'It'll never happen to me': Gay men's beliefs, perceptions and folk constructions of sexual risk

E. Lowy, M. W. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


This article reports on homosexually active men's beliefs about being at sexual risk. Results were generated from paid, in-depth, face-to-face interviews about sexual behavior carried out first with 4 pilot respondents, then with 21 gay respondents aged 18-39, half of whom were HIV seropositive. Findings suggest that there is not a close match between what is epidemiologically accepted as risk behavior and what respondents regarded as risk behavior. The heuristic on which the men based their perceptions of sexual risk comprised a pattern of activities in which there are few absolutes, contrary to the distinctions of 'safe', 'safer', and 'unsafe' categories used by health educators. The men used several categories as signifiers of risk: factors such as age, appearance, diction, and HIV knowledge together with variables reflecting epidemiological data, such as few partners, being the insertive partner in anal intercourse, and past history of infrequent unprotected anal intercourse, and situational determinants such as emotional needs, sexual arousal, and relationship status were constructed into a hierarchy of risk. These hierarchies or pseudo-epidemiological models of risk are similar to what Levine and Siegel term 'folk constructions' of risk of HIV transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-482
Number of pages16
JournalAIDS Education and Prevention
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1994


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