There are an estimated 1800-3500 sex-workers in Dimapur, the commercial capital of Nagaland, which is the second-highest HIV prevalence state in India. The HIV prevalence among these sex-workers has increased from 4.4% in 2004 to 16.4% in 2006, highlighting their vulnerability. The aim of this study was to contribute to understanding of the pathways to sex-work for women in Nagaland in order to inform the development of effective HIV prevention strategies. A convenient sample of 220 female sex-workers completed a cross-sectional survey, and 30 female sex-workers participated in semi-structured in-depth interviews during mid 2007. Participants were asked about their life situation at the time of initial engagement in sex-work and circumstances of the first occasion of sex-work. The four main pathways into sex-work were identified as: (1) to obtain money to meet basic needs for self and family (45% of survey and 43% of interview participants); (2) to obtain money to purchase drugs or alcohol (15% of survey and 27% of interview participants); (3) being coerced, tricked or forced into sex-work (13% of survey and 30% of interview participants); and (4) for pleasure (12% of survey and no interview participants). Women from each of these pathways were significantly different from each other in relation to a range of socio-cultural variables (e.g., ethnicity, marital status and education), and HIV risk factors (e.g., drug and alcohol use, age of sexual debut and HIV awareness). This diversity has implications for HIV prevention strategies, including the willingness and capacity of sex-workers to mobilise as a community and NGO capacity to ensure that the interests of all sex-workers are adequately captured and represented.