Illicit Sex and the Visual Researcher

Authors: Katharine Parker*, York St John University
Topics: Sexuality
Keywords: Public sex, Environment, Visual methods, Interviews, Ethics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Borgne Room, Sheraton, 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Public sexual practices are often framed as deeply embodied experiences in which the fabric of the environment plays a significant and substantial role in the creation of the public erotic encounter. As such, a necessity for researchers to physically ‘walk the beat’ (see Atkins and Laing 2012) in order to incorporate the sensorial into accounts of public sexual practices has dominated empirical research in this area. For those not ‘physically’ entering the field, the sensorial elements of such spaces can seem inaccessible and are often lost in accounts of public sex. Reflecting upon a programme of empirical research examining the risk-taking behaviours of men who have sex with men in public sex environments in Newcastle upon Tyne, this paper will discuss the benefits and challenges of incorporating the sensorial into the interview setting. Adopting a visual methods approach, this paper will argue that the utilisation of a visual tool during interview can serve to facilitate dialogue between researcher and participant providing an enriched account of the role of environment in the creation and maintenance of sites of public sex. Acknowledging the sensitive nature of public sex, this paper will also discuss the ethical implications of introducing images to the research process.

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