Main Article Content

Sex work, drug use and sexual health risks: Occupational norms among brothel-based sex workers in a Nigerian city

E-UE Nelson


This article examines drug use and sexual health risks among sex workers in Ikot Ekpene, an urban centre in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. Data for the study were obtained through in-depth personal interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) involving 86 brothel-based female sex workers.
Findings showed that the use of drugs was part of the occupational culture of sex work. Drug use among sex workers is functional in attracting and keeping clients, coping with stigma and negative societal perception, enhancing role performance, maximizing gains from the sexual economy and dealing with threats of violence from clients, pimps and the police. It is argued that alcohol and drugs use among sex workers is shaped by the social organization of sex work, including normative expectations, social pressures, negative societal attitudes towards sex work and threats arising
from the socio-cultural context of their lives and work. Drugs occupy an ambiguous position in the lives of sex workers; while helping sex workers negotiate occupational threats and improve role performance, it also predisposes them to negative sexual health outcomes. Efforts to improve
the sexual health of sex workers should grapple with the cultural realities of drug use as a risky behaviour in sex work.

Key Words: Sex work, drug use, brothels, sexual health risks, Nigeria