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The Institute of Sexology Undress Your Mind - Exhibition Wellcome Collection

By Edited Nov 15, 2016 1 0

New Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection, London

Painted Manuscript of Kamasutra
The Wellcome Collection's latest exhibition The Institute of Sexology Undress Your Mind is a candid examination of the study of human sexuality.


The Institute of Sexology is the first exhibition in the UK to look at the pioneers of the study of sex, the most talked about private act. The exhibition features more than 200 items including art and artefacts, rare archival materials, erotica, photography and video footage.


Many items have been carefully selected from the Wellcome's own vast holdings, and other important loans have come from public and private collections such as The Kinsey Institute; the Science Museum, London, and the National Archives.

One Hundred and Fifty Years of Research Into Human Sexuality

Marie Stopes
The period under scrutiny spans 150 years of research into human sexuality. Looking at people like Alfred Kinsey, Marie Stopes, Sigmund Freud, Margaret Mead and other key personalities, the exhibition examines the experiments and studies that helped make sex a legitimate subject for study. The show also looks at the people behind the present-day National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal).

The Institute of Sexology features several works, some specially commissioned, exploring sexual identity by artists such as Neil Bartlett, Zanele Muholi, John Stezaker, Sharon Hayes and Timothy Archibold.

Phallic Amulets
All the key researchers seem to have been avid collectors amassing fascinating holdings of books, testimonies, erotica, photographs and statistics. It is through these collections that we get an idea about the methods they used and what interested them the most. How did they observe, analyse and question sexual activity? What was normal/abnormal? All these questions and more are examined by The Institute of Sexology.


The Institute of Sexology
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A candid exploration of the study of sex.

A Developing Exhibition

The show will run for almost a year and will continue to develop and grow as new commissions are added and live events, discussions and performances take place within the gallery space. The Institute of Sexology is part of a Sexology Season of activity across the UK.

James Peto, Senior Curator at the Wellcome Collection speaks exclusively to Infobarrel about the exhibition.

Inforbarrel: How long does it take to plan an exhibition like this?

James Peto: We've been working on this one for about two years, on and off. It takes a long time, partly because of collecting all the material together, borrowing it from lots of different people. It's a long complicated process.

Inforbarrel: What were your criteria for selecting items for display?

James Peto: Very much the starting point was the people who feature prominently in the exhibition – the sexologists, the people who study sex. The exhibition is built around them, and a lot of them, luckily for us, were also great collectors. So there's a wealth of objects and images that comes with their work – their collections are a great resource for an exhibition. 

Inforbarrel: How do you see the interplay between art and science in the context of this exhibition?

James Peto: Again, I think it's interesting that a lot of what the sexologists themselves collected. There is a lot of art and science in what they collected. They were collectors of information and they were also collectors of art works. Alfred Kinsey, for example, who features large in the exhibition, and the Kinsey Institute that he established, built up an enormous collection of erotica and objects relating to sex and the history of sex. I think he felt that was really helping the people at the Institute, and the wider public, to understand our attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and the history of those attitudes.

Infobarrel: In the 'Consulting Room' you bring together Sigmund Freud and Marie Stopes - how did their attitudes to sexual satisfaction as a key to human happiness differ?

James Peto: Well... Freud is a very difficult person to talk about, so I'll concentrate on Stopes.

Chimes Birth Control Leaflet
I think one of her prime motivations was to help women especially. It was hugely important work to help women have a better understanding of their bodies and what they might expect when they married, and of their husband's/partner's bodies, as well as issues relating to maternity and child-bearing. Obviously, she was passionate about helping people towards a better understanding.

Marie Stopes' Married Love







Her book 'Married Love' was published in 1918 got an extraordinary reaction and that features very strongly in the exhibition too. The correspondence that she entered into with some of her readers, both people who were writing for advice, and also people who were writing to thank her for saving their marriages, or for helping them enormously through their marriages. Also there were

Letter to Marie Stopes
those who were extremely antagonistic towards her and felt that she was 'peddling filth', to use the words of some of the people who wrote to her. Whereas, Freud I suppose, was much more interested in what was going on in the brain than in the body. That's one of the big differences between the two. Stopes was quite scathing of Freud's work, as you can see from the exhibition.

Infobarrel: What do you hope visitors will take away from the exhibition?

James Peto: I hope that they'll take away a fascination for, and respect for, a lot of the people we feature. I hope they'll also understand the importance of the scientific study of sex and sexuality and attitudes towards sex. I hope they'll also ask themselves some interesting questions about how much better off we are today in this world. We're supposedly much more liberated than we were. But, actually, in this world we are also bombarded with sexual images, of one kind or another, in a very controlled way, or controlled by other people, not by ourselves, and what effect does that have, and the level of freedom that we really have, is an interesting question that the exhibition asks.

Married Love or Love in Marriage
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Marie Stopes' book, Married Love, caused quite a stir when it was originally published!

Will You Undress Your Mind?

The Institute of Sexology Undress Your Mind is a free exhibition at the Wellcome Collection until 20th September 2015. A diverse range of public events accompanies the exhibition and full details are on the Wellcome website.

More on Infobarrel

Infobarrel contains a number of interesting articles about people such as Sigmund Freud and his theories, including:

Wellcome Collection: A Guide for the Incurably Curious
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Your guide to the Wellcome Collection.

Visit the Wellcome Collection



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  1. Wellcome Collection "Wellcome Collection." Wellcome Collection. 21/11/2014 <Web >

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