I had the great pleasure recently to head over to the Wellcome Collection along the streets of London around Euston station to visit the Institute of Sexology exhibition on the history of the study of sex by scientists.
It’s a long story that has faced more than a few obstacles in its time, not least of which is the overwhelming public desire to keep sex private and taboo (and the degree of control exercised over this by authority figures such as politicians and religious leaders for their own ends is also a significant debate). Despite all of these objections, though, we have come a long way and the collection on display here demonstrates exactly that in a sometimes shocking but always inspiring fashion.
From Freud to Kinsey, Stopes to Hirschfeld, this exhibition has it all; a veritable smorgasbord of sexual scientists from the past (literally in the case of Carolee Schneemann who kept a detailed record of her post-marital experiences on a sheet that has been ‘lovingly’ replicated for the exhibition – Ye Olde Sex Chart to boot). The highlight reel is impressive, as is the collection of items on show.
Ranging from a collection of 20th century condoms to footage of the burning of books in Nazi Germany all the way through Thatcherism and the birth of the Natsal to a project with young people collaborating to make music depicting their perspective on sex today. Enlightening and entertaining – like they took a leaf out of our book!
The collection is divided into sections, each exploring the work of different people in different arenas. The classroom, the library, the consulting room, the tent, the box, the laboratory, the home and the archive demonstrate the broad variety of fields that the study of sex impacts and therefore bears fruit for scientific study.
The exhibition is a delicate balance between literature and science; the creative and the logical. Samples of private collections of erotica from around the world from Ancient Greece to the modern day is juxtaposed with samples of research and lab equipment used by people such as Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson in their famous research studies.
There’s no shortage of interest for anyone from the casual observer (able to stroll around pleasantly in under an hour) to the thoroughly riveted (who could spend a whole morning there as I did!) and you’ll be bound not only to have learned something when you leave, but also to be curious to find out more. I’m not sure there’s any more successful result from an exhibition such as this: Go now!
If you want to see how we’re incorporating the information shared by people and events such as these into our work, keep a watchful eye on our ever-expanding Education pages or book your own Ohh My… Experience!