex work in venues in which they are prevented from carrying the condom themselves."
Stay tuned for Part V, where we will share other challenges experienced by sex workers to accessing services.