Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 47, Issue 5, pp 1405–1421 | Cite as

“You Worry, ‘cause You Want to Give a Reasonable Account of Yourself”: Gender, Identity Management, and the Discursive Positioning of “Risk” in Men’s and Women’s Talk About Heterosexual Casual Sex

  • Panteá Farvid
  • Virginia Braun
Original Paper


Heterosexual casual sex is routinely depicted as a physically, socially, and psychologically “risky” practice. This is the case in media accounts, psychological research, and other academic work. In this article, we examine 15 men’s and 15 women’s talk about casual sex from a discursive psychological stance to achieve two objectives. Firstly, we confirm the categories of risk typically associated with casual sex but expand these to include a domain of risks related to (gendered) identities and representation. Men’s talk of risk centered on concerns about sexual performance, whereas women’s talk centered on keeping safe from violence and sexual coercion. The notion of a sexual reputation was also identified as a risk and again manifested differently for men and women. While women were concerned about being deemed promiscuous, men displayed concern about the quality of their sexual performance. Secondly, within this talk about risks of casual sex, the participants’ identities were identified as “at risk” and requiring careful management within the interview context. This was demonstrated by instances of: keeping masculinity intact in accounts of no erection, negotiating a responsible subject position, and crafting agency in accounts of sexual coercion—in the participants’ talk. We argue that casual sex, as situated within dominant discourses of gendered heterosexuality, is a fraught practice for both men and women and subject to the demands of identity representation within co-present interactions.


Gender Heterosexuality Casual sex Identity Discourse Discursive psychology 



We would like to thank the participants for sharing their stories with us and three anonymous reviewers for their comments. This research was supported by a doctoral scholarship from The University of Auckland.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyAuckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.School of PsychologyThe University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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