How sex workers can protect themselves from HIV

sex workers - positive peers

We want to start this blog by saying we’re not here to judge you or your decision to do sex work. We trust that as long as you are an adult and making the choice yourself without outside pressure that it was a decision that is right for you right now.

We’re not here to lecture you about the dangers of sex work. You know them much better than we do, anyway. But studies have found that sex workers are 10 times more likely to contract HIV, so we want to give you the knowledge and tools you need to protect yourself.

sex workers - positive peers

Do whatever it takes to stay safe

You’re out here to make money, but we encourage you to always make your safety your first priority.

Whenever you can, try working with a partner. Watch each other’s backs. Let your partner know who you’re going with and where you’ll be.

It’s a good idea to set the terms with your client before you get in a car, go into a hotel room, or meet up at a new location. What’s your price? When will they pay you? What are they expecting to get in return? Will you use a condom? This can be a potentially dangerous conversation, so it may be a good idea to get it over with before the clothes come off and when you definitely have a way out if you need it.

Condoms are ideal, but you may not want them or maybe you can’t depend on your clients wanting to use them. But that’s OK. You’ve got options to keep yourself safe from HIV and other STIs.

First, you can get on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis). It’s a daily pill that will majorly reduce your risk for contracting HIV. Click here to check out our blog on PrEP and then talk to your doctor.

Second, you can use an internal condom. These condoms can be inserted into your anus or vagina ahead of time, so you’ll be ready when the time comes. You can read all about them in our blog here.

If you do use an internal condom, we do suggest telling your client beforehand. Might not be a good idea to surprise them with it – you never know how they will react.

And you’ve always got other options to serve the client while keeping yourself safer. Hand jobs, blow jobs, pulling out — try everything in the book before you let their cum touch the insides of your anus or vagina. They aren’t flawless, but they can reduce your risk by a lot!

sex workers - positive peers

Stay healthy, gurl! You’re worth it!

Health care is a right, not a privilege. You are entitled to get the proper health care you need.

Getting tested for HIV and other STIs on a regular basis is one important thing you can do to stay healthy. Generally, we recommend getting tested every three months or so, but you may want to get tested more often. And don’t worry — there are plenty of places you can get tested for free as often as you need. Hit up the “Resources” section on our website if you live in Cleveland to find free clinics around the city.

If you test positive — don’t panic! You can work with your awesome team of healthcare providers to get started on treatment right away. And you already know we’ve got a blog about that, too.

If you’re trans, don’t let anyone tell you that you are any different from anyone else. You deserve the same high-quality healthcare as anyone else. And if you live in Cleveland, you’re in luck! MetroHealth’s LGBT Pride Clinic, located at 4242 Lorain Ave., can help meet all the healthcare needs of LGBTQ patients from hormone therapy to HIV testing. There are even more options available over in the “Resources” section.


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When you’re ready to transition out of sex work

We’re not here to convince you to get out of the life. That’s your choice. But if or when you are ready to transition out of sex work, there are people and organizations that can help.

There are often other factors that lead you into sex work — maybe because you believed you wouldn’t be able to find a traditional job. But guess what? You have business skills, determination, and a work ethic — everybody offering a job wants these qualities in their employees.

If you live in Cleveland, the Renee Jones Empowerment Center on West 65th is a great resource. In addition to therapy and social support, they offer life skills and job training to people who have been involved in sex work and/or victims of sex trafficking.

If you are transgender, MetroHealth hosts a job fair each spring featuring local companies that hire trans employees. Get that 9-to-5 money, honey!

sex workers - positive peers

Not involved in sex work? You can still help it make it safer

Even if you’re not a sex worker or someone who utilizes their services, you can still help make sex work safer for everyone and reduce the risk of HIV infection in the process.

Laws that criminalize sex work may have good intentions, but they actually make it much more dangerous for everyone involved. These laws push the practice underground, making it harder for sex workers to screen new clients, negotiate terms like price and condom use, and seek help from the police if things go wrong. It also means that sex workers often have trouble getting access to proper health care, including HIV treatment.

These laws also help to further stigmatize sex workers — and if you’re living with HIV, you know how powerful stigma can be.

Some studies show that decriminalizing sex work not only helps protect sex workers and allows them to fully participate in the economy, it also may help increase access and use of condoms. In fact, experts around the world believe decriminalizing sex work is a necessary step in HIV prevention.

So, what can you do to help?

  1. Get educated about how decriminalization of sex work can help protect sex workers and their clients and help prevent the further spread of HIV. Amnesty International has a great Q&A on why it is in favor of decriminalization.
  2. Get involved! There are some great organizations out there dedicated to making sex work a safer experience. We love organizations like Sex Workers Outreach Project USA. This organization is dedicated to defending the human rights of sex workers, decreasing violence against sex workers, and ending stigma through education and advocacy. There are SWOP chapters all over the country — but there isn’t one here in Cleveland yet. Why not start one?

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Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
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