Changing policy, practice and public understandings of sexualities and intimate relationships in the UK
Submitting InstitutionOpen University
Unit of AssessmentSociology
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Demography, Sociology
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Summary of the impact
Through the production of policy and practice reports, public engagement
events, provision of
continuing professional development (CPD) and training for practitioners,
and dialogue with key
stakeholders in government, the research team on sexuality and intimacy in
the OU has had a
direct impact on policy and practice concerning intimate lives in the UK.
In particular, they have
effected change in policy and public understandings of both bisexuality
and intimate relationships.
Underpinning this work is a motivation to shape contemporary debates about
our intimate lives to
further social justice and improve quality of life.
As members of the Research Centre for Citizenship, Identities and
colleagues have been involved in a number of associated projects on sex,
relationships over the past eight years. These have included work on
family lives (Gabb, Fink),
lesbian and gay parenthood (Gabb, Langdridge), adoption (Fink), migrant
transnational intimacies (Erel), sadomasochism (Langdridge, Barker),
bisexuality (Barker), and
relationship therapy (Vossler, Barker, Langdridge). Two leading journals
were founded and
continue to be edited by group members: Psychology & Sexuality,
published by Taylor and Francis
(Barker, Langdridge), and Families, Relationships and Societies,
published by Policy Press
Members of this sexuality and relationships group have conducted a number
of studies exploring
different minority community understandings of sexuality and
relationships, often working at the
interstices of the psychological and social. For instance, using data from
her empirical research,
Gabb has published widely on same-sex and heterosexual family experience
and how the
absence-presence of children impact on family sexuality and intimacy in
Barker has headed up BiUK (the UK national organisation for bisexual
research and activism),
working closely with bisexual communities to conduct a series of linked
projects into UK bisexual experience, including the annual BiCon survey.
OU research on
bisexuality, specifically, has informed two national and two international
conferences (BiReCon and
BiReConUS), with this work culminating in the production of The
Bisexuality Report. Langdridge
and Barker have drawn on their various research studies to bring together
academic work with
writing from activists, practitioners and community members in two edited
sadomasochism and consensual non-monogamous relationships, amongst
Research on couple relationships and family lives is embedded in and
developed through policy,
practice and community contexts. This work has been advanced through
national third sector organisations (Gabb, Fink, Vossler — Relate; Gabb —
Barker — COSRT and the national LGB&T partnership) and community
networks (Fink, Community
Action MK; Milton Keynes Community Foundation; Barker, BiCon, BCN, The
Erel's research on migration, ethnicity and class foregrounds the agency
and subjectivity of migrant
women. She holds an advisory role with the Roj Women's Association, a
group who submitted to
the United Nations Committee Against Torture (November 2010) resulting in
their inclusion in the
Concluding Observations (paragraph 19)
Erel is also on the
Management Committee of the SAFRA project, providing social support for
lesbian, bisexual and
transgender Muslim women.
References to the research
1. Barker, M., Bowes-Catton, H., Iantaffi, A., Cassidy, A. and Brewer, L.
(2008) `British bisexuality:
A snapshot of bisexual identities in the UK', Journal of Bisexuality,
8 (1&2), pp. 141-162.
2. Erel, U., Williams, F. and Brennan, D. (eds) (2012) `Transnational
care: changing formations of
citizenship, family and generation', Social Politics, Special
Issue, vol. 19, no. 1.
3. Fink, J. and Lomax, H. (eds) (2012) `Images and inequalities:
implications for policy and
research', Critical Social Policy, Themed Issue, vol. 32, no. 1.
4. Gabb, J. (2008) Researching intimacy in families. Basingstoke,
Palgrave Macmillan, 211pp,
ISBN 978-0-230-52722-5. (Winner of the 2009 BSA Philip Abrams Memorial
prize for the best
sole-authored first book in sociology in the UK. Second edition published
2010, including new
5. Langdridge, D. (2013) `Gay fathers, gay citizenship: on the power of
futurism and assimilation'
Citizenship Studies, vol. 17, no. 6-7, pp. 713-726.
6. Vossler, A. (2004) `The participation of children and adolescents in
family counselling: the
German experience', Counseling and Psychotherapy Research, vol. 4,
Key funded projects include:
1. Behind Closed Doors: Researching Intimacy and Sexuality in
Families (Gabb, ESRC RES-000-
220854 - £47,700.45)
2. Enduring Love? (Gabb & Fink, ESRC RES-062-23-3056 - £507,231)
3. Mapping the Future of the UK Childcare sector (Fink and St.
Francis Children's Society, KTP -
4. Visual Dialogues: New Agendas in Inequalities Research (Lomax,
Fink, Rose & Whiting, RES-
451-26-0722 - £18,000).
Details of the impact
Below we provide evidence of three distinct, though interlinked, impacts
driven by our research:
1) Advancing policy and public understandings of bisexuality
The Open University and BiUK published The Bisexuality Report,
which summarises key national
and international research and advances recommendations for policy and
practice. The report has
led to the following policy impact:
- The Government Equalities Office has met regularly with the authors to
of the report's recommendations.
- On the strength of the report Barker has been invited to be a member
of the government-funded
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGB&T) Partnership and the
LGB&T Chief Executives
- A summary of the report findings on health has already been included
in the Public Health
Toolkit Document for Local Authorities launched in Parliament in April
2013. This toolkit will
have a significant impact on the delivery of public health on a national
- The report has informed public debate and the understanding of
bisexuality. It has been
endorsed by national LGBT organisations including Stonewall and Pink
Bisexuality Report has been downloaded over 50,000 times since
publication in February 2012
and been discussed in the national and international press.
2) Impact on policy and public understanding of relationships
The project team of Enduring Love? has impacted on both policy
and public understanding of
- The Enduring Love? project has helped shape the Department for
Education (DfE) agenda,
mainstreaming `public service' relationship education and couple
support. Invited presentations
of findings have been completed at the DfE (February 2013), Relate
(Annual Conference 2012
and 2013), One Plus One (October 2013), and Tavistock Institute.
- The research team has impacted on the democratic debate on couple
relationships. They have
been invited to participate in all-party parliamentary briefings,
receptions and consultation
events, including House of Commons (July 2013 and April 2012), Houses of
(February 2013) and Windsor Castle (March 2012).
- The project is contributing to public interest in what makes couples
stay together. A series of
iTunes audios and videos have been produced (Gabb and Fink) that speak
to a general
audience and received over 24,000 hits on their launch. Findings and
reports of the research
have also been disseminated to wider publics via involvement in radio
BBC's Woman's Hour) and a number of large circulation print
publications, such as The Metro
(14 February 2013) and The Sun (16 January 2011).
- In a related project, Barker has contributed to public debate and
understanding of relationships
by authoring a book for a general audience on relationships and
maintaining an associated
blog, Rewriting the Rules. Both received considerable media
coverage (e.g. the Guardian, the
Independent, DIVA and Elle magazines, BBC radio
- Fink's research has impacted on Milton Keynes residents' understanding
of the dynamics of
poverty and place in children's lives and family relationships. She
organised and participated in
a number of successful knowledge exchange activities with Milton Keynes'
children's workshop participation and attendance by local residents and
councillors at the
Second International Visual Methods Conference (2011).
- Fink also contributed to local understanding of changes in adoption
policies. Fink's Knowledge
Transfer Partnership with St Francis Children's Society (SFCS), Milton
Keynes, resulted in a
(confidential) report for SFCS and publication (2011) has disseminated
findings about shifts in
adoption policy and practice to both practitioner and academic
3) Impact on professional practice
Barker, Vossler and Langdridge are psychotherapists and trainers in the
areas of sexual and/or
relationship therapy who exercise wider impact through their established
links with key professional
bodies in the field.
Impact of 2012 British Psychological Society's guidelines on
psychotherapeutically with sexual and gender minorities. Barker
and Langdridge's work
underpins the 2012 British Psychological Society's guidelines on working
with sexual and gender minorities, where they have been key members of
the working party.
These are the first UK guidelines on these matters for UK psychologists
and will have a
significant impact on practice.
Training of professionals. Vossler, Langdridge and Barker have
all undertaken numerous
workshops for professionals including: workshops for Relate (Vossler,
Barker) and continuing
professional development days for COSRT (Barker) and Pink Therapy
Impact on the future of psychosexual and relationship therapy in
the UK. Barker has been
responsible for producing the public-facing material on the COSRT
website and organising their
conferences, which shape the future of psychosexual and relationship
therapy in the UK.
Contributing to the improvement of Milton Keynes Council's services
for Black and
Minority Ethnic (BME) families and children, as well as enhancing
voluntary sector organisations. At the level of local professional
practice, Erel is the
Independent Chair of the Commission on Ethnic Diversity in Milton Keynes
that has been
tasked with improving these services and co-operations.
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) Advancing Policy and Public Understandings of Bisexuality
- Head of the LGB&T division at the Government Equalities Office to
confirm impact of The
Bisexuality Report on government policy.
- Chief Executive of the Department of Health, LGB&T partnership to
confirm the importance of
The Bisexuality Report and its key role influencing UK policy and
practice on LGB&T equality
and enabling LGB&T organisations to meet the needs of bisexual
- TV interview (US) with Barker -
http://blip.tv/bicities/235-dr-meg-barker-because-2013-6626420 - at the 1st US BiReCon event.
- Barker, M., Richards, C., Jones, R., Bowes-Catton, H., & Plowman,
T. (2012). The Bisexuality
Report: Bisexual inclusion in LGBT equality and diversity. Milton
Keynes: The Open University,
Centre for Citizenship, Identity and Governance.
2) Impact on Policy and Public Understanding of Relationships
- Director of One plus One to confirm impact of work on `Enduring Love'
in influencing activities
of UK relationship charity.
- Chief Executive Officer of Relate to corroborate impact of `Enduring
Love' on training
professional practitioners in relationship therapy.
3) Impact on Professional Practice
- Director of Pink Therapy to corroborate impact of BPS guidelines and
work by Barker and
Langdridge on professional practice for working with sexual and gender
- Storify record of celebratory event at OU London Offices to launch and
reflect upon the impact
of the BPS Guidelines and related work -http://storify.com/megbarkerpsych/sexuality-and-
- Shaw, L., Butler, C., Langdridge, D., Gibson, S., Barker, M., Lenihan,
P., Nair, R. & Richards,
C. (2012). Guidelines for psychologists working therapeutically with
sexual and gender minority
clients. Leicester: British Psychological Society.