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New Paper: 'Heterosexual intimacies' for policy and practice

We have a new Open Access paper, "Expert Stakeholders’ Perspectives on How Cisgender Heterosexual Boys and Young Men Navigate Sex and Intimacy in Australia: A Case for “Heterosexual Intimacies” in Policy and Practice" out in Sexuality Research and Social Policy from the Men, Sex and Intimacy study, exploring expert stakeholder experiences in working with cisgender heterosexual boys and young men on topics of sex, consent, and intimacy.

Image @sambalye Unsplash. Three teenage boys sitting in the back of a classroom facing forwards. Other students sit in front, an adult stands in the front, blurred, giving a talk.

What's it about?

In this paper we interviewed 23 expert stakeholders working across various sectors in Australia, including gendered violence prevention, sport, emotional and physical health and wellbeing, sexual health, and boys and masculinity. We asked them what challenges or difficulties they perceived cisgender heterosexual boys and young men are facing when it comes to sex, intimacy, and dating practices.

What did you find?

Expert stakeholders noted that cisgender heterosexual boys and young men were hesitant about engaging in sexual activities, due to concerns of potentially causing a consent violation.

Derek (Community, sexual health and wellbeing): I’d say the number one most popular question would be along the lines of “What happens if I have sex with someone and then afterwards they take their consent back?” […] I think that’s what they're most scared of, they're absolutely petrified that they're going to have sexual activity with someone and then get in trouble afterwards.

Expert stakeholders also noted concerning values that such boys and young men held about women and relationships.

Bailey (Community, boys and men): It's really interesting, because they're always talking about loyalty, and the woman has to be loyal, and that word comes up all the time […] It seems that they're really preoccupied with the concept of loyalty, right. And, like, how a woman is meant to show her loyalty to a man.

Concerns about pornography were also raised, particularly due to the lack of consistent relationships and sexuality education that addresses gendered power dynamics within heterosexual sexual practices.

Marcia (Community, gendered violence prevention): Young men are getting a whole range of really problematic messages from pornography – including about gender equality […] Repeated association between porn imagery and experiences of pleasure can create neural pathways, and for most young men, they're seeing porn literally years before they’ve had a sexual encounter with an actual partner.

Expert stakeholders working in adult sexual health and wellbeing also had concerns about the lack of sexual health promotion activities that specifically target cisgender heterosexual young men, which has impacts on their capacity to navigate contraception and sexual health:

Hannah (Government, sexual health and wellbeing): [Discussing men and STI prevention] Hetero men, we’re sitting at an increasing rate [of diagnosed STI infection] than what we have seen in the past […] The majority of the long-term implications of those STI infections are experienced by women not men – the short term is where you might have a rash or a bit of soreness or a discharge or something, but, you know, otherwise it’s no big deal.

Lastly, expert stakeholders noted limited opportunities for cisgender heterosexual boys and young men to have conversations about sex and intimacy, as well as concerns about how those conversations were currently managed:

Julie (Private, sexual health and wellbeing): We don’t have the expertise to assist them to have a positive conversation about the challenges that they find in being with someone, about the pressure they might feel, or the assumptions they have about being a good man when they're with someone.

Through these conversations, we find a need to think about 'heterosexual intimacies' in policy and practice. That is,

considering more carefully the complex ways in which sex, sexual health and wellbeing, emotional health and wellbeing, and sexual violence are entwined and interconnected in the socialisation of cisgender heterosexual boys and young men...This includes a greater emphasis and consideration of boys and young men’s responsibility for STI, BBV and pregnancy prevention; sexual and reproductive health concerns; and emotional wellbeing concerning mutually reciprocal relationships (Waling et al., 2022, 13).

We conclude with advocating for a wholistic approach that

recognises the relationship between boys and young men’s lived experiences of sexual and reproductive health, emotional and mental wellbeing, and potential engagement with violence (and specifically forms of sexual violence) towards women (Waling et al., 2022, 13).

Where can I read it?

This paper is available freely at Sexuality Research and Social Policy, as this is an Open Access publication! Or please feel free to get in touch and we can send you a copy!


Waling, A., James, A., Fairchild, J. (2022). Expert stakeholders’ perspectives on how cisgender heterosexual boys and young men navigate sex and intimacy in Australia: A case for “heterosexual intimacies” in policy and practice. Sexuality Research and Social Policy. DOI: 10.1007/s13178-022-00700-3


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