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‘The Institute of Sexology’
  1. Susan Quilliam
  1. Freelance Writer, Broadcaster, Consultant and Trainer, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Ms Susan Quilliam; susan{at}susanquilliam.com; http://www.susanquilliam.com

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CONTEXT

I always enjoy writing the Consumer Correspondent column, but on some occasions the task is more exciting than on others. Spend a day at a sex exhibition? Tough job, but I guess someone's got to do it.

‘The Institute of Sexology: Undress Your Mind’, the Wellcome Trust's latest exhibition, is an exploration of what one critic termed the “most publicly discussed of private acts”. Prompted by the recent (2010-2012) National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (NATSAL-3) survey into sexual habits, the exhibition examines the work of sexologists – researchers, therapists, anthropologists and doctors – from the late 19th century to the present day (Box 1), showing how this work both reflects and shapes our attitude to sexuality.

It is no surprise that Wellcome's offering has already proved a huge success to the point where timed tickets are now being issued during busy periods. But those expecting furry handcuffs and Page 3 cuties are in for disappointment.

Despite warnings – reinforced by forbidding entrance doors – that the exhibition contains sexual material, the grey decor and museum-like exhibition cases instantly make it clear that we are on an intellectual rather than an erotic journey. I imagine that none of my fellow visitors felt an aroused quiver in response to the exhibits. But I felt strong emotions: fascination, admiration, and a certain sadness.

Fascination

I was fascinated to view an early photograph of Marie Stopes’ first birth control clinic sited in a wooden caravan; to listen to the NATSAL researchers explain their approach; to sit in a replica of Wilhelm Reich's Orgone Energy Accumulator. All of us probably recognise that some of sexology's pioneers such as Masters and Johnson and Kinsey have entered the …

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