A review: “The Institute of Sexology” exhibition at The Wellcome Collection

When my boyfriend agreed to spend our Saturday at a museum I was quite surprised. I am the museum geek in the relationship and he normally isn’t that interested, but then he sent me the link to the sexology exhibition at The Wellcome Collection and his sudden interest in a museum trip made a bit more sense.

I had high expectations of this exhibition, and it didn’t disappoint. There is something exciting about such a taboo subject being ‘set free’ in public, which may explain why it has been so popular. This made it fairly busy on a Saturday, but their timed ticket system seemed to manage the visitor flow so it wasn’t crowded.

The Institute of Sexology and The Wellcome Collection in Euston.
The Institute of Sexology and The Wellcome Collection in Euston.

The layout of the exhibition was well thought out and the story of how the field of sexology has developed was built upon as we went round the exhibit. There was a wide range of objects on display, but my eye was immediately drawn to some of the older objects, such as sex toys from the 1900’s. I don’t think I was the only one trying to suppress giggles when looking at these items, but it was interesting to see how much sexual experiences have changed over the years. I also found myself impressed with the letters on display, such as those written by Sigmund Freud and Marie Stopes. The hand written notes made their ideas much more engaging, and they had been beautifully preserved.

The different ideas of sex from Marie Stopes and Sigmund Freud were explained in detail, but it was highlighted that they shared one key ideal, that “sexual satisfaction was central to human happiness”. Stope’s idea that sex is not just for reproduction, but to be enjoyed was one that has been explored in the field of sexology and was alluded to in several parts of this exhibition.

An interesting highlight was the ‘Sexual Parameters Survey’ by Carole Schneemann, this was a chart with real sexual experiences listed on it in detail (a fancy alternative to notches on the bed post). If you visit the exhibition, look at this chart in detail, its one of those ‘it’s so awkward I can’t look, but so intriguing I can’t stop looking’ type things. It had details of each sexual encounter such as areas that were contacted with hands or by mouth, where orgasm occurred and thoughts during sex. Strangely it also contained the occupation of sexual partners, I have no idea why that would make a difference? Did she think dentists make better lovers than gardeners?

Research on sexuality by Dr Kinsey was a focal point in the exhibition. It was Kinsey that thought of homosexuality and heterosexuality as a continuum instead of two separate absolute things (see the chart in the picture below). These ideas were complimented by a video of real students discussing sexuality and sexual freedom.

Kinsey thought of sexuality as a continuum
Kinsey thought of sexuality as a continuum

It was also interesting to see how much contraception has given freedom for people to explore the sexual experience, and how much scope this has given to the study of sex.

We finished our visit with one of the ‘hands on’ talks related to the exhibit. Ours was on ‘sex and pleasure‘ and objects were discussed and passed around including a vibrator and a female condom. The presenter was hilarious and was full of interesting facts, like how female condoms are more popular than normal ones in some countries.

Overall it was a really interesting afternoon, and I would highly recommend it!

For more info follow this link: http://www.wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/institute-sexology?gclid=CMWdv8mFnsMCFfQatAodqXcA0Q

Till next time,




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