This qualitative study explores the meanings of the commercial sexual encounter between male sex workers and their clients. The study highlights the various social meanings male sex workers attribute to having sex, their typologies of clients, the psychic contexts of male commercial sex, safer sex interactions, and how these issues inform sexual behaviour. The data shows that the meaning attached to the act of having sex is an important aspect of the way in which participants perceive their partners, conduct themselves during sexual encounters, and engage in safe sex practices. Clients are categorized by sex workers according to their perceptions of 'them', which include 'marrieds', 'easy trade', 'undesirables', 'sugar daddies' and 'heaven trade'. Different types of clients pose alternate levels of risk to the safe sex practices of sex workers. The sex worker's definition of commercial sex as work enables him to separate work and personal sex and define work sex as 'not real sex', in which safe sex practices symbolize both the degree of self that is shared and protective work equipment. It was also found that this sample of sex workers do not negotiate safe sex. Rather they use 'modes of interaction' which direct the encounter either towards safe sex, or they refuse to continue with the transaction. The interactive modes identified are 'natural', 'educative', 'challenge', 'other options' and 'walk-out'. These modes of interaction are effective strategies for ensuring safe sex, and can be used by the broader community to gain partner compliance in safe sex practices.