The Institute of Sexology closed last month, and after 117 events, 82 workshops and 8,600 live audience members and participants, the Sexology Season is also drawing to an end. The Season has been running for a year now all over the UK and Elizabeth Lynch, its producer, shares her highlights with us.
“Sexuality can for many be such a private issue, but at the same time it’s everywhere in our society, so people are usually both a bit shy and at the same time very interested in discussing it.”
Dr Lena Wånggren, sexuality researcher
What do you know about sex and how do you know it? How does research into sexual health affect our behaviour and our attitudes to sex? As Sexology Season Producer, these questions underpinned my thinking when developing the programme. We asked artists, writers, filmmakers, academics, health professionals, sex workers, over-65s, teenagers and people with cancer to explore and question with us.
“It’s so rare for us to have an open, honest conversation about sex. It was nice to reflect on my own feelings about sex and great to have a sexologist on board.”
The Sexology Season enabled the themes of The Institute of Sexology at Wellcome Collection in London to be shared and explored beyond the exhibition and across the UK; a pioneering initiative for Wellcome Collection. Sex can be a risky topic but thanks to partners who were keen to work collaboratively and to respond imaginatively to the challenge, the Season has been successful on a number of levels.
Sounds of Sexology engaged young people and sexologists in five locations to research, explore and create songs that expressed ideas around sex that are important to them.
The Sex in the Afternoon literature project featured films, an #odetosex Twitter competition and a performance tour. For the writers involved, sharing a platform with a sexologist was enlightening and gave them surprising insights into their work.
Three eclectic programmes took place in Manchester, Brighton and Glasgow involving 20 arts, culture and community partners. From performances, films and exhibitions to walks, talks and workshops, the content embraced pleasure and desire; gender and sexuality; sex and ageing; pornography; sex education; sex work; consent; and opened up conversations about what constitutes ‘normal’.
My highlights include the walks in Glasgow that were animated by artists, Hidden Sexology (conFAB) and Walking:Holding (Rosana Cade at The Arches); and the Human Library (The Arches) where I met a young drag queen and a young gender-fluid person who gave me some new insights into how to be yourself when mainstream society imposes so many limitations on how we can identify ourselves. These more intimate events were a valuable opportunity for one to one experiences and small group conversations.
I cried for all the right reasons during Lois Weaver’s What Tammy Needs to Know about Getting Old and Having Sex, which toured to all three Season locations and used a musical chat show format to playfully engage local seniors and audiences in sharing thoughts and revelations on sex, desire and ageing. You can hear an extract here.
Manchester’s programme featured some popular ‘Lates’, notably at Manchester Art Gallery where the Sexology Salon brought in their largest ever gallery tour audience for Private Erotica in Public Places followed by Frocks and Sex with Professor Helen Storey and at MOSI where a host of activities included a speed-dating experiment and eating sexy food.
My Sick! Festival highlights in Brighton and Manchester were the fascinating debates such as Why Be Normal? and Sexual Transactions. The speakers offered refreshing alternative narratives and contexts for sexual behaviour and attitudes that were opened out for lively and interesting discussions with audiences.
It was great to hear that SICK! Festival won the prestigious EFFE (Europe for Festivals and Festivals for Europe) 2015/16 Award for excellence.
I’m delighted that we have captured many of the debates, talks and post-show discussion in the Talk About Sex podcasts, which in turn can inspire new conversations.
A few more events are taking place during the autumn: a film, a podcast serial and the publication Sex Between the Covers, the culmination of Glasgow Women’s Library’s sexology programme; and performances of Under the Covers and Sex in Afternoon are touring. On 2 October, Glasgow Women’s Library’s sexology film programme bagged the Education Award from Cinema For All, which is the national organisation for the support and development of community film exhibition in the UK.
What will all these provocations and conversations on sexology continue to inspire? What will the new relationships generated locally and with Wellcome Trust produce in the future?
Elizabeth is the Sexology Season Producer at the Wellcome Trust.