Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content


Female Sex Worker Social Networks and STI/HIV Prevention in South China


JD Tucker, H Peng, K Wang, et al.

Network Affiliation




Journal Name

PLoS One

Publication Date


PubMed Search


Link to full-text





Background: Reducing harm associated with selling and purchasing sex is an important public health priority in China, yet
there are few examples of sustainable, successful programs to promote sexual health among female sex workers. The
limited civil society and scope of nongovernmental organizations circumscribe the local capacity of female sex workers to
collectively organize, advocate for their rights, and implement STI/HIV prevention programs. The purpose of this study was
to examine social networks among low-income female sex workers in South China to determine their potential for sexual
health promotion.
Methods/Principal Findings: Semi-structured interviews with 34 low-income female sex workers and 28 health outreach
members were used to examine how social relationships affected condom use and negotiation, STI/HIV testing and healthseeking
behaviors, and dealing with violent clients. These data suggested that sex worker’s laoxiang (hometown social
connections) were more powerful than relationships between women selling sex at the same venue in establishing the
terms and risk of commercial sex. Female sex workers from the same hometown often migrated to the city with their
laoxiang and these social connections fulfilled many of the functions of nongovernmental organizations, including collective
mobilization, condom promotion, violence mitigation, and promotion of health-seeking behaviors. Outreach members
observed that sex workers accompanied by their laoxiang were often more willing to accept STI/HIV testing and trust local
sexual health services.
Conclusions/Significance: Organizing STI/HIV prevention services around an explicitly defined laoxiang social network may
provide a strong foundation for sex worker health programs. Further research on dyadic interpersonal relationships
between female sex workers, group dynamics and norm establishment, and the social network characteristics are needed.









Behavior; Women


Created at 9/16/2011 2:19 PM by Davis, Gregory P
Last modified at 9/16/2011 2:19 PM by Davis, Gregory P