Heteronormativity hurts everyone: experiences of young men and clinicians with sexually transmitted infection/HIV testing in British Columbia, Canada

Health (London). 2013 Sep;17(5):441-59. doi: 10.1177/1363459312464071. Epub 2012 Nov 1.


Heteronormative assumptions can negatively influence the lives of young gay and bisexual men, and recent sociological analyses have identified the negative impacts of heteronormativity on heterosexual men (e.g. 'fag discourse' targeted at heterosexual adolescents). However, insights into how heteronormative discourses may be (re)produced in clinical settings and how they contribute to health outcomes for gay, bisexual and heterosexual men are poorly understood. This analysis draws on in-depth interviews with 45 men (15-25 years old) and 25 clinicians in British Columbia, Canada, to examine how heteronormative discourses affect sexually transmitted infection testing. The sexually transmitted infection/HIV testing experience emerged as a unique situation, whereby men's (hetero)sexuality was explicitly 'interrogated'. Risk assessments discursively linked sexual identity to risk in ways that reinforced gay men as the risky 'other' and heterosexual men as the (hetero)normal and, therefore, relatively low-risk patient. This, in turn, alleviated concern for sexually transmitted infection/HIV exposure in heterosexual men by virtue of their sexual identity (rather than their sexual practices), which muted discussions around their sexual health. The clinicians also positioned sexual identities and practices as important 'clues' for determining their patients' social contexts and supports while concurrently informing particular tailored clinical communication strategies. These findings highlight how men's experiences with sexually transmitted infection/HIV testing can (re)produce heteronormative assumptions and expectations or create opportunities for more equitable gendered relations and discourses.

Keywords: HIV; Heteronormativity; sexual health; sexually transmitted infections; young men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AIDS Serodiagnosis*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Bisexuality / psychology
  • British Columbia
  • Female
  • Heterosexuality / psychology*
  • Homophobia* / psychology
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Reproductive Health
  • Risk Factors
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Young Adult