“The only unnatural sex act is that which you cannot perform.” Alfred Kinsey
One of the perks of living in London is there is often a new exhibition opening up somewhere. You may find a selection of recently opened and free exhibitions, but with all that London has to offer, there may not be many that immediately grab your interest.
The Wellcome Collection on the Euston Road is holding a 10-month exhibition titled ‘The Institute of Sexology: Undress Your Mind’, with the caption ‘A free exhibition that lays bare the big questions of human sexuality’. My attention was caught, and my friend Rachel and I visited in the opening week.
After heading past several warning signs reminding us that the exhibition contains sexually explicit material, we headed towards a darkened room. The exhibition contains over 200 objects related to sexuality, including art, photographs, footage, audio, letters, surveys, scientific research and a wide range of objects.
Covering 150 years of information, the exhibition itself looks at our ever-changing attitudes to human sexuality, and how research over the years has contributed to a better understanding of sex. In addition to research, a look at the changing behaviour of our culture also shows the changing attitudes towards sexuality and sexual identity within our society.
The exhibition itself is very well placed out, with objects kept behind glass with a detailed but easy to read description. Ranging from erotic artwork, condoms dating back decades, charts showing the process of an orgasm and 1980s leaflets on the AIDS pandemic, there will be something in this exhibition that you have probably not seen before.
In addition to the objects on display, the research of several pioneers, including Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes, Alfred Kinsey and Masters & Johnson are also part of the exhibition, looking at how taboos around sexuality have altered through the decades, and how sex and sexuality has been analysed and observed over time. There are also a very interesting series of letters written to Marie Stopes from people who regard her research as ‘filth’.
There is an interesting display from renowned artist Zanele Muholi, exploring the identity of black lesbians in South Africa, and several other sections of the exhibition exploring the research and understanding of LGBT lifestyles throughout the years. A variety of footage is also placed around on display, ranging from animal intercourse to Woody Allen’s 1972 film Sleeper; set in the year 2173 when a machine called the ‘Orgasmatron’ is invented to induce orgasms very rapidly, reducing the need for human contact.
When looking at the research nowadays, it is very easy to see how views have changed quite dramatically. Although the research being completed by Alfred Kingsey in the 1940s and 50s may now seem dated or certain aspects are incorrect, there is no doubt that his work, and the work of other researchers, has paved the way for how we understand sex today. Their attempts to lift the taboo on sexuality has allowed for greater discussions in regards to sex, and the surviving research which can be compared and contrasted also represents the changing attitudes of society over the past 100 years or so.
You can comfortably move around the exhibition within an hour, and beable to look at everything on offer. Although there are several aspects of human sexuality that are not touched upon in the exhibition, such as virginity, there is enough to keep you interested, and may well leave you with more questions by the time you leave. A great exhibition will leave you thinking, rather than just giving you information, which this certainly does.
Join the conversation: #sexology
‘The Institute of Sexology: Undress Your Mind’ is open until 20th September 2015, and is located at The Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1. Click here for more information.