A ‘messenger of sex’? Making testosterone matter in motivations for anabolic-androgenic steroid injecting

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Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic derivatives of testosterone. They are thought to be the most commonly used performance and image-enhancing drugs (PIEDs) in Australia. However, the motivations for men’s use of steroids and other PIEDs are poorly understood. Established ways of understanding these motivations highlight men’s performance and/or image-related concerns, in the context of contemporary masculinities and gender norms. Researchers have paid little attention to how the social and political features of testosterone shape and transform steroid use. Instead, testosterone tends to be taken for granted as a ‘messenger of sex’ that acts on the body in predictable and routinised ways. This article takes a different approach. Drawing on feminist science studies and interviews conducted for an Australian research project, we investigate how the cultural and symbolic meanings assigned to testosterone shape the ontological politics of men’s steroid consumption. Approaching testosterone as an emergent social and biopolitical gathering rather than as a stable sex hormone allows us to better understand how men’s PIED consumption is mediated, particularly by pervasive ideas about sexual difference and the biology of gender. In concluding, we consider ways of better engaging men who consume steroids in health initiatives, in keeping with their concerns and perspectives.




Fomiatti, R., Latham, J. R., Fraser, S., Moore, D., Seear, K., & Aitken, C. (2019). A ‘messenger of sex’? Making testosterone matter in motivations for anabolic-androgenic steroid injecting. Health Sociology Review, 28(3), 323–338. https://doi.org/10.1080/14461242.2019.1678398

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