• Masculinity;
  • heterosexuality;
  • youth;
  • sexuality;
  • gender


This article seeks to extend understandings of heterosexual masculine identities through an examination of young men's constructions of what motivates young men to engage in heterosexual practices and relationships, and what not having sex might mean for them. Using the masculinity literature and work on heterosexuality to frame the discussion and to contextualize the findings, it explores the complex dynamics that frame the relationship between masculinity and heterosexuality. Specifically, how dominant or ‘hegemonic’ discourses of heterosexuality shape young men's identities, beliefs and behaviour. It considers these questions using empirical data from a qualitative study of young people living in close-knit working-class communities in the North East of England, with a specific focus on cultural and social attitudes towards sexuality and sexual practices. Peer group networks are a key site for the construction and (re)production of masculinity and, therefore, an important arena within which gendered social approval and acceptance is both sought and gained. In this article, I explore the reasons why young men engage in specific types of heterosexual practice in order to gain social approval. A central question is the extent to which heterosexuality is compelling for young men. That young men do feel compelled to behave in certain ways sexually, behaviours that they may be uncomfortable with and/or dislike, and the fact that they feel they are restricted in terms of how they can talk about their experiences within their peer group networks, demonstrates the power of dominant discourses of masculinity in everyday life. This is addressed through an examination of the restrictive effects of normative discourses about male heterosexuality, including their privatizing effects, which suggest that youth masculinities are often experienced in ways that are highly contradictory requiring young men to adopt a range of strategies to deal with this.