The Institute of Sexology

As part of an impressive development project which aims to make this ‘free destination for the incurably curious’ even more accommodating and intriguing, the Wellcome Collection has introduced a year-long sexhibition: The Institute of Sexology. It runs for almost a year, from the 20th November 2014 – 20th September 2015.

I’m used to meandering around exhibition spaces and museums alone but when I told my usually-very-liberal mum that I was going to a ‘thing about sex’, she was slightly concerned. However, the space, lit with soft spotlights and sectioned off by long grey curtains, was relaxed and wellcoming. Besides, I wasn’t the only one alone- it was surprisingly busy (there was a slight bit of congestion by a particularly interesting Marie Stopes artifact) and people seemed happy to walk around on their own, as part of a couple; in small groups with work colleagues, partners, and friends.

The exhibition showcases artifacts, papers, videos, images, books, and more from various cultures and studies of sex over the past 150 years. From Magnus Hirschfeld to Alfred ‘Dr Sex’ Kinsey, each corner turned introduces the sexologists whose studies have helped towards our understanding of sexuality, masturbation, and sex in general today. A video of a discussion between a group of American university students can also be heard while wandering through the space (this, coupled with the long curtains, gave the whole thing a slight Wizard of Oz feel).

There are numerous changing events being held throughout the year, such as ‘Uncovering Freud’ and ‘Researching Pornography’. The current event, ‘Cruising for Art’, allows visitors to pick up and wear a bandana as a signal to be engaged by a performance artist. I watched a few of the ‘incurably curious’ give it a go, and at the end, I found them all sitting in a circle on the floor, moulding plasticine into varying forms of genitalia.

One of the most interesting pieces features interviews with women who help to conduct Natsal- the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle, of which is still going on today. These interviews, as well as the rest of the exhibition, really highlight how far we have come in our tolerance to sex and potentially how far we still have to go.

However, my favourite part of the exhibition has to be the Roman ‘phallic power’ amulets, which are a collection of teeny tiny Roman and Egyptian phallic symbol charms (although I can’t imagine anyone today wearing these on a charm bracelet!). My description does not do these incredible amulets justice, so it’s worth going to see the exhibition just to check them out for yourself.

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