Well, a traveling show called “Sex: a Tell-all Exhibition” opened Thursday at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, drawing attention (and lots of press) from all sides of the spectrum. It was created by the Montréal Science Centre and is described as unique and award-winning. The website presents it this way: “…a rare opportunity for adolescents to get reliable answers to their questions about sexuality. The exhibition is also of interest to parents, high school teachers and health professionals who work with adolescents.”
Perhaps this is the place to say read no further, if you find the subject inappropriate. And don’t take your kids either. Those who feel differently may want to check it out.
The same display got positive responses in Montréal and Regina, but feelings hit the fan in Ottawa. Initial local press reports were careful to inform readers what was coming. As the Ottawa Citizen described it on May 11:
There’s certainly nudity in Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition, though no more than your teenager can find in 10 seconds on the Internet, anyway. The point here is to answer questions that teenagers have but might not ask aloud.
Pornographic, no. Graphic, definitely yes.
Kids under age 12 are not admitted without a responsible adult, and even then, it’s strongly discouraged
Negative reactions followed. Even before it opened in Ottawa, Canada’s Heritage Minister James Moore was (and remains) critical of the content. The local news-talk station CFRA, had a field day. Some complained the exhibit was just too graphic. Others said the show presented sex with insufficient social/emotional context. The museum largely held its ground, but did pull an animation depicting masturbation and raise the suggested minimum age for unaccompanied viewing from 12 to 16.
In an op-ed of May 17th Andrea Mrozek opined that all that was missing was the concept of sex as part of a wholesome, permanent relationship. (Mrozek is with the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada). As she put it:
There’s a war on sugar and trans fats in Ontario schools. The province is enforcing food regulations with religious zeal in the name of healthier children. There is no holding back when it comes to provincial pronouncements on what’s risky for your child to eat.
Not so with sex, however. There, it’s anything goes. If you feel like it, do it. This is the ethos behind the new SEX: A Tell-all Exhibition, opening Thursday at Ottawa’s museum of science and technology.
Designed by a collection of doctors, psychologists and sexologists in Montreal, this is a world of sex without stigma, to be sure. It’s also a world of sex without privacy, intimacy or connection. Nothing is sacred; everything is physical, and sex is more or less expected.
I have not seen the exhibit yet myself. But just to be provocative, I’ll ask, does Mrozek have a point?
Science purports to examine subjects in a value-neutral way (though it does not always succeed). There’s a real need for “just the facts” information. Sex certainly can and does happen in a context that ignores convention or emotional commitment. Also, it’s pretty clear that societal norms change over time. But don’t teens deserve some discussion about the non-mechanical aspects of the activity too? Or is that aspect too contentious, too subjective and hence “unscientific”? (Discuss away!)
Another element of the publicity centers on the subject of Ottawa. If cities have a personality, is Ottawa’s that of a prude? Several articles and editorials in the Ottawa Citizen protested that the fuss was overblown and the attitude of most in Ottawa was being misrepresented. (Or, political posturing is one thing, local attitudes are another.)
The exhibit runs through January.