Perceiving risk and (re)constructing safety: the lived experience of having 'safe' sex

Bourne, AH; Robson, MA; (2009) Perceiving risk and (re)constructing safety: the lived experience of having 'safe' sex. Health, Risk & Society, 11 (3). pp. 283-295.

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The many and varied sexual health promotion campaigns of recent years have sought to establish safe sex as the main protective mechanism for stemming the spread of sexually transmitted infections. However, the meaning of 'safe' sex remains unclear. Sexual health promotion literature almost entirely constructs safety through a biomedical lens: minimising the risk of bodily fluid exchange and establishing physical barriers between partners. However, this viewpoint may be insufficient when considering the emotionally charged arena of sexual behaviour which is, by its very nature, social. What meaning is ascribed to sexual safety and how is it made sense of or rationalised at the level of the individual? Twenty-two in-depth interviews were carried out with men who have sex with men, men who have sex with women, women who have sex with men, and women who have sex with women aged 18-30. These sought to gain an insight into their understanding of safe sex and their experiences of safe or unsafe sex. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was employed to help understand how these individuals made sense of safety. Analysis painted a picture of safe sex that is far more complex than the simple avoidance of infection. The typical biomedical safety rationale was frequently intertwined with lay rationales concerning 'emotional safety' or 'psychological safety'. When establishing a safe sexual relationship it was clearly evident that the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection was not always the primary concern and, for many individuals, feeling safe with their partner held far greater importance.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Social and Environmental Health Research
Research Centre: Sigma Research


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