Sexualized Substance Use among Female Sex Workers in Iran: Findings from a Nationwide Survey

Subst Use Misuse. 2023;58(2):298-305. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2022.2161824. Epub 2022 Dec 28.


Background: Female sex workers (FSWs) are at higher risk of HIV due to high-risk sexual and drug use related behaviors. This study characterized sexualized substance use among FSWs in Iran. Methods: In 2015, 1,337 FSWs were recruited from centers for vulnerable women and through outreach efforts in 13 major cities in Iran. Data were collected via face-to-face interviews from consenting FSWs on a range of socio-demographic and behavioral characteristics. The primary outcome of interest was sexualized substance use, defined as reporting alcohol or drug use before or during sex in the past month. Bivariable and multivariable modified Poisson regression models were used to assess the correlates of sexualized substance use. Adjusted prevalence ratio (aPR) and 95% confidence interval (CI) were reported. Results: The prevalence of sexualized substance use was 31.3% (95% CI: 28.7, 34.0). Inconsistent condom use during sex with clients in the past month (aPR = 1.31; 95% CI: 1.01, 1.71), regular (i.e., at least weekly in the past month) alcohol use (aPR = 2.87; 95% CI: 2.17, 3.80), regular opioid use (aPR = 2.09; 95% CI: 1.45, 3.02), regular stimulant use (aPR = 2.68; 95% CI: 2.12, 3.39), and self-reported HIV negative status (aPR= 1.88; 95% CI: 1.14, 3.10) were significantly and positively associated with sexualized substance use. Conclusions: Sexualized substance use was associated with riskier sexual behavior and self-reported HIV sero-negativity. Harm reduction messaging to FSWs needs to go beyond focusing on sexual health promotion and further highlight the risks associated with sexualized substance use.

Keywords: Female sex workers; Iran; sexualized substance use; substance use disorders; survey.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Condoms
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Iran / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Workers*
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology