Dangerous Sex: Gendered Sexual Bodies and Perceptions of STI Risk

  • Cristen DalessandroEmail author


Though previous work has explored how heterosexual and LGBTQ+ young adults make sexual decisions, research comparing these groups is still needed. Using interviews with 60 young adults (aged 22–32) with diverse gender and sexual identities in the USA, this paper investigates how constructions of gender contribute to perceptions of sexually transmitted infection (STI) risk. Across gender and sexual identities, young adults’ discussions of STI experiences, close calls, and fears draw heavily from binary gendered understandings of masculinized sexual bodies as dangerous and feminized sexual bodies as non-threatening. Yet aside from individuals’ gendered identities, gendered sexual bodies emerge as a construct in participants’ accounts that conflates gendered social traits with sex assigned at birth. Participants’ use of gendered sexual bodies to calculate sexual risk poses a potential challenge to larger efforts aimed at decoupling binary gendered norms and expectations from bodies since it helps naturalize associations between assigned sex and gendered characteristics. These findings have implications for theory but also for policy due to the extent to which understandings of gendered sexual bodies influence STI risk perceptions among young adults of varying gender and sexual identity categories.


STIs Sexual risk Gender Bodies Young adults Sexual health 



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2018 American Sociological Association meeting in Philadelphia, PA. The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and Christie Sennott for their comments on drafts of this paper.

Funding information

The University of Colorado Boulder Department of Sociology provided financial support during the early stages of the project.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Division of Family Planning)University of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

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