Sex is everywhere in the Museum of Vancouver

Image of vibrators through the ages display via Angela Espinoza
Image of vibrators through the ages display via Angela Espinoza

Explore Vancouver’s sexual history with ‘Sex Talk in the City’

By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor

The Museum of Vancouver (MOV) plays host to several exhibits, both permanent and temporary, that serve to teach us about Vancouver’s vibrant and colourful history. One of the MOV’s recent exhibits has been Sex Talk in the City, a four-room look at Vancouver from under the sheets. On top of experiencing this fantastic exhibit, Curator of Contemporary Issues Viviane Gosselin spoke to us on the process of bringing many bits of Vancouver’s sexual history to light.

Sex Talk takes the unique approach of exploring Vancouver’s history in its relation to sexuality. The four rooms are carefully laid out to blend with each other as folks weave their way through the city’s surprisingly liberated history. Everything from high school learning tools to the different kinds of relationships people can have to what has been challenged and accepted over time is analyzed in a way that does not overwhelm attendees.

“The idea came years ago,” Gosselin starts, “I was working on an exhibition on human biology, and of course at one point you talk about sexuality and…teen sexuality. I noticed that there were so many bright, challenging conversations with the staff and visitors that I thought, ‘I have to promise myself at one point I’d do something like an exhibition dedicated explicitly and solely to the topic of sexuality.’ So when I came on staff at the Museum of Vancouver three years ago, that was the first exhibition subject that I proposed, and people were very receptive.”

Perhaps the exhibit’s biggest advantage is that it is taking place in a museum that focuses on Vancouver’s anthropology. Exploring the city’s sexual underground from this perspective shows us that, while surprisingly liberated, we’ve had previous issues with gay rights, what sorts of learning materials are allowed in schools, and complicated issues such as birth control.

In obtaining some of the more historical objects, such as dozens of vibrators, gorgeous burlesque outfits, and a bondage chest-and-head piece, Gosselin added:

“I could not have done [this] without a large advisory committee. My challenge was to calibrate and invite key people and, at the same time, try to have this very diverse topic of sexuality live in that same place. After six months of talking to this advisory committee that I gathered—they were educators, historians, and public health experts—it became obvious that how we learn about sexuality is an important question. We think about where our ideas of sexuality come from, and how…our education, formal and informal, influences the way we live our sexuality.”

You’ll also find that each room is designed specifically to reflect the key areas where we all learn about sexuality: the classroom, the bedroom, and the streets. Gosselin further explained these concepts:

“I came up with four themes that became the four spaces of the exhibition. So you have pedagogy, how we learn about sex and sexuality; pleasure, how people define sexual pleasure; politics, how certain groups and divisions of power can influence the way we live sexually; and permission, which is a space dedicated to giving visitors permission to talk about sexuality, even to strangers.”

One of the most important lessons to take from Sex Talk is that, in terms of this being a museum exhibit, unlike niche interests, sexuality is one of the few subjects that actually does affect everyone. We all have different turn-ons and fetishes, some that are easy to enjoy in this city and some that aren’t, and how we come to learn those things about ourselves requires some very in-depth learning on our parts. This exhibit offers a warm and inviting environment for visitors to openly discuss sexuality with each other, something that is inevitable after viewing old copies of the 1950s to 1970s gay magazine Physique Pictorial and the uniform of Vancouver’s safe sex superhero, Captain Condom.

Sex Talk in the City will be running until September 2; student tickets are $10, so take a friend or partner and ruffle through some drawers.