Research Update – July 2021


Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the past year has been a remarkably busy and rewarding year of personal and collaborative research. In March 2021, Ben Weil (UCL) and I had an article, titled “‘Test Now, Stop HIV’: COVID-19 and the idealisation of quarantine as the ‘end of HIV’,” published in Culture, Health and Sexuality. The article explored the dissemination of messages about ending new HIV transmissions during the first-wave COVID-19 lockdown in England, UK, and its situatedness in the social histories of Western medicine, especially histories of hygienist health practices in the British context. This work has built on my doctoral research, which explores the social and cultural implications of ‘post-AIDS’ health promotion strategies in the UK and US. As I near submission in the autumn, this co-authored piece presents a helpful lens into understand the political nature of messages about ‘ending AIDS’ as a public health strategy across local, national and global contexts.

A co-authored book chapter with Kristian Møller (IT Copenhagen), titled “Viral Hauntology: Specters of AIDS in Infrastructures of Gay Sexual Sociability,” was finally published in June 2021 in the edited book collection Affects, Interfaces, Events (ed. Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen, Jette Kofoed and Jonas Fritsch). In this chapter, we explored the hauntologies of AIDS knowledges within social media apparatuses – particularly how old intervention epistemologies continue to inform the construction of sexual social media platforms and how users interact with HIV/AIDS prevention knowledge in these spaces. The chapter builds upon previous theories of viral hauntologies – largely from cultural studies – in order to create formative links with science and technology studies and the digital humanities.

Following an informal discussion with culture and media studies scholars, about the release and dissemination of Russell T. Davie’s (2021) television series It’s a Sin, Ben Weil and I submitted for publication a rapid response paper concerning the health promotion pedagogies embedded in the series’ framework and some of the associated press that followed. It is under consideration as part of a forthcoming cultural commons section in the European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Accepted for publication in July 2021, a co-authored article with Jaime Garcia-Iglesias, titled “‘Who cares if you’re poz right now?’: Barebackers, HIV and COVID-19,” is forthcoming in Sociology of Health and Illness. This online ethnography explores how gay and bisexual men on a popular online sex forum discussed HIV and COVID-19 prevention strategies during the early COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Our findings included careful assessment of short-term changes to sexual practices, including reduction of partner numbers, as well as position sorting to exclude face-to-face contact where possible. The authors will disseminate these findings at the British Sociological Association online medical sociology conference in September 2021.

My original article about retroactivist histories and the futures of HIV prevention in Robin Campillo’s (2017) film 120 Beats per Minute, based on research presented at a conference in 2019 and one of my doctoral thesis chapters, is still under consideration for a special issue of Modern and Contemporary France.

In addition to original research articles, I published an assortment of book reviews, including a review of Christophe Broqua’s (2020) excellent ethnography of ACT UP Paris – the English translation of his 2006 monograph on the same subject. See my online CV for additional book reviews recently published.

Looking ahead, I have a few publications in the work. First, I had a book chapter abstract accepted for publication in Marsha Morton and Ann-Marie Akehurst’s (2022) forthcoming collection Capturing Contagion: Visual Culture and Epidemic Disease since 1750. In this chapter, titled “Reliving Hygienist Histories in Post-AIDS Visual Cultures,” I will explore how logics of contamination, quarantine and social hygiene are revisited and contested within popular AIDS media, including Russell T. Davie’s (2021) television series It’s a Sin and Luke Davies’s (2018-19) web series The Grass is Always Grindr.

Additionally, I have a co-authored book chapter with artist Ash Kotak, titled “Crafting the London AIDS Memorial,” accepted for publication in Daniel Fountain’s (2022) forthcoming edited collection Crafted with Pride: Queer Craft and Contemporary Activism in Britain. The chapter will use interviews with Ash and archival research to articulate contemporary politics of memorialising AIDS crisis in London – and the struggle to create a unified movement to remember HIV/AIDS experiences throughout the UK.

In autumn 2021, I will submit my PhD thesis. At the same time, I will prepare a monograph proposal, titled “Speculative Health Promotion: The Politics of Promoting the ‘End of AIDS’ in the US and UK, 1994-2021”. The monograph will draw together my research on health promotion practices, cultural perceptions of the ‘end of AIDS’ in the Global North, and ethnographies of perceived ‘futures’ of HIV/AIDS in the US and UK. The monograph will build upon recent research about the social problem of ending new HIV transmissions by increasing biomedical surveillance and employing disease modelling to eradicate HIV. It will present original findings about the social significance of constructing an ideological future through biotechnological apparatuses – and how the negotiation of a biotechnological future(s) is perceived, reproduced and/or contested by populations impacted by HIV/AIDS.

The monograph will be produced in tandem with ongoing research about ‘post-AIDS’ health promotion in Scotland. In June 2021, I submitted a funding app to the Glasgow Medical Humanities Network Early Career Foundation Awards to analyse how recent health promotion in the Scottish context has either integrated or might integrate ‘post-AIDS’ perspectives in engagement with local communities. This foundation award will provide a scoping analysis to determine to what extent further engagement with local communities is needed to interrogate the perceived ‘end of AIDS’ in Scotland. It is my hope that this project will lead to further work working with community members to discuss perceived social futures with less HIV transmission, including interviews, workshops, and creative projects articulating the strengths and limitations of appealing to the ‘end of AIDS’ before curative technologies are developed.

For more information about my ongoing research, please visit my online CV.

Testo Junkie (2013)

Book Review

Preciado, Paul B. (2013). Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. New York: The Feminist Press. 427pp.

Part auto-ethnography, part techo-punk psycho-philosophy, Testo Junkie is a testament to the rise and entanglement of pharmaceutical power with state bodies, individuals (i.e. the transformation and hybridization of Foucault’s biopower) and the technological apparatuses that infuse bodies both with increasing surveillance as well as the potentiality for transformation. As a provocation, Preciado deftly interweaves personal testimony (a necrotic, drug-enhancing love story) with a complex scholarly reflection on the historical development of biotechnological products (e.g. the Pill, viagra, testosterone) in order to conceive of the spatiotemporal and material “pharmapornographic” era.

The book is lengthy – at a whopping 427 pages. However, the formatting (footnotes) and clarifying language (lots of sign-posting) help to bridge the book from an academic rumination on the transformations of individual and state power to a more diffuse and accessible text which motivates a cyborgian (Haraway 1985), post-human embodiment and rethinks feminist politics in the early 21st century. Scholars and general readers interested in feminist politics, cyborg relations, sexuality studies, contraception and reproduction, queer and trans studies, and identity politics will find this book particularly compelling. Overall, Testo Junkie is a captivating read.




The nurse chuckles when
I strike back: Are there alternatives
to my behaviour

A smile is not a ‘no’.
Spare me the side effect
cast as a sneer.


So I went home and filled
a condom full of PrEP.
I know they’ll shatter
when plastic hits plaster.


I sign up for a transnational trial
thinking: global public health;
the saviour of the modern world.

The trial sneers back:
Tenofovir. Emtricitabine.
Is there an alternative?


I am not positive; and now
I am not negative. I’m neither
healthy nor unwell.

I look at my bag; shake it.
Listen for the sound of health.
Is there no alternative?


Once, I fucked in a sauna. My legs
pressed against a squeaky bench.

Moist balls cracked on plastic,
angry shadows cut from the wall.

A volunteer held his ear to
the sweaty sepulchre.

Listen here, buddy.
This is an alternative.

Action=Vie (2020)

Book Review, HIV/AIDS, LGBT

Broqua, Christophe. (2020). Action=Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 340pp.

Action=Vie is a comprehensive ethnographic analysis of AIDS activism in France. It focuses on responses to the HIV pandemic during the 1980s and 90s, through the lens of Act Up-Paris and their myriad contributions. More broadly, the book follows the emergence of gay community politics in the French context. Broqua helpfully traces the pathways of intellectual, cultural, and sociological ideas exchanged across the nexus of United States, United Kingdom, and French crises. The book is wonderfully accessible, comparable to the writing of media scholar Dion Kagan (see Positive Images, 2018), and will be of interest to both students of HIV histories, gay liberation politics and sociology of health activism in France, and general audiences.

The book is structured in chronological order but highlights key themes that hold together AIDS and gay politics in France. For instance, both Chapters 2 and 10 carefully detail how liberation politics were entangled in Parisian AIDS activism, which helped to draw out not only a unified image of ‘gays against HIV,’ but more broadly a cultural legacy of a unified homosexual front that emerged from tensions between French republicanism and communitarian debates. Chapters 3 and 4 consider the etiologies of AIDS and their relationship to gay liberation politics in France, crucially highlighting the development of gay community politics as a result of AIDS activism (a topic which Broqua deepens and contests by assessing the transformation in intellectual movements in Chapter 10). Broqua draws on interviews he collected in the 1990s and 2000s, during/after his time participating in Act Up-Paris, and thus reflects not simply as a researcher on the political dynamics of AIDS activism but usefully illuminates an insider view of the day-to-day tensions that re-created AIDS activism through personal and identity politics.

Action=Vie is exceptionally smart and meticulously researched. The book presents a refined lens to interrogate Act Up-Paris for Anglophone audiences. Alas, this is material we have not seen explored at length in English since David Caron’s AIDS in French Culture: Social Ills, Literary Cures (2001). It thus reasserts the importance of interrogating the international and global spread of AIDS activism(s) within media cultures, sociology, and health promotion histories. Broqua has provided a beautiful array of secondary texts (largely in French) that help to piece together the complex political histories of AIDS in France. He dutifully stitches these materials together for a truly captivating read. I hope more of Broqua’s work will appear in the Anglophone world very soon.

Reframing Bodies (2009)

Book Review, HIV/AIDS, LGBT

Hallas, R. (2009). Reframing Bodies: AIDS, Bearing Witness, and the Queer Moving Image. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 319pp.

Reframing Bodies is an expansive study of queer AIDS media, examining trends in testimony and the AIDS film archive in the US and UK from the 1980s and 90s. Ranging from small-scale video activism to experimental art film, Hallas argues that AIDS film across genres has redefined forms of testimony through sound, movement and embodiment, and mise-en-scene. Most notably, the book establishes a precedent for the historical transition from gay cinephilia preceding the rise of consumerist film in the 1990s and the emergence of an archivist media ecology in the 2000s. The latter has (re)captured formative images of queer activism through new media practices – particularly through the use of online databases, streaming platforms, and large-scale Internet pirating practices that enable larger distribution both of narratives about AIDS testimony (and witnessing) and the political drive to change access/consumption practices of queer historical media.

Reframing Bodies, which was researched and published during the resurgence of AIDS activism narratives in the late 2000s and early 2010s – what cultural activist Ted Kerr and media scholar Dion Kagan call the “AIDS crisis revisitation movement” – presents a rigorous revisitation of the AIDS video archive that presents a baseline for rethinking the political potential and remaking of these works. It is appropriate not only for scholars interested in HIV/AIDS histories, with its intertextual readings of classic AIDS videos, but also for curious lay readers interested in gay and lesbian media practices, given the books accessible prose and willingness to welcome readers from many backgrounds into a diverse retelling of film histories across genres, narratives, and film styles.

AIDS TV (1995)

Book Review, HIV/AIDS

Juhasz, A. (1995). AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 316pp.

Alexandra Juhasz’s book AIDS TV explores the world of AIDS activist video in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The analysis is doubly academic reflection on film conventions, particularly those of “alternative” activist media production amongst women living with and/or impacted by AIDS crisis in New York. It is also about the affective and interpersonal experiences that occur during video production, AIDS support groups, and the formation of friendships, working relations, identities, subjectivities, and awareness of the world through the moving image.

Juhasz’s book can now be considered “classic” insofar as it is more than 25 years old. As such, it serves as an essential text for understanding the visual histories of HIV/AIDS, women’s experiences of the crisis in the United States, as well as feminist film theory in the 1990s. It might best be situated as a queer feminist theory of film, though it is regularly overlooked in queer theoretical lists. Indeed, AIDS TV might be thought of as a quintessential queer AIDS history which presents a baseline for understanding AIDS activism, queer community and coalition building, and the processes of memory and memorialisation (the latter of which are commonly drawn out from Douglas Crimp’s work, which is, of course, carefully cited and included in Juhasz’s book).

AIDS TV is a remarkable book. Readers interested in activist histories, film theory, queer cultural history, and video production will find it compelling. Equally, those looking for sustained engagement with ethnographic film practices and the tensions between theory and praxis will find this work challenging and deeply rewarding.

Epidemics and Society (2020)

Book Review

Snowden, F. (2020). Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present. New Haven: Yale University Press. 582pp.

Frank Snowden’s Epidemics and Society is a comprehensive examination of major epidemics in global history. The book does not provide a sweeping analysis of all epidemics, given lack of space and time, and acknowledges in the introduction the need to focus on specific changes in epidemiology, public and global health, political structures, and social welfare that have contributed to the development of and response to epidemics in human societies. Snowden focuses on plague, smallpox, yellow fever, dysentery, typhus, cholera, tuberculosis, malaria, polio, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and ebola to paint a vast portrait of the development of epidemics. The book excels at describing key historical frames, particularly how medical knowledge has evolved as a result of pandemic crisis. The paperback issue contains a preface about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and forewarns that much can be learned from reflecting on past epidemics.

Readers will enjoy the book in sections – for fear of intellectual fatigue, given the tome’s breadth. Nevertheless, Epidemics and Society aspires to make the content accessible for the general public and thus maintains an accessible register that provides greater nuance to an otherwise daunting subject. The book is richly research (as part of years of teaching materials for coursework at Yale University), which will serve both the lay reader and the scholar well in their endeavours to understand ongoing epidemics in society. A highly recommended text for those new to the field of infectious disease or interested in learning more about the social history of health and illness.

The Rules of Contagion (2020)

Book Review

Kucharski, A. (2020). The Rules of Contagion: Why Things Spread – and Why They Stop. London: Profile Books.

Adam Kucharski’s The Rules of Contagion is perhaps nicely and equally poorly timed in its release, amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic. The text offers insight into contemporary sources of contagion, first, using simple and accessible language to demonstrate the utility and effectiveness of epidemiological approaches to disease pandemics, including ebola, HIV, and influenza. In the latter half of the book, Kucharski attempts to tie disease pathology into economic, behavioural, psychological and technological analyses, extrapolating epidemiological knowledge into formative societal structures and historical events (e.g. the 2008 financial crisis). Most notable about this latter half is the author’s delineation of social media contagion, carefully balancing both the benefits and dangers of online contagion – “going viral” on social media vs. computer viruses. Largely, the book broaches a huge range of epistemological assertions, placing it firmly in the domain of popular science. The book loses steam around chapter three, despite an attempt to create a wide-ranging theory of contagion. As other reviewers have aptly noted, the final two chapters read more like a confirmation and reiteration of contagion – sort of doctoral “case studies” following rigorous and tightly-woven theory. Readers invested in the evolving COVID-19 pandemic will be especially drawn to chapters 1-2. Enthusiasts of pandemics, medical historians, epidemiologists and other pop-science readers might find the book as a whole interesting as a ruminative, though small, addition to academic scholarship on global networks, virality, social media and the Internet.

Sexual Care Cultures

SRE, Theory

A significant base of theoretical and practical responses to health disparities and, what has been called “care cultures” (see: Fine, “Cultures of Care,” 2015), has emerged alongside the COVID-19 crisis. These responses have included, for example, critical reflections by postcolonial, trans, and queer writers (see: Hobart & Kneese, “Radical Care,” 2020), social geographers writing about the individual and social body in the United States (see: Neely & Lopez, “Care in the Time of COVID-19,” 2020), and a call-to-action by The Care Collective in advance of their forthcoming publication, The Care Manifesto (see: “A Crisis of Care,” 2020). This research is particularly useful for reflecting on the paradigms of public health knowledge and, particularly, approaches to sexual health during social distancing and isolation.

Drawing from social theory, the Care Collective, a UK coalition reflecting on the crisis of neoliberalism and healthcare systems, writes:

“[T]his global calamity is a moment of profound rupture where many of the old rules no longer apply—and where governments can change our reality in a blink of an eye […] In the midst of this global crisis we have all been reminded of how vital robust care services are. Care is not only the ‘hands-on’ care people do when directly looking after the physical and emotional needs of others. ‘Care’ is also an enduring social capacity and practice involving the nurturing of all that is necessary for the welfare and flourishing of human and non-human life. What, then, would happen if we were indeed to begin to place care at the very centre of life, not just for short term crisis, but the longer term?” (see: The Care Collective, “A Crisis of Care,” 2020).

The Care Collective usefully distinguishes between “body work” (Nettleton, The Sociology of Health and Illness, 2013, pp. 205-206) and “care work,” the difference of labour capacity across physical and emotional needs, which extends beyond the clinic and professional services and into the practice of everyday life, including, as they note “the welfare and flourishing of human and non-human life”. Such thinking pushes the cultures of care beyond an institutional analysis and integration of “care” in the “hands-of” professionals, and serves as a necessary reminder that we all participate in forms of care work during time of crisis and non-crisis. This formative framework pieces together conditions of interdependence of kinships, communities, states, economics and the world to stage a radical intervention in our understanding and relationship to care as radical change and as a way of life.

Indeed, radical care practices are needed to conceptualise social change and to allow new sexual cultures to emerge. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England, UK, for instance, has questioned how adult social care services can better support people to express their sexuality. The report, published in February 2020, collected experiences from people using services, families, providers, staff and other stakeholders, seeking to understand how a culture of openness can help people live fulfilling lives, with the freedom to develop relationships if they want to, and explore how it plays an important part in keeping people safe, making it easier for them to talk about concerns (see: CQC, “Support People’s Sexual Needs,” 2020). Their findings focus on developing critical infrastructures for supporting “open” conversations between service users and sexual health professionals; they also describe three areas in need of improvement from a community-infrastructural and societal level: (1) a lack of awareness of good practice in sexual safety and sexuality can place people at risk of harm; (2) a culture must be developed where people and staff feel empowered to talk about sexuality and raise concerns about safety; and (3) as [an institutional] regulator, we must have a strong role in making sure people using services are protected and supported. In short, this institutional response to supporting open dialogue and service initiatives contributes to a larger understanding of the radical changes needed to support sexual care cultures.

This post brings together individual, communal and institutional responses to social change and public healthcare systems to reflect on sexual care cultures in two ways. First, it amasses some scholarly resources related to sexual cultures and intervention strategies, in order to begin building a sexual care culture archive that can effectively respond to and enliven sexual practices and embodiments during social distancing and isolation (see: “Care[ful] Interventions). Second, it provides a list of potential individual responses to and practices of sexual health and wellbeing, including specific practices individuals can explore (see: Care[ful] Individuals). By bringing these critical reflections on interventions and individuals together, I seek to encourage other sexual health practitioners, theorists, and populations generally to reflect upon and respond to the intersections of material, social, cultural, economic, ethnic, racial, gendered, colonial, postcolonial, and other conditions associated with sexual health and wellbeing during this period.

Care(ful) Interventions

Sexual care cultures, or cultures of sexual engagement and behavioural exploration, fall under many headings across intellectual studies. Depending on the disciplinary approach, they may appear within cultures of risk (e.g. Race, Pleasure Consuming Medicine, 2009; and Flowers & Frankis, “Imagining Interventions,” 2019), cultures of pleasure (e.g. Dean, Unlimited Intimacy, 2009; and Paasonen, Many Splendored Things, 2018), or affect cultures (e.g. Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness, 2010; and Rodríguez, Sexual Futures, Queer Gestures, and Other Latina Longings, 2014), to name only a few. As this section will detail, this research has important elements within the practical development of sexual health resources and intervention strategies. The social, cultural, material and economic considerations of these studies help us to understand the political, medical, technological, gendered, racialised and other issues associated with sexual praxis and exploration. In turn, they necessarily open up a critical conversation about distribution of and participation in particular practices, especially based on geographic location, social and historical context and material feasibility.

I have provided a list of eight historical, cultural and practical texts, which take from the above-mentioned conceptual frameworks about sexual health, and reflect upon and enact their own sexual care cultures. Sometimes this appeals to the loss of particular lifeworlds, including the closure of public sexual spaces, which are in turn replaced by memory practices that serve as a reminder of what society has been like and what conditions might be like for the future. At other times, this list provides direct sexual possibilities in the form of therapeutic advice about open relationships, polyamory and diverse sexual engagement in public sex. This list is necessarily incomplete and selective. Other scholars may feel that some texts are more suited than others to discuss the socio-material conditions of sex during social distancing and isolation. Nonetheless, I stand by these partial selections as merely suggestions for exploration, proliferating possible pleasures in this time of need.

(Note: Items in this list are alphabetised according to the author’s surname and are formatted in Harvard style.)

Califia, P. (1995). Public Sex: The Culture of Radical Sex. Jersey City, NJ: Cleis Press.

Califia’s book is a radical intervention into the sexual lives of mainstream USA. Far from a simple text about the sexual politics of recent feminist activism and theory, Califia’s questioning of sexual norms – including gendered practices of sex and sexuality, monogamy and non-monogamy, dyadic and non-dyadic values – culminates in the powerful question, “Why isn’t everybody doing everything they can to experience sensual pleasure?” A manifesto in its own right, this collection of essays and reflections pieces together a radical sexual politics that opens highly-contentious but important conversations about sex and the law, pornography, the de-sexualisation of children, the withholding of sexual health education, power imbalances across generations, exploitations, and other issues related to sexual practice and wellbeing. As one reviewer writes, “With safety and responsibility a given, Califia wants to convince readers that they are entitled to sexual freedoms which lead to their physical and emotional enjoyment. He believes that instead of feeling guilt and shame, regardless if sexual preferences involve pornography, S/M, role playing, gay or lesbian sex, eroticizing Latex and safer sex, looking at pictures of penguins, or whatever, pleasure is the key factor in a sexual experience” (see: Bendery, “Public Sex,” 2002).

Campbell, A. (2020). Bound Together: Leather, Sex, Archives, and Contemporary Art. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

What are the archives of gay and lesbian leather histories, and how have contemporary artists mined these archives to create a queer politics of the present? This book sheds light on an area long ignored by traditional art history and LGBTQ studies, examining the legacies of the visual and material cultures of US leather communities. It discusses the work of contemporary artists such as Patrick Staff, Dean Sameshima, Monica Majoli, AK Burns and AL Steiner, and the artist collective Die Kränken, showing how archival histories and contemporary artistic projects might be applied in a broader analysis of LGBTQ culture and norms. Hanky codes, blurry photographs of Tom of Finland drawings, a pin sash weighted down with divergent histories – these become touchstones for writing leather histories.

Chauncey, G. (1994). Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books.

Chauncey’s book is an early and groundbreaking historical text from the queer studies movement. It uncovers the myth that before the 1960s gay life existed only in the closed, where gay men were isolated, invisible and self-hating. Based on many years of close textual analysis and archival research, including examination of diaries, legal records, and other unpublished documents, this book argues for a rich gay life prior to the gay liberation movement in mid-20th century United States. It ultimately serves as an illumination of the diversity and complexity of sexual lives across history, both during times of political, scientific and medical surveillance, as well as moments of delight and fleeting encounters, which as Mark Turner’s related book, Backward Glances (2004), reiterates, help us to imagine and recover past encounters in order to build sexual care cultures in the present.

Dean, T., Ruszczycky, S., and Squires, D. (2014). Porn Archives. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

While sexually explicit writing and art have been around for millennia, pornography—as an aesthetic, moral, and juridical category—is a modern invention. The contributors to Porn Archives explore how the production and proliferation of pornography has been intertwined with the emergence of the archive as a conceptual and physical site for preserving, cataloguing, and transmitting documents and artifacts. By segregating and regulating access to sexually explicit material, archives have helped constitute pornography as a distinct genre. As a result, porn has become a site for the production of knowledge, as well as the production of pleasure. The essays in this collection address the historically and culturally varied interactions between porn and the archive. Topics range from library policies governing access to sexually explicit material to the growing digital archive of “war porn,” or eroticized combat imagery; and from same-sex amputee porn to gay black comic book superhero porn. Together the pieces trace pornography as it crosses borders, transforms technologies, consolidates sexual identities, and challenges notions of what counts as legitimate forms of knowledge. The collection concludes with a valuable resource for scholars: a list of pornography archives held by institutions around the world.

Delany, S. (1999). Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press.

Delany’s semi-autobiographical, semi-theoretical book explores the changing landscape of New York City, USA, during the 1980s and 1990s. Through the use of personal narratives, memories, and theoretical interventions, Delany weaves historical, social and cultural materials to explore how the sexual districts were transformed into sanitised and middle-class havens for consumerist culture(s). He explores the changing social dynamics of sexual geographies, localities and embodiments, and how urban spaces and policies directly impact access to sexual cultures, especially in the wake of AIDS crisis. Crucially, the book explores American “family values” and the stratification of sex within changing class structures.

Gopinath, G. (2005). Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

By bringing queer theory to bear on ideas of diaspora, Gayatri Gopinath produces both a more compelling queer theory and a more nuanced understanding of diaspora. Focusing on queer female diasporic subjectivity, Gopinath develops a theory of diaspora apart from the logic of blood, authenticity, and patrilineal descent that she argues invariably forms the core of conventional formulations. She examines South Asian diasporic literature, film, and music in order to suggest alternative ways of conceptualizing community and collectivity across disparate geographic locations. Her agile readings challenge nationalist ideologies by bringing to light that which has been rendered illegible or impossible within diaspora: the impure, inauthentic, and non-reproductive.

Hardy, J., and Easton, D. (2017). The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love. 3rd ed. New York: Ten Speed Press.

The Ethical Slut provides a practical handbook for exploring consent, communication and jealousy in open relationships and polyamorous configurations. The manual provides chapters on navigating sexual and romantic honesty, overcoming sexual shame, boundaries within and across relationships, flirting and cruising, developing safer-sex strategies, children and open/poly relationships, conflict-agreement strategies, opening and closing dyadic partnerships, public sex, group sex, orgies and other collective sex environments. It’s particularly useful for beginners but ultimately accessible for those already navigating open relationships, polyamory or other non-dyadic partnerships, and might, in the least, provide a platform for starting honest and open communications about multiple types of relationships, sexual desires and intimacies in society largely.

Nguyen, T. (2014). A View from the Bottom: Asian American Masculinity and Sexual Representation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

A View from the Bottom offers a major critical reassessment of male effeminacy and its racialization in visual culture. Examining portrayals of Asian and Asian American men in Hollywood cinema, European art film, gay pornography, and experimental documentary, Nguyen explores the cultural meanings that accrue to sexual positions. He shows how cultural fantasies around the position of the sexual “bottom” overdetermine and refract the meanings of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality in American culture in ways that both enable and constrain Asian masculinity. Challenging the association of bottoming with passivity and abjection, Nguyen suggests ways of thinking about the bottom position that afford agency and pleasure. A more capacious conception of bottomhood—as a sexual position, a social alliance, an affective bond, and an aesthetic form—has the potential to destabilize sexual, gender, and racial norms, suggesting an ethical mode of relation organized not around dominance and mastery but around the risk of vulnerability and shame. Thus reconceived, bottomhood as a critical category creates new possibilities for arousal, receptiveness, and recognition, and offers a new framework for analyzing sexual representations in cinema as well as understanding their relation to oppositional political projects.

Care(ful) Individuals

Adapted from an ongoing study by researchers at the Kinsey Institute (Indiana University, USA), the following list of individual sexual tactics serves as a resource for communities interested in sustaining and exploring sexual behaviours during social isolation. This list is not comprehensive, but it provides significant opportunities and ideas for navigating the sexual body.

  • Using a vibrator or sex toy(s) alone or with partner(s)*
  • Watching pornography alone or with partner(s)*
  • Making sex videos for and/or with someone*
  • Sexting a partner(s) or casual sexual pal(s), including photographic, artistic or other video materials*
  • Fantasising about sexual encounters alone
  • Sharing fantasies with a partner(s) or casual sexual pal(s)*
  • Acting on sexual fantasies with a partner(s) or casual sexual pal(s)*
  • Give a partner(s) a massage or back rub
  • Wear sexy underwear or lingerie
  • Ask a partner(s) or casual sex pal to wear sexy underwear or lingerie*
  • Take a bath or shower together with a partner(s)
  • Try a new sexual position with a partner(s)
  • Try anal stimulation, alone or with a partner(s) or online with casual sexual pal(s)
  • Have anal sex with a partner(s)
  • Use food during sex (e.g. whipped cream)
  • Engage in agreed-upon and consensual BDSM activities (e.g. restraints or spanking)
  • Engage in threesome, if multiple housebound and “recovered” sexual partner(s) present
  • Role-play with a partner(s) or casual sexual pal(s)
  • Have phone sex with a partner(s) or casual sexual pal(s), i.e. live, sexually explicit voice exchange with someone via your phone
  • Have cybersex with a partner(s) or casual sex pal(s), i.e. live, sexually explicit chat or message with someone online
  • Film yourself masturbating**
  • Film you and your partner having sex**
  • Watch videos of you masturbating, alone or with a partner(s)*
  • Watch videos of you having sex with a partner(s), alone or with a partner*
  • Pay a sex worker to engage in cybersex, alone or with a partner*
  • Subscribe to a sex worker’s stream or channel
  • Use a teledildonic accessory with a partner(s), i.e. a sex toy you or your partner can control from afar using the internet or phone app
  • Access virtual-reality (VR) pornography, alone or with a partner(s) or casual sex pal(s)*
  • Exchange sexually-explicit messages with a chatbot or other artificially intelligent entities**
  • Search online for sex or sexual health information
  • Engage in online forums about how to maintain sexual health practices and/or participate in sexual health cultures

*including housebound partners and/or partners on an online platform

**consent is mandatory in all encounters, including during digital exchanges. Make sure you explicitly agree upon terms with each sexual partner(s) with whom you share digital content. Remember that you reserve the right not to share any content regardless of others’ requests. In the UK, there are new criminal laws about the non-consensual taking, making and sharing of sexual images and online materials. Thus it is necessary to have open and honest communications with your partner(s) about the use and potential (non)sharing of this content to avoid non-consensual issues with partners and the law.

Other Resources

Brady, M. (2020). “Don’t Hookup During the COVID-19 Lockdown,” Terrence Higgins Trust. 25 Mar.

Cazdyn, E. (2012). The Already Dead: The New Time of Politics, Culture, and Illness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Davids, J. (2020). “How to Have Sex in the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic,” The Cranky Queer. 11 Mar.

Duke University Press. (2020). Care in Uncertain Times Syllabus. Open access until 30 June 2020.

Elden, S. (2020). “Geographers, Sociologists and Philosophers on COVID-19,” Progressive Geographies. 24 Mar.

Filipová, L., Dalaqua, R., Revill, J. (2020). “Pandemics Are Not Gender-Neutral, Gender Analysis Can Improve Response To Disease Outbreaks,” UNIDIR. 24 Mar.

Nettleton, S. (2013). “Late Modernism and the Changing Social Relations of Formal Health Care Work,” in: The Sociology of Health and Illness. 3rd ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, pp. 182-207.

PrEPster. (2020). COVID-19, HIV and LGBT Health: What Do We Need to Know? [Video]. 20 Mar.

PrEPster. (2020). COVID-19 Tips and Tricks. UK sexual health resources.

Siena, S. (2020). “Epidemics and ‘Essential Work’ in Early Modern Europe,” History and Policy. 25 Mar.

Socialising the Isolation Period


During a time of semi-enforced social isolation and distancing, a variety of academic and popular culture platforms have disseminated critical reading lists about the COVID-19 pandemic (see below for a list of COVID-19 syllabi). These lists have amassed scholarship from over the past 50 years in order to understand the biomedical, psychological, historical, cultural and social implications of global health and viral epidemics. In this post, I have honed some of these lists and gathered other materials from a medical sociology, HIV/AIDS history, and queer cultural theory perspective, in order to think about the relationship between sexual health and COVID-19 (following my own areas of expertise; see my curriculum vitae for more info). All the materials herein are from open-access journal sources or can easily be acquired from your local book distributor. Each entry includes an annotation adapted from the source abstract and/or my own reflections and responses. I acknowledge that this reading list is partial and necessarily incomplete; I welcome any suggestions that may improve this brief (aka limited) digital resource, which may appear in subsequent blog posts.

Prior to the reading list, I want to provide a brief reflection on sexual health conditions, parallel epidemics, and the socialisation of isolation. Sexual health professionals remain divided on the best approaches to having (or refraining from) sex during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the provocative pamphlet from the early AIDS crisis, “How to Have Sex in an Epidemic” (1983) by Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen, some public health officials have recommended avoiding sexual encounters where possible. COVID-19 has not been detected in semen or vaginal fluids; however, some studies have suggested that the virus is detectable in cough droplets, excrement, and blood (see: Van Beusekom, “Study: COVID-19,” 2020). Thus some professionals have argued that abstinence might be an effective intervention technique given that transmission, while not detected in semen or vaginal fluids, cannot easily or simply be contained by the use of prophylactic measures like condoms or non-anal/vaginal play; other routes of transmission are difficult to avoid during sexual encounters (see: NYC Health’s “COVID Sex Guidance,” 2020). Social worker David Stuart (56 Dean Street, London, UK) has cautioned sexual health professionals against discouraging sex and intimacy during COVID-19 crisis, favouring messages about education and agency over negative messages about avoiding in-person sexual encounters (see: Stuart, “Coronavirus, Chemsex & Hooking Up,” 2020). Clinical services, which provide critical support for sexual health communities, are severely restricting hours and access to physical clinical interactions as well as (for clinics here in Edinburgh, UK) stopping the distribution of at-home tests, foregrounding urgent consultations over non-urgent STI screening or other regular check-ups (see: Lothian Sexual Health, “Service Update,” 2020). I have talked to a number of gay men in my communities, both on hook-up apps and other social media platforms, who have sustained sexual play, particularly with dyadic or polyamorous partners, for the purposes of emotional and mental support. They have also sought to maintain a sense of “normalcy” in a time(s) of uncertainty. In sum, as these above sources describe, the relationship between COVID-19 and sexual health remains particularly dynamic and, indeed, nonuniform. This uneven social and political dynamic has proliferated many ethical considerations about ambiguous policy decisions, which have suspended local communities between the poles of social isolation and near-normal sexual practices.

Where the UK government has alluded to the need for social and physical sequestration, a great deal of confusion about what kinds of social and sexual behaviours are permissible has proliferated (see: Cole, “Please Masturbate,” 2020; Davids, “How to Have Sex in COVID-19 Pandemic,” 2020). Some social scientists have reflected on the histories of epidemiology to consider how public health authorities responded to past epidemics (see: Nicolson, “Exceptional Public Health Emergency,” 2020). Others, including US activists, have attempted to make sense of the COVID-19 outbreak by comparing responses to practices of “responsibility” and “negotiated safety,” paralleling COVID-19 with the HIV/AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s (see: Prager, “HIV Crisis Survivors,” 2020). To this end, they have illuminated what Kane Race (2001, p. 168) has called the “politics of responsibility”: simply, reflections (especially related to class) on who has access to particular medical resources, clinical spaces, pharmaceutical technologies, and how citizens can respond to and participate in public health interventions. Aligning COVID-19 with HIV/AIDS is appealing, first, because it reminds us of the bioethics of social struggle, the authority and expertise of science, especially related to healthcare policy and public health campaigns, and the timeliness of technological interventions (see: Epstein, Impure Science, 1998; Nuffield Council on Bioethics, “Public Health: Ethical Issues,” 2007). Such thinking also validates a long history of struggle, signalling, especially for queer folx deeply impacted by AIDS crisis, the resilience and possibility of change through lay intervention(s) into and exchanges with public health initiatives and biomedical advancements (see: France, How to Survive a Plague, 2016). Yet paralleling these epidemics reveals some significant differences, namely the scale of infectiousness and transmission vectors of the virus and adequate prophylactic interventions (see: Cohen, “The Paradoxical Politics of Viral Containment,” 2011). Hence, a critical departure from this kind of historical reflection brings us to the public health issue of social distancing and sex in isolation.

Sex in isolation, or isolation sex, sounds like a fetish in its own right. Masturbation, self-massages, toys, rubbing surfaces, fantasising: these sexual acts fall within the remit of sex-in-isolation, or what we’ll call self-play. They don’t require others, but when enforced by a period of government-sanctioned quarantine, they take precedence over direct contact with others. Different than the stigmatised histories of homosexual encounter(s), isolation sex is systemic across all sexual practices and temporary. Thus, isolation sex has a time frame and, I suggest, potentialises the socio-sexual body. We know that formal contact with other bodies serve as “risk vectors,” and thus any interaction opens our bodies to anxious critique, or worse, a fearful self-imposition of the politics of responsibility. Yet, we need not moralise isolation sex because it is bound up with confused political rhetoric and uneven government sanctioning. Rather, in thinking about isolation sex as self-play, we create a discursive and body-centred space in which to re-think and re-pleasure the body. This assertion emerges from the general fact that a lot of adults turn to others for sexual gratification without coming to know (i.e. self-recognising) their body’s own sexual, emotional and psychological desires. We illuminate the pleasures our bodies are capable of in an isolated space, trying and practicing – and sometimes failing! – to make sense of our own pleasures and desires, which are specific to each body. It’s a trial run, of sorts, where we might remain with ourselves, seek out those pleasures we seek from others, and, if we are lucky, find those sweet spots some of us lust after but never quite find. We can find greater meaning in how we value the sexual nature of the body by using this period to self-recognise, to put forward a self-sex politics that makes sex both during and after COVID-19 possible. Put differently, we can socialise the isolation period by observing highly active and interactive forms of self-play. This may, at base, resemble measures we have already taken: masturbation, fingering, or the use of toys. But it may also open us up to intellectual, psychological and pleasureful questions about our relationship to our corporeal and psychic bodies, our use of technology to facilitate healthy sexual practices, and the centrality or peripherality of pornography to our socio-sexual wellbeing. Equally, the use of digital encounters in isolation sex might help us to create more formative and less-stigmatised views about encounters with our long-term partners and our casual pals, especially those we fool around with in the bedroom and shy away from using innuendo in the pub. In short, isolation sex as self-sex can be a positive, public health intervention. Conceptualised as such, it might deepen our understanding of “community,” especially sexual community, through honest and sexy encounters on digital platforms, in turn potentialising rich social cultures against the moral strictures of respectability politics. (For more on LGBT health in the UK, see: HIV Scotland, “PrEP & Coronavirus, 2020; and PrEPster, “COVID-19, HIV & LGBT Health,” 2020).

These thoughts are necessarily incomplete, yet they open up a critical discussion about the relationship among the COVID-19 public health crisis, community health initiatives, and sexual politics. I turn now to a critical reading list, which ultimately has informed my own understanding of sex in epidemic times. It also has, crucially, helped me to reflect on, what Eric Rofes once called, methods for reviving “cultures of post-AIDS”: namely, how do we negotiate social and sexual conditions after viral pandemic? As Rofes suggests, even before the technical “end” of viral spread, we can take from our critical reflections on crisis the ability to work together to build new social structures as an aftermath. We are, at the present time, temporally distant from such an aftermath; yet it is useful to conceive of the potential for change – social, economic, cultural, biological, technological – as a means of achieving the future we inevitably long for and thus desire. This is what I hope to convey in providing these reflections and these resources.

A Critical Reader List

Items in this list are alphabetised according to the author’s surname and are formatted in Harvard style.

Anonymous Queers. (1990). Queers Read This! New York: Queer Nation.

This pamphlet was distributed at the New York City Pride March in June 1990 in response to police brutality, homophobia, oppressive social and economic structures, and other political sanctions on local gay and lesbian communities. Written by anonymous queers, the pamphlet has ties to the U.S. AIDS activist organisation Queer Nation, a direct-action and non-hierarchal political intervention group which broke away from ACT UP New York and sought to disrupt anti-gay violence in U.S. arts and media. This source is sometimes used in university courses to teach the histories of political intervention and the struggles of the gay liberation movement since the mid-20th century. It is also regularly called upon as an emblematic resource for illuminating the classed, gendered and raced dimensions of homophobia, discrimination and violence toward minority sexual populations. It’s an excellent resource for the activist, sociologist or historian interested in historical tactics for social change.

Cohen, E. (2011). The Paradoxical Politics of Viral Containment; or, How Scale Undoes Us One and All. Social Text 29(1), pp. 15-35.

This article is guided by the question: “How do we contain emerging viral epidemics?” It reflects, specifically, on biomedical interventions, scientific authority, and who/what “contains” these epidemics. Hence it is a social theory of containment, thinking through and against the boundaries of epidemiological and public health knowledge of what can and cannot be contained through the medical gaze. Cohen critically examines the use of “scale” to think about “transformations at the levels of molecules, cells, organisms, individuals, populations, species, ecosystems, technological infrastructures, political economies, and networks of global finance”. In a traditional STS critique, Cohen looks at the relationship between individuals and social structures, examining how science and biomedicine “naturally” articulates its understanding of boundaries “within the political ontology of modern capitalism”. The author suggests that we are inherently paradoxical beings that cannot easily be contained by such thinking, and we must remain attentive to how biopolitics “parse[s] the life world[s]” of the human and viral containment.

France, D. (2017). How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS. New York: Penguin.

A definitive history of the successful battle to halt the AIDS epidemic, How to Survive a Plague expands upon David France’s (2012) documentary to deepen the story of grassroots activists whose work helped to bring about effective intervention strategies and technological developments in the United States. The contents of this book are regularly taught in college seminars on the histories of HIV/AIDS and sexuality studies. Though the book is a massive 656 pages, you’ll find the prose at times witty, at others harrowing, to the effect of emotive and inspiring writing that feels more like a 200-page novel. Highly recommended for the average history buff.

French, M., and Mykhalovskiy, E. (2013). Public Health Intelligence and the Detection of Potential Pandemics. Sociology of Health & Illness 35(2), pp. 174-187.

This article considers contemporary developments in public health intelligence and health events of pandemic potential. As a sociological study, it discusses how public health official conceive of and “actualise” pandemic events. This article may be of interest for those interested in the theory and methodology behind “creating a pandemic,” especially thinking about the threshold between epidemic and pandemic, which has been a subject of interest in WHO’s initial hesitation to classify COVID-19 as a global pandemic (see: CDC’s “Epidemic Disease Occurrence,” [2012]).

McKay, R. (2017). Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Richard McKay’s rigorous study of Gaétan Dugas, a gay man whose skin cancer diagnosis in 1980 rapidly developed into posthumous assertions that he was AIDS “patient zero” in North America, provides a unique approach to understanding the political, media and scientific significance of assigning the role of “patient zero” to particular individuals in history. Clearly of great epistemological value during COVID-19 crisis, this book illuminates the long histories of contagion and (enforced) social isolation in the United States and, more broadly, within the history of western medicine. As the university press description suggests, this book “untangles the complex process by which individuals and groups create meaning and allocate blame when faced with new disease threats”. As such, it serves as a critical text for understanding parallel epidemics as well as how to avoid uncritical public media campaigns and how to maintain a dynamic understanding of the social, cultural, biomedical and political consequences of epidemiological and public health intervention.

Schulman, S. (2019 [1990]). People in Trouble. New York: Vintage.

Drawing on Sarah Schulman’s own experiences of AIDS crisis in New York City, this seminal novel provides an intimate look into the life-worlds of several urban dwellers responding to corrupt landlords and politicians, providing emotional and physical support for friends and community members in need; it also helpfully lays out a social critique of U.S. social structures and demands a sobering look at the oppressive structures of class-based economics and welfare. Readers may be familiar with the mid-1990s stage production RENT!, which takes from Schulman’s novel and stages the oppressive social conditions for large audiences. Schulman addressed this blatant lifting and infringement of her novel in her later book Stagestruck (1998), which, as a source of reflection in 2020, might help us to recognise the relationship between viral crisis and creative/artistic production. Simply put, this extraordinary and semi-fictional history proliferates critical discussions about U.S. social change, public health intervention, creative practice and intellectual property, and the possibility/problem of community during times of crisis.

Rofes, E. (1996). Reviving the Tribe: Regenerating Gay Men’s Sexuality and Culture in the Ongoing Epidemic. New York: Harrington Park Press. AND. Rofes, E. (1998). Dry Bones Breathe: Gay Men Creating Post-AIDS Identities and Cultures. New York: Harrington Park Press.

The late Eric Rofes, a public health specialist in San Francisco, USA, published a number of helpful texts about sexual community health after AIDS crisis. Specifically, his two books Reviving the Tribe (1996) and Dry Bones Breathe (1998) use accessible and image-driven language to discuss social and sexual behavioural management in the “aftermath” of AIDS crisis. Kane Race has suggested that Rofes was the first thinker to envision “post-AIDS” as a method for re-developing gay-male sexual life in the United States. These books, while notably dated, provide a fascinating blend of public health praxis, history of western medicine, the sociology of health and illness, queer ecology, and the psychology of gay sex in a period deeply impacted by viral epidemic. These early post-AIDS texts enact a threshold between the devastation of viral death and the post-crisis politics of safer-sex intervention practices and remain fundamental portals into the social histories of homosexuality in the 20th century.

Singer, L. (1993). Erotic Welfare: Sexual Theory and Politics in the Age of Epidemic. New York: Routledge.

A highly contentious book about the politics of sexuality, and the mechanisms that control sexuality during times of crisis, Linda Singer’s Erotic Welfare explores the “ways in which epidemic logic and heightened [political] regulation affect women’s efforts to secure reproductive freedom, the construction of femininity within the media, and various efforts to displace the hegemony of the nuclear family in the cultural imaginary”. In other words, it is a text which recognises the implications of Michel Foucault’s work on the cisgender female body. The book was compiled posthumously by Judith Butler and Maureen MacGrogan, and has served as a source on the history of sexual politics for many scholars in sexuality studies, gender studies, and feminist studies. For readers interested in the relationship among epidemic, containment and sexuality, this book will be especially illuminating.

Watney, S. (1987). Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media. London: Methuen.

This groundbreaking text holds accountable the media representations of HIV/AIDS and gay men during the early AIDS crisis in the UK. Simon Watney is a leader in the field of HIV/AIDS cultural studies and historical analysis, far-reaching in his criticism of the politics of outing and a resounding activist against the essentialisation of homosexual behaviour. As he states early in the book, “AIDS is effectively being used as a pretext throughout the West to ‘justify’ calls for increasing legislation and regulation of those who are considered to be socially unacceptable [i.e. homosexuals]”. Such political critique is especially cogent in a time when conservative political leaders continue to align viral spread using racial, classed and gendered metaphors. Watney’s book reminds us of the power and consequences of sexual identity politics in mainstream media and can serve as a source of reflection for resisting uncritical claims about the “source(s)” of viral spread, and the popularisation and misuse(s) of epidemiological knowledge and intervention strategies.

Other Reading Lists

Anonymous. (2020). #CoronaVirusSyllabus. Crowdsourced syllabus.

Anonymous. (2020). Queering the Pandemic. Crowdsourced syllabus.

Colom, S. (2020). Teaching Coronavirus—Sociological Syllabus Project. Crowdsourced syllabus.

Jenks, A., and Nelson, K. (2020). Teaching COVID-19: A Collaborative Anthropology Syllabus Project. Crowdsourced syllabus.

Lynteris, C. (2020). COVID-19 Forum: Introduction. Somatosphere. Special Issue. 6 Mar.