Male sex workers (MSW) are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, with an estimated HIV prevalence in the United States of 19.3%. Existing research suggests that MSW are also at risk of adverse psychosocial problems. Cross-sectional studies of MSW have suggested that co-occurring epidemics or a “syndemic” of psychosocial problems may increase vulnerability to HIV acquisition/transmission by elevated sexual risk. To the best of our knowledge, there are no published studies examining this relationship longitudinally among MSW. This study examined how a syndemic of 6 psychosocial problems result in additive risk for condomless anal sex (CAS) with male clients among a multicity, longitudinal cohort of MSW.
Community-based organization and health center in 2 Northeastern US cities.
Between 2015 and 2017, 100 MSW from Boston, MA and Providence, RI completed behavioral/psychosocial surveys at baseline, 6 months, and 12months. Generalized estimating equation modeling was used to examine the prospective relationship of additive psychosocial problems and subsequent CAS with male clients, adjusting for age, site, race/ethnicity, MSW-type, and HIV serostatus.
Mean age = 34.7 (SD = 11.8); 62% racial/ethnic minority; and 20% HIV+. The prevalence of 6 psychosocial syndemic problems was substantial at baseline and remained high at each time point (all within the past 6 months): 74% problematic depressive symptoms, 27% polydrug use (3+ drugs, not including stimulants), 57% stimulant (methamphetamine/cocaine/crack) use, 44% hazardous drinking, 15% experienced client-specific physical/sexual violence, and 57% childhood sexual abuse. Looking at the number of psychosocial problems experienced, 7% had zero, 27% had 1, 24% had 2, 27% had 3, and 15% had 4 or more. We identified a statistically significant positive “dose-response” relationship between the number of psychosocial problems and CAS with male clients over time, with the greatest odds of engaging in CAS with a male client over follow-up among those with 4 or more psychosocial problems (adjusted odds ratio = 5.18, 95% CI: 1.61 to 16.62).
Internet escorts and street-based MSW are likely to experience psychosocial problems and engaging in HIV sexual risk with male clients. The accumulation of psychosocial problems additively predicted CAS with male clients in a prospective cohort of MSW. The specification of psychosocial problems presents distinct treatment targets for HIV prevention among MSW in the United States.