Stigma, Social Support, and Sexual Behavior Among Female Sex Workers at Risk for HIV in Malawi

AIDS Educ Prev. 2021 Aug;33(4):290-302. doi: 10.1521/aeap.2021.33.4.290.


Lack of social support and sex work stigma may hinder STI/HIV prevention for female sex workers (FSW). We explored the associations between sex work stigma and social support with sexual behaviors in Malawi. In 2017, 150 HIV-negative, venue-based FSW completed a behavioral survey containing sex work stigma items and social support. Linear binomial regression models were used to estimate prevalence differences of inconsistent condom use and substance use before sex by social support and stigma. A majority (93%) reported sex work-related internalized stigma. About 50% reported family or friend isolation. Social support was high (mean index: 86.53). Inconsistent condom use and substance use before sex had little to no association with stigma and social support. Malawian FSW largely internalize stigma and experience isolation from family and friends yet have high levels of social support. Large-scale evaluations should investigate the role of stigma and social support in STI/HIV prevention for FSW.

Keywords: condom use; sex work; sexual behavior; stigma; sub-Saharan Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Condoms
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Sex Workers*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Social Stigma
  • Social Support