Move Over Sectarianism! Hello Sextarianism: Regulating Sex work in Northern Ireland”. A talk by Dr. Paul Maginn

The Geography department at Northumbria University is delighted to announce:

Move Over Sectarianism! Hello Sextarianism:

Regulating Sex work in Northern Ireland


A seminar presentation by

Dr. Paul J. Maginn

University of Western Australia

Date: Wednesday 2nd December 2015

Time: 12pm -1pm

Location: Room A111

(Ellison Building, Northumbria University, Ellison Place)

All welcome – and cake will be present!

epa00599967 Anti gay wedding protesters make their point outside Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland, Monday, 19 December 2005. The first set of civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples in the United Kingdom, two women, Shannon Sickles and Grainne Close, exchanged vows at Belfast City Hall. Another lesbian couple and a gay couple also exchanged vows Monday. EPA/PAUL MCERLANE

Since the commencement of the ‘peace process’ in the mid-1990s ethno-religious sectarianism has become less pronounced in Northern Ireland. This has created space on the political agenda for some broader social issues to receive policy attention. In particular, issues around sexual citizenship (e.g. gay rights and reproductive choice) and sexual commerce (e.g. sex work/prostitution and other forms of adult entertainment) have become ‘new’ sites of struggle about identity politics in this ethno-religiously divided part of the UK. Interestingly, whereas Catholic/Nationalist and Protestant/Unionist politicians have long engaged in sectarian politics the issue of regulating commercial sex has resulted in an interesting alliance between both side of politics as well as elements of the feminist/women’s movement in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This is illustrated through an examination of the Human Trafficking & Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill introduced by Lord Morrow from the Democratic Unionist Party. The passing of this Bill witnessed the introduction of the so-called Swedish model to regulate the ‘sex industry’. Put simply, the political debates and legislation around sex work and, more broadly, sexuality in Northern Ireland brings into focus, the question: Is Northern Ireland a sextarian society?

Follow Paul on Twitter: @planographer

‘De-sexing porn: An account of the non-porn porn at the Musee D’Orsay’. A guest post by Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh (@erinsandersmcd) about her visit to the the Splendeurs & Miseres Exposition


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De-sexing porn: An account of the non-porn porn at the Musee D’Orsay

Opening at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris last Saturday the 22nd of September 2015, the Splendeurs & Miseres Exposition traces images of prostitution from 1850-1910. Having read Sciolino’s piece in the New York Times) the day before, I have some idea what to expect – paintings from artists such as Manet, Picasso, Van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec – and an exhibit that shows us images of prostitutes through the artist’s eye. There is another queue for the exhibit once inside, and the docent at the ticket desk tells me they are expecting higher than average numbers for this particular exhibition. Walking into first room, the mauve-painted walls and soft lighting invoke an almost hushed atmosphere. There are no written guides to the exhibit, only audio guides – and I am forbidden from taking pictures of the textual descriptions (written in both French and English) on the walls. The introduction to the exposition sets out not its purpose, but rather a rationale – making clear why the exposition includes the images we are about to see:

‘Its [prostitution] ever changing nature, which defied easy definition, was an enduring obsession among novelists, poets, playwrights, composers, painters and sculptors. Most artists in the 19th and first half of the 20th century addressed the splendor and misery of prostitution’

This idea of splendor and misery is borrowed from Balzac’s Splendeurs et miseres des courtisanes (published in the 1830s), also known as Harlot of High and Low – which describes the rise and pitiful fall of the courtesan Esther Van Gobsecka, and frames prostitution as both a class issue and a moral question. The current exhibit at the Musee D’Orsay tries, to some extent, to engage with similar issues and questions, but the exhibit itself poses some moral questions of its own.

The first few rooms of the exhibit feature a variety of painted images, mostly rendered in oils, of women working as sex workers. A potted history of sex work in Paris is essentially recounted here – and the paintings feature well-dressed prostitutes promenading streets; shop girls, some who were known to sell sex to gentleman customers; and ballet dancers and actresses interacting with ‘patrons’ in the back stages of the Paris Opera. The descriptive text on the wall, and some of the specific text under key paintings, refers to class and position in relation to sexual exchanges, but there is little moralizing discourse written into the guiding text.

All of the prostitutes pictured are of course women – and the clients are gentlemen of rank and class. As the exhibit continues, there are dozens of rooms displaying the bodies of sex working women – from a range of different sex working hierarchies.

Mid-way through the exhibit, visitors over the age of 18 are invited to sweep through a red velvet curtain. What lies behind this curtain is clearly more provocative than what was being displayed in the main rooms. Entering into the dimly-lit space, spectators are invited to peer through binocular-like devices, ‘stereoscopes’, to see images of couples having sex, or engaging in sexual activity. Still photographs adorn the opposite wall, and around the corner a black and white pornographic film plays on a loop. These photographic and celluloid images signal an important shift – evidenced not only by the red curtain partitioning the obscene from the beautiful, but also by the accompanying text. The writing on the wall (literally), tells us that ‘by consuming the [photographic] image, viewers became virtual clients’. What then, of the museum spectators who have paid 12 euro each to consume the same images? Are we, the museum spectators, not also virtual clients?

While there are a great many questions that the exposition raises in relation to prostitution and sex work, I would like to focus here on how it is that we, viewers of pornography, have managed to avoid any aspersions cast on our character? How can a male spectator viewing this film in the early 1900s be seen as voyeuristic, described as a ‘virtual’ client, while we, the contemporary spectators in 2015, are freed from any moral dilemmas?

I stood for some time looking at the faces of people watching the film, and listening to the conversations. Reactions ranged from disinterest, to laughter – it was clear that we as the audience were not meant to be sexually aroused by this in any way – but rather, bemused and analytical, and we followed the rules.

The politics of looking, and the importance of visual consumption of sexual images are central to debates on pornography. The extent to which looking at bodies engaging in sexual activity renders them object/abject, and the impact that this type of viewing has on the visual consumer is key in framing pornography as morally dubious. However, as I have recently argued (Sanders-McDonagh, in press), understanding the impact and importance of pornography requires not just an analysis of content, but a contextual account. We do not watch pornography in a vacuum – we watch naked bodies in particular spaces and places, and the space and place where we are located fundamentally shapes our experiences.

For me this is the most problematic element of the show – not so much that women’s naked or splayed bodies are on display (yet again), or that the prostitute features as both hapless victim and conniving temptress (yet again), although these of course warrant further debate and discussion – but rather that the way the images are presented and described, and the assumptions that are in play about who is looking and how, are fundamentally relevant to any analysis of the exposition.

The Musee D’Orsay, as is true with most art galleries across the world, appeals to a middle-class demographic and welcomes over 2 million visitors every year. There is an expectation that these visitors here have not only the requisite economic capital, but also a great deal of cultural capital to make sense of what they are seeing, and to recognize and evaluate the artistic merit of some representations, and the debased nature of others. Indeed, a few metro stops away in Clichy or Pigalle, one could easily buy a pornographic film or magazine at one of the many sex shops in the area, but there is clear demarcation between the high and the low here, and their symbolic separation.

Tellingly, the gift shop that you enter after leaving the final room of the exhibit has a range of book and DVDs for sale. If you have 45 euro, you can buy the official book for the exposition. A hefty price (and a weighty tome), but a material reminder of your visit, and full of the images of naked women you have just consumed in the exposition. If you have less money but would still like a book, you could buy a copy of Emile Zola’s Nana, or perhaps a biography of a Parisian courtesan. You could also buy a DVD – maybe an art house movie that won a prize at Cannes and almost coincidentally features a prostitute (obviously displayed naked on the cover, but tastefully arranged), or else a glossy art/fashion publication that features a range of intelligent analyses of prostitution, as well as stylish images of red-lit women. Purchasing any of these items – which would be placed gently into the well-designed Musee D’Orsay bag – would be far different from purchasing a similar item from a shop in Pigalle. Here, you could not be so sure that this is a tasteful purchase; it would be placed in a black plastic bag, to hide the grubby item lurking inside, and, even more problematically, you would have to venture into and out of such a shop, in such an area, to purchase such an item. The naked women in display in your expensive Musee D’Orsay book are guaranteed to meet certain standards of taste – whereas the women in display on anything in such a shop in such an area come with no guarantees.

While the exhibit works hard to make clear where the acceptable boundaries of high and low are situated, and implicitly assumes that the visual consumers, the museum-goers, will be able to position the sex on display behind their red curtain (as not sexual, as artefact) vis-à-vis Other pornographic images or movies (that are intrinsically sexual, because they are not displayed in the appropriate context), there is the possibility of confusion. For that reason, the velvet curtain is introduced, because even within an exhibit that features almost exclusively depictures of prostitutes and images of naked women, there is an internal hierarchy between the higher oil-based naked women, and the lower silver-gelatin naked women. Everything has a place and an order – there is highest-high-low-lowest – and this order must be made clear.

And indeed, I would imagine that many visitors, the ones I watch as they watch the black-and-white movie on the wall, walk away bemused. Perhaps their conversations over that evening’s apero, or tomorrow night’s dinner party, will include witty analyses of the images, and perhaps their friends will decide to go because it sounds so intriguing. I would doubt that many of these dinner party conversations would include suggestions about which production company features the most realistic lesbian porn, or if anyone has accidentally stumbled onto an excellent chem-porn site while browsing through Tumblr…. and as I imagine these dinner parties conversations, I remember what Stallybrass and White have to say about the high and the low:

The ‘top’ includes the ‘low’ symbolically as a primary eroticized constituent of its own fantasy life. The result is a mobile, conflictual fusion of power, fear, and desire in the construction of subjectivity’ (Stallybrass and White in Walkowitz, 1992: 20).

Watching the pornographic movie on display in the Musee D’Orsay is no different to watching the same pornographic movie at home – the images and the representations are the same and the content of what is being consumed is identitical. However, watching this in the hallowed chamber of a well-known museum is vastly different to watching the same movie on your smartphone on your sofa. The fundamental question is not what you watch, but where. The top includes the low – it requires the low for the sustenance of fantasy, but our views on what kinds of naked images are tasteful, and which are obscene require constant attention to the context, and to place, to ensure that the images can be read appropriately, and that it is clear when nakedness and sexual representations should offend us, or enthrall us.

Feona Attwood (2005) reminds us that the cultural practices of looking and seeing are critical to a meaningful analysis of pornography. While debates rage in the UK on the harms of pornography, middle-class visitors can quietly consume images of naked woman rendered on canvas, or watch a naked man and woman fucking on-screen – shocking perhaps, or maybe funny, but not sexually stimulating, and nothing to be offended by – but only deep in the heart of the Musee D’Orsay.

By Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh (@erinsandersmcd)


Attwood, F. 2005. “What to do with porn? Qualitative research into the consumption, use and experience of pornography and other sexually explicit media.” Sexuality and Culture 9(2): 65-86.

Sanders-McDonagh, E. (in press) ‘Porn by any other name: Women’s consumption of public sex performances in Amsterdam’ In Porn Studies. DOI: 10.1080/23268743.2015.1100092.

Walkowitz, J. 1992. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. London: Virago.


CfP for AAG2016 San Francisco 29 March – 2 April


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CfP for AAG2016 San Francisco 29 March – 2 April

Sex and the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt



Dr. Paul J. Maginn (UWA) – @planographer

Dr. Emily Cooper (Northumbria) – @e_cooper2

Dr. Martin Zebracki (Leeds) – @zebracki

Prof. Clarissa Smith (Sunderland) – @DrClarissaSmith

Sponsored by:   Sexuality and Space Specialty Group (SxSSG)

The presence and regulation of sexualised bodies, sexuality, sex work/erotic labour, porn and BDSM/fetish in the city has taken an interesting turn in the 21st century. For some, it is argued that we have entered a period of hyper-sexuality whereby highly sexual imagery and ‘deviant’ sexual practices have given rise to a pornified culture where plastic bodies (and products) engage in ‘unspeakable acts’. This has led to calls for the filtering/banning of internet pornography and the criminalisation of the recording/distribution of certain sexual acts (e.g. face sitting, fisting and female ejaculation). Relatedly, anti-porn activists have pushed for the introduction of mandatory condom use in porn production in California. Simultaneously, adult entertainment performers/producers have resisted such proposals arguing that pre-existing testing regimes for STIs and HIV/Aids are more than sufficient and that overregulation will push the porn industry to relocate elsewhere.

In relation to sex work/prostitution various (conservative) politicians and radical feminist organisations have advocated the introduction of the ‘Swedish model’ proclaiming that it will ‘end demand and exploitation’ and ‘stop human trafficking’. Canada and Northern Ireland have recently adopted this regulatory approach. There have been high-profile raids and/or restrictions of brothels/massage parlours in places such as Soho (London) and Edinburgh (Scotland) and online escort websites such as Redbook, Backpage and Rentboy in the US, often under the glare of the media. The conflation of human trafficking and sex work as one and the same issue is challenged by International bodies such as WHO, UN AIDS, the ILO, Amnesty International, and sex workers/sex work advocacy groups who have all called for sex work to be decriminalised.

There have been calls for other forms of sexual imagery (e.g. Page 3 in The Sun newspaper and ‘lads magazines’ in newsagents) and adult entertainment (strip clubs/lap-dance bars) to be banned or closed down.  LGBT relationships have also been under the spotlight in recent years. Whilst Ireland recently moved to legalise same-sex marriage via a referendum, Northern Ireland and Australia have steadfastly refused to move forward on this issue. Interestingly, despite the various calls to ‘stop porn/raunch culture’ an increasing number of people appear to be consuming and/or engaging in different forms of sexual practices. For example, BDSM/fetish/kink practices appear to have gripped suburbia if sales of 50 Shades of Grey and sex toys are any measure of society’s sexual inquisitiveness.

Ultimately, what we appear to be seeing is a kaleidoscopic (sub)urban sexscape wherein the tectonic plates of conservatism/feminism/religion and capitalism/individualism are locked in deep socio-political competition with one another in relation to all matters pertaining to sex and sexuality. This special session, then, seeks papers that speak to the ideas of (i) Geographies of Reactionism; (ii) Geographies of Resistance; and (iii) Geographies of Revulsion/Revolt as they apply to the social/cultural/economic/historical meanings, consumption/production/distribution and regulation of sexual imagery, sexuality, adult retailing/sex shops; sex work/prostitution; adult entertainment/erotic labour, pornography and BDSM/fetish/kink practices within urban, suburban, rural and virtual spaces.

We welcome abstracts/papers by scholars and research-minded sex workers/sex work activists, adult entertainment performers/activists as well as those who oppose/campaign against the ‘sex industry’ from a range of ideological/theoretical/methodological/empirical standpoints.

If you are interested in taking part in this special session please send your title and a 250 word (maximum) abstract to the co-convenors at by no later than 23rd October 2015. Full details on abstract submissions here –

Upcoming Talks and Conferences


I thought I would do a quick post just to highlight a couple of talks I am doing over the next few months.  These are both based on my doctoral research, which examined the impacts of massage parlours on the everyday geographies of residential communities in Blackpool.

  1. Seminar Presentation: Wednesday 17th June – Research in Gender, Language and Sexuality group – County South Seminar Room 2, Lancaster University


“‘Have you seen the state of the prossies?’ Questioning the dirt and disgust rhetoric when evaluating the impacts of sex work on everyday life”.

It is well-documented that sex work is a stigmatised occupation, and, as such, is therefore constructed as problematic for residential communities in many ways. Considered to be contravening heteronormative norms about sex and morality, and attracting a range of criminality and nuisance behaviour (Kantola and Squires 2002; Hubbard et al 2013), it is perhaps no surprise that dirt and disgust discourses are often used to describe prostitution and its impacts on surrounding socio-spatial fabrics. Like dirt (Douglas 1966), prostitution is considered to be a “necessary evil” (Miller 1998) due to its historically-embedded position as one of the oldest occupiers of urban space (Hubbard 2002). It is therefore consistently liminal; never fully included or excluded from society.

As a result, red-light districts represent an exotic “Other” (O’Neill et al 2008; Hubbard 2002) which generate simultaneous feelings of desire and disgust and, consequently, a simultaneous desire to both engage with it and alienate it. Drawing on my ethnographic research with residential communities in close proximity to several massage parlours in Blackpool, this talk will argue that while dirt and disgust rhetoric was very much evident in depictions of the massage parlours by residents, these had a cyclical and fluid nature (Van der Geest 2009). The vehemence in, and type of, language used varied frequently and the lines between desire and disgust also frequently blurred and were (re)made in the socio-spatial fabric. The use of the mundane, everyday lens of the ethnography revealed that this variation, blurredness and fluidity adapted due to the street, the extent to which the parlours were visible and/or ambiguous about the sale of sex, and the norms and orders acting on the participant in question.

  1. Conference Presentation: 15th-16th September 2015  – Policy and Politics Annual Conference – Marriott Royal Hotel, Bristol


Turning a blind eye”?: The politics of sex work (in)tolerance in neo-liberal times 

The global commodification of sex in neo-liberal economies has provoked a range of moral, social and legal responses from a variety of stakeholders/interest groups. Sex work has generally been constructed, materially and discursively, as a major problem within urban areas and for local communities. Whilst sex work itself is a perfectly legal activity within England, those activities that surround it – solicitation, pimping and brothel-keeping – render the legality of sex work as ambiguous. This ambiguity contributes to an inconsistent approach to the regulation of sex work. Relatedly, the liminal notion of tolerance also contributes to this regulatory ambiguity. Some local authorities “turn a blind eye” to sex work, whilst others use “tactics rather than the law” and purification discourses such as “clean-up campaigns” or “clamp-downs” as a means of justifying strategies to regulate sex work. Such tactics and strategies include: raids on, and the closure of, commercial sex premises, often due to claims that sex workers have been trafficked and/or exploited; displacing street-based sex workers from traditional ‘red light districts’; and restricting the visibility of advertising, and limiting licenses and imposing strict operating conditions on Sexual Entertainment Venues (SEVs). Drawing on research into the regulation of massage parlours in Blackpool, this paper will highlight the legal, political and moral tensions that surround sex work. Moreover, it will be shown that the inconsistent regulatory approaches to sex work merely perpetuate moral panics and generate confusion as to its legal and socio-spatial positioning. More crucially, all of this reinforces the stigmatisation that surrounds sex work and commercial sex premises, and increases the vulnerability of sex workers.

I will do some more blog write-ups after the events.  All questions/comments welcome!

Sex Work Research Hub Event. “Emerging Research Findings in Sex Work Studies: Unexplored Terrains: and the Queer Sex Work book launch

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I spent today at the fabulous Sex Work Research Hub event entitled “Emerging Research Findings in Sex Work Studies: Unexplored Terrains” at the University of Leeds. There was a mixture of academics, activists and sex workers in the audience, and the papers were of a range of topics (see the schedule here: The event also included the launch of Queer Sex Work – a book edited by Dr Mary Laing, Dr Katy Pilcher and Dr Nicola Smith: The Sex Work Research Hub brings together a range of academics, research, sex workers and sex worker organisations, and stakeholders to deliver tangible public benefit and impact, and they have a range of events throughout the year:

Here were some of my notes from the papers, for anybody who could not attend but is interested in the discussions.

Dr Teela Sanders (University of Leeds) – On our terms: working conditions amongst Internet-based escorts.

Policy documents have tended to focus on street sex work, avoiding seeing sex work as a diverse and multi-faceted market; this is particularly problematic when we consider that the Internet (which is rarely mentioned in such documents) is an incredibly important and pervasive market, facilitated by computer-mediated communication. Teela acknowledged that academic research is also potentially guilty of this; getting dragged into responding to policy discussions (albeit, which are also essential) and thus we are missing what has been happening to sex work.

The paper then began to discuss some of the findings from a small collaborative project, funded by the Wellcome Trust and conducted in partnership with National Ugly Mugs, with Teela, Laura Connelly and Laura Jarvis-King (both from University of Leeds) as co-researchers. Internet-based sex workers who were registered members (of which 240 responded to the survey) with the National Ugly Mugs (a project founded by the UK Network of Sex Work Projects which provides access to justice and protection for sex workers) were asked questions regarding their job satisfaction, experiences of stigma/isolation, access to support services and police and some other categories.

I have a summary document which I would be happy to share by email (including more information about the demographics and methods), but some of the main messages I took from today are included effectively on the final page of this document. Here is the image:

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Laura Connelly and Alex Feis-Bryce (National Ugly Mugs) – A case for decriminalisation: violence within a complex legal framework.

“Since 1990, there have been151 sex workers murdered in the UK. Social control manifests under the guise of “welfarism””.

Laura and Alex were reporting on a short research project – a collaboration between Leeds University and National Ugly Mugs. A quantitative analysis of 961 crime reports submitted to NUM between July 2012 and 2014 was conducted and the types and characteristics of crimes against sex workers in UK reported to Ugly Mugs were analysed.

A little on the procedures of NUM: an incident happens – a sex worker or an agency reports to NUM. If consent is given, NUM reports the incident anonymously to the police. An alert is then produced, and is sent to all registered sex workers, organisations and projects in that area.  There are about 60-70 incidents a month reported. The majority of reports come from support services, but 17% came from individuals and even fewer from police. The paper highlighted the need to engage independent sex workers in registering with NUM too, so that they can receive alerts even if violent clients have not yet been seen by sex workers.

I didn’t note down all of the figures (although I’m sure they will be happy to discuss/share) but here is what I managed to write: the majority of reports are from street sex workers, with approximately ¼ coming from independent escorts, and relatively few from parlours, unspecified, and agencies. Types of crime that were most prevalent included the various forms of physical violence, with robbery at 20%. Rape was less prevalent but still included significant numbers. 18% of reports to NUM included some form of hate crime – mostly sex-worker related (91%) but also a small % of homophobic, racist and transphobic. 5% reported multiple types of hate crime experienced (ie more than one category listed).

The paper finished by arguing that policies which seek to criminalise sex work in the UK are leaving sex workers vulnerable to violence. Evidence from New Zealand points to decriminalisation being the way forward.   More research needs to be done to engage migrant sex worker experiences, which are currently under-represented, as well as acknowledging the intersectionality of criminality.

Dr Katy Pilcher (Aston University) – Subverting heteronormativity in a lesbian erotic dance venue? Queer moments and heteronormative tensions

Katy’s paper was based on a study of 2 clubs – one, a lesbian erotic dance venue and the other a male strip show and was focused on female audience members. The conceptualisations centred on questioning what “women’s space” means, and explored the potential for customers/dancers to exercise a sexualised “gaze” using a queer/feminist approach. Quotes included that a “power-free sex is impossible” (Doezema 2011) and that heteronormativity doesn’t just exist – we can look for ways for it to be challenged.

Two images were initially put up – one of a dancer dressed in a stereotypical, traditional “housewife” outfit. Female watchers typically found this stereotypical feminine routine un-enjoyable or problematic. The dancer said that the point of the routine is to show how much work goes into constructions of heterofemininity and was almost a parody. The second image was the same dancer dressed as a male host.   She was trying to trouble/play with gender but did it work? The customers didn’t read it this way – they saw this routine as that of a drag king. Customers were unsure how to take this and the paper questioned if anything is transformed/subverted if the gaze does not read it like this?

Yet some women police the bodies of customers who are seen as non-normative or out of place. Transwomen and those perceived to be “fat” bodies were targeted too – the space’s inclusivity was limited to what people perceive to be a sexually desirable bodies. For some audience members, they felt more accepted in these spaces than they would ordinarily – this was particularly evident from heavily tattooed women, who were rejected from other spaces such as the employment market for example.

The paper also examined the politics of looking and touching. Some of the women talked about enjoying watching the dancing. Katy mentioned Murphy’s work, which discusses the male audience member at strip bars being in an impotent position – they can only look rather than touch. In the lesbian erotic dance club, dancers (on their terms) would go into the audience and hug audience members. The performance is therefore more reciprocal – watchers are not always passive.

An interesting point to finish on, and one which complements Sarah Kingston and the project, is that the deputy manager of the club highlighted a key issue through their dialogues about female customers being more sexually passive than men: women are not being taken seriously as customers.

Sarah Kingston (Lancaster University) – The unusual suspects: women who pay for sexual services”.

Sarah’s paper (based on the project) began by complementing Katy’s statement regarding women as consumers of sexual services: they are not taken seriously. There is a general assumption that women do not want to or can’t pay for sex. Funded by the British Academy, the project explores the characteristics of women consumers and motivations for doing so, and how they negotiate safety. The paper was focused on the methods rather than the findings, but an end-of-project event reporting on the findings will occur in January 2016.

The project adopted a pluralistic methodological approach for participant recruitment, including social media analysis (eg Twitter, Tinder, blogs and reddit, websites); direct recruiting (Adultwork and Gayswap, escort directories, Jodie Marsh and TLC channel); opportunity (word of mouth and contacts); press releases in the media, email and postal campaigns, and visitations to swinging sites and clubs. There isn’t an online space for women, such as Punternet, to come together and talk about the experiences of buying sexual services. Sarah acknowledged some of the pitfalls of conducting online analysis/recruitment, as some adverts may be scams or multiple profiles (eg statistics should be read with caution).

The paper reported a multiplicity of reactions to the research – from enthusiasm (eg one participant said it enabled her to feel like she wasn’t doing anything wrong) to hostile (swearing and “I don’t want to participate to further your career”), to propositions (eg :I will see you for free/try it”), to other more random comments.

To date, 30 providers of sexual services have been interviewed and 5 female consumers of sex (target of the project is 10 when completed).   The paper explored some of the challenges faced in recruitment, particularly with the press releases, which included misrepresentation, sometimes a lack of citing the project at all, and invented figures. A common failure was also that the project was not discussed as ongoing, despite very precise press release drafts being geared towards this. However, the success of these releases is that there is a huge appetite for the project, and there have been many follow-up media calls for reports and more Facebook/Twittter hits, and another participant came forward.

If you would like to participate in the project, please contact the researchers. They are still actively recruiting – details can be found here:

Queer Sex Work book launch – edited by Dr Mary Laing )Northumbria University), Dr Nicola Smith (University of Birmingham) and Dr Katy Pilcher (Aston University).

I am very excited to read this book! The launch was an opportunity to meet the editors and to hear a brief summary of its main aims and overall themes. The editors stated that the book brought together contributions from academics, sex workers, practitioners and activists and includes a range of empirical and theoretical work. The authors do not necessarily agree on the term queer and the chapters acknowledge this fluidity within different theorisations and practices associated with sex work. The activism and policy section was particularly highly-praised by audience members. Details can be found here:

The next 3 papers were delivered from chapter contributors:

Allan Tyler (London South Bank University) – “M$M@Gaydar: Queering the Social Network”

Unfortunately, this was when my notes changed to hand-written due to my laptop battery running out of charge. But the paper’s background can be found on Allan’s profile:

The final summary slide included these points:

  • self-produced and self-posted profiles queer the subject/object binary
  • commercial profiles (M$M) co-exist alongside personal profiles (MSM)
  • M$M ads queer the social network landscape
  • Which in turn queer the construct of what it means to sell sex
  • MSM ads have disrupted dominant discourses of spaces used for “sex work” and “massage” (Hubbard & Prior 2013)
  • M$M ads queer modern “gay” spaces by challenging prescribed authenticity in commercially sited sex

I recommend you check out Allan’s work!

Dr Mary Laing (Northumbria University) and Alex Feis-Bryce (National Ugly Mugs) – “Male escorting, safety and National Ugly Mugs: Queering policy and practice on the reporting of crimes against sex workers” (based on the chapter in Queer Sex Work by Bryce, Laing et al)

Again, my notes were limited, but this paper began by outlining the absence of men (and several other voices) in debates around sex work. When men are present in discussions, they are often characterised using problematic constructions such as the deviant client or pimp. Funding for projects also suffers as well as ineffective policies being created based on problematic simplifications and omission of voices.

What was particularly clear from this paper, and from the whole day, was the importance of services like NUM in helping to protect the safety and rights of sex workers. Alex went to outline that there are, however, multiple barriers to reporting incidents and engaging sex workers to sign up. One of the issues, for example, is that often sign-ups occur in response to an incident rather than to receive alerts and stay aware of potentially problematic clients. The paper finished by reaffirming the argument of the speakers for inclusive policy contexts, to try and break down some of the barriers to service provision and support.

Prof. Clarissa Smith (Sunderland University) – “Researching queer audiences of pornography” (based on chapter 18, Smith et al)

The paper began by outlining how porn is conceptualised by some academics, media sources and political voices as a particular type of problem – a destroyer of marriages, as a corruptor of morals, and so on. She labels this a sex panic rather than a moral panic alone. The paper argued more positive or at least less pejorative ways of thinking about porn and was based on research involving an initial survey study (with 5500 responses). As an example of some of the findings, participants highlighted the role of porn as a method of recognition (of different kinds of desires, of particular identities, of a range of body types) and self-reflexivity – the ability to explain what they like and how they can do it , and being confident about their bodies. Participants also outlined experimentation and curiosity as other reasons for watching. The paper therefore went beyond traditional conceptualisations of the spectatorship of pornography; going beyond the often-constructed physiological need to “get off” and providing more layers to this construction of motivation.

Overall, I had a fantastic day. Looking forward to hearing more about all of the wonderful research being done in this area.

Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2015, Chicago


So it is a mere two weeks until the AAG annual meeting in Chicago and I am very excited for the fantastic sessions we have lined up, as well as the meet/tweet ups with several colleagues/friends.  It also just struck me that I was in New York this time last year – hopefully the USA visit is an April tradition I can keep up! 🙂

Paul (@Planographer), Martin (@Zebracki) and I have spent the last few months organising the logistics for our sessions, which are entitled: (De)Sexualisation & (De)Politicisation of Space I-7.  We have a diverse range of speakers including early career and established academics, researchers, sex workers and journalists.   Here is the line up (click the links for the abstract details):


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space I: Methodological Frontiers (Thursday 23rd April) http://

*Robyn Longhurst, PhD – University of Waikato – Skype Sex, Love and Romance

*Danielle Antoinette Hidalgo, PhD – Montana State University – Virtual Spaces of Possibility in the Classroom: Teaching Porn, Sex Work and Sexuality in Unlikely Spaces

*Olga Castro – Aston University, Birmingham – Sex in the Media: A Discourse Analysis of Prostitution Ads in the Spanish Press

*Andrew Fogg – Hot spots! Geographic distribution of sex workers and the contribution that sex work/prostitution makes to the UK economy.


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space II: Insider/Outsider Perspectives (Friday 24th April)

Christina Parreira, M.A. – University of Nevada, Las Vegas – Auto-Ethnographic Reflections on Selling Sex in the Nevada Desert 

*Lucy Neville, PhD – Middlesex University – ‘I don’t want to be presented as some sort of freak-show… but you’re ‘one of us”: Researching women’s engagement with gay male erotica from within the community

Amy E. Ritterbusch, PhD – Universidad de los Andes – “My Life in Four Blocks”: The Geopolitics of Transgender Sex Work in Colombia

Tessa Wills – CHARGE: Economies of Desire In The Performance Practice of Tessa Wills


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space III: Sex Work(er) Markets and Mobilities (Friday 24th April)

*Ari Bass, JD – From Frisco to Vegas: The Economic Geography of the American Commercial Pornosphere

*Trevon D. Logan – The Ohio State University – Men on the Move: The Traveling Patterns Of Male Sex Workers In The U.S.

*Kristien Lieve Gillis – University of Antwerp – The economic organization of street prostitution in the Alhambra area in Brussels

*Nick Skilton – University of Wollongong – Mining and Sex Work: Recentring the margins of unequal labour laws.


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space IV: Queerying Sex Work, Sexuality and Public Spaces (Friday 24th April)

*Chen David Misgav – Tel-Aviv University – Gay-Riatric: Spatial Politics and Activism of Elderly Gay Men in Tel-Aviv Gay Center

*Martin Zebracki – University of Leeds, United Kingdom – Virtually Mediated Encounters with ‘Pornographic’ Public Art

Victor Minichiello, PhD – La Trobe University; John Scott, PhD – Queensland University of Technology; Denton Callander, PhD – University of New South Wales – Men who sell sex (and risk) online: Using the Internet to examine the sexual practices of male escorts

Michal Pitonak – Charles University in Prague – Four years of Prague Pride: a celebration, political march or something else?


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space V: Governance and Regulation of Sex Work (Saturday 24th April)

*Laura Graham – Durham University – Governing Sex Work Through Crime

*Derek Eysenbach – Sonoma State University – From Streetwalkers to Slaves: Prostitution Discourse and Regulation in Sonoma County, CA

*Emily Cooper, Ph.D – Northumbria University – Cohesion, codes and cosmic ordering: understanding community impact when researching and regulating spaces of sex work

*Lynn Comella, Ph.D. – University of Nevada – Las Vegas – Geographies of Porn: Public Policies and Industrial Practices


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space VI: Consuming/Producing/Regulating Sexualised Spaces (Saturday 24th April)

*Katie Hail-Jares – Georgetown University – Meeting the New Neighbors: Trans- Identity, Sex Work, and Gentrification in the Nation’s Capital

Curtis Winkle – University of Illinois at Chicago – The Dynamics Gay Commercial Districts and Their Regulation, Chicago 1920-2010

*Ingrid Olson, PhD Candidate – University of British Columbia – The Hermeneutics of the Dungeon


(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space VII: The (Im)Moral Landscapes of Sex Work (Saturday 24th April)

*Erin Sanders-McDonagh – Middlesex University – Women’s Consumption of Live Sex: Understanding Public Sex Performance in Thailand and the Netherlands

*Paul J. Maginn, Assoc. Prof – University of Western Australia; Graham Ellison, Dr – Queen’s University of Belfast – Who needs evidence when you have blind faith on your side? The ethno-religious and gendered politics of sex work/prostitution in Northern Ireland

*Serpent Libertine, Community Organizer, Activist – SWOP-Chicago, Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) – Displaced: The Role of Moral Panics in the Destruction of Sex Worker Spaces

*Melissa Gira Grant – Journalist – w4m: The End of the American Red Light District _________________________________________________________________________________________________

Paul was also recently interviewed by Dan Miller at about the sessions, which can be found here: We will aim to try and be as inclusive as possible with the dissemination of the discussions, using Twitter and social media alongside seeking several publication outlets. Many of the speakers are on Twitter also if anybody wishes to connect with them before the conference.

If you are coming along to the AAG, we do hope that you will check out our sessions! I look forward to many discussions (and beers).  We will have a sub-conference hashtag, so alongside the #AAG2015, follow #geogsex15.

My First Academic Interview


Having a not-so-successful #acwri day today, so thought it was the perfect opportunity to catch up on my blog writing! I have recently taken up a Lecturer position in Human Geography (January 2015). After being at Lancaster University for 8 ½ years, this was a massive change for me, and so I thought I would write a little about my first academic interview experience. Many scholars that I follow (eg @ThomsonPat and @Nadine_Muller) have similar posts and I definitely think that the more stories are out there, the better – I find these very helpful. After my PhD, I took on the position of Senior Teaching Associate at Lancaster, which was a teaching-only contract. As my contract was coming to an end a few months later, I decided to try for some lectureships towards the latter end of 2014. After an unsuccessful attempt, I got some feedback on my application from the institution in question (which stated I had mainly tailored my application to one of the departments sharing the lectureship – Social Policy – rather than both SP and Sociology) and from some very helpful colleagues/peers at Lancaster.   We had a system at Lancaster where staff and PhD students would read a piece of “Writing in Progress”- whether this was a grant application, a paper, a presentation or an application etc and provide tips/feedback in a subsequent seminar. This I found very useful (and reassuring – that even very experienced academics suffer from sometimes very similar insecurities), and thankfully this sort of peer support seems to be quite common. If your department doesn’t do this, introduce it! You will probably find several colleagues will be on the same page in wanting this.

The Application Process

The application process itself consisted of a CV and a cover letter – the latter of which didn’t have any specific guidance for focus, but I tried to tailor this to the job description and person specification. I highlighted in bold the teaching responsibilities/experience I had that were suitable for their Geography degree schemes (after some research about the department). As there were no statement questions to answer alongside these two parts, I did a 2-page cover letter. This included the following sections:

    • A brief overview section, starting with what my current position is, a line or two about my general research background, and a line or two about my general teaching ethos.  I then stated that I hope to demonstrate how my skills and experience would be suitable for the role”
    • A research background section, making links between my doctoral research experience and their departmental research interests/projects/desires for future direction
    • A section outlining what I am doing next, including reference to collaborative projects, my experience in organisations outside of academia and subsequent impact
    • 2 or 3 paragraphs outlining my teaching experience – including module convening roles and some detail (such as approximate numbers of students).  Although I had not yet supervised doctoral students, I also discussed my experience in peer support/social writing sessions and thus stated that I felt “confident in attracting and supporting potential doctoral students”
    • I finished the teaching section with another paragraph outlining my general teaching ethos and commitment to improving my teaching skills – such as voluntarily completing the Certificate in Academic Practice course, consistently engaging in reflective practice, and my experience in digital teaching environments
    • Finally, a summary section including reference to my commitment to Geography as a discipline and why I feel research and teaching in this field is important – I also included reference to my voluntary involvement in open days and outreach activities because of this commitment to the discipline.  Therefore, my final line was that I would “hopefully contribute to research impact, teaching excellence and effective outreach capabilities”.  I then finished with a quite-often-suggested final line: “I would very much like the opportunity to discuss my experiences further with you at interview.  I look forward to hearing from you”.

A few days later, I was lucky enough to be offered an interview. I remember I was in the middle of running 3 back-to-back training sessions about reflective practice and took a few minutes in between the final two to check my emails. I (rather embarrassingly!) went outside to do a little victory lap of the building to calm down!

The Interview Process

I was especially apprehensive about the 2 day “academic interview”, which I had never experienced before – my previous roles at Lancaster had started out as covering maternity etc and just kept getting extended, so I had never experienced an official interview for these. Although tiring, the 2 day length enabled me to also experience the city, and get to know the other staff members in the department in a more informal setting. The email explaining the itinerary said that the following would be included: Day 1: Presentation, Tour, Q and A Session, and an Evening Meal Day 2: Panel Interview The presentation outline provided was the following: a 15 minute presentation in PowerPoint entitled “My current research and potential contribution to research and teaching activities” in the department.


Anybody interested would be very welcome to see the original slides. But here were some of the tips I received, or suggest myself:

  • For research, rather like the cover letter, include past (in my case doctoral research), present and future projects/interests.  Discuss findings and impact of doctoral research
  • Include how your expertise specifically complements – and contributes/enhances – that of individuals/research groups in the department.  I had sub-headings that summarised my experience, skills or potential contribution, such as: “Expertise in community cohesion/engagement and socio-spatial impacts of crime/deviance” with names of potential colleagues/projects underneath that this expertise would be useful for. An example of a skills-based sub-heading was: “Keen to promote a variety of dissemination methods and engage in research community activities”. This means that if the audience has switched off a little, at least your sub-headings clearly state why/how you would contribute to the department.
  • A section on your general teaching ethos (rather like my cover letter section outlined above) and teaching experience, but specifically state what courses you could contribute to, and why/how. Sub-headings were discussing my teaching experience (and student numbers), and points underneath were the courses present on their degree schemes. Eg:

Lecturer in Development Geographies (~145) (My experience) –>Core The Geography of Development and core Social Geographies (Course I could contribute to)

  • I then finished with “I hope that has given you an insight into how I feel my teaching and research experience would contribute to the department. Whether I am successful or unsuccessful, here are my contact details if anybody would like to get in touch (I included my email, twitter handle and blog). Does anybody have any questions?”
  • I practised a few times also – usually borrowing a seminar room at my old institution, and in front of a range of people including lecturers, PhDs, my husband and friends.  This gave me confidence about the timing and made my presentation more conversational

This, I felt, went fairly well and I was asked a couple of questions afterwards. These mainly related to what experience I had outside of academia (external organisations for example), and how I would/have dealt with potentially inappropriate comments during seminar sessions (such as sexist etc). After this, we (I was interviewed with 3 others) were taken on a tour of campus by two staff members not involved in the interview process, before returning for our Q and A session. The Q and A session was an informal chat about teaching experience and I had the opportunity to ask questions about teaching practices in the department. One of my questions was the extent to which PhD students get involved in teaching, and another was if the two teachers in front of me enjoyed teaching there. The evening meal was attended by all of the candidates and some other staff members in the department. Although it was difficult to know what to expect, this was a fantastic opportunity to just get to know the other staff in an informal way and did not feel at all like another part of the interview. I stuck with only the one glass of wine of course!

Panel Interview

Prior to arriving, I had conducted all of the typical suggested preparation for such as interview. This included:

  • Looking at their website, investigating: departmental degree schemes, Faculty research groups, general University teaching and research ethos, news stories about University research/teaching achievements, and so on
  • Reading papers written by academics in the department and making links between that of my own work – so I had specific examples to refer to
  • Summarising my own research contributions, impact, and reading through the conclusions of my thesis and recent papers.  Also re-familiarising myself with “what’s next?” for my research
  • Jotting down examples of my teaching experience that I could talk about in competence-based questions e.g. monumental moments with students, favourite module, proudest achievement, how I have changed a module, engaging students
  • Reading and writing responses to practise questions on sites such as:

  • Chatting to other colleagues about their experiences, and getting feedback on my presentation
  • One of my friends also organised a mock interview for her first academic application – I did not do this, but she found it extremely helpful for nerves

On the morning of the interview, I had a bit of time in the morning to go over my responses but I took care not to overdo it and just skim-read. The interview itself had four panel members and each introduced themselves and stated which question theme they would focus on – e.g. general HR queries, research-related and teaching-related questions. Here are some examples of questions I was asked (not necessarily in the order they are in, and not worded exactly):

  • The first question was “why do you want the job?” Upon advice from one of the websites, I had prepared an answer that was succinct, outlining 3 main reasons.  These were based on the research in the department, their teaching and general teaching ethos, and finally the direction of the Faculty/University (and I liked the city after the two-day interview)
  • How would you explain your research to a lay person?
  • What would you say your best paper is/the paper you are most proud of?
  • You mention some projects-in-progress in your submitted information – which of these is your next comprehensive project (and why)?
  • Where would you target funding applications for this project (and why)?
  • We do a lot of group work in the department – how would you potentially manage difficulties in group dynamics?
  • Could you give an example of managing deadlines and prioritising workloads?
  • Can you give an example of your proudest achievement from your teaching experience?
  • What would you say are the main issues surrounding Human Geography today?

I was then given the opportunity to ask any questions that I had, and I was especially curious to find out what the research group environment was like, and if there were any social writing events or reading groups in the department. I also asked about training opportunities. I definitely went into the interview process thinking that, whatever happened, this would be invaluable experience- and it was! I hope that this was helpful to anyone potentially experiencing an interview soon. I would be happy to elaborate on any of the above.