Don’t pretend you are driven by a scientific interest; you can’t pull the wool over our eyes. If you’re off to visit the very explicitly named ‘Institute of Sexology’ at the Wellcome Collection, it’s because the topic titillates you. And if you still haven’t gone to see it, you certainly will after you’ve read this.
A sign at the entrance advises you to “Undress your mind”, And judging by the length of the queues at peak times, people can’t wait to do just that. But never fear, no other form of undressing is required to see the exhibition, which celebrates the most important research into what we humans get up to between the sheets (or swinging from the chandeliers in the most adventurous of cases, and which only seems to happen to our closest girlfriends). In the first rooms you’ll find ancient objects and relics (from tintinnabula which the Romans used to put on their doorstep to augur fertility, to the very scary Victorian anti-masturbation device replete with toothed ring. You’ll learn more about the studies of Sigmund Freud, who always blamed the mother for everything naturally, to Marie Stopes, who founded the first free birth-control clinic in London in 1921, to William Master & Virginia Johnsons, who recorded hundreds of climaxes at Washington University, ended up recording themselves and then become a couple.
To be a sex researcher you don’t need to be a scientist, as proved by Carolee Schneeman. For many years the American artist compiled a journal of her (numerous) sexual encounters, noting the size of her partner’s privates (which does not matter, apparently), the movements, the use of words and the final impression, choosing adjectives such as ‘average, blunt, normal’ and so on). The list of lovers is long, and most were journalists and artists. There is only one banker, who was ‘silent’ and of ‘average size’. No surprise there then! If you’re feeling too prudish, you’d better head elsewhere. The exhibition is interesting and doesn’t aim to titillate our prurient curiosity but merely to inform and explain that lust, and even perversion, is part of the human condition. And if your sexual preferences aren’t aroused after the visit, you can always buy the “Before and after sex” mint box which promise miracles, from the museum shop, and which may be the key that unleashes your innermost desires. Note on a margin: in a corner of one of the rooms there is a screen with some scenes from Woody Allen’s Sleeper, where Allen, cryogenically frozen in 1973 and defrosted 200 years later, discovers that everybody is impotent except those with Italians ancestors. “I though there was something in all this pasta”, he says. Spaghetti, anyone?
“The list of lovers is long, and most were journalists and artists. There is only one banker, who was ‘silent’ and of ‘average size’. No surprise there then!” If you’re feeling too prudish, you’d better head elsewhere. The exhibition is interesting and doesn’t aim to titillate our prurient curiosity but merely to inform and explain that lust, and even perversion, is part of the human condition.