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The Institute of Sexology

21 November 2014 | Jessica Johnston

Forget ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’, this show invites visitors to ‘undress their minds’ and take an explicit glimpse into the most primal of human behaviour.

Sex has fascinated mankind since the beginning of time. Titillating or taboo, this most private of acts has been publicly discussed for centuries - long before E.L. James got everyone’s pulses racing with Fifty Shades of Grey. Opening at the newly expanded Wellcome Collection this November, an X-rated exhibition asks visitors to look at life between the sheets, inside ‘The Institute of Sexology’. In a candid exploration of human sexuality, this year long display brings together the methodologies of pioneering sexologists including Sigmund Freud, Alfred Kinsey and Margaret Mead, to investigate how their research into the study of sex has shaped our ever-evolving attitudes towards sexual behaviour and identity.

Journeying through 150 years worth of research, visitors will discover over 200 erotic objects, risqué artefacts and historical ethnography that will piece together this tantalising tale, offering a new perspective on perversions, lust and normality. From Alfred Kinsey’s coded questionnaires and Wilhelm Reich’s ‘sex box’ to perverse pottery, homemade sex machines and a galloping phallus complete with hooves and a tail (a sacred wind chime apparently), every conceivable (and inconceivable) aspect of human sexuality is explored in this eye-popping show.

Framed by named sites of research, the exhibition moves from libraries to labs to living rooms in a series of spaces dedicated to history’s great ‘sexperts’. Visitors begin their sexual escapade in ‘The Library’, which pays homage to the early collectors of sexual materials. Next up, ‘The Consulting Room’ brings together the ideas of unlikely bedfellows Sigmund Freud and Marie Stopes, whilst ‘The Tent’ looks at anthropologists who celebrated the sexual freedom of the Pacific islanders they studied. ‘The Classroom’ investigates Alfred Kinsey’s journey from entomologist to obsessive compiler of sexual histories and ‘The Lab’ is a nod to the bespoke laboratory used by Virginia Johnson and William Masters in their study of sexual arousal at Washington University in the 1960s. In the final section, visitors venture into ‘The Home’ where developing methodologies of contemporary sexologists are scrutinised alongside the results of surveys taken by Natsal.

Forget ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’, this show invites visitors to ‘undress their minds’ and take an explicit glimpse into the most primal of human behaviour. Described by The Times as an ‘intellectual romp’, the exhibition is certainly an education, probing everything from porn and eroticism to masculinity, female pleasure and sexual health over the lastfifteen decades.A vast collection of sexual aids and materials are on display, with objects ranging from delicate palm sized pornographic comic books and intricate copulating carvings to the more severe looking steel and nickel plated Jugum penis, used in the 1800s as an anti-masturbation device for young men. The device looks as inviting as the jaw of an animal trap and has the potential for as much damage.

From the gruesome to the graphic, visitors will also come up close and very personal with a plethora of private parts, as countless phallic artefacts fill the cabinets and remarkably intimate images line the walls. Some of the more surprising findings within ‘The Institute’ include a film of animals mating that features homosexual guinea pigs getting it on, an office sign asking ‘It’s 10 o’clock do you know where your clitoris is?’ and a replica of Wilhelm Reich’s ‘orgone accumulator’ machine that supposedly induces orgasm in its user - visitors are welcome to give it a go.

"'The Institute of Sexology' offers a complex, often contradictory story of the study of sex”, says exhibition curator Kate Forde. The research and findings are “caught up in attempts to free us from the tyranny of preconceived ideas about sex, and suggest that our understanding about our sexual identities is a story of constant evolution.” It is this very notion of evolving ideas that makes this exhibition so exciting as ‘The Institute’ itself will grow during the course the year, hosting an ongoing investigation into the study of sex with new commissions, live events, discussions and performances contributing to the display. From the scientific to the salacious, this exhibition has the power to educate and titillate. It certainly hits the spot.

‘The Institute of Sexology’ is on at the Wellcome Collection from 20th November – 20th September 2015. Admission is free, for further information please click here.

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