Exotic Dance in Baltimore: From Entry to STI/HIV Risk

Pamela S. Lilleston, Jacqueline Reuben, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Research has documented health risks associated with sex work, but few U.S. studies have focused on the exotic dance industry. We undertook this study to describe the factors that influenced women’s entry into exotic dance and explored the relation of these forces to their subsequent sexually transmitted infection (STI)/HIV risk trajectory. Qualitative interviews (N = 25) were conducted with female exotic dancers from June through August 2009. Data were analyzed through Atlas-ti using an inductive approach. Economic vulnerability was the primary force behind women’s initiation into the profession. Drug use, physical abuse, and enjoyment of dancing were often concurrent with economic need and provided a further push toward exotic dance. Social networks facilitated entry by normalizing the profession and presenting it as a solution to financial hardship. Characteristics of exotic dance clubs, such as immediate hire and daily pay, attracted women in a state of financial vulnerability. Women’s motivations for dancing, including economic vulnerability and drug use practices, shaped their STI/HIV risk once immersed in the club environment, with social networks often facilitating sexual risk behavior. Understanding the factors that drive women to exotic dance and influence risk behavior in the club may assist in the development of targeted harm reduction interventions for exotic dancers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-611
Number of pages17
JournalWomen and Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 4 2015


  • HIV
  • exotic dance
  • sexual risk behavior
  • sexually transmitted infections

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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