Understanding Risk Factors for Oropharyngeal Gonorrhea Among Sex Workers Attending Sexual Health Clinics in 2 Australian Cities: Mixed Methods Study

Tiffany R. Phillips, Christopher K. Fairley, Kate Maddaford, Anna McNulty, Basil Donovan, Rebecca Guy, Ruthy McIver, Rebecca Wigan, Rick Varma, Jason J. Ong, Denton Callander, Gabrielle Skelsey, Mish Pony, Dylan O'Hara, Jade E. Bilardi, Eric Pf Chow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: The risk factors for oropharyngeal gonorrhea have not been examined in sex workers despite the increasing prevalence of gonorrhea infection. OBJECTIVE: This study aims to determine the risk factors for oropharyngeal gonorrhea in female and gender-diverse sex workers (including cisgender and transgender women, nonbinary and gender fluid sex workers, and those with a different identity) and examine kissing, oral sex, and mouthwash practices with clients. METHODS: This mixed methods case-control study was conducted from 2018 to 2020 at 2 sexual health clinics in Melbourne, Victoria, and Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. We recruited 83 sex workers diagnosed with oropharyngeal gonorrhea (cases) and 581 sex workers without (controls). Semistructured interviews with 19 sex workers from Melbourne were conducted. RESULTS: In the case-control study, the median age of 664 sex workers was 30 (IQR 25-36) years. Almost 30% of sex workers (192/664, 28.9%) reported performing condomless fellatio on clients. Performing condomless fellatio with clients was the only behavior associated with oropharyngeal gonorrhea (adjusted odds ratio 3.6, 95% CI 1.7-7.6; P=.001). Most participants (521/664, 78.5%) used mouthwash frequently. In the qualitative study, almost all sex workers reported kissing clients due to demand and generally reported following clients' lead with regard to kissing style and duration. However, they used condoms for fellatio because they considered it a risky practice for contracting sexually transmitted infections, unlike cunnilingus without a dental dam. CONCLUSIONS: Our study shows that condomless fellatio is a risk factor for oropharyngeal gonorrhea among sex workers despite most sex workers using condoms with their clients for fellatio. Novel interventions, particularly targeting the oropharynx, will be required for oropharyngeal gonorrhea prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere46845
Number of pages20
JournalJMIR Public Health and Surveillance
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2024


  • case-control
  • condoms
  • oral sex
  • qualitative
  • transactional sex

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