This paper contends that sexuality research has paid far too limited attention to the phenomenology of sexual experience, thus failing to recognize the importance of embodied sensory experience for sexual perceptions and practices in general and for sexual risk-taking in particular. In order to comprehend the cultural rationales of sexual risk-taking among urban Vietnamese youth, the author presents an analysis which combines a detailed attention to the phenomenology of sexual experience with a social analysis of the wider socio-economic contexts within which sexual practices are embedded. It is demonstrated that the sexual encounters of Vietnamese youth involve much more than strivings for intimacy and pleasure: at stake are also fundamental questions of the moral integrity of the self and the socio-political shaping of intimate relations. Moreover, obstacles to safer sex stem not only from individual choices or intimate interpersonal interactions, but also from larger systems of moral meaning and social constraint. While the acknowledgement of individual capacities for action in the sexual sphere is important, it is equally important to recognize the responsibility of communities and political systems for the shaping of sexual interactions. Current limitations in the understanding of sexual experience and practice have consequences which seriously affect health interventions and education programmes targeting high-risk sexual behaviour. In order to develop more appropriate sexual health interventions, cultural transformations at the levels of both individual practice and societal organization are needed.