Hot and bothered in Ottawa: controversial museum exhibition explores sex

The new exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa

Museums. Some love them, others find them dull and stodgy. You could say something slightly similar about sex: some love it, others find the topic upsetting and private.

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.

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14 Comments on “Hot and bothered in Ottawa: controversial museum exhibition explores sex”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    I’ll take the bait.
    Sex is sex. Love is love. Food is food and war is war.
    What ever you think, there are facts about each of the above that have absolutely nothing to do with morality because morality is whatever one makes it out to be.
    Pornographic, no? Graphic, definitely yes? The difference between pornographic and graphic when it comes to sex is a matter of opinion based upon various religious morality opinions.
    Should kids be allowed to go? Do they have parents?

  2. dan3583 says:

    I heard a story about this on the CBC ‘tother night. In this day and age, in is incomprehensible to me how anyone can believe that kids don’t have almost unlimited access to the worst kind of sexual “education” Yet, so many go out of their way to make it difficult for good information to get out there. Talking about sex and responsibility is not condoning sex among teenagers. Pretending that not talking about sex will make it go away is criminal. Especially when teens are encouraged to have their babies if they become pregnant, but get little real help in becoming rsponsible parents.

  3. Kathy says:

    Here’s one example that disproves the evolution of human intelligence.

  4. Pete Klein says:

    Speaking of pregnancy, how about parents (both the man and the woman) who have children but can’t or won’t support them without governmental aid are charge with child abuse and put in jail so they don’t produce anymore unfunded children?

  5. If you’re Puritanical, don’t spend your money to see this exhibit. It’s a simple solution to this non-existent problem.

  6. Paul says:

    Here is how they describe the exhibit:

    “It imparts what science has to say on the topic, conveys a positive image of sexuality and, ultimately, helps young people hone their judgment skills so they can make responsible and informed decisions.”

    Oh no! We wouldn’t want to do that.

  7. Pete Klein says:

    Let me be clear. Engaging in sex between consenting adults is a right but procreation should only be a right when parties involved have the means and adulthood to care for the children that result from their sexual activity.
    If they are too immature or too poor to properly raise the children resulting from their sexual activity, they should go to jail where they won’t procreate any more children. Or they could submit to stirlilization.

  8. Walker says:

    Uh, Pete, I think the cost of keeping one person in jail for a year is something like $80,000. Besides, if you’re going to go your route, you’d really have to have ready access to abortion.

    I think this falls under the heading of “You can’t legislate morality.”

    And Kathy, how, exactly, does this demonstrate a decline in intelligence?

  9. Pete Klein says:

    Walker, I’m not suggesting a year in jail and this brings up the absurdity of jail costing anywhere near $80,000 per year.
    To argue “you can’t legislate morality” would seem to suggest that nothing should be illegal. Having said that, I do agree but only because what is illegal is not always immoral and what is legal is not always moral.
    My only real point is sex education should make clear that while sex may be a right, procreation needs to be seen and treated as a responsibility. We seem to understand that having the right to food does not include the right to steal it. Shouldn’t it be the same when it comes to procreation?

  10. Kathy says:

    Walker, I think the exhibit is ludicrous but I was also teasing.

  11. Larry says:

    It amazes me that people allow their children unlimited access to unspeakable violence in video games, movies and TV without comment, but they scream bloody murder at the sight of naked bodies, even when their children might learn something useful.

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Ho-hum, sex. We are a strange bunch here at the In Box. We would much rather argue about Global Warming that talk about sex. Must be a very old demographic.

  13. Walker says:

    Knuck, what’s to argue here? Kathy’s the only one even mildly against this, though truthfully, I have no idea what Pete it talking about– we have a right to food and a right to procreate as long as we don’t steal either? Hmm…

    You’re forgetting that posts about abortion and contraception can go on forever here.

  14. Peter Hahn says:

    I think we are all pretty comfortable with museum exhibits, and sex education. Anything that gets kids interested in science and science museums (or museums in general) has got to be a good thing.

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