Friday, February 15, 2013

FIFTY SHADES OF KINKY: Sex Talks at the Vancouver Museum

There I was in a room jammed with people, surrounded by gizmos and gadgets — everything from nipple tassles and condoms to books of erotic literature.

It was the reception of the opening of the Museum’s edgy new exhibit: Sex Talks in the City.  People milled about, wine glasses in hand, and browsed the display cases of curios, some dating to the turn-of-the-century. It had been suggested to wear something red, so many of the women were tarted up in red dresses, some with up-dos reminiscent of the 30’s and ‘40’s. Even a few men wore ‘costumes’ suitable for the evening.  As it is the Lunar New Year, I thought it appropriate to wear my embroidered red silk Chinese jacket and black velvet pants.


The aim of the Museum is to normalize conversations about sexuality through photos, intimate artifacts and question. One room contains a series of dresser drawers that hold a variety of sex toys, burlesque attire and even some 19950’s mail-order ‘men’s physiques’ pamphlets. One drawer that amused me contained a ‘baby’ (doll) wrapped in a blanket. It seems that one person had told the story of how, when they were a child, they had come home from school one day and discovered a new-born baby in their parent’s bedroom dresser drawer. The baby had been born while the child was at school and because they lacked a proper cradle or crib, the mother had places her newborn in the drawer. From that time until they were an adult, the child thought babies came from inside drawers! (That would definitely be more comfortable than under a cabbage in the cabbage patch!)

Many of these intimate artifacts were once taboo topics but these days they are being talked about openly. The aim of the exhibit is to normalize these conversations between young and old. The exhibit is contained in three rooms, divided between different motifs and topics from the classroom, the streets and to the bedroom, representing everything from Vancouver’s sex trade to teen sexting.
Vancouver Police "rap" sheets, circa turn of the century
One exhibit I found interesting is a wall full of ‘rap’ sheets with photos taken of prostitutes, johns and anyone found in brothels or selling illegal liquor back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in Vancouver. Most of the women ranged in age from 17 to 65. Many of the men were Asian or black indicating some racial profiling at that time.  In the ‘classroom section’, near the display of electric “body massagers” were desks scrawled with questions about birth control asked by students from Grades 4 – 12. An adjoining display explores the phenomena of teens exchanging intimate messages and photos on-line and by texting.

Anything you want to know about homosexuality is there for you to see and read about.  One of the drawers contained a rubbery artificial penis used by a trans-gendered person who might want to pee standing up like a man!  Another display case has creepy, kinky sex tools including a hideous mask and whips. It seems there’s a fairly good-sized community of “Kinks” in the city!
Code words used by "Kinks" to indicate the sex-play has gone too far
Kinky sex anyone? (pretty scary!)
“Sex Talk in the City” explores the changing attitudes towards sex and sexuality in Vancouver. It’s a brave, new concept for a Museum to chronicle topics that have been taboo in the past. Sex education’s evolution is highlighted at the exhibit. Sex-education videos from the 1980’s are there for visitors to view. There’s also a copy of Asha’s Mums, a book about growing up with lesbian parents, banned by the Surrey school board until 2002. And books purchased by the Little Sister’s Bookstore that have been confiscated at the US border.

I couldn’t help but wonder how many other museums would be brave enough to present such an intimate display. Certainly none in those Bible-belt areas of the southern USA.  This display is bound to prompt discussion. There’s a lot there to talk about, and even to laugh, at making learning about sex less uncomfortable.

The exhibit runs until September 2, 2013.  Go and see for yourselves! There’s always something new to learn.