There is a growing recognition that social and structural factors increase HIV risk for vulnerable groups including female sex workers (FSWs). In order to find out what is driving the spread of India’s HIV epidemic into rural areas and low-prevalence states, researchers at Karnataka Health Promotion Trust conducted a survey with FSWs and intimate partners (IPs) in Bagalkot District, northern Karnataka that aimed to explore the impact of norms around masculinity, gender and violence on the dynamics of IPV among FSWs. It investigated how IPs used their support to FSWs to justify their acts of violence and the IPs’ perceptions of the causes and effects of violence. The survey results indicate various reasons why it is unlikely that IPs will listen to, learn from or comply with FSWs who attempt to negotiate condom use. Therefore, it is important that programmes work with IPs of FSWs to reduce the HIV vulnerability of the women and their partners.