public sexual cultures


This work is ongoing and has a number of strands, some work is done alone
and some in collaboration with Patrik Wikstrom and Peta Mitchell (QUT)

Producing Sexual Cultures and Pseudonymous Publics with Digital Networks – Ben Light
Since the release of the Grindr app in 2009, interest in digitally mediated public sexual cultures concerning men who have sex with men has increased. Yet, digital mediation of such public sexual cultures through apps had begun more than a decade before Grindr was released. For example, Squirt, a desktop and mobile hook up site for men who have sex with men, was launched in 1998 and has always functioned to facilitate public hook ups. Using Squirt as a case study, I build on the work of Mowlabocus (2008) in relation to our understandings of digitally mediated public sex, employing a version of networked publics (boyd, 2008a; boyd, 2008b) and thinking regarding the real name web (Hogan, 2013). Through an actor-network theory (ANT) informed analysis of Squirt, I demonstrate how, in a U.K. context, networked digital media inform and allow for the co-existence of a spectrum of gender and sexual politics, sexual preferences and sexual practices. Such an analysis encourages further explorations of the theoretical potentials of networked publics, and in doing so, I present the concept of pseudonymous publics.

This work is available as: Light, B. (2016). Producing sexual cultures and pseudonymous publics with digital networks. In R. Lind (Ed), Race and Gender in Electronic Media:  Challenges and Opportunities. London, UK: Routledge. (Copy available via this link:

Public Sexual Cultures and Big Data Ethics – w Peta Mitchell and Patrick Wikstrom

With Peta Mitchell and Patrick Wikstrom, I have interrogated the ethics of big data, where location is concerned, in a public sexual cultures context. With the rise of geo-social media, location is emerging as a particularly sensitive data point for digital media research where big data are concerned. In order to explore this area, we are reflecting on our ethics for a study where we analysed an app that facilitates public sex amongst men who have sex with men. The ethical sensitivities around location are further heightened in the context of research into such digital sexual cultures. Public sexual cultures involving men who have sex with men pre-date the apps, and the Internet, and operate in those spaces ‘not meant’ for public sex (such as parks, public toilets and truck rest stops) and those that are ‘meant’ for public sex (such as gay saunas/bath houses or dark rooms in certain bars). The app in question facilitates this activity in a number of ways. We have developed a web scraper that has allowed us to carefully collect selected data from the app and we have analysed it via content analysis using python scripts, geovisualisation software and manual qualitative coding techniques. Our findings centre on the ethics associated with generating, processing, presenting, archiving and deleting big data in a highly sensitive context where harassment, imprisonment, physical harm and even death occur. Overall, we find a tension in normal standards of ethical conduct where human beings are involved in research. In our study we have found that location over individuals or groups, becomes a key, though not the only, actor requiring attention when thinking about ethics in a big data context.

See: Light, B., Mitchell, P. and Wikström, P. (2018) Big Data Ethics and Location: A Case Study of an App for Public Sex Amongst Men Who Have Sex with Men, Social Media + Society, 4 (2): 1-10.

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