Dangerous Sex: Gendered Sexual Bodies and Perceptions of STI Risk
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.
KeywordsSTIs 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.
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.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
- Bell, L. (2013). Hard to get: 20-something women and the paradox of sexual freedom. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Bogle, K. A. (2008). Hooking up: Sex, dating, and relationships on campus. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Butler, J. (1993). Bodies that matter: The discursive limits of “sex.”. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). CDC fact sheet: Today’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic [PDF file]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/todaysepidemic-508.pdf
- Connell, R. W. (1987). Gender and power. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Douglas, M. (1986). Risk acceptability according to the social sciences. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Dozier, R. (2005). 2005. Beards, breasts, and bodies: Doing sex in a gendered world. Gender & Society, 19(3), 297–316.Google Scholar
- Ericksen, J. A., & Steffen, S. A. (1999). Kiss and tell: Surveying sex in the twentieth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Gerson, K. (2010). The unfinished revolution: Coming of age in a new era of gender, work, and family. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Harrison, L. (2017). Brown bodies, white babies: The politics of cross-racial surrogacy. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Hochschild, A. (1989). The second shift. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
- Jagose, A. (1996). Queer theory: An introduction. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Kellerman, S. E., Lehman, J. S., Lansky, A., Stevens, M. R., Hecht, F. M., Bindman, A. B., & Wortley, P. M. (2002). HIV testing within at-risk populations in the United States and the reasons for seeking or avoiding HIV testing. JAIDS Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, 31(2), 202–210.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lune, H., & Berg, B. L. (2017). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (global edition) (9th ed.). Harlow: Pearson.Google Scholar
- Marrazzo, J. M., Koutsky, L. A., Stine, K. L., Kuypers, J. M., Grubert, T. A., Galloway, D. M., Kiviat, N. B., & Handsfield, H. H. (1998). Genital human papillomavirus infection in women who have sex with women. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 178(6), 1604–1609.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
- Moran, J. (2000). Teaching sex: The shaping of adolescence in the 20th century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Ristock, J. (2002). No more secrets: Violence in lesbian relationships. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Rubin, G. (1975). The traffic in women: Notes on the “political economy” of sex. In R. Reiter (Ed.), Toward an anthropology of women (pp. 157–210). New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar