Background and objectives: Most studies in Asia exclude freelance female sex workers because of difficulties in access and the illegality of their work. Data are lacking on their risk behaviors.
Goal: To compare sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates, condom use, and health screening behavior between freelance and brothel-based sex workers in Singapore.
Study design: This is a cross-sectional survey of 111 free-lance sex workers arrested from November 1996 to March 1997 for illicit prostitution and 333 randomly selected brothel-based sex workers. All were tested for STDs.
Results: STDs were significantly more prevalent among freelance than brothel-based sex workers (34.8% vs. 24.0%). Inconsistent condom use was significantly higher among freelance than brothel-based sex workers and was significantly associated with younger age, decreasing number of clients, and perception of non-condom use among peers.
Conclusion: Educational programs to promote condom use should target freelance sex workers and their clients.
PIP: This study compares the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), condom use, and health-screening behavior between freelance and brothel-based sex workers in Singapore. A total of 111 female freelance sex workers arrested from November 1996 to March 1997 for illicit prostitution were interviewed; 333 brothel-based sex workers served as the comparison group for the analysis. STD test results revealed that freelance sex workers (34.8%) have higher STD rates than brothel-based sex workers (24%). The two most common STDs in both groups were chlamydial cervicitis and syphilis. Moreover, condom use was significantly lower among freelance sex workers than brothel-based sex workers and was associated with younger age (25 years old), decreasing number of clients, and perception of non-condom use among peers. In addition, freelance workers were more educated and had equally high knowledge on STDs and AIDS. Since most of these freelance workers practice high-risk behaviors and poor health screening behaviors such as not going for regular medical check-ups, STD services and education programs should target this group.