Q&A: What Are The Chances Of Contracting An STI From A Sex Worker?

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QUESTION: I'm a recently divorced, middle-aged man and although I'm not interested in getting involved in another relationship, I’m still very interested in having sex. I'm thinking about visiting a legal brothel in Nevada, but I'm wondering what the risks are in terms of contracting a sexually transmitted disease from a sex worker.

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Photo: Diana Blackwell (flickr.com)

If you do not already have herpes, you may want to consider whether this is a risk that you are willing to take in order to have sex with a prostitute.

There are few places in the United States in which prostitution is legal, but Nevada – or at least, a few counties is Nevada – is one such place. As of this writing, prostitution is legal in just a few places in Nevada and only in organized brothels.

STIs in Brothels

Prostitutes who work at legal brothels are required to be regularly tested for infections. My understanding is that the current requirements include having prostitutes get tested for Chlamydia and gonorrhea on a weekly basis and having them get tested for HIV and syphilis on a monthly basis.

If they are found to have Chlamydia, gonorrhea or syphilis – all of which are curable infections – then they have to stay out of work until they have been treated and tested again, and found to be negative for the infection on re-testing.

If they are found to have HIV, my understanding is that they can no longer legally work as a prostitute in Nevada.

As a result, the risks of contracting HIV, syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhea from a prostitute who is working legally, and complying with regular testing requirements, are very low. After all, prostitutes are also required to use condoms, which greatly reduces the risk of passing infections between partners.

Untested Infections

That said, prostitutes are not tested for all infections. For example, they are not required to be tested for herpes or for the human papillomavirus (HPV) and condoms cannot adequately protect against either of these. In some convenience sample studies of sex workers, high rates of herpes have been found.

If you do not already have herpes, you may want to consider whether this is a risk that you are willing to take in order to have sex with a prostitute.

Other Options

There are, of course, other options for being sexual with people. Even if you do not want to become involved in another relationship, you may find someone who shares your feelings – a friends with benefits partner, for example, who would like to be sexually intimate but who does not want a more committed relationship at this time. If you find a partner who has similar desires, you could arrange to get tested together for various sexually transmissible infections, also called STIs, and take it from there.

If you have any questions about your personal health, we recommend that you check in with a healthcare provider.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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