It has been recently suggested by Jiang and Walrand that adaptive carrier sense multiple access (CSMA) can achieve optimal utility without any message passing in wireless networks. In this paper, after a survey of recent work on random access, a generalization of this algorithm is considered. In the continuous-time model, a proof is presented of the convergence of these adaptive CSMA algorithms to be arbitrarily close to utility optimality, without assuming that the network dynamics converge to an equilibrium in between consecutive CSMA parameter updates. In the more realistic, slotted-time model, the impact of collisions on the utility achieved is characterized, and the tradeoff between optimality and short-term fairness is quantified. Copyright (C) 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.