The principal objective of this study was to conduct formative research among sex workers in Lusaka, Zambia, to understand how sex workers' perceptions of their personal identity influences safer sex practices. In-depth interviews were conducted with 20 sex workers in Lusaka, Zambia, including both nightclub and street-based sex workers. Findings indicate important differences of self perception and identity between nightclub-based sex workers and street-based sex workers. The latter have a professional identity and are willing to be publicly acknowledged as sex workers. This makes it easier for them to convince clients to use condoms. In contrast, nightclub-based sex workers are less likely to wish to be identified as sex workers. They are motivated by the desire to meet a man who will perhaps marry them and change their lives. As a consequence, they do not publicly acknowledge their risk of STI/HIV infection and many go against their better judgement by not using condoms. Factors such as the stigmatization of sex work, the harassment of sex workers and the lack of protection available to them interact with sex workers' perceptions of their personal identities and influence their ability to take precautions during high-risk sexual encounters.