A recent study by researchers at the University of California San Diego, in cooperation with partners on both sides of the border, reveals some of the serious health consequences of sex tourism in Mexican border cities, and urges binational prevention efforts — focused on both the sex workers and their customers — in an effort to prevent the very real possibility of a generalized HIV/STI epidemic.
The paper, “Characteristics of Female Sex Workers With US Clients in Two Mexico-US Border Cities,” currently appears online and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The paper reports on the initial stage of a behavioral-intervention study to promote safer sex, involving 474 female sex workers (FSW) in Tijuana, BC (across the border from San Diego CA) and 450 in Ciudad Juárez, Chih (across from El Paso TX), who had reported unprotected sex encounters in the previous 2 months and who had not previously tested positive for HIV. The subjects were interviewed on working and social conditions, financial need, risk behaviors, sociodemographic characteristics, and physical & psychiatric health, and they provided samples for HIV and STI testing.
The paper found that in comparison to the overall group of sex workers studied in Tijuana and Cd. Juárez, the subset who said they had US clients were younger on average than the group as a whole, and more likely to:
- speak English,
- engage in unprotected sex,
- report risky behavior involving injecting drugs,
- have syphilis titers (16% vs. 10% overall),
- have gonorrhea (8% vs. 2%), and
- test positive for HIV (30% vs. 20%).
In addition, the paper indicates that “FSWs reporting US clients also had greater numbers of male clients and were more likely to report earning more money for having sex without a condom… The practice of offering more money for unprotected sex is not unique to our settings, as it has been reported elsewhere. Since FSWs in Mexico are primarily engaged in sex work due to economic need, this practice threatens to undermine HIV and STI prevention efforts and should be actively discouraged.”
Although this paper specifically studied Tijuana and Cd. Juárez, the conditions and regulations surrounding the sex trade in those cities have been described as similar to those present in the “Zonas Rojas” or “Boystowns” in Matamoros, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo — so the study’s findings deserve attention in the South Texas health community as well. The paper is summarized in this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune, which also includes this link to the full text of the paper; it was also recently covered in this segment from PRI’s “The World”. Here’s the full citation:
Strathdee SA, Lozada R, Semple SJ, Orozovich P, Pu M, Staines-Orozco H, Fraga-Vallejo M, Amaro H, Delatorre A, Magis-Rodríguez C, Patterson TL. Characteristics of Female Sex Workers With US Clients in Two Mexico-US Border Cities. Sex Transm Dis [forthcoming]. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0b013e31815b0 OVID JumpStart link