Are you a sex worker seeking answers about STIs? Want to know about the types of STIs common in sex work and how you can prevent them?
You’ve come to the right place if you have questions like this. We will unravel these queries and provide information on combating STIs, enabling you to protect your health and continue your work confidently and with peace of mind.
The negative impact of STIs on sex workers
As a sex worker, the impact of contracting an STI can reverberate through various aspects of your life, causing significant upheaval, financial strain, and emotional distress. Let’s see these impacts to understand why prevention is beneficial for you.
Loss of income due to sickness
An STI wreaks havoc on your physical health and can significantly impede your ability to work, culminating in a substantial income loss. When a sex worker contracts an STI, it can render them unable to work for days, perhaps weeks or months, leading to a substantial loss of income. A prolonged period of sickness might put sex workers in a financially desperate situation.
The financial strain doesn’t end with lost income, as the treatment for STIs can be expensive. These costs might involve initial diagnosis, doctor’s consultations, medications, and follow-up appointments.
Physical and psychological impacts of STIs
Contracting an STI can lead to a host of physical ailments. Depending on the type of infection, the symptoms may range from mild discomfort to severe health complications. For instance, bacterial STIs such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea can result in burning sensations during urination, unusual discharges, or lower abdominal pain. These can escalate to fertility issues or chronic pelvic pain if left untreated.
Viral STIs like HIV or HPV can pose even more serious health risks. HIV can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to life-threatening infections. On the other hand, certain types of HPV can lead to cancers, including cervical cancer in women.
Moreover, STIs can lead to general health issues like fever, exhaustion or a decrease in overall well-being. Furthermore, the physical manifestation of STIs, like sores or blisters common in conditions like herpes or syphilis, can also cause emotional distress due to their visible nature. So, STIs don’t only damage physical health, but they can also significantly impact mental well-being. The stigma, fear, and uncertainty that often come with an STI diagnosis can provoke anxiety and depression. These psychological effects can exacerbate the physical effects of an STI, delay your return to work, or affect your overall quality of life.
Common types of STIs in sex workers
While the very essence of your profession makes you more exposed to various health risks in prostitution, comprehensive knowledge about the types of STIs can arm you with the necessary information to protect yourself. Here’s a closer look at the common types of STIs.
Bacterial STIs: Gonorrhoea, Syphilis, and Chlamydia
Gonorrhoea: This infection is caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. Symptoms may include a thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals, pain when urinating, and bleeding between periods for women. (However, it’s noteworthy that many people don’t display symptoms but can still transmit the infection.)
Syphilis: Syphilis manifests in stages, with different symptoms at each stage. Initially, it might present as tiny, painless sores or ulcers, then progress to a rash or fever, and in its tertiary stage, it can affect multiple organs.
Chlamydia: This is one of the most common STIs in the UK. Often asymptomatic, it causes unusual genital discharge or pain during urination when symptoms manifest.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): This virus targets the immune system and can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), a condition where the immune system fails, leading to life-threatening infections. Early symptoms resemble the flu, but the virus can remain dormant for years.
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV): HSV causes genital herpes, which presents as painful blisters or ulcers on or around the genitals. HSV can have dormant phases, with outbreaks occurring intermittently.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Certain strains of HPV can cause genital warts, while others are linked to cervical cancer. HPV is widespread and often asymptomatic.
Hepatitis B and C: Both are viruses that primarily attack the liver. They can lead to chronic infections and are major risk factors for liver cancer. Symptoms might include jaundice, fatigue, and nausea, though many people might not show any signs.
For instance, trichomoniasis is caused by the parasite Trichomonas vaginalis. This STI can result in itching, burning, and a foul-smelling vaginal discharge in women. Men often remain asymptomatic.
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida, which naturally exists in the vagina. Factors like antibiotic use or a weakened immune system can cause an overgrowth, leading to itching, burning, and a thick white discharge.
Effective STI prevention strategies for sex workers
Prevention is the most effective way to protect yourself when you are part of the sex industry. Here are some fundamental prevention strategies.
Prioritises intimate hygiene
Good hygiene practices help reduce the risk of bacterial or fungal infections in intimate areas.
When washing the genital area, it is advisable to use only cold or lukewarm water because warm is a home for many bacteria. Honestly, it is best to refrain from using vaginal douches, disinfecting lotions, sprays, or wet wipes, as they can disrupt the delicate balance of your natural vaginal flora and increase vulnerability to infections. However, clients prefer if sex workers are fresh on their intimate areas, and surely you also feel more comfortable if you are spotless on your intimate areas. So, to maintain this balance, you can occasionally consider using lactic acid capsules containing lactobacillus bacteria, which helps keep the natural pH balance. You can find these products at the pharmacy over the counter.
Moreover, avoid using harsh soaps, douches, or scented products, as they can disrupt the natural balance and cause irritation. Instead, opt for mild, unscented, and pH-balanced cleansers specifically designed for female intimate use.
Ensure sexual toy hygiene
If you use sex toys in your services, such as dildos, vibrators and others, it is essential to prioritise their hygiene. Proper cleaning of these toys is crucial for preventing the transmission of bacteria and infections.
First, choose sexual toys made from body-safe materials, such as silicone. That material is easier to clean and less likely to harbour bacteria.
Before and after using your sex toys with warm water, mild, fragrance-free soap, or a toy cleaner specifically designed for that purpose. Ensure you clean all the crevices and surfaces of the toy. Rinse and dry them thoroughly, then store them in a clean and dry place.
Moreover, it is recommended to use a condom on the toy for each client meeting. It helps maintain hygiene from body fluids, lubricants, or massage fluids. After the toy comes into contact with any such fluids – e.g. when removing a condom – it should be cleaned and disinfected.
Last but not least, in case you provide BDSM services, paying extra attention to hygiene is also essential. If you use equipment such as leather handcuffs or latex accessories, ensure they are clean and sterile before and after each use.
Protection from wounds and scars
If you have a wound or bruise and another person’s bodily fluids come into contact with the wound, you are more likely to be infected with an STI. What should you do? First, avoid contacting that area with others! In this case, rinse the area with water, and do not use soap. (Soap dries out the mucous membranes, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections or fungal infections.)Then consult your doctor as soon as possible because maybe you provided sexual services before without realising you had a wound.
Usage of condoms and dental dams
Barrier methods are an essential safeguard against STIs. Using a condom every time you have sex is one of the most effective methods for preventing STIs. Only use condoms with a CE logo on the packaging that ensures the product has been assessed and meets the requirements of the European Union’s health, safety, and environmental protection standards. Besides, of course, avoid using condoms that have expired or have damaged packaging. Additionally, ensure that the condoms you use do not contain nonoxynol 9. Nonoxynol 9 may irritate or disrupt the natural balance of the vaginal flora. At last, store condoms in their original packaging in a dry, dark place at room temperature.
Moreover, dental dams, which are less known, can be used during oral sex for protection, further reducing your risk of contracting STIs. Dental dams are usually latex sheets between the mouth and the vagina or anus during oral sex. You can also buy ready-to-use dental dams online.
Regular STI testing
Getting tested for STIs regularly is crucial for your sexual health. Many STIs do not display noticeable symptoms, so you may be unaware of an existing infection. Regular screening allows for early detection and effective treatment, reducing the risk of the infection spreading to others.
Vaccinations for preventable STIs
There are vaccinations available for some STIs, such as HPV and Hepatitis B. Regular vaccination not only provides you with personal protection, but it also contributes to the broader community health by stopping the spread of the said diseases.
PrEP for HIV prevention
PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) involves taking a daily dose of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV from establishing an infection. This reduces the risk of HIV infection by about 99%. Consult your healthcare provider to assess if PrEP is a suitable preventive measure.
Awareness and education to prevent
Knowledge is power, especially regarding health and safety. Participate in workshops and educational sessions to cultivate a richer understanding of STIs and the best practices for keeping safe and healthy.
With the knowledge of various STIs and appropriate prevention strategies, you can continue your work in the sex industry with safety and confidence. Remember, ignorance is the real disease here. Combatting STIs in sex work starts with arming yourself with adequate knowledge.