Sex Sells, but Does Risky Sex Sell for More?


Empirical Micro Seminar
University of Pennsylvania

3718 Locust Walk
395 McNeil

Philadelphia, PA

United States

Each day close to 20,000 people become infected with the HIV virus worldwide; a large portion of which are infected through unprotected sex with commercial sex workers. While condoms are an effective defense against the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, large numbers of sex workers are not using them with their clients. We argue that sex workers are willing to take the risk because clients are willing to pay more not to have to use a condom. Using a panel data set from Mexico, we estimate that commercial sex workers received a 24 percent premium for unprotected sex from clients who requested not to use a condom. However, this premium jumped to 47 percent if the sex worker was considered very attractive—an indication of her bargaining power. These results suggest that the current supply-side policies aimed at educating sex workers about risk and empowering them are insufficient to significantly increase condom use. Rather, complementary interventions aimed at reducing the demand for not using condoms are needed.

For more information, contact Jere Behrman.

Paul Gertler

University of California Berkeley

Download Paper