I was in Ottawa for Race Weekend and decided, in between running, to take in some exhibits at the city's diverse museums. I could tell you how wonderful the Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada was, but I'm pretty sure you'd be able to figure that one out on your own. The real
question is how was Sex: A Tell All Exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology?
From the outset, with the beanbag chairs laid out (pun intended) for you to watch a video of conception and gestation, you know this isn't going to be just another health class.
So what's it really about? Some of the exhibit focuses on self-esteem and body image.
You walk in to life-sized naked composite photographs showing the physiological progression of each sex as the body ages. (I got to the old lady and gasped! If that's what's going to happen, I'm ramping up my running schedule...)
Once past that, there are some informed messages about gender projections and stereotypes, explaining where they come from.
Variable Anatomy has the most nudity as it's a side by side video slide show of different breast and chests, vaginas and penises. It illustrates how we humans come in all shapes, colours and sizes.
Am I Like Everyone Else? takes it a step closer (literally) with zoomed in photographic images of vaginas and penises explaining how, like fingerprints, no two are alike.
I really liked Distortion. It's a mirror that shifts, tilts, expands, and contracts. The goal is for you to press the stop button when you think the image looks right. It then tells you about yourself -ie, if you know your body well or have a skewed vision of what you look like. It's a great lesson in body image and self-esteem.
Much of the exhibit actually focuses on science. From explaining what dopamines are and How We Sense Pleasure to Why Does A Kiss Feel So Good? (lips and tongue are amongst the body's most sensitive parts) it gets right down to brass tacks.
There's also Mission Charm which explains attraction and social cues along with a display of animal courting techniques.
And then the exhibit gets more specific.
What Arouses Me? and The Perfect Touch where you put your hands on the male and female mannequins to find their erogenous zones, focuses on the sensations and triggers. The Fantasy Booth was really anticlimactic (pun intended), it tells you "just use your brain."
But we get into Erectomatic, Why Does It Get Hard? which again scientifically plot out what the components are and how they rise to the occasion. And, of course, Climax, a cartoon video showing what physiologically happens during orgasm.
But there's more to it than that. I think the support and responsibility components are excellent. There's an area that explains sexuality choices, with a video of personal accounts. These are really interesting interviews with people talking about the process of realization, how they chose to come out, how it felt and how it was accepted.
Is It Normal To Masturbate is the display with the video removed. From what I was told, it was a cartoon explanation. Maybe hand over a dog eared copy of a Judy Bloom book to fill in the blanks on this one.
There are three Pink Telephone displays where sexologists answers questions on everything from "what if I'm not ready" and "is it ok to be gay" to "why do boys want anal". The first one is strategically located right next to a display of condoms.
No Condom? No Way is an interactive lift the flap display explaining why you always need one. (And yes, there is a cartoon showing how to put one on.)
The bean jars showing how different STDs can be transmitted and the board explaining the risks of mixing sex with drugs and alcohol are more serious and very important, as is Sexualization of Public Spaces, a slide show of how the media uses sex in mass market advertisements.
On the lighter side there is What's It Called?, a survey of the most common words for genitalia. (You can add your own.)
But there's also For Me, Sexuality Is... where people write in their own answers which are added to an audio and video display. Some of the answers that came up on screen were:
"...yuck, cause I'm 13!"
"...being in love with someone"
"...the ability to connect"
"...it's really complicated!"
The exhibit closes It's A Question Of Culture showing acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in Canada 50 years ago, in Canada today and today in other countries, and It's The Law, a Q&A test of scenarios where you guess if it's a criminally punishable act, like date rape and sexual assault. Some of the scenarios are far more subtle than you'd think and the boundaries are a good lesson for everyone to learn.
I stood back at one point and listened as a mother explained birth control methods to her daughter at the Do I Need To Use Contraception display. It was an open and relaxed dialogue as they talked about practicalities, physiology and the science behind it. I hope when the time comes, I'll be like that mom.
Bottom line: Would I take my 9 year old daughter? No way. But other people did. You have to decide what's right for your child and what they're ready for.
On the other hand, would I take a 14 year old? Absolutely. It opens an honest dialogue and can answers questions I may not be able to without blushing and/or having them go "ewww, mom and dad did that??"