Background: Despite evidence of high rates of sex exchange and drug use in exotic dance clubs (EDCs), dancers are an understudied STI-risk population. We hypothesized that social support and other social environmental factors mitigate STI risk (e.g., unprotected sex exchange) for dancers working in EDCs.
Methods: During summer 2013, anonymous surveys were administered to dancers and staff (e.g., managers, bartenders) (N=298) of EDCs (N=26) throughout Baltimore City and County. Surveys captured dancer and staff perceptions of the EDC economic, drug, policy, and social risk environments. Social environment risk measures included financial support (“there are people who work in this club that dancers could borrow $25 from”), emotional support (“if a dancer had a personal problem, they have at least one friend she works with that she could really talk to about it”), competition between dancers, and dancers’ feelings of safety in the EDCs. Unprotected sex exchange was defined by report of dancers selling sex and irregular condom use in the EDCs.
Results: Sixty percent of respondents were dancers. Clubs were reported to be environments where dancers had financial (71%) and emotional support (88%), experienced competition between other dancers (76%), and felt safe (92%). Unprotected sex exchange was not associated with financial or emotional support within the environment. Clubs where employees reported competition between dancers (23% vs. 14%,) and where dancers did not feel safe (35% vs. 20%) had higher reports of unprotected sex exchange, although these differences were not significant.
Conclusions: The social environment of EDCs is characterized by a complex set of social factors, where competition and safety could influence risky sexual behavior among dancers. Additional qualitative research could help interpret these findings.