Substance Use, Mental Health Problems, and Physical and Sexual Violence Additively Increase HIV Risk Between Male Sex Workers and Their Male Clients in Northeastern United States

Matthew J. Mimiaga, Jaclyn M.W. Hughto, Lynne Klasko-Foster, Harry Jin, Kenneth H. Mayer, Steven A. Safren, Katie B. Biello

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: 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. SETTING: Community-based organization and health center in 2 Northeastern US cities. METHODS: 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. RESULTS: 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). CONCLUSIONS: 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-312
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of acquired immune deficiency syndromes (1999)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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