Remembering My Hat

25th November 2016

Reproduction, Sexuality and Sexual Health research group symposium

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The Open University, Camden, London

My usual partial and incomplete liveblog from a seminar, focusing only on things I was particularly interested in, rather than a representation of what people actually said. Also, I forgot my laptop charger, so I’ve only got two hours of battery so I’ll probably not get to the afternoon sessions at all. You can see the whole programme here. [My own thoughts in square brackets like this].

Introduction to the conference: Alison Hadley, Univ of Bedfordshire

Entitlement to sexual health services services, although paid lip-service, isn’t enough to get services funded and commissioned – you have to demonstrate that there is a problem. And this then leads to services focussing on negative outcomes (avoiding teenage pregnancy, reducing STIs) and the only things that get counted are negative outcomes. Services don’t usually count positive outcomes (increased knowledge about sexual health, increased pleasure). We need measures and metrics for positive outcomes too.

Having the right targets is key – you should never have a target of X% uptake of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) because that runs counter to the principle of choice.

Safeguarding has become the over-arching lens through which everything to do with young people’s sexuality is read. This distorts other important issues (pleasure, development, intimacy).


(cc) velo_city

Panel 1: Pleasure and intimacy

Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS

Birth control, pleasure and intimacy: a matter of personal choice or public health?

Gone back to using the old-fashioned term ‘birth control’ because it covers both contraception and abortion and her sense is that young people increasingly see them as ends of a continuum. A less-effective contraception method with abortion as a back-up plan may be what people want, rather than LARCs.

If you frame it as women’s choice to have as few children as they want, or even, increasingly to have no children at all, you generally get quite a sympathetic response in the UK these days. But if you start talking about women’s choice to have as many children as they want, people start judging you – environmenal reasons about over-population are increasingly invoked for everyone [as well as older classist/racist ones] Marie Stopes racism and classism

Free contraception on the NHS is bound up on it being seen as a health issue. If you make it about women’s autonomy, does this become about risk?

Family ‘planning’ – but of course ‘unplanned’ doesn’t equate to ‘unwanted’.

Every service they have has an imposed target for LARC uptake from women who have had an abortion. What women want is entirely different. They are concerned about effectiveness but they are equally concerned about lack of side-effects (‘your erratic bleeding will settle down after about a year’ is not acceptable, especially to young people).

Me: Positive visions of queer ageing and sexual relationships

[A talk about my Imagining Bi Futures project, focusing on the positive visions].

Peter Keogh, Open University: Pleasure and intimacy in HIV research


(cc) Jo

First job in sexual health 25 years ago was ethnographic project on gay men and public sex – mostly about cottaging and cruising. Project was framed as ‘what is this weird behaviour, how can we stop it?’ No consideration that it might be fun. Pathologising framing of it as about sexual compulsivity and the ‘bisexual bridge’.

Trying to find out ‘who are the people who are really driving this epidemic’. Over the years, the groups that are thought to be driving the epidemic have changed, but the focus on identifying the problematic group has remained the same.

Folk devil 1 was cottagers

Folk devil 2: By about 1994 Backroom and super-saunas (as they opened up in London, especially). Focus on venues for sex, and whether some were more risky than others.

Folk devil 3: Internet users! For hook-ups.’Meaningless virtual sex’. Would lead to huge increase in number of sexual partners and somehow not ‘real’ sex – re-emergence of compulsivity and addiction framing.

Folk devil 4: Early 2000s onwards. Barebackers, bugchasers, seeders etc. Barebacking becoming an identity.

Folk devil 5: Sero-sorters (having sex only with people of the same HIV-status as yourself). This one comes from researchers – as an explanation of barebacking – it’s not reckless after all. But also taken up by communities as well as a way of promoting safer sex. But researcher’s then got worried about people acting on less than full knowledge ‘sero-guessing’ as a risk.

Folk devil 6: Now. Truvada whores – pre-exposure prophylactics –

Folk devil 7: Now. Chem sex

Two overall tendencies in all these stages

Pathologising – reckless, compulsive, in deinal, deluded, promiscuous

v. Rationalising – risk-taking, inventive, calculating, liberal, transcending social differences, sexually open

Can we move away from the latest hot topic and think more widely about the ways HIV has transformed sex for men, now that we are late in this epidemic?

Claire de Than, City University: Supporting the human right to have fun

Disabled people’s right to sex is being routinely denied by families and care homes [see the OU’s Sexuality Alliance for lots more resources on this especially in relation to people with life-limiting conditions].

Current plans for compulsory sex education for children explicitly exclude disabled people.

Cannot legally give sex education to deafblind adults (although can to deafblind children!)

Her summary:

Adult? Non-carer (of anyone in the room)? Can communicate (in whatever way)? Consenting? Has capacity? Private? All these present, it’s a human right to have sex. Anything missing? Possibly criminal, so check and work through the guidance.

Helping or supporting someone to do something that is their own choice (if they have capacity) is not a crime.

Biggest reasons needed changes haven’t  gone through in care services is the Daily Mail fear factor.

People think they have duty to protect vulnerable people from risk. But they don’t, they have a duty to protect them from known, real and immediate risk to life or safety. Most consensual sex doesn’t have these kinds of risks.

[Battery perilously low at the end of the morning, so no more from this].


10th May 2012

Conference notes: Sexual Cultures, Brunel, 20th-22nd April 2012

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Some more than usually raw notes taken at a conference. The conference was ‘Sexual cultures’, organised by the Onscenity network. I was only able to attend one day, the 21st. In this post, I’ll just put the first keynote, since I took the most notes on this, being freshest at the beginning of the day. Others to follow.

Martin Barker Keynote

Prof  of film and television studies at the Universityof East Anglia

Going to the dark side: Rethinking the issue of sexual fantasy

(cc) Ludie Cochrane

Or, New title:  The unspeakable issue: pornography and sexual fantasy

All the main languages for talking about porn don’t allow you to talk about pleasure.

Based on Pornography Research Online. Proj which aims not to assume porn is a problem.

Online survey, quantitive. Asked people to categorise themselves as porn users – how imp is it to you? Why?  How frequent? Porn history etc. 5,500 responses, 1.5 million words

68% men, 32% women. Younger women using porn much more than older. Generational shift going on. 70% heterosexual

Asked to tell ‘your most exciting story’. History of okayness of women talking about fantasies of forced sex, going back to Nancy Friday but not for men talking about women being raped. They have data on this – difficult to talk about.

Theories of fantasy:

  • ‘wildness’ emph Leitenberg and Henning – brain as imp a sexual organ as genital
  •  Freudian approaches, stored-up childhood stresses and  lacks. Assosciations with pathology. Fantasy as problem-resolution

Porn users do use the term ‘fantasy’ significantly. It is about fantasy. The fantasy paradox

Public complaints about too much sex ‘leaving nothing to the imagination’ .. yet porn is the source and focus of fantasy.

Not all talk is about porn is about fantasy some is just:

  • seeing and loving bodies
  • learning techniques
  • as a route to arousals – just engages my body, not to do with mind and fantasy

Women talked about men more than fantasy [not sure I typed this right. Should it say women talked about fantasy more than men? That seems entirely plausible]. May be because it’s harder for women to use porn as so much is premised on male gaze.

More younger people than older talked about fantasy [this would seem to contradict the above, since it’s generally all young people shown in porn]

How many respondents ticked both to see ‘things I might do’ and  also ‘things I shouldn’t do = 64. i.e. a very small proportion. The people that anti-porn campaigners are worried about – it gives people ideas that they then play out. They are the respondents with Highest association with mentioning ‘fantasy’ and disproportionately women – 48% when are only 38?% women. So really it doesn’t look as if porn encourages people to actually do bad things.

Standard ideas about fantasy which this report doesn’t support

  • fantasy is uncontrolled
  • childish and immature
  • erronsous, unsupportable beliefs
  • fey, otherworldliness
  • [another one that I missed!]

What is does do is function as:

  • magnifying glass – intensification
  • mirror to self, surprised at my own reaction, self-inspection
  • emporium – supermarket of sex ‘didn’t know you you could do that!’ disgust is as important as attraction – definitely don’t want to do that!
  • journey, timing of body reactions
  • other self. What if I was in this scenario? What if I wasn’t me?

Fantasy as dangerous, illicit realms. Rape, degredation fantasies. Difficult to talk about. Doesn’t feel he yet has a good handle on this.

What terminology should you use ‘porn user’ sometimes fine. But ‘use’ porn. Sometimes not appropriate.

  • It’s an engagement – engager?
  • Explorer? Quite apt. B ring home a souvenir.
  • Player? Suggests active engagement.
  • Connoisseur – making quality judgements

Methodological issue – only asked about gender as M or F. What about trans? Difficulty when trying to reach quite mainstream people – puts them off if you have more than 2 genders. [Hmmmm, difficult issue].

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