Raids on brothels have forced many men to seek extramarital sexual partners in beer gardens, but such 'sweetheart' relationships are leading to a fall-off in condom use, officials say
Prostitutes stand in a doorway on a Phnom Penh brothel last month.
POLICE raids on organised dens of prostitution have spawned a new trend away from brothel-based sex work to more relationship-based prostitution, which is having a damaging effect on the rate of HIV/Aids infection in the Kingdom, officials say.
Amid sporadic but often violent crackdowns on brothels throughout the country, men have been turning instead to karaoke bars and beer gardens, where they meet with regular partners, they said.
"The number of men who go to brothels has significantly decreased. Now, about 50 percent of men who would normally go to a brothel house go to beer gardens or karaoke bars instead," Teng Kunthy, secretary general of the National Authority on HIV/Aids said.
"Before, when they go to a brothel, they know what they are doing clearly, so they use condoms to protect them from HIV/Aids," he said.
"But when they go to karaoke bars and become close with a girl as a partner, or have a relationship as a sweetheart, 50 percent of them don't use condoms, so it is much more dangerous," he added.
Dan Borapich, director of communication and marketing at the reproductive health NGO PSI, said the trend was a direct response to recent brothel closures.
"When the authorities closed brothel houses, all sex workers moved to work in karaoke bars, beer gardens and massage shops," she said.
"Now, less than 50 percent of [casual] sexual partners have sex using a condom because they want to believe in their partner," she added.
She said that by developing a relationship with a particular girl, or "sweetheart", many men felt it was no longer necessary to use condoms.
"Before, when men went to brothel houses they used condoms because they were afraid that some girls are infected with HIV/Aids because they didn't know them," she said.
"When they have a beloved sweetheart, they don't use condoms because they know them, and they are afraid their partner will lose confidence in them and accuse them of having another girl," she added.
Tia Phalla, deputy director of the National AIDS Authority said government statistics confirmed that the closing down of brothels had a dramatic impact on condom use, as it had led to a growth in non-brothel-based entertainment workers.
"Our findings also show that 53.7 percent of entertainment workers have never suggested condom use with their sweetheart, or ‘Tata' [an old man who is rich or powerful and buys sex], although around 70 percent of them do not know their sweethearts' HIV/Aids status," he said.
From factory to beer garden
As one-fifth of entertainment workers previously worked as garment factory workers, Tia Phalla feared that the numbers would increase with the closing of garment factories as the economic climate worsens.
He also warned that the number of men who visited entertainment workers for sex and did not use condoms with their spouses could spread the Aids epidemic further.
Meas Maliss, a 29-year-old woman from Phnom Penh's Tuol Kork district, told the Post that she has had to persuade her unfaithful husband to use condoms when he sleeps with her.
"I started using condoms with my husband after we argued with each other. After the conflict, he always went out, so when he returned home, I told him he must use condoms. If he did not agree with me, I would not sleep with him," she said.
"At first, he refused. But after I tried to explain to him a few times, and because he knows himself that he is not honest, he agreed to use condoms as I requested," she added.
She said, however, that her and her partner's condom use fluctuated depending on the level of trust in the relationship.
"I no longer use condoms as much now because after receiving a lot of advice and suggestion from his friends, my husband has stopped going out. He has become good to me and takes care of me and our children," she said.
"On average, we use condoms four times a month because he still goes to work in the provinces often, and I never forbid him from having other girls. But what is important is that he protects himself. That is fine for me," she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NGUON SOVAN