Fragile Femininity, Embodiment, and Self-Managing Harm: An Interpretative Phenomenological Study Exploring the Lived Experience of Females who use Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids

Neha Prasad Ainsworth, Sam Thrower, Andrea Petroczi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Little research exists on the lived experiences of female anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) use. This study aims to address this gap and explore the experiences, perceptions and perspectives of female AAS users. Four women, recruited using opportunistic purposive sampling, participated in semi-structured interviews. Using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), four superordinate themes clarify the experiences and narratives detailed by the participants: preparation and anxiety (before AAS use), deviation from feminine identity (during AAS use), the turbulence of cessation (end of AAS use) and rediscovering femininity (post-AAS cessation reflections). The results show the complex representation and framing of the feminine identity by participants throughout their AAS use. While participants anticipated adverse side effects, this did not prevent negative emotional feelings arising from their development. This study is the first in-depth exploration of the AAS-using journey from a female perspective. Illuminating this specific facet of AAS use can help inform meaningful and more inclusive harm reduction measures by adding experiential information from this understudied group.
Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2021


  • Interpretative phenomenological analysis
  • Harm reduction
  • Lived experience
  • Performance-enhancing drugs
  • Bodybuilding

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