High burden of STI and HIV in male sex workers working as internet escorts for men in an observational study: a hidden key population compared with female sex workers and other men who have sex with men

A. Verhaegh-Haasnoot, N.H.T.M. Dukers-Muijrers, C.J.P.A. Hoebe*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Male sex work in the western countries has changed, including now a subculture of male sex workers who have paid sex with men arranged for via the internet. The men involved in this subculture do not easily identify themselves as sex workers nor as homosexual, and are therefore missed by regular health care and public health interventions. These male sex workers may form a hidden key population for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, bridging towards other persons outside this context.

Methods: This clinic-based observational study included consultations by male sex workers (n = 212), female sex workers (n = 801) and in men having sex with men who did not report being paid for sexual contacts (MSM, n = 2703) who received STI and HIV testing and counselling at our clinic during the study period. In this study we compare the consultations in male sex workers to those in in female sex workers and MSM.

Demographic characteristics and sexual behaviour of the male sex workers, female sex workers and MSM were compared using chi-square tests and non-parametric tests. Using univariate and multivariate regression analyses, determinants for STI positivity in male sex workers were evaluated.

Results: Male sex workers tested positive for STI (including HIV) in 40 % of the consultations; female sex workers and MSM respectively in 9 and 14 % of the consultations. A new HIV infection was found in 8 % of the consultations of male sex workers. Male sex workers were a young population of migrant sex workers from Eastern Europe. They reported more often to also have sex contacts with women and other sex workers. Male sex workers are at a higher risk for one or more new STI than female sex workers and other MSM, even after correction for age, ethnicity, known HIV positivity and behavioural variables.

Conclusions: Male sex workers form a hidden key population that impacts the transmission of STI and HIV within the MSM population and, possibly, to the heterosexual population. They require specific targeted interventions. Although targeting male sex workers is labour intensive it is feasible and important to reduce STI transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Article number291
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2015


  • Male sex workers
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • HIV infection
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Female sex workers
  • Key populations
  • Public health policy

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