Sigma Research

London’s public sex environments (PSEs): an action research project

Duration: October 1995 - April 1997

Through the 1990s public sex environments (PSEs) were often the settings for HIV prevention interventions for Gay, Bisexual and other men that had sex with men.

In the Greater London area, there were a broad variety of PSEs ranging from public toilets (cottages) and parks (cruising sites) in central London to suburban and semi-rural sites.

The study was a research and development project funded by North Thames Regional Health Authority Commissioned Programme on HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health. We worked collaboratively with PSE outreach projects in order to carry out basic research both on PSEs and on how outreach was carried out in them.

Two basic research methods were used. Participant observation was carried out at a range of sites to observe the patterns and content of interactions between users and between users and workers. We also conducted individual and group interviews with management and outreach workers or volunteers to investigate the rationale and perception of the efficacy of their working methods and general satisfaction with the interventions undertaken.

Two simultaneous investigations were conducted. The first investigated how PSE outreach operated within a broader sexual health promotion framework. The second was a micro-analysis of the sexual and social interaction of a range of PSEs in order to establish how basic geographical, proximal and social features of a public space were manipulated in order to achieve sexual contact.

Results were written up in a Journal article called Anonymous sex among homosexually active men: implications for HIV prevention (Venereology, 2000) and a Book chapter called Observing the rules: an ethnographical study of London's cottages and cruising areas (1999).

Tagged under: All gay & bisexual men