Vancouver’s Telus World of Science has always been a great destination for my family. Whether a place to let my pre-schoolers run and climb or a place for my elementary aged kids to explore, test, feel, watch live shows and learn through experience. I heart Science World.
When Science World announced that The Science of Sexuality was to visit as a feature exhibition I was thrilled. (In fact, I was over the moon since the Museum of Vancouver is hosting an exhibit called Sex Talk in the City making Vancouver the city with two mainstream venues hosting sex ed related exhibits. Sa-weet!) I heard about the exhibit when it launched in Montreal and again when it showed in Ottawa.
I was… a little disappointed and really really pleased.
First let me tell you a bunch of what I loved about this exhibit:
- It exists. And is showing in a mainstream child-centred environment. This exhibit would never have happened 20 years ago. And because messages of sex and sexuality are so pervasively experienced in our culture, accurate scientific information is critical. This prevalence of sexuality puts a lot of pressure on young people and this exhibit provides messages without an underlying purpose other than to educate. How refreshing that nothing is being sold – no products or ideals of attractiveness or sexiness.
- It covers a lot of material really well. Like the erogenous zones, fetal development of the genitals, sexual orientation, similarities and dissimilarities with other animals, and so much more.
- It has huge photographs of naked bodies. Kid, pubescent, adult, older adult and elder bodies. And they are all beautiful.
- It imparts what science has to say on the topic and conveys a positive image of sexuality.
- A lot of people were involved in putting this exhibit together. Respected specialists (sexologists, doctors and scientists), teaching experts, parents, and teenagers. You get a sense of this throughout and it helps connect with the audience at different times and in different ways.
The disappointing stuff:
- It’s Science World, not the Science and Culture and Everything Else World. Sexuality is one of those things that is not given its just due through one lens. It is so much bigger, richer, and complex than the science alone. The exhibit tackles that a wee bit but I was bursting with wanting more.
- Almost immediately in the exhibit, you are forced to choose: female (turn left) or male (turn right). I know most of us fit in one of those two categories of biology, but not everyone fits as easily. Requiring this so early in the exhibit bummed me out.
- The Montréal Science Centre pulled together an incredible group of experts but they fell apart in the translation department. The entire exhibit is in both french and english but the english doesn’t always work. Sometimes the mistakes are significant (‘gender’ is used often when ‘biological sex’ would more accurately describe things), other times the diction is not quite right or the turn of phrase is off. It would be more impactful to their english reading audience if they had been more attentive to this detail.
- How people experience sexuality is framed really well but doesn’t nail it all the time for me either. For instance:
‘I can experience my sexuality in many ways: with my boyfriend or girlfriend, within a casual relationship, or with several different partners. I can try to build a lasting relationship with someone and want to have children. My sexuality changes over time, depending on my experiences and encounters. I know better what I like, I can express it, I listen, and I am always learning’.
Sexuality is part of what we are, and is not limited to what we do. The exhibit does cover masturbation and other ‘solo’ aspects of sexuality but when it does, just like the above statement, it felt somewhat driven toward sexual relationships with others. Of course our sexuality often involves one or more people in a lifetime but even if it didn’t, a person can experience their sexuality.
To be fair to Science World, in advance of hosting this exhibit, an advisory committee was formed. Though challenges with the show itself could not be addressed within the show (it’s set and is displayed as is), Science World have added some entry points throughout the exhibit for exploring the issues further. The website provides some great additional resources relating to gender identity, why people have sex, asexuality and other bits of goodness.
Who should go?
Science World is awesome for everyone. I went with my kids 6 months ago and my parents and I couldn’t get my Dad to leave the place. This exhibit is recommended for ages 12 and up. I’d suggest 10 and up. (Kids younger than 12 can go with an adult accompanying them.) Nothing in the show will injure or harm younger children but I think my 8 year old would plow through it rather quickly. While there are some great naked bodies to look at and some other visuals, it is a text heavy exhibit. There are a number of interactive elements but compared to the rest of Science World, the interactivity may feel disappointing.
In the BodyWorks permanent exhibit, there is a really good section which looks at reproduction, sexuality, and childbirth. It’s contextualized with the rest of the body which might be a good place to start for many. Then if the sex chunk of BodyWorks held a lot of appeal, it’s great to be able to visit The Science of Sexuality.
The feature exhibit will only be around until September, so don’t dawdle the summer away with swimming pools and hikes in the mountains! And don’t fool yourselves, adults will learn a thing or two so don’t pretend that you are going just ‘for the kids’. Even if your kids will be in the kiddie space, or watching the Electricity Show, find a way to sneak in to The Science of Sexuality without the rugrats.