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One might think that men would have to pay prostitutes a premium to have sex without a condom. But a new study of the sex trade in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez suggests the opposite. An advocate for sex-trade workers in Halifax, where I live, tells me that there is no market at all for unprotected sex in the city: one hundred percent of transactions in the sex trade here is sex with a condom.
As any good economics student will tell you, a market clears at the point at which supply is equal to demand. If there are no transactions, it must be true that there is no price a potential buyer of condom-less sex is willing to pay that a seller is willing accept.
In sex markets all over the world, there is plenty of demand for condom-less sex, and the price paid for that service can tell us quite a bit about that market, particularly in regard to the risk of unprotected sex. The premium that a man is willing to pay for unprotected sex is inversely related to the level of risk of the sex. Think about a buyer who wants to buy unprotected sex from two different sellers, at two different prices.
Who do you think he is going to pay more to for the privilege of not wearing a condom? Obviously, it is the person who is not going to expose him to any risk. As strange as it might seem, when a man is negotiating a price for unprotected a sex with a worker who has an STI, he has to be compensated for taking that risk; he gets a discount. So the higher the infection rate in a market, the more risk you take when you buy unprotected sex in it, and the lower the price a buyer is willing to pay for that unprotected sex.
What about the supply side? Well, if she must have a license to stay in the market, and that license requires frequent STI testing, then the answer is probably yes because her price for supplying unprotected sex is the opportunity cost of earnings she will forgo if she becomes infected. So, in theory at least, she is going to demand a high premium for condom-less sex.