Toward a Politics of “Raw Dicks”: Authenticity, the Alt-Self, and New Understandings of the Phallus

I’m really pleased to share my latest article with Gareth Longstaff. The piece follows our first collaboration published last year which considered ‘gay sex’ amidst COVID-19 and the impersonal intimacy of the gloryhole. This latest piece forms part of a special issue in the Journal of Bodies, Sexualities, and Masculinities, guest edited by Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power. The special issue addresses the theme of ‘Masculinity, Sex and Dicks: New Understandings of the Phallus’

As with our previous collaboration, this piece brings together Gareth’s culture, media, and heritage expertise together with my own in socio-legal studies. We share a queer theoretical outlook and this piece was incredibly fun for forcing us to really thrash out our theoretical thinking. By the end of the process, it became difficult to tell who had written what and no sentence is the product of a single author. It was an invigorating and exciting process and I’m really pleased with the end result which – we think – makes an important original theoretical contribution. The piece is open access and you can read it here.


Law arguably shapes contemporary culture and phallic politics. In England and Wales, like much of the Global North, the second half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century saw a general shift from a criminal legal framework that understood sexuality as sexual acts to a civil law framework that seeks to privilege institutions – notably marriage – and lifestyle as signifiers of sexuality. This article contributes to legal and cultural understandings of the phallus, specifically the “raw dick,” as key to understanding the self-representational spaces of “authentic” and “alt” selves on social media. It situates the “raw dick” as the locus of this cultural, legal, and social exchange in which the legal outlaw of male phallic desire has been incorporated into queer citizenship. We argue that the aesthetics of the alt-self provides us with new and important ways to understand the phallus and its relationship to sex and sexuality.

New Publication: Online safety and identity: navigating same-sex male social “dating” apps and networks

I’m pleased to share my latest publication, co-produced with the fabulous Cameron Giles and Kevin J Brown. The article draws on focus group data gathered by Kevin and myself, supported by a BILETA research grant. The article is open access so you’ll find it free to download and share. Please do pass it on to any potentially interested colleagues or networks of your own. We hope the article makes a contribution to the ongoing debates surrounding the Online Safety Bill as it progresses through Parliament.

Cameron Giles, Chris Ashford & Kevin J. Brown (2022) Online safety and identity: navigating same-sex male social “dating” apps and networks, Information & Communications Technology Law, DOI: 10.1080/13600834.2022.2088061

Check our the article here.


For gay, queer and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men (MSM), the presence of apps such as Grindr, Scruff, Tinder, Recon, and others have long represented a complex online ecosystem in which identities are formed and constructed in a space intensely governed by social, contractual, and – increasingly – criminal law backed regulation and norms. The publication of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill in late 2020 and revised Bill in March 2022 marked a further legal and policy intervention in regulating online harms to improve safety. It follows other interventions, notably the Criminal Justice and Court Act 2015, which criminalises intimate image sharing in cases where it is done without consent and intends to cause distress. This article draws on original focus group data to examine the navigation of these “Dating” Apps and Networks by their users from a novel perspective arguing that the current legal approach risks both over and under-legislating what is a complex and subtle online ecosystem. It focuses on the construction of identities – the characteristic proxies deployed, management of location-aware features, visuality, and images (re)shared. We seek to provide an essential counterpoint to existing and dominant narratives relating to online safety and identity regulation.

New Publication: Counter-Cultural Groups in the Age of Covid: Ravers, Travellers and Legal Regulation

I’m really excited to share my latest publication, co-authored with Mark O’Brien. On the face of it, this article represents a bit of a departure from my sexuality research. In truth, as Micah Salkind’s excellent 2019 text, Do You Remember House? Chicago’s Queer of Color Undergrounds highlights, queer identities are a key foundation for contemporary dance music. More generally, the groups discussed at the heart of this piece are about challenging norms. As you dive in, you’ll the themes we engage with in this piece are actually very “me”. The subject matter also stems from my first academic publication way back in 2002/3 in Contemporary Issues in Law also with Mark, and was our first attempt to engage with some of these themes. That piece took a more rights-based approach and sought to document the history of these groups. My final year dissertation and touched on raves (as part of a Million harm theory exploration of law, drawing on the work of Joel Feinberg) and Mark had long researched travellers. So, at the age of 22, this was my first academic piece. In the years since, Mark and I have talked about the themes in that work and continued to be attracted to writing about these groups, re-visting what we said in that piece and doing some aspects better and with more rigour and to provide a more theorised and original contribution. The re-emergence of the groups in the media in recent years put these groups back on the radar, and COVID-19 exacerbated themes of how the law interacts with these groups. It was time to try and unpack what was going on. So, after twenty years (yikes!) we’ve put the old band back together and come back to these topics, hopefully with something original and significant to say.

Check out the article here.

Here’s our abstract to give you more of a flavour:


The Covid-19 pandemic once again brought into sharpened focus the contested relationships of marginalised groups  in the criminal law sphere, and the liminal (re-)regulation of space.  Over the course of the last four decades, the law has borne witness to an episodic yet regular intertwining of the fortunes of arguably two elements of Britain’s counterculture: ravers and travellers, specifically ‘new age’ travellers.  The two groupings of peoples have had a long, complex and often uncomfortable and fractious relationship both with English law, and also its enforcement agencies. This is perhaps particularly evident in the criminal law provisions and sometimes questionable enforcement of the Public Order Act 1986 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, through to the social and environmental provisions of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act 1990, and subsequent provisions.    

Both the groupings of ravers and travellers have been faced with a series of legislative and administrative measures that, directly or indirectly, curtail or otherwise restrict their choices as to activities, lifestyles and behaviours.  The article analyses how the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to some long-established legal and regulatory themes being once again played out in relation to these two counter-cultural groups.


It seemed appropriate for an article like this to have a playlist to go with it. It also meant Mark and I had some fun coming up with these tracks (and reconciling our music tastes – I’m more of a house and trance guy and Mark is still an indie kid). We’ve tried to capture the spirit of the phenomena we discuss in our article with the playlist. You’ll get a feel for different styles (including a bit of techno, house, hard house, and some more ambient style sounds that will give you a customer ‘come down’ element (that also takes me back to a small come down room in the commercial club Gatecrasher at the start of the century – but there’s a story for another time).

Anyway, check out the playlist and let us know if we’ve missed any tracks that absolutely should be added – we’ll keep updating the tracklist.

In the course of producing the article, we also encountered a 2021 documentary that tells the story of Newcastle’s 90s rave scene. This is an aspect of the history of rave that is typically overlooked in the literature that has been produced and whilst recording all of that history was beyond the scope of our article, we do touch on some aspects (again, linking to more recent developments) but we thought readers might value sight of this full documentary released last year (2021) as an independent film by Susie Davies. It focuses on the rave scene that took place in the Ouseburn Valley – scene of major gentrification since. It’s called The Kick, The Snare, The Hat & A Clap. You can check it out below:

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.