Ethnographic mapping of commercial sex venues with male sex workers or fletes in Peru

Published: July 20, 2010

Ethnographic mapping of commercial sex venues with male sex workers or fletes in Peru

A. Bayer1, J. Clark1, D. Diaz2, H. Sanchez3, P. Garcia4, T. Coates1

1University of California, Los Angeles, Division of Infectious Diseases, David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles, United States, 2Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru, 3Epicentro, Lima, Peru, 4Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Epidemiology, STIs and HIV Unit, School of Public Health and Administration, Lima, Peru

Background: In Peru, little is known about male sex workers, or fletes, an MSM sub-population at risk for HIV and other STIs and a potential bridge population for HIV transmission to heterosexual women. We carried out ethnographic mapping to describe the geographic and social context of flete commercial sex work in Lima.

Methods: We created a map of a diverse range of commercial sex venues, then carried out participant observation and in-depth interviews with fletes in each venue to describe in detail the venue, the fletes and potential clients. Observations were synthesized in a matrix and interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed. Data was triangulated to form an ethnographic map of flete-associated commercial sex venues in Lima.

Results: We identified diverse commercial sex venues. Physical spaces included public spaces (plazas), saunas, pornographic video houses, bars and nightclubs. Media spaces included the “escort” and “general contact” sections of gay websites and classified ads in newspapers. The fletes identified were between 18 and 40 years of age and, in most cases, reported performing only an insertive role during sex with clients. Flete venues are associated with socioeconomic (SES) distinctions: lower-SES fletes frequent all public spaces and commercial venues in the center of Lima while higher-SES fletes are commonly found in the commercial spaces of suburban neighborhoods, on internet websites, and in classified newspaper ads. An “autonomy” gradient parallels these categories since lower-SES fletes charge less for their services and often have to share part of their earnings with a “leader” while higher-SES fletes charge more and usually work independently.

Conclusions: Our initial mapping of fletes in Lima provides important insights into this sub-population in Peru. We are currently conducting a study to collect behavioral and biological data to further describe fletes and develop appropriate HIV prevention interventions.

Leave a Reply