Archives of Sexual Behavior

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 3–30 | Cite as

Rethinking Risk, Culture, and Intervention in Collective Sex Environments

  • Katherine FrankEmail author
Target Article


This article provides a narrative overview of research on HIV/STI risk and collective sexual behavior based on an inclusive analysis of research on environments where people gather for sexual activity—sex clubs, swingers’ clubs, bathhouses, parks, private sex parties, etc. The aim is to analyze how collective sex has been approached across disciplines to promote conversation across paradigms and suggest new lines of inquiry. Attention to context—such as the location of sex—was a necessary redress to universalizing models of sexual risk-taking behavior, leading to insights rooted in the particularities of each environment and its users. However, the identification of ever more precise risk groups or environmental idiosyncrasies eventually becomes theoretically restrictive, leading to an overestimation of the uniqueness of sexual enclaves, and of the difference between any given enclave and the broader social milieu. Using a theoretical framework of transgression to interpret the interdisciplinary literature, similarities in the spatial and social organization of collective sex environments are identified. Insights generated from this complementary perspective are then applied to understandings of collective sex: first, the example of male–female (MF) “swingers” is used to illustrate the need to establish, rather than assume, the distinctiveness of each non-normative sexual enclave, and to broaden the conceptualization of context; second, questions are raised about the practicality of interventions in collective sex environments. Finally, new lines of intellectual inquiry are suggested to shed light not just on collective sex but on sociosexual issues more generally, such as increasing protective sexual health behavior or negotiating consent in sexual encounters.


Group sex Venues Sexual risk-taking Sexually transmitted infections Sexual behavior 


Venue Type


Commercial sex venue


Group sex event


Public sex environment


Public sex venue


Sex on premises venue

Risk Behavior


Condomless anal sex


Condomless anal intercourse


Condomless anal intercourse with casual partners


Condomless vaginal intercourse


Protected anal intercourse


Party and play


Serodiscordant unprotected anal intercourse


Serodiscordant unprotected anal sex


Unprotected anal sex


Unprotected intercourse (vaginal or anal)


Unprotected insertive anal intercourse


Unprotected receptive anal intercourse


Unprotected vaginal sex



Bondage/domination/sadism/masochism (umbrella term)


Consensual non-monogamy


Chlamydia trachomatis


Gay bisexual men


General Social Survey


Hepatitis C


Human immunodeficiency virus


Human papillomavirus


High-risk heterosexuals


Intravenous drug user


Male–female (MF couples might be heterosexual or composed of MSMW and/or WSMW; MF environments are designated as such based on assumed biological sex of participants)


Men who have sex with men


Men who have sex with men and women


Neisseria gonorrhea


Pre-exposure prophylaxis


Sexually transmitted disease


Sexually transmitted infections


Women who have sex with women


Women who have sex with men and women



I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers, along with Christian Grov, Edward Fernandes, Keith McNeal, and Paul Vasey for comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of Nevada, Las VegasLas VegasUSA

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