Male sex work in Mombasa, Kenya: driven by poverty or identity?

Published: August 1, 2008

Male sex work in Mombasa, Kenya: driven by poverty or identity?

Background: Same-sex sexual behavior in Kenya remains highly stigmatized within government, religious, and community structures. A recent enumeration and behavioral survey in Mombasa, Kenya has revealed there are large numbers of male sex workers who have sex with men, and that they are extremely vulnerable to HIV. The majority of their first male sexual partners and current male clients are Kenyan, challenging the prevalent belief that male-to-male sex does not occur in Africa, or is directly influenced by foreigners and/or tourism. Further, there is continued debate in Africa regarding whether male sex work is driven by financial motives or sexual desire.

Methods: Following a behavioral survey of 425 male sex workers in Mombasa, 10 male sex workers were invited to participate in in-depth interviews (IDI), and three focus group discussions (FGD) were conducted. Among several topics discussed, male sex workers were asked to describe their first sexual experiences with other men, as well as their financial and sexual motives for engaging in sex work.

Results: The stories provided by IDI and FGD participants revealed three broad contexts through which they first had sex with men including:
(1) relationships with schoolmates or friends in the context of adolescent development;
(2) as youth being lured or coerced by older men, often described as consensual in exchange for money or gifts; and
(3) adopting male sex work during adulthood as a poverty alleviation strategy. While most participants were motivated by financial gain, concurrent sexual motivations varied among MSW.

Conclusions: Male sex workers revealed diverse motivations when describing the reason for practicing sex work. Insight into how men come to have sex with men may help Kenyan health workers better understand the social context of male sex work, and inform appropriate HIV counseling and treatment strategies.

-Abstract available at link below-

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