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Love and Lust. American men in Costa Rica by Jacobo Schifter - HTML preview

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In 1997 and in 2000 ILPES (The Latin American Health and Prevention Institute) carried out a Survey funded by USAID/PASMO on Central American and Costa Rican sex workers. The objective of the research was to study the use of condoms and related factors. The Surveys provided invaluable information on sex workers from brothels, nightclubs, massage parlors and from street workers. It did not include sex workers who work at the major hotels that cater to American tourists. Nevertheless, 75% of sex tourists in the poll taken at, a sex forum, also cater to the places studied in the ILPES surveys.19

The sample size was established according to time and economic constraints. It was agreed to have a sample of 400 female sex workers both from the street and from brothels, bars or discos in San Jose, Costa Rica.




18 Sex- RAR Guide, The Rapid Assessment and Response Guide on Psychoactive Substance Use and Sexual Risk Behavior, Mental Health: Research and Evidence, Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence, World Health Organization, Geneva, 2002.



An estimate was made of the number of sex workers who work in the establishments and in the streets.

20 The random nature of the sample was established by the choice of hours for interviews. 21 Finally, 400 interviews were carried out at the different social centers in San Jose.22

Focus group discussions

A sample of 10 sex workers were invited to participate in focus-group discussions held at ILPES in San Jose, Costa Rica. These were carried out on July 29, 2000 from 8 pm to 10:30 pm. 23 The discussions focused on participants' perception of the data gathered with regard to sexual risk-taking in association with substance use and possibilities of behavior change. 24

In depth- interviews

A sub-sample of 20 sex workers was invited to take part in individual semi-structured in-depth interviews about their perceptions and behavior concerning psychoactive substance use and sexuality.

These interviews had an average duration of one hour and were conducted in three nightclubs in San Jose, Costa Rica. Five interviewers participated during the month of September 2000. 25

20 The estimates cannot represent an exact number of sex workers since the women who frequent these places are not always the same, nor do they arrive with the same frequency. In addition, the opening hours of these places differ, and the number of sex workers can fluctuate due to the clients‘ patterns of attendance.

21 Once an hour was randomly selected, the interviewer had to interview the first five sex workers that walked in the establishment. In the case of those who worked in the streets, different spaces and times were selected randomly and the interviewer had to select the sex worker who was present at that specific time.

22 In this case, the sampling procedure was applied with probability proportional to the size of the establishment (number of people visiting a given place-PPS). For this reason, each woman was weighed up in a proportionally inverse relation to the number of times she frequents the place. This variable was included in the questionnaire: ―How many days a month do you attend these premises?‖

23 The group was briefed on the purpose of the discussion, the background of the study, benefits to participants and Con formato: Inglés

others, the time it would take to take part in the discussion, steps taken to protect anonymity, how to access psycho-

(Estados Unidos)

social support during and after the discussion, and whom to approach to discuss and explain details of the study.

Participants were asked to put down a 'code-name' on the informed consent sheet instead of signing it personally. They were also handed out a copy of the informed consent sheet that did not specify their code name.

24 Two interviewers received special training on how to respond to potentially sensitive information given by the participants. They used participatory methodology to conduct the sessions. Focus group discussions were taped and transcribed. All tapes were erased after the conclusion of the study. There were no material inducements for participants, beyond free refreshments.

25 Participants were asked to put down their 'code-name' on the informed consent sheet instead of signing it personally.

They were also given a copy of the informed consent sheet that did not specify their code name.


Another five interviewers (not the same ones conducting the focus-group interviews) received special training on how to respond constructively to possible sensitive information given by the participants and possible feelings of embarrassment and shame. 26

Ethnographic Observation

In 2000 two nightclubs were selected for ethnographic observation: Puro Placer and Elías27. Puro Placer is a club located near the Coca Cola Market in San Jose, Costa Rica. The area is part of San Jose‘s red-light district. The observation took place on March 24, 2000 and was conducted by two ethnographers, one male and one female. They spent five hours in this bar. Elite is a similar club located in Paseo Colon, a more commercial section in the city of San Jose. The same ethnographers conducted the observation during May 26, 2000 from 10:30 pm to 1 o‘clock in the morning.

The nightclubs have approximately from 20 to 40 female dancers and a clientele of approximately 100

to 200 men per night. The bars are meeting places for prostitutes and their clients who, after several drinks, retire to nearby motels, private apartments or houses. The main activity in both places is dancing and drinking.28

2004 RAP

To update the data, another RAP was conducted in 2004, during the months of September, October and November. This time the emphasis was placed on sex workers who cater to American clients and on the clients themselves. The following interventions took place:


Mapping of the most important sexual establishments in San Jose and in Jaco Beach that cater to American tourists.


A study on sex forums and websites that promote sexual tourism to Costa Rica in Internet.29


In-depth interviews with 10 sex workers at Hotel Del Buey and Tea Amargo.


Ethnographic observation in Hotel Del Buey and Tea Amargo


In-depth interviews with 15 waiters and taxi drivers.


Ethnographic observation in massage parlors and nightclubs.


Two focus groups with 10 sex workers.


In depth-interviews with 10 sex workers in Tango India nightclub.


Five in-depth interviews with Ministry of Health officers.


26 Interviews were recorded and transcribed following the strict safety procedures outlined above (including erasure of tapes after transcription, coding of names of other individuals mentioned in the course of the interview). There were no material inducements for participants, beyond the offer of free refreshments.

27 These are not their real names. All bar, hotel, night-club and Massage Parlorś names have been changed.

28 Confidentiality was maintained through the use of code names when writing field notes, storage of data in lockable filing cabinets, and limiting data-access to the research team.

29 We decided to leave the citations from the sex forums just as they were, without changing the spelling and the grammar.


We opted to leave the posts from the Internet just as they are found, with typos, misspellings and words in Spanish.