This paper analyses barriers to consistent condom use in the context of transactional sex among female sex workers in mainland China. It reveals how differences in socioeconomic profile and organisational hierarchies amongst different groups of sex workers create different barriers to condom use. Data was collected by means of field observation of entertainment venues and in-depth interviews. Findings suggest that, compared with other sex workers, street-walkers are less likely to use condoms with their clients, hold highly disadvantaged socioeconomic profiles and work in isolation. Major barriers to condom use link to economic deprivation and threats of violence from clients. For the women working in entertainment venues, drunkenness of clients, pricing mechanisms and familiarity with clients pose barriers to condom use. Yet within all these constraints women are not powerless and instead find ways to exercise agency and gain personal protection and economic advantage. In the newly emerging China, both structural hierarchies of work and individual agency inform condom use by female sex workers. Future HIV intervention programmes need to take these factors into account in order to meet the needs of different groups of women sex workers.
- Condom use
- Sex work