AAG2018 – Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work: Myths, Imaginaries and Realities, 10-14 April 2018


I’m delighted to announce the two special sessions we (Paul Maginn and Erin Sanders-McDonagh) have coming up at the American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting, taking place in New Orleans between 10-14 April and sponsored by the Sexuality and Space Specialty Group (see other sessions sponsored by them here).

We have been running these #Geosex sessions for the last 4 years and have welcomed a range of early, mid and established career academics, sex workers and practitioners discussing research about sex work, sex and sexuality from several disciplines.  One of the excellent aspects of the AAG is its multidisciplinary focus and this year’s list of speakers is no different! Find details below:

Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work: Myths, Imaginaries and Realities #1 – April 13th 1:20 PM – 3:00 PM in the Borgne Room, Sheraton, 3rd Floor

Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work: Myths, Imaginaries and Realities #2 – April 13th 3:20 PM – 5:00 PM in the Borgne Room, Sheraton, 3rd Floor

I sadly will not be attending this year as I am on maternity leave, but we will all be tweeting from the sessions using the conference hashtags: #geosex18 and #aag2018. We hope to see you there, either in person or virtually!


CFP #AAG2018. ‘Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work: Myths, Imaginaries and Realities’. New Orleans, April 10-14 2018



Paul Maginn, Erin Sanders-Mcdonagh and I are pleased to announce the call for papers for this year’s American Association of Geographers Conference in New Orleans in April next year (see more details here: http://www.aag.org/cs/events/event_detail?eventId=1258 ).  Although a geography conference, it is a very interdisciplinary event and we welcome submissions of abstracts from all perspectives on sex, sexuality and sex work.  We have run special sessions on these themes for the last few years at this conference and it is always a really engaging and enjoyable event.  We have also been fortunate in the past to secure some contributory funding for sex workers to attend and present from the conference enrichment fund, and would endeavour to do so again.

Do get in touch if you would like some clarification before submitting something.  The deadline is 16th October to submit an abstract.






Geographies of Sex, Sexuality and Sex Work:

Myths, Imaginaries and Realities

In the past decade questions about sex, sexuality and sex work have come to dominate media, political and social debates. These debates have seen the tectonic plates of ‘conservatism’ and ‘liberalism’ collide and sheer against one another. There is considerable variation in the dynamics of such relations across national and international boundaries. In the predominantly Catholic country of Ireland, for example, a referendum on marriage equality saw the LGBTQ community granted the same rights as heterosexual couples. In Northern Ireland (NI), however, the Protestant-dominated local Assembly has thus far steadfastly refused to pass legislation on marriage equality five times. The failure to pass this legislation has been due largely to opposition from the largest political party in NI –the Democratic Unionist Party – who has effectively vetoed the issue each time it has to a vote. And, in Australia the current Liberal Government has prevaricated on the issue of marriage equality by agreeing to hold a non-binding postal plebiscite on the issue rather than letting the Parliament decide on the issue.

On the matter of sex work, some nations – e.g. Canada, France, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – have recently introduced legislation that criminalises the purchase of commercial sex services in the name of protecting (female) sex workers and victims of human trafficking. This legislation was introduced in these jurisdictions following major campaigning by conservative politicians, religious organisations, NGOs and radical feminist organisations often working together. Relatedly, other state actors have sought to prohibit access to pornography by framing the consumption of adult entertainment as an issue that affects social and mental well-being. For example, participants at the 2016 Republican National Convention in the USA suggested that viewing pornography constituted a ‘public health crisis’. In the UK the government has recently sought to introduce age verification mechanisms and regulations in order to prevent people from viewing particular sexual acts online.

All the while, the consumption of online (heteronormative) pornography continues to grow year-on-year as data from one of the world’s largest free porn websites reveals each year. There is relatively little publicly available data on the consumption of non-heteronormative types of porn, although anecdotal evidence points to significant growth in “feminist-porn and alt-porn”. Camming has also becoming an increasingly popular mode of adult entertainment, with an estimated 20,000 performers online in the US at any given time. Even professional adult performers now engage in cam-work (and other forms of adult entertainment such as stripping and feature dancing) as a means of generating supplementary income due to the de-industrialisation of the porn industry in the wake of free online porn hosting sites. New and improved technologies have therefore created alternative possibilities for sex work landscapes.

Sexual and gender identity have also been the focus of much heated debate, especially in the last 5 years as debates about transgenderism have become more prominent. The increasing visibility/audibility of transgender people and issues related to trans rights have, in some cases, resulted in moral panics about trans people being in public spaces and using public facilities, especially toilets. Ultimately, trans folk have endured stigma and stereotypes because of their gendered/sexual identities and have been subject to discrimination and a denial of their human rights.

Advances in digital technology and the ‘app-ification’ of smart phones have had a profound impact on the socio-spatial dynamics of human sexuality and commericalised forms of sexual services. The emergence of dating websites, online escort agencies and personal ad sites, hook-up apps and web-camming for personal and commercial purposes have enhanced the opportunity for direct and indirect intimate and risqué experiences. Similarly, the rise of virtual reality, smart sex toys and sex robots have raised various questions about the future direction of human, gender and sexual relations.

In light of the highly complex and dynamic sexual landscapes that characterize the 21st century, this special session – #GeoSex18 – calls for papers that offer critical analyses on a range of myths, imaginaries and realities pertaining to sex, sexuality and sex work that speak to one or more of the following broad topics:

  • Community, diversity and mobility within the sex industry;
  • Community, diversity and mobility within the LGBT community;
  • Gender/sexual identities and fluidities;
  • Sexual dissidents, activism and advocacy;
  • Human trafficking/migrant sex workers;
  • Human and labour rights in sex work;
  • Gentrification and its impacts on queer spaces/red light districts;
  • Health and wellbeing amongst sexual minorities;
  • Stigma/stereotypes/social exclusion of sexual minorities and the sex industry;
  • Crime/violence towards sexual minorities and sex workers;
  • Production/distribution/consumption of pornography/adult entertainment;
  • Geographies of swinging/dogging/cruising;
  • Digital geographies of sex, sexuality and sex work;
  • Virtual reality, sexbots and human sexual relations;
  • Stigma and social exclusion of/in the sex industry;
  • Policing, criminal justice and sexed spaces;
  • Labour rights, health and safety issues within the sex industry;
  • Policy, politics and regulation of sexual landscapes;
  • Reproductive rights;
  • Liminal spaces/stigmatisation of sexuality, sex work and the sex industry;
  • BDSM/Kink/fetish spaces/communities; and
  • Censorship and sexualisation.

The #GeoSex18 special session series welcomes abstracts/papers from scholars, policy researchers within government agencies, consultancies, NGOs and sex work advocacy/support organisations and research-minded sex work activists from a range of disciplines and ideological/theoretical/methodological/empirical standpoints. If you are interested in taking part in this special session please send your abstract including: (i) paper title; (ii) author(s); (iii) institutional affiliation(s); (iv) email addresses; (v) a 250 word (maximum) abstract; and (vi) 5 key words to the co-convenors at GeoSex16@gmail.com by no later than 16th October 2017.


 Dr Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia (Australia)

Dr. Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire (UK)

Dr. Erin Sanders-McDonagh, University of Kent (UK)


Erin also has a new book out this year, entitled Women And Sex Tourism Landscapes, published by Routledge, which may be of interest to potential presenters!   You can view the details here: https://www.routledge.com/Women-and-Sex-Tourism-Landscapes/Sanders-McDonagh/p/book/9781138814547 .



#AAG2017 – (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance (Boston, USA)


We (Paul Maginn and Erin Sanders-McDonagh) are pleased to announce our special session at this year’s AAG annual meeting, which is part of the Mainstreaming Human Rights in Geography and the AAG featured theme and also sponsored by the Sexuality and Space Specialty Group.  Please find below the session details and paper titles but I am also taking this opportunity to promote the fantastic new book by Erin: Women and Sex Tourism Landscapes (published by Routledge) which compares female tourists’ interactions in highly sexualised spaces in Thailand and the Netherlands.   Feel free to ask Erin about this during our sessions!


1606.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance I: Porn, Pleasure & Performance (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Wednesday April 5th, 4:40 pm – 6:20 pm

ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia

4:40  Gemma Commane, Dr*, Birmingham City University, Kinktrepreneurship and social media: debates, rights and female subjectivity.
5:05  Joanne Bowring*, Liverpool John Moores University, Stigma in the UK Adult Film Industry.
5:30  Jennifer Heineman, PhD*, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Performing the Whore, Performing the Academic.
5:55  Emily Meyer, Esq.*, University of Cincinnati, The Cam Model: Kinship, Community, and Intimacy.


2106.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance II: 2. Rights, Wrongs and Regulations (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Thursday April 6th, 8:00 am – 9:40 am

ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire

8:00  Laura Graham*, Durham University, The Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry on Prostitution: Is the time ripe for a Human Rights based approach to sex work?
8:25  Emilia Ljungberg*, Karlstad University, The smiling face of the emotional state.
8:50  Elena Shih*, Brown University; Christine Shio Lim, Brown University; Jordan Rubin-McGregor, Brown University; Imani Herring, Brown University, Building a Movement Against Sex Work in Rhode Island: Anti-Trafficking and Academic Industrial Complexes.
9:15  Billie M Lister, Doctor*, Leeds Beckett University, Time for change? : Indoor sex workers experiences of working under quasi-criminalisation in England and Wales and their ideas for legislative change.


2206.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance III: 3. Governance, Policing and Design (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

Thursday April 6th, 10:00 am – 11:40 am

ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Gemma Commane, Birmingham City University

10:00  Nicole Kalms*, Monash University, Sex Shop / Pole Dance / Street Work: Heteronormative Architectures of the Neoliberal City.

10:25  Erin Sanders-McDonagh*, University of Kent, Pushing sex work to the margins: The sanitization of Red Light Districts in Amsterdam and London.

10:50  Paul J. Maginn*, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire, On-street, Off-street, And Online: The Dynamic Liminalities Of Sex Work.

11:15  Alison Better*, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY, Constructing Space and Community for Sexual and Gender Exploration at Sex Toy Boutiques


2406.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance IV: 4. Production, Consumption and Reflection (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session)

ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire

Thursday April 6th, 1:20 pm – 3:00 pm

1:20  Yo-Hsin Yang*, Negotiating/resisting stigma of sexscapes: gay men’s sex moral performances on tour.

1:40  Victor Trofimov*, European University Viadrina, From commercial sex to homonormativity: changing landscape of male street sex work in Berlin.

2:00  Katharine Parker*, Northumbria University, Public Sex Environments in Contemporary Sexscapes: A Case Study from North East England.

2:20  Nick McGlynn*, University of Brighton, Too Fat, Too Thin, Just Right?: Stigmatised Bodies in Bear Spaces.

2:40  Philip Birch*, Western Sydney University, Prostitution and Procuring Sexual Services: Why men buy sex .

____________________________________________________________________________________________2506.   (De)Stigmatising Sexscapes: Politics, Policy and Performance V: 5. Mobilities, Immobilities and Boundaries (Sponsored by Sexuality and Space Specialty Group)
Room: Room 107, Hynes, Plaza Level  (Paper Session) 

Thursday April 6th, 3:20 pm – 5:00 pm

ORGANIZER(S): Paul J. Maginn, University of Western Australia; Emily Cooper, University of Central Lancashire; Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University
CHAIR(S): Erin Sanders-McDonagh, Middlesex University

3:20  Rachel Wotton*, Sex workers who provide services to clients with disability.

3:45  Alison J. Lynch, J.D., M.A.*, Associate Instructor, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates, Sexuality, Disability and the Law: Beyond the Last Frontier?

4:10  Bella Robinson*, CoyoteRI; Elena Shih, Brown University, Policing Modern Day Slavery: Sex Work and the Carceral State in Rhode Island.

4:35  Laura Connelly, Dr*, University of Salford, Caring for and controlling the subaltern body: Politics, policy and practice within a rescue industry.


I will be hopefully writing up a blog post after the sessions as usual for those who cannot make it.  Please follow the hashtag #geosex17 and #aag2017 for live tweets!

Sex in the City: Reactionism, Resistance and Revolt – AAG #Geosex16 sessions in San Francisco (March/April 2016) **POST 3/5 – SESSION III**

 III – Otherness, Transgression & Normalisation

Emilia Ljungberg (@emljungberg) (Karlstad University): “Distinction, fluidity and discretion in the striving toward respectability for high class sex workers”

Emilia’s paper draws on her research about Ohlala – a locative media app (first launched in 2015 in Berlin) that aims to connect clients and sex workers based on proximity. She discussed that the Ohlala website presents sex work as “paid dating” while simultaneously emphasizing the monetary transaction.  Emilia argued “that class distinction, fluidity and discretion are used as representational strategies by sex workers and sex businesses that define themselves as upscale and that strive toward respectability”.  The app is presented as being similar to other trendy tech start-ups and the website relies heavily on the aesthetics of middle-class lifestyle media. Emilia’s paper explored how classed spaces and places (both virtual and physical) are used in the representational practices of what Bernstein calls ‘sex work for the middle-classes’ (2007)

How the app works: Only women can sell dates and only men can buy.  Men post a date request, suggesting a place and price.  Women can see the date requests and, if interested, the men can see their profiles and then chat.  Then they decide on a date.  Requests are only visible for up to 21 mins.

Emilia argued that the “use of such apps aims to create social acceptance by positioning app in hook-up culture and actual escort services”; thus “exploiting the grey zone and blurring several lines”.  Paid dating is a “slippery concept, presenting SW as remunerated non-work (and thus a way of making it invisible)”.  Paid dating is then both work (= providing a service, ideally on demand and instant) and non-work (dating = a leisure activity).  Ohlala, she argues, also refers to a service that is highly mobile and on demand; part of an urban lifestyle.  In dating, both parties are seen as doing the same thing.  “The blurring of roles implied in paid dating should be understood as a feature of the sharing economy, in which producers and service workers are represented as ordinary people rather than buyers/sellers”.

Emilia also drew attention to the fact that, interestingly, the owner of the app is herself very visible as a tech entrepreneur, presenting herself as a rebel, broken free from conformity from her job as an investment banker, often in arenas such as conferences, that aren’t open for more traditional sex businesses. The idea of fluidity, Emilia argues, is something the owner is constantly making use of to make the app respectable. The app states ‘this is not for escorts’ and that what she’s created is a service seen by mainstream society as respectable, “by taking work and sex out of sex work”.  This is the “reinforcement of a society that is both fascinated and repulsed by sex work”.  Instead of challenging stigma, Emilia stated, she makes a business out of reinforcing it.  She finished by saying that “the stigma attached to sex work should not be understood in terms of historically remaining, not just an unfortunate remnant of traditional morals – but it should be challenged”.

Erin Sanders-McDonagh (@erinsandersmcd) (Middlesex University): “Mapping transgression/gentrification: Lights of Soho”.

Erin initially outlined the aims of the recently formed interdisciplinary collective seeking to document and map marginal or transgressive urban spaces (the work of which this paper is based on). The project focuses on mapping London’s Soho, using multisensory approaches and with a particular interdisciplinary methodology that the collective has developed. The collective is hoping to understand how current neo-liberal market forces are changing Soho, and what impact this is having both on a Soho as a physical geographically-bound place, but also as a social and cultural space.

Erin began by outlining the socio-economic context of the study area. Soho is centrally located and has always been seen as a transgressive area (Walkowitz 2012).  Erin stated that the gentrification in Soho in recent years has been ‘one place, top-down gentrification’, whereas with the neighbouring Shoreditch this was an organic process.  This has been neither slow nor organic in Soho.  The majority of this, Erin explains, has been single-handedly influenced by one organisation (Soho Estates).  The police are quite happy to work with Soho Estates and, in 2013, there were raids on sex worker flats in Soho where sex workers were brought out into streets into underwear, arrested and taken away. They then had to go to court to reclaim their work spaces.  Porn shops have been particularly at risk from such tactics.  Erin outlined that opposition has ensued – for example groups such as Save Soho argue that ‘the changes are being made without proper consultation with residents/local businesses’.  Processes are, Erin argues, intensely neo-liberal and hyper-capitalist.  Businesses such as cafes have been taking over the spaces.  Rents are “hyped up in certain businesses (eg sex businesses) so that they can’t afford them in order to get rid of who they want”.  Those sex businesses that remain – e.g.  The Box, a burlesque venue – only cater for the very elite, niche of people.  Erin said that prices of such venues included around £1000 for a table with minimum requirement purchases.  Any such venues, she stated, are also stripped of any real transgression, making it vanilla”.  Erin labels this a ‘sexy Disneyland for people who want a little bit of titillation…but not too much’. 

Erin then moved on to present one of the sensory maps – of neon lights in Soho.  “As in other red light districts in other cities, neon lights are a distinctive aesthetic feature and emblematic of red light districts”. While some argue that neon lights are empty signifiers of projected fantasies and desires, the collective maintains that they have particular significance for Soho and reveal a critical aspect of gentrification processes.  Erin outlined how many of the older shops/venues (particularly sex shops) use neon, but newer venues (restaurants and bars) use the same neon ironically and hipster-like, creating a juxtaposition that is literally illuminated.  Hipster cafes, she argues, are happy that the sex workers are going as it makes the area cleaner, but are also equally happy to utilise the symbols of sex work.  Indeed, a new exhibit called Lights of Soho has revealed the contentiousness of lights in this space.  Erin finished by drawing attention to a couple of examples of such venues that have kept the ‘nod’ to the sex work history, but also warned of the differential exclusion that such gentrification processes creates; often excluding those who have historically occupied a huge part of the social fabric of the area.

Ingrid Olson (University of British Columbia): “Abduction in the Public Sphere: Sadomasochism, Surveillance, & Governmentality **Notes taken were limited in this paper due to a chairing duty**

Several years ago, a negotiated, consensual abduction scenario took place in downtown Toronto which formulated the focus of Ingrid’s paper. Ingrid outlined the differing reactions of the public, with some citizens having stopped, observed, and considered using their cellular phones. The scenario endured a lengthy pause for consultation and explanation with bystanders troubled by what they interpreted as potentially criminal behaviour. This response, Ingrid argued, could be understood as policing non­normative sexualities in public space (Watney 1987) and raised interesting questions about the movement of kink from the S and M dungeon to the public sphere. and what the limitations of sexual conduct are in the public sphere (Habermas 1992). As Ingrid outlined, in the 21st century there has been a “mainstreaming” (Weiss 2006; Wilkinson 2009) of kink. Yet, there remain limitations of public tolerance (Brown 2006; Fagelson 2002) for S/m as sexual “counter­conduct” (Foucault 2007). More from the abstract: “Sexuality has become a strategic dispositif: an apparatus (Foucault 1980, p. 218). In “The Confession of the Flesh,” Foucault describes an apparatus as a “certain manipulation of relations of forces, either developing them in a particular direction, blocking them, stabilising them, utilising them, etc.” (Foucault 1980, p. 196). Unlike a dedicated S/m space, an abduction scenario, as an apparatus, eludes surveillance and “remains invisible until it explodes” (Foucault 2003, p. 215), Public S/m can be a counterpublic (Halberstam 2005) that is “legible only to the intimately initiated” (Warner 2005, p. 183). Sadomasochism, as perversion, pushes sexual boundaries (Bauer 2014), and lies outside the demarcation of sexual citizenship (Cossman 2007; Evans 1993). This paper positions the “schemas of obedience” (Foucault 2007, p. 211) to the private/public sexual divide (Delany 1999) alongside the resistant sexualities of S/m practitioners in the public sphere.”


Moriah McSharry McGrath, PhD, MPH, MSUP (Pacific University): “From sites of vice to sites of redemption: Community-led redevelopment of strip club sites in Portland, Oregon

Moriah’s paper discussed community-led redevelopment of strip club sites in Portland, Oregon; the aims of which she aptly described as the transition from “sites of vice to sites of redemption”.  She drew on case studies within Portland whereby, through community organizing strategies and creative financing mechanisms, community groups have purchased some of the city’s many strip club sites with the intention of opening social service and recreation facilities.

Sexually oriented businesses (SOBs), she explained, have historically been viewed as locally unwanted land uses, sites of vice whose siting or operation often provokes conflict.  However, Moriah outlined that recent work on relationships between strip clubs and neighbors in the politically liberal context of Portland, Oregon (where there are over 50 strip clubs), found that in the absence of land use regulation, neighborhoods can develop a grudging tolerance or occasionally a symbiotic relationship with this type of SOB.  In other words, she argued that neighbourhoods have more complicated relationships with sex work businesses than common political discourses might suggest – something that really resonated with my own work on brothels in Blackpool, UK!  She also discussed how regulations that treat sex work businesses differently than non-sex work businesses cannot be placed here, including no zoning regulations.  Nonetheless, such development strategies, as she outlines, “are underpinned by involvement from the local government and civil society and therefore the approach can be comparable to more typical patterns of SOB management, such as the moral crusade, policy-induced gentrification, and spatial segregation”.  Moriah then drew from some case studies to highlight and critique the narratives and motivations of transformation and redemption, and processes of inclusion/exclusion.  Here are a couple with some notes:

Soobie’s strip club – now Shepherd’s Gate Church.  As an SOB, it was known for frequent visits from police.  Signs were put up once the building was bought to let the neighbours know that things were changing. Events included worships and pony rides for the kids.  Moriah argued this a great metaphor for the faith – “the same bricks and mortar on the outside but totally different on the inside”.

Black Cauldron – now a family shelter.  Was originally a goth, pagan, vegan venue. This was renovated into a family home –  a shelter for 130 people.  The County Commissioner, involved in social services, said that if the alternative is a strip club instead of a homeless shelter then this is a good thing. One quote: “turning a situation from vice to nice”. 

Sugar shack – part of a strip mall of SOBS, with lots of calls for police services.  The neighbourhood wanted to buy it and campaigned for it, asking for redevelopment funds, with the adverts for such requests often featuring signs held by kids asking to buy it.  The campaign was successful and on Martin Luther King day, people worked on remodelling the strip club.  Moriah outlined two discourses: that the neighbourhood should be better, this is yucky; and second, the development angle: we (the community) want amenities and other services.

From such examples, Moriah questioned who is behind/benefiting from this, outlining that stakeholders differentially benefit.  The Sugar Shack had the most different, multiple government organisations involved – the investment firm supported the loan, and property owners walked away with $2.5mill. It since emerged that an investigation into trafficking, drugs, and prostitution was ongoing and the federal government probably would have seized this if they didn’t sell to the community.  Moriah argued that in some ways, these examples flip the script in terms of opposition to strip club – not following the typical nimbyism. But, at the same time, the government is giving money to get rid of such establishments, and perpetuating the invisibility of people working/customers in the process.  So, she questioned, is this a voluntary redevelopment, or a dynamic equilibrium of sex premises from this possible organic redevelopment?

CFP: Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting 2015 – (De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space: Spatialisation, Politicisation and Regulation of Sex, Sexuality, Sex Work & Pornography


I am very pleased to announce our call for papers for the AAG annual meeting 2015 (Chicago).

2015 Annual Meeting

Association of American Geographers (AAG) Chicago, April 21-25, 2015

Special Session – Call for Papers

(De)Sexualisation & (De)Pornification of Space: Spatialisation, Politicisation and Regulation of Sex, Sexuality, Sex Work & Pornography

Paul J. Maginn (The University of Western Australia, Australia), Emily Cooper (Lancaster University, UK) & Martin Zebracki (University of Leeds, UK)

This special session, which is sponsored by the Sexuality and Space Speciality Group of the AAG, invites abstracts/papers from contributors – academics, policymakers, sex workers and ‘sex industry’ advocates – conducting research focusing on the spatial, social, political, cultural, economic and regulatory contours surrounding sexuality, sex work and pornography.

Attwood et al (2013:1) have recently noted that ‘[o]ne of the key concerns within the wider anxiety about sexualization is that deviant, or abnormal, forms of sexuality and sexual practice are becoming “normalized”’. This echoes concerns about the mainstreaming of various forms of commercial sex; most notably, sex work/prostitution and pornography which can be found in a variety of physical and virtual spaces (Minichiello and Scott; 2014; McNair, 2012; Brents and Sanders, 2010; McNair 2006). Concerns about the normalization of deviant/abnormal sexual practices and commercialised forms of sex are largely a function of our social, cultural and political worlds being predominantly heteronormative in character (Hubbard, 2008; Doan, 2011). Relatedly, as Dabhiowala (2012:13) has highlighted in relation to the first sexual revolution during the 1600s, the Catholic and Protestant churches set about reforming sexual morals via ‘an intensification of Christian propaganda, and action, against fornication, adultery, prostitution, and sodomy’.

Moral panics have been an enduring facet of efforts to regulate sex, sexuality and sex work since the Victorian era (Hubbard, 2011; Weitzer 2005; Sullivan, 1997). Such moral panics have traditionally been instigated on the pretence that those directly engaged in supplying commercial sexual services (i.e. women) are in need of rescuing and that wider society needs to be protected from the supposed ‘contagious’, ‘corrupting’ and ‘criminalistic’ effects of particular sexual practices/groups.

The last decade has witnessed ‘a renewed moral panic and crusade’ (Maginn and Steinmetz, 2014) against sex work and pornography (Gira Grant, 2014; McNair, 2012). This new wave of moralism has been perpetuated by an interesting mix of actors – Christian organisations, women support groups and so-called anti-sex radical feminists – from seemingly opposing ends of the political spectrum. Resultantly, there have been concerted efforts in Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, France, the EU and, more recently, Canada to introduce the ‘Swedish model’. This model seeks to not only regulate sex work but also prevent human trafficking, which is argued to be a major reason why so many women are engaged in sex work. However it is argued by some scholars and various sex worker organisations that this mode of regulation denies the existence of female agency; overlooks the diverse gendered, sexual and generational backgrounds of sex workers; fails to recognise sex work as a legitimate form of labour; and, effectively criminalises sex workers despite the focus on demand. Ultimately, it is claimed that the ‘Swedish model’ does more harm than good by driving sex work underground, thereby perpetuating myths, stereotypes and stigma about sex work and sex workers.

Similarly, there have been calls from within the feminist movement, political actors and NGOs for greater regulation of adult entertainment and pornography. Hubbard and Lister (2014), for example, note that. in relation to strip clubs/lap dance clubs in England, the Home Office (2010) introduced guidelines to complement the Policing and Crime Act 2009 so that local councils could exert greater regulatory authority over the number and geography of such venues. Stop Porn Culture, an international feminist anti-porn organisation, considers pornography to be ‘misogynistic both in its production and consumption’ and has set itself the goal of ‘ending industries of sexual exploitation’ (www.stoppornculture.org). And, in California, the epicenter of global porn production, LA County introduced legislation, Measure B, mandating that condoms must be worn during porn shoots. A similar bill, AB1576, with state-wide implications has recently been introduced. Various adult performers and producers have expressed concerns about these regulations arguing that they represent an attempt to eliminate the porn industry. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that rather than being killed off, the porn industry is simply relocating to other areas – e.g. Las Vegas, Miami and Arizona – with more liberal regulations.

Since the late 1980s, queer studies, inspired by feminist critiques of sexuality including pornography, have critically examined the lives and social encounters of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) in the context of their everyday sexual representations and the ensuing activism and alternative, more-than-sexual displays of citizenship and belonging (Attwood, 2002; Zebracki, 2014). These studies have focused on the fluidity and situatedness of the performed and negotiated identities of ‘sexual dissidents’, and the intersectionalities inherent in understanding sexed differences. Ultimately, they serve as a fruitful angle to deconstruct and reconsider the sexual politics encapsulated in the norms, values and legislative frameworks that have come to define hegemonic landscapes of the production and consumption of sex work and pornography.

In conclusion, despite the historical efforts to regulate, contain and even eliminate particular commercial sexual spaces, (consensual) sex practices, and/or minority sexual groups, these spaces and communities have endured and become an increasingly common feature of our cities and towns and given rise to highly complex, dynamic physical and virtual ‘(sub)urban sexscapes’ (Maginn and Steinmetz, 2014). This special session is about exploring and unravelling that dynamism and complexity.

In the pursuit of academic freedom and inclusiveness, the organisers are keen to encourage abstracts/papers from a range of disciplinary and ideological standpoints. Papers may be methodological, theoretical and/or empirical in their orientation and should focus on one (or more) of the following broad, but by no means definitive, topics:

  • The (de)sexualisation/(de)pornification of urban/rural/virtual spaces;
  • Sex work and pornography in interface with LGBT spaces and organising;
  • Kink spaces/communities involving bondage and discipline (BD), dominance and submission (DS), sadism and masochism (SM) (BDSM);
  • Gender, sexual and racial diversity in sex work and pornography;
  • The geography and regulation of sex work/prostitution, adult entertainment and pornography;
  • The economic geography of queerness, sex work and pornography;
  • Culture, meaning, symbolism, practice and performance in/of sexuality and sexual spaces;
  • (De)stigmatisation and inclusion/exclusion of sexual minorities;
  • Globalisation of commercial sex and sexual identities/communities;
  • Human trafficking, migrant sex workers and sexual mobilities;
  • Sex, sexuality and sexualisation in/of popular culture and the media;
  • ‘Deviant’ sex work and pornography beyond straight male markets – from heteronormative to homonormative sex work and porn spaces;
  • ‘Pro-sex’ and ‘anti-sex’ feminisms and masculinities in sex work and pornography

If you are interested in taking part in this special session, please send a 250-word abstract, including title, author(s), institutional affiliation(s), e-mail address(es) and 5 key words, to ALL special session co-organisers by 13 October 2014.

Selected contributors are asked to submit 200-word abstracts on the conference website by 5 November 2014. All presenters should settle the registration fee before they can submit abstracts.

Best wishes,

Assoc. Professor Paul J. Maginn (lead co-organiser) Paul.Maginn@uwa.edu.au

Dr Emily Cooper – E.Cooper2@lancaster.ac.uk 

Dr Martin Zebracki – M.M.Zebracki@leeds.ac.uk