Health-seeking strategies and sexual health among female sex workers in urban India: implications for research and service provision

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Jun;44(12):1791-803. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(96)00288-2.


This paper presents and discusses selected findings from a study of health-seeking strategies in relation to sexual health among a group of female sex workers in Calcutta, India. Background information on sex work and sexually transmitted disease in Calcutta is followed by the presentation of findings pertaining to women's understandings of (sexual) health, treatment-seeking and service utilisation. In the urban context where health services are readily available, patterns of initial treatment-seeking are shown to be generally (biomedically) appropriate, but subsequent "non-compliant" therapeutic practices give cause for concern. Conventional approaches to the study of "health-seeking behaviour" are reviewed in the light of these findings and questions raised about the appropriateness of approaches that focus on initial choice of treatment type and/or assume processes of health-seeking to be determined primarily by cultural "beliefs" about illness. Inherent biomedical and culturalist biases in the orientation of such research are shown to produce an analytic neglect of the dual influences of material life conditions and people's perceptions of health, rather than illness, upon health-related strategies. Recommendations are made for operational research and policy formulation on the provision of effective sexual health services, and implications are drawn for the scope of interventions and applied research directed at improving sexual health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Female
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Health Services Research
  • Humans
  • India
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Prejudice
  • Sex Work*
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / ethnology
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Urban Health*
  • Women's Health*