This study was undertaken to describe sexual behaviors and drug use and other factors that inhibit condom use and needle cleaning among impoverished women who are injection drug users (IDUs) or sexual partners of IDUs. This study also investigated whether risky sexual behavior or barriers to risk reduction differ with ethnicity and level of acculturation. Survey instruments to assess drug and sexual activity were administered to 378 African American and Latina women recruited primarily from homeless shelters and drug recovery programs. The most commonly cited barriers to condom use were belief that partners did not have acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), lack of knowledge about where to get and how to use condoms, and discomfort discussing condom use with partners. African American women were more likely to report having multiple partners and unprotected sex, and more likely to report barriers in using, discussing, and obtaining condoms. Latina women were more likely to report partners' dislike of condoms. African American and highly acculturated Latina women were more likely to be IDUs than less acculturated Latina women. The most pervasive barriers for needle cleaning were not having personal needles, being high and not interested in needle cleaning, and not having disinfectant available. In a multiple logistic regression analysis for engaging in unprotected sex and cleaning needles, not ethnic or acculturation differences were found after controlling for selected demographic characteristics and risk factors. The data indicate a need to increase the supply of free or low cost condoms, to provide easily accessible sites for obtaining condoms, to supply clean needles,and to focus counseling for women on negotiating condom use with partners and the skillful and correct placement of the condom.