Gender relations and risks of HIV transmission in South India: the discourse of female sex workers' clients

Cult Health Sex. 2012;14(6):629-44. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2012.674559. Epub 2012 May 11.


In South India, where the majority of the country's cases of HIV are concentrated, transmission of infection occurs mainly within networks composed of female sex workers, their clients and the other sexual partners of the latter. This study aims to determine how gender relations affect the risks of HIV transmission in this region. Semi-structured interviews were carried out with 30 clients and analysed qualitatively. Results show that clients perceive sexual relations with female sex workers as a vice involving loss of control and contact with women at the bottom of the social ladder. Paradoxically, this sometimes allows them to conform to the masculine ideal, in giving sexual satisfaction to a woman, in a context of incompatibility between the idealised and actual masculine and feminine archetypes. Attitudes to condoms, affected by various facets of the client-female sex worker relationship, are indicators of the link between this relationship and the risks of contracting HIV. The results suggest that there is a need for expanding targeted HIV prevention towards clients and female sex workers alongside more general interventions on gender issues, particularly among young people, focusing on the structural elements moulding current relations between men and women, with particular consideration of local cultural characteristics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Femininity
  • Gender Identity
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Masculinity
  • Risk-Taking
  • Sex Workers*
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Social Class