New Publication: (Re)regulating gay sex in viral times: COVID-19 and the impersonal intimacy of the glory hole

I’ve been frustrated during the COVID-19 pandemic that there hasn’t been more written not only about ‘gay’ sex in this pandemic, but specifically public sex venues and environments – and specifically the glory hole. This article with the amazing Gareth Longstaff at Newcastle University is an attempt to – sorry, I can’t think of another expression – fill that hole. Gareth works in the areas of media, culture and heritage, and I work in law, so the article is interdisciplinary and we hope all the better for it.

The article appears in Culture, Health & Sexuality and forms part of a special issue entitled  Viral Times: Re-thinking COVID-19 and HIV, edited by the truly awesome Jaime García-Iglesias and Maurice Nagington.

Abstract: COVID-19 has transformed the way we live our lives, and sex has been a significant element of that transformation. Gay male sex in the UK has faced the most significant (re)criminalisation and (re)regulation in living memory with intimacy outside of the heteronormative framework of domestic coupledom at best discouraged and, at worst, made into a criminal offence. This criminalisation provides a temporal praxis in which gay men experience sex in the shadows once more, an echo of a historic legal and cultural regulation of desire. This history also provides a space for experiencing forms of impersonal intimacy and queer desire in a way that is arguably well-suited for viral times, namely the glory hole. These historic partitions and apertures – connecting gay men across legal and cultural boundaries of desire and affirmed through modes of anonymous and promiscuous sex – may once again provide a queer way to experience intimacy as impersonal. This article explores this potential and situates the glory hole as a cultural and legal site of this tension between the intimate and the impersonal, as well as considering how it is being recast as commercial artefact and performance space during these viral times.

Keywords: Glory hole, COVID_19, impersonality, intimacy, desire

The article is Open Access (so totally free for you to read/download). You can check out the HTML text here, and if you click the green PDF tab on that page, the full PDF will download. If you enjoy the article, please do share with your contacts and networks. If you have any feedback, Gareth and I would love to hear your thoughts.

New Publication – Gender, Sexuality and the Law School: (Re)thinking Blackstone’s Tower with Queer and Feminist Theory

My latest publication forms part of a wonderful special issue co-edited by Fiona Cownie and Emma Jones on ‘Reflecting on Blackstone’s Tower’. William Twining delivered the 1994 Hamlyn Lectures on the subject of Blackstone’s Tower: the English Law School, and the lectures in their published form have gone on to be a seminal text for understanding the English Law School. This collection revisits the text/lectures from a range of view points. My own focuses on gender, sexuality, and the law school:

The cover of Amicus Curiae

This article will focus on exploring gender and sexuality within the law school. Largely silent from Twining’s ‘grand tour’, these two areas are now key parts of the law school landscape, having become firmly established as key elements of law school discourse and legal scholarship in the years since Blackstone’s Tower was published. The Blackstone’s Tower of Twining’s imagination was, Twining suggested, ‘holding up a mirror to a familiar world’, and it was a world that made only passing reference to gender and no reference to sexuality. Feminism is mentioned twice in 244 pages, whilst queer—still emergent within legal scholarship in 1994—is not referenced at all. A once radical and vital text can perhaps appear antiquated to today’s readers. Yet, this should not be regarded as a criticism of the text but rather a reflection of how the law school and legal scholarship has transformed since 1994. Whether in the number of gender and/or sexuality and law courses that now permeate through the UK law school, or the extraordinary growth first of feminist scholarship and more recently queer scholarship, the law school has been profoundly impacted by socio-legal shifts in gender and sexuality research. This is scholarship that does not merely serve as ‘another’ theory or an addendum to jurisprudence, for these theories have offered the ability to reshape the very architecture of the law school and to re-imagine Blackstone’s Tower for what it is and what it can be. This article seeks to explore that journey and offer a glimpse of future possibilities.

Keywords: legal education; gender; sexuality; queer; feminism; gay; pedagogy; LGBTQ; teaching.

The article (and the whole journal) is open access, so you can download the article for free here.

There will also be an event bringing together the contributors with Professor William Twining on Tuesday 6 July at 4pm BST. You can register for the online event, and see the full line up here.

New Publication: Bareback Sex in the Age of Preventative Medication: Rethinking the ‘Harms’ of HIV Transmission

It’s brilliant to share the details of my latest publication which was co-authored with the wonderful Max Morris and Alex Powell. The article is Open Access so it’s also freely available for download.

Ashford C, Morris M, Powell A. Bareback Sex in the Age of Preventative Medication: Rethinking the ‘Harms’ of HIV Transmission. The Journal of Criminal Law. 2020;84(6):596-614. doi:10.1177/0022018320974904


The experiences of people living with HIV have been transformed over recent years. Advances in medical science have made the virus a manageable chronic condition, while eliminating the risk of onward transmission for those with access to treatment, something referred to as TasP (treatment as prevention) or U=U (undetectable equals untransmissible). More recently, the availability of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), alongside PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis), through the NHS has created the conditions for condomless sexual encounters to take place without the fear of HIV transmission associated with previous decades. Despite this, the criminal law has continued to frame HIV in terms of personal responsibility and bodily autonomy within the dominant narratives of danger, disease, and out-dated science. Doctrinal law has failed to keep pace with social and scientific change. Therefore, in this article, we provide a re-examination of the criminal issues relating to HIV transmission within this new landscape, arguing that it necessitates a shift in attitude, policy and doctrine. We specifically argue that HIV transmission does not meet the appropriate harm threshold to constitute GBH and that if criminal law is ultimately about preventing or regulating harm, the ongoing criminalisation of HIV transmission is counter to that aim.

Keywords Bareback sexgrievous bodily harmHIVPEPPrEPresponsibilityriskTasP

The article can be viewed in HTML form and downloaded as a PDF here.

Media outlets can see a press release supporting the publication here.

PhD Opportunity: Sex Work, Law and Justice

The Gender, Sexuality and Law Research Group at Northumbria has a fully-funded PhD opportunity, led by my wonderful colleague Laura Graham. I’m also proposed as part of the supervisory team. The closing date for applications is 29 January 2021 and the start date for the project is 1 October 2021.

About the Project

Project Rationale and Description

Applications are sought for a full-time PhD student at Northumbria Law School, to research a question on the intersection of the sex work, law, and justice.

Mirroring sex worker campaigns (ECP; SCOTPEP; NUM), official consultations (Home Office, 2004, 2006, 2008; APPG, 2014; HASC, 2016), and wider debates, over the last two decades there has been much academic interest in the legal responses to sex work (Scoular and O’Neill, 2007; Graham, 2017; Munro and Della Giusta (eds), 2008). Much of this work in England and Wales has evaluated the current legal response(s) to sex work, how they impact sex workers’ lives, and how the law might be reformed. There is also significant academic and governmental interest in comparative research looking at legal responses in other jurisdictions (Armstrong and Abel (eds), 2020; Levy, 2014). 

Interest is sought for a project which develops an original approach to the question of sex work, law and justice. Some themes which could be of interest are, inter alia: human rights; social justice; and redistributive justice. Human rights arguments are increasingly significant in debates and campaigns around sex work and its regulation (Graham, forthcoming; Amnesty International, 2016). Research around social and redistributive justice is also increasingly important, especially with significant crises facing the sex industry, such as the aftermath of COVID-19 and Brexit (Fitzgerald and McGarry (eds), 2018). These suggestions are non-exhaustive, and applicants should indicate clearly the proposed focus of their research.

This research project will be conducted within the Gender, Sexuality, and Law Research Group in the Faculty of Business and Law where you will join a rich and thriving research community. Examples of doctoral work that has been undertaken within this group include: same sex relationships and normative expectations; kink pornography and legal consciousness; equality and anti-discrimination law; international law, detention and sexual orientation and gender identity; and dating apps and HIV disclosure.

Applicants should have a good knowledge of the sex industry and its regulation. The research may have an empirical, doctrinal, socio-legal, or comparative focus (feminist and queer perspectives particularly welcome), but you should clearly articulate your proposed approach and methodology. 

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement: 

  • Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
  • Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
  • Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF21/BL/LAW/GRAHAM) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 29 January 2021

Start Date: 1 October 2021

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

For informal enquiries, please contact Laura Graham (

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home students and includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285 pa) and full tuition fees. 
Please note: to be classed as a Home student, candidates must meet the following criteria: 
• Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or 
• have settled status, or 
• have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or 
• have indefinite leave to remain or enter. 
If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.


[1]Laura Graham (2017) ‘Governing sex work through crime: creating the context for violence and exploitation’, The Journal of Criminal Law 81(3) 201-216.
[2]Ashford, C and Maine, A. (eds.) (2020) Research Handbook on Gender, Sexuality and the Law, Edward Elgar.

The Gay Liberation Front is 50

A candlelit vigil is being organised for next week, to mark 50 year since the establishment of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). Peter Tatchell writes in an email about the event:

‘Fifty years ago, on 13 October 1970, the Gay Liberation Front was founded at the the London School of Economics.
The formation of GLF was the watershed moment in British LGBT+ history. For the first time, thousands of LGBT+ people came out and protested against our persecutors. GLF’s slogan “Gay is Good” challenged the centuries-old view that gay was bad – and mad and sad.  
The GLF put LGBT+ rights on the public agenda and transformed LGBT+ consciousness, from shame to pride and defiance.’

The event fittingly takes place where it began: LSE, Houghton Street, London WC2B 4RR, 6pm on Tuesday 13 October 2020.

Anyone attending is asked to bring candles, wear face masks, and maintain social distancing.

They’ve also done a short video clip telling you more about GLF which you can check out below.

Feminist Legal Studies: Call for Editorial Board Members

FLSlogo2-600x396Blog readers might be interested in thecurrent call from Feminist Legal Studies for new editorial board members (upto five positions).

Feminist Legal Studies celebrated its 25 year anniversary in 2018. After two decades of operating successfully from Kent Law School, in 2013 the editorial board of the journal was reconstituted from members from a variety of UK universities. The editorial board continues to operate as a collective and to publish interdisciplinary, theoretically engaged feminist scholarship relating to law and legal phenomena.

The full call can be viewed on the Critical Legal Thinking blog  and you can learn more about the journal on their homepage.

Research Handbook on Gender, Sexuality and the Law

9781788111140One aspect of my life that fell victim to Covid-19 this year was a planned book launch for my new edited collection, co-edited with Alexander Maine at Leicester.  We’re going to give some thought to a re-arranged launch (possibly virtual) at a later part.  There’s something sad about not having the traditional gathering of friends and colleagues, celebrating the amazing work that went into a book, and enjoying some over-priced but quaffable University wine.  This does not however stop me from posting a shameless plug for you to recommend the book for library purchase/or for yourself if you’re feeling flush!   It’s also available as an e-book in these socially distanced times.

I’m seriously excited by the brilliant collection of authors we pulled together for this collection and global nature. It kicks off with the personal and inside story of Wilkinson v Kitzinger and goes on to blend activism and scholarly insights throughout. I hope you enjoy the book, and I’m sure it will appeal to students of family and criminal law in particular as well as anyone interested in gender, sexuality and law scholarship. Here comes the inflated book blurb:

This innovative and thought-provoking Research Handbook explores not only current debates in the area of gender, sexuality and the law but also points the way for future socio-legal research and scholarship. It presents wide-ranging insights and debates from across the globe, including Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Australia, with contributions from leading scholars and activists alongside exciting emergent voices.

Chapters address a range of current arguments and issues, providing an enhanced theoretical framework and evolving understanding from a variety of feminist and queer perspectives. Relationship recognition debates and LGBT activism and scholarship are examined and discussed, as well as questions around bodily autonomy, kink identities, pornography and healthcare access rights. Research exploring the lived experiences of people facing challenges such as domestic violence, asylum, femicide and hate crime is also assessed.

This Research Handbook will be an invaluable resource for researchers and students in the fields of law, sexuality and gender, as well as family studies, sociology, media and cultural studies, and medicine. Activists will also benefit from its scholarly insight into key policy debates and future strategy.


1 Introduction to the Research Handbook on Gender, Sexuality and Law 1
Chris Ashford and Alexander Maine

2 From the litigants’ perspective: Wilkinson v Kitzinger and the pursuit of
marriage equality in England and Wales 8
Sue Wilkinson and Celia Kitzinger
3 Formal recognition of adult relationships and legal gender in a comparative
perspective 17
Jens M. Scherpe
4 Diplomacy, conditionality and transnational LGBTI rights 32
Kay Lalor
5 Legislating and litigating same sex marriage in China 45
Tingting Liu and Jingshu Zhu
6 Striking women: the politics of gender, sexuality and the law in South Africa 60
Melanie Judge and Dee Smythe

7 Life at the corner of poverty and sexual abjection: lewdness, indecency,
and LGBTQ youth 76
Libby Adler
8 Same sex marriage and Article 12 of the European Convention on
Human Rights 91
Paul Johnson and Silvia Falcetta
9 LGBTI migration in Europe 104
Alexander Schuster
10 Fully recognizing both dignity and equality values under the emergent
ECHR right to a same sex registered partnership 120
Helen Fenwick and Daniel Fenwick
11 Transgender rights in Europe: EU and Council of Europe movements
towards gender identity equality 134
Peter Dunne

12 Normative understandings: sexual identity, stereotypes, and asylum seeking 149
Alex Powell
13 Feminist responses to same sex relationship recognition 164
Rosemary Auchmuty
14 LGBT rights and tax law: a comparative perspective 181
Anthony C. Infanti
15 LGBT rights in Africa 194
Siri Gloppen and Lise Rakner

16 A perfect storm: the UK government’s failed consultation on the Gender
Recognition Act 2004 211
Stephen Whittle and Fiona Simkiss
17 Becoming a legal proxy: the unintended consequences of informed
consent in US transgender medicine 232
stef m. shuster
18 (De)regulating trans identities 244
Flora Renz
19 ‘That’s a bit of a minefield’: supported decision making in intellectually
disabled people’s intimate lives 256
Rosie Harding and Ezgi Taşcıoğlu
20 Dispute resolution, domestic violence and abuse between lesbian partners 271
Maria Federica Moscati

21 The global femicide problem: issues and prospects 286
Rosemary Barberet and Aneesa A. Baboolal
22 Law, society and domestic violence: ‘best practice’ methodologies for
evaluating integrated domestic violence services 301
Nan Seuffert and Trish Mundy
23 Gender and hate crime protections 317
Marian Duggan
24 Feminist mandated reporters question the Title IX system: when civil
rights programs adopt managerial logics and protect institutional interests 330
Jessica Cabrera
25 Vulnerability, victimhood and sex offences 341
Sharon Cowan and Rebecca Hewer

26 Kinky identity and practice in relation to the law 362
Ummni Khan
27 Male sex work – a gendered, (hetro)sexist approach to regulation 379
Thomas Crofts
28 Regulating desire in Russia 396
Alexander Kondakov
29 Normative behaviour, moral boundaries and the state 409
Chris Ashford, Alexander Maine and Giuseppe Zago
30 Deviancy and illicit constructions 425
Brian Simpson

31 Masculinities and families: fragmenting law’s ‘family man’ 443
Richard Collier
32 The healthcare rights of people living with HIV and AIDS 457
Matthew Weait
33 Regulating pornography: developments in evidence, theory and law 471
Fiona Vera-Gray and Clare McGlynn
34 Defending pornography: the case against strategic essentialism 484
Alex Dymock
35 Red, white, and BLACK AND BLUE: the American criminalization of BDSM 497
Stephan Ferris

You can purchase the text from all good bookstores and from Edward Elgar direct (might be a bit cheaper).

International Journal of Gender, Sexuality and Law

Screenshot 2020-08-17 at 13.49.29It’s absolutely brilliant to share the news that there’s a new Gender, Sexuality and Law journal in town. The journal is part of a  growing ‘stable’ of Open Access journals hosted by the Law School at Northumbria University and forms part of the work of our Gender, Sexuality and Law Research Group.  This latest journal is edited by my wonderful colleague Laura Graham.

The International Journal of Gender, Sexuality and Law is a new inclusive international journal publishing high quality theoretical and empirical research.  The journal aims to advance the knowledge of legal discourses in gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, heterosexual and queer sexualities.

The International Journal of Gender, Sexuality and Law is a new inclusive international journal publishing high quality theoretical and empirical research.  The journal aims to advance the knowledge of legal discourses in gender and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, heterosexual and queer sexualities.

The journal also aims to be an inclusive space for radical and progressive academic debate from a range of disciplines, including but not limited to, law, sociology, criminology, history, geography, psychology, media, cultural studies, sexuality and gender studies.  The journal welcomes scholarship of an inter-disciplinary nature.

Journal content takes the form of substantive peer-reviewed articles, or reviews, in the form of books, films or web materials.  In addition, the journal will also include from time to time additional content such as interviews on short comment pieces in response to recent developments, although this will not form a permanent part of the journal.  It is expected that the majority of journal content will be provided by academic writers, although the board may invite non-academic writers (for example activists and campaigners) to provide material from time to time.

It is anticipated that the journal will find an international audience (reflected in the editorial board) from a range of disciplines exploring gender, sexuality and law although a range of ‘core’ disciplines can be identified consisting of:  law, criminology, sociology, media/cultural studies  (again reflected in the board makeup and emphasised in the editorial assistant geographical distribution) with a clear emphasis on law.

You can check out the first issue and details of how to submit papers on the journal homepage.  The first issue is a special, focussing on ‘Bodies, identities, and gender regimes: Human rights and legal aspects of gender identity registration’, and is produced by C L Quinan, Verena Molitor, Marjolein van den Brink, and Tatiana Zimenkova.

Have We Banned Poppers by Mistake?

This week saw Home Secretary Priti Patel rip off the manky sticking plaster that was – since 2016 – dealing with the ban on poppers in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This was a ban that then turned out not to be a ban, but might actually be a ban after all.   She’s not sure.  Which is reassuring coming from the Home Secretary.  Patel was right that in stating that the law is ‘uncertain’, and it has been since a 2018 Court of Appeal judgment, but everyone was seemingly rather pretending it didn’t happen and therefore didn’t change anything.  Let’s leave that dodgy sticking plaster where it is.

Enter Nurse Patel.  In writing to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), she set out their priorities through to 2023 and indicated three areas in order of priority.  The third of these related to the poppers ban.

The passing of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 was – amidst a competitive field – not one of David Cameron’s finest moments.  It doesn’t even get a mention in his 2019 memoir chronicling his time in power.  The Home Secretary at the time was Theresa May, who would find the experience of an accidental screw up that would subsequently turn out to be claimed as deliberate before then being regarded once more as an accident would provide a template for her brief but vivid premiership.


The 2016 legislation was intended to address the phenomenon of ‘legal highs’ but the drafting of the legislation seemed to also include poppers, prompting the Conservative MP Crispin Blunt to talk to Parliament of his poppers use, and defending the drug and its practical importance as an anal sphincter relaxant.  The Government refused to add poppers to the list of exemptions. The legislation passed with then Home Office Minister Karen Bradley promising a review (highlighting that it seemed the legislation did ban poppers).  The ACMD would subsequently write to the Home Secretary with their view that poppers didn’t have the effects that met the definition of ‘psychoactive substance’ within the legislation.  The Government accepted this and thus, the maybe ban was now clearly not a ban after all.  With perhaps a sigh of relief, the Government firmly stuck a plaster over the issue. The initial Police raids on premises selling poppers stopped, and sphincters relaxed once more.

The 2018 Court of Appeal case concerned Kirk Rochester who was convicted for the possession with intent to supply of a psychoactive substance – nitrous oxide – more commonly known as ‘laughing gas’ at the Love Box Festival.  The question became whether nitrous oxide actually fell within the meaning of ‘psychoactive substance’ and the Court of Appeal ultimately agreed with the trial judge that a distinction between direct and indirect effect was not necessary as the legislation did not make such a distinction and thus an indirect effect is sufficient.   They also noted the ACMD review – by Ministerial direction – that they did in 2016 within a month of the legislation passing, in which they noted ‘peripheral effects’ rather than ‘direct action’ in the use of poppers, and as it doesn’t have a direct effect, it didn’t fall within the legislation.  That was a science judgment.  The law judgment is now clear that such a distinction between direct and indirect does not matter.

Patel’s intervention is to ask the ACMD to look at this legal question, but whatever their considerable scientific expertise, this is beyond it.  They can perhaps clarify their previous advice about indirect effect but if they indicate there is an indirect effect then poppers will be deemed to have been criminalised all along.  If they say there is no indirect effect, it raises questions about other substances.  It’s a mess.

If the Home Secretary believes there is uncertainty in the law, it should be addressed as a priority.  This is a legal question rather than a scientific one.  The Kirk Rochester case also clarified that the ACMD clarification on poppers and subsequent Government acceptance back in 2016 was after Parliament passed the legislation.  It is therefore irrelevant in terms of understanding the intention of Parliament for legal purposes. The intention of Parliament on poppers was that poppers were banned but they knew the Government was going to review this with the ACMD.  They did not know what the outcome of that review would be.  The utter inadequacy of this sticking plaster is now apparent.  The solution can only come through an unambiguous statement that the Government and Parliament do not intend for poppers to be banned and legislative brought forward to clarify this.  Any delay is an alarming abandonment of the basics of the Rule of Law and a particularly troubling development for the LGBTQ Community who will find their behaviour is criminalised.