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Posted by: Guest Author on August 28, 2013 at 11:36 am

Guest Author: Catherine Evashuk 

In 1980, my pregnant sixth grade teacher, Mrs. R, decided to explain how babies were made in a straightforward way, and debunk that old myth about storks bringing babies to doorsteps.  After she explained how babies were made, she asked if anyone had any questions.  My hand shot up immediately: “If sex is to make babies, that must mean you’ve had sex twice,right?” (Mrs. R was pregnant with her second child). I remember her turning completely red and murmuring, “Not exactly!” This confused me, since she had just explained that sex was to make babies. If sex was for anything other than that specific goal, why would people have it?

Fast forward to 2013, to the Museum of Vancouver’s ‘Sex Talk in the City’. This amazing and comprehensively conceived exhibition is divided into three parts: ‘The Street’, ‘The Bedroom’ and ‘The Classroom’. As a Sexual Health Educator, ‘The Classroom’ is of course my favourite.  Wandering through ‘The Classroom’ where I can read Sex Ed questions scrawled onto desk, is always a hoot. My favorites include: “If a man gets a boner, what does a woman get?” and “What’s a G Spot and where is it located?”

Things have come a long way since I was a sixth grader in 1980.  Many of the questions students are asking today are about the pleasurable side of sex. These days, sex educators are trained to quite differently, and I must admit, do a much better job than Mrs. R. was able to do when teaching their students the basics of sexual health and reproduction . Still, some students’ eyes widen in disbelief when I explain that when people have sex, most of the time it is not for making a baby! In fact, one of the most common questions I find in the anonymous question box after a lesson is “If sex is to make babies, what’s birth control for?”

I like that so many parts of this exhibition focus on the pleasurable side of sex.  In ‘The Bedroom’ section, there’s a wall displaying vibrators, including some dating back to the late 1800s! I guess it shows that pleasure is always part of the equation, but the way we talk about it, has changed quite a bit.  Of course, the educator in me is also pleased that there is a significant portion of the exhibition - In ‘The Street’ – dedicated to showing and explaining an array of contraception options and condoms, which help people enjoy safer sex.

I wish Mrs. R had explained that sex can feel good and that making babies is only part of it.  Perhaps I should give her a call to invite her to the exhibition so we can check it out together!

*Catherine is a Certified Sexual Health Educator based in Vancouver, and is a volunteer at the Museum of Vancouver.

Posted by: Guest Author on April 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm

By Craig Scharien 

My own sex education at school (in the mid ‘90s) was not exactly memorable, but there are a couple sections of Sex Talk in the City that remind me of that time of my life. The group of white desks with graffiti all over them certainly conjure up memories of boredom and a lack of true sexual understanding. The other is the giant black cougar on a striking red wall.

For anyone who was watching movies in the 1960s all the way to the 80’s in British Columbia it is easy to recognize the restricted cougar icon that once acted as a warning about questionable content in film. When I was a kid all it meant was that I wasn’t able to watch anything with the cougar on it. The cougar and the fact that it was forbidden meant that I spent a lot of time scouring the restricted section at Canadian Tire (they used to have movies to rent, believe it or not) looking for a movie I could get away with suggesting to my parents.

These days there are boring rating systems that include things like “18A”, but back then the cougar was a symbol of coarse language, violence, nudity and obscenity in general for movies. It was developed by the BC Film Classification Board and the BC Chief Censor, Ray MacDonald at the time. The hope was that the iconic symbol would help raise public awareness of R-rated films. The cougar plays a very effective role at Sex Talk, by reminding many of us of the way censorship has been approached in our province.

It is also a vehicle for articulating an important point – that obscenity is often in the eye of the beholder. Within the exhibition, it has allowed the Museum to present sexually explicit material and stories of censorship by allowing the visitor to opt in to that element of BC’s history. If you are curious you can take a peek through the holes in the cougar to learn about pivotal moments in the history of the production, consumption and censorship of sexually explicit materials. Like the red drawers in the bedroom section of the exhibition the decisions are left to the visitor, thus making moments of discovery just a bit more and powerful.

Posted by: Guest Author on April 8, 2013 at 2:42 pm

By Craig Scharien

A highlight of the bedroom section of Sex Talk in the City is a striking wall of red drawers. Meant evoke thoughts of a chest of drawers in the bedroom, it holds fascinating treasures and memories that aren’t always thought of or talked about – and are often, in fact, hidden.

When designing the exhibition, the drawers were added in to pull from each visitor our own memories of digging through our parents or older siblings drawers – and how what you found may have taught you some of what you know today about sexuality.

Dig into the Sex Talk drawers and you will be rewarded with a look at unique items regarding sexuality presented in an informative light.

One of my favourites is a small book, published in 1971 titled A Guide for the Naïve Homosexual. UBC student Roedy Green self-published this pamphlet as an extension to the counselling sessions he often held at his home as way to help people come out. It contains contact information, advice on coming out, sexuality, religion, and thoughts on gay and lesbian life. It was enormously popular and had 12 printings, the last of which was 3,000 copies.

Another drawer that caught my eye features adaptable sex toys for people who have suffered spinal cord injuries. It highlights an oft forgotten fact that disabilities do not make someone asexual. Produced in a joint project by the British Columbia Institute of Technology the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries, these vibrators were designed for those with decreased sensitivity with features like easy to hold handles. These are by no means the only devices of this type, but they give great insight into work that is being done on an issue that few are talking about.

These are just two of the many red drawers in Sex Talk, and you never know what you might find. So pretend you’ve been left home alone and get in there and open some drawers!

Also, share YOUR story of what you've found around your house growing up that taught you about sexuality.

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Posted by: Guest Author on March 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

By Arleigh McKerlich

A big part of Sex Talk in the City is about breaking the ice and creating opening points for conversation about sex and sexuality. In one of the 4 videos included in the exhibition (all done by the wonderful Gwen Haworth) a former nurse tells the story of how she got involved in sex education – she was frequently seeing women come in to the hospital dying of STDs because they were too ashamed to speak of them.

Thanks to a few cuddly creatures in “The Classroom” portion of Sex Talk in the City, STDs aren’t nearly as frightening to talk about. In fact, when they were being installed MOV staff openly picked their favourites – at least, their favourites as cuddly creatures.  

Founded by Drew Oliver in 2002, GIANTmicrobes Inc. is a US-based company that makes stuffed toys of microbial life of all kinds. At the MOV, we have as our guests a few of their “venereals” series, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, syphilis, herpes, and HIV. Each creature comes with a tag that has an electron scanner picture of the microbe in question and a series of facts and trivia that both inform and amuse the reader.

Originally marketed to children and as gag gifts between adults, the popularity of the toys have expanded from the Common Cold and E. Coli to Red Blood Cells and Dust Mites. Many medical professionals use them to break the ice when talking to patients about difficult topics and educators use them to make important health issues more approachable. On their website, the company states that “the dissemination of information is exactly the point.” Many reviewers speak of how the cuteness of the toys can make the diseases and creatures who cause them seem less scary.

Products like the GIANTmicrobes are part of a recent approach to sexual health education where the belief is that the facts about healthy sexual activity should be accessible to everyone.

If these adorable little diseases seem like common sense, visit Sex Talk in the City to see some of the (significantly less adorable) methods that been have used in the past and present to educate Vancouverites about sex.

So tell us, what STI is YOUR favourite? How have these kinds of learning tools changed how you understand your own body?

Posted by: Guest Author on March 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm

by Craig Scharien

Founded in 1983 by a small group of men in the West End, AIDS Vancouver is now celebrating their 30th anniversary. The founders took initiative despite the fact that only six cases of HIV/AIDS had been reported in the city at the time. The group began attending health conferences, distributing information, and planning local action and forums, thus laying the groundwork for AIDS Vancouver. In the 30 years since, the organization has evolved into a vital component of Vancouver’s health care system. They offer numerous services – case management and support programs, a supplemental grocery service and fundraising, just to name a few. Perhaps their most crucial role is raising awareness about a disease which is now often seen as chronic rather than fatal.

The evolution HIV/AIDS awareness can be seen in posters like the ones on display in Sex Talk in the City. Initially posters were aimed primarily at gay men and focussed on prevention: like reminders to wear condoms. Today, posters are far less direct and are more broadly focussed. The priority has moved from prevention to knowing your status and getting tested. One of the more recent posters features a man of Asian descent with the slogan “Get Tested” showing insight into the population demographics of Vancouver and their focus on testing.

Evolution can also be seen in treatment; the cocktail of drugs has been streamlined and has become far more effective. Viviane Gosselin, curatorial lead for Sex talk in the City was keen to show this progression, but finding ‘vintage’ pills was not easy.

“I had not anticipated that the most difficult artefacts to acquire for Sex Talk in the City would be the HIV/AIDS pills," explained Gosselin. "I talked to several organizations and representatives from drug companies and the responses were either: ‘we don’t keep old pills’ or ‘we are not allowed to let drugs circulate in the public’. We had dedicated people at the BC Centre for the Disease Control who investigated on our behalf and located a researcher at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS Research who ‘collects’ old HIV/AIDS pills, starting with the first pill regimen from the late 1980s. After reassuring this researcher that public access to the pills would be limited to seeing (not touching or tasting!) we were able to proceed with a loan.  This process took several months!”

The evolution of piles of pills to today’s doses can be seen in Sex Talk in the City thanks to her sourcing.

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Posted by: Guest Author on March 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm

(Guest post by Arleigh McKerlich)

Children’s book “Asha’s Mums” was one of the first books written for elementary age children that portrayed a family with same-sex parents. Written by Rosamund Elwin and Michele Paulse and illustrated by Dawn Lee, it was first published in 1991.

In the book, Asha is told by her teacher that she can’t go on a field trip because her permission slip is filled out incorrectly and that it is not possible to have two mothers. After her mothers meet with the teacher to explain their daughter’s family situation, Asha is allowed to go on the trip. The other children learn of Asha’s mums and a discussion is had about whether this is a good or bad thing. The conclusion offered by the teacher is that it is just fine, as long as your parents take good care of you.

In 1997, kindergarden teacher James Chamberlain applied for approval of this book and two others (“Belinda’s Bouquet” and “One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads”) for use as teaching aids in his classroom. In response, the Surrey School Board issued resolutions that stated resources from gay and lesbian groups were not approved for use or redistribution in the school district.

After these resolutions were passed, resources like library books, pamphlets, and posters that promoted sexual diversity and tolerance were removed from all Surrey schools. Chamberlain — supported by teachers in other school districts in the Lower Mainland where these materials were allowed — launched a court case to challenge the ruling of the Surrey School Board. After much publicity and appeals by both sides, the case was considered by the Supreme Court of Canada and judgement handed down in 2002. The Court found that the Board’s decision was unreasonable and that the Board had acted contrary to provincial statute as well as its own regulations regarding curriculum materials, both of which stress tolerance and inclusion. The Court directed the decision to be reconsidered by the School District, with Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin noting that “tolerance is always age-appropriate.”

(full text of the decision available at http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2002/2002scc86/2002scc86.html)

After revisiting its decision in 2003, the Surrey School Board still found “Asha’s Mums”, “Belinda’s Bouquet”, and “One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads” to be inappropriate for use as curriculum material. The Board was critical (among other things) of the books’ depiction of men, problematic and inconsistent grammar, and of the issue of dieting being inappropriate for kindergarden age children.

While 18 of the province's 60 school districts have policies in place regarding anti-homophobia, Burnaby and Surrey School Districts have not been able to develop a policy because of push-back from parents. Recently, protest and submissions from students have led the Surrey School District to say last summer that they would begin developing an anti-bullying policy in the fall that includes anti-homophobia strategies, as well as racism and physical disability

Posted by: Amanda McCuaig on February 18, 2013 at 2:27 pm

When Viviane, Curatorial Lead of Sex Talk in the City, began her research on vibrators she was a little surprised to find that the Museum already had one in its collection.

But one vibrator does not a vibrator display make. To flesh out the history of the vibrator Viviane connected with Vancouver’s own Womyns’Ware, to see if they would be willing to loan their impressive collection of vintage vibes.

I got to take a field trip out to Commercial Drive where I spent a fun-filled hour with Womyn’sWare director Otter Luis photographing pieces from their collection and laughing about how happy the people depicted on the packaging were (we’re pretty sure that one couple pictured were happily doing their taxes together).

Sex Talk in the City features 11 vibes from Womyns'Ware's collection.

Womyns’Ware is a leader in Canada for designing healthy sex toys and for their innovative way of thinking about operating a sex toy store. A big part of what they do is make asking questions easy – Just a few years ago I went in with my mom and one of her best (male) friends because he was curious as to why a sex store would have such an accessible store front and just HAD to check it out. It was his first time ever in a sex store, and the staff let him ask a million questions. He’s ranted about the great experience ever since.

Andrea Dobbs of Womyns’Ware wrote a post for us last year about society’s fears around sexuality, and it’s a must read if you haven’t already.

This Thursday Womyns’Ware is coming to the MOV to lead a workshop in designing for pleasure! So come, get inspired by vibes from the past 100 years, and design your own while learning about the history of sexual satisfaction by technology historian Rachel Maines (whose research inspired the movie Hysteria).

Posted by: Viviane Gosselin on October 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

A few months ago I invited Jan Sippel, educator at the Vancouver School Board, to complement historian Mona Gleason’s research. Mona, a professor at the Faculty of Education at UBC, with a keen interest in the history of education had generated some cool exploratory research for the Sex Talk in the City project. Mona’s work  (more in a future post) had focused on the 1900-1960s period. Jan was to extend the storyline to the present.

I am not an historian, but I have very recently become one.  As a member of the Sex Talk in the City Advisory Committee and the coordinator of sexual health education for the Vancouver School District, I had been asked to research the history of sex education in our schools over the past 50 years.  I expected it to be fairly straightforward — reflect on the twenty-five years I have been in the district, check the VSB archives, talk with current and retired colleagues, and canvas schools for ‘artifacts’ (old films, videos, and teaching materials) that may be collecting dust in cupboards and closets. 

It quickly became apparent that sex education teaching materials tend to be thrown out when they become obsolete and it is unknown how many of these resources existed in the first place. The School Board archives, which are maintained by the Vancouver School Board Heritage Committee, a dedicated group of retired teachers and school administrators, are somewhat limited in scope by the storage space available. The archives yielded very few sex education artifacts, likewise the request to schools.

Probably the most important thing I have learned from this exercise is that much of the history of sex education in our schools resides with a few individuals, many of whom are retired. My ‘key informants’ thus far been teachers,  counsellors, and administrators who have, in the past, had leadership roles in the school district that included responsibility for sex education.  All had the task of helping teachers implement the Ministry of Education health and guidance curriculum of the day.  Some had been the Elementary Curriculum Consultants. Others had been members of the VSB Family Life Education Team formed in the late 1980s to support teachers of grades 7–12 with the provincial Family Life Education Curriculum, developed in response to the “Aids Crisis”.

I was surprised to learn that sex education, in some form, has had a place in the BC education curriculum since the 1950s.  For many years, it was taught almost exclusively at the secondary level, often with no guidebook and teachers sharing what resources they had with one another. Secondary students may have received ‘sex ed’ classes from their school counsellor or from a teacher in science, home economics, or physical education classes.  Historically, in the intermediate grades, sex education came under the topic of “body systems” in science and students learned about the reproductive systems of mammals. Although sex education has been part of the BC curriculum, a teacher‘s comfort level with the topic was often the determining factor in whether or not it was taught.  In the 1960’s and 70’s, public health nurses and some private sexual health educators began to play a significant role in addressing this topic in our classrooms.

Delving into the documentation and interviewing key people in the field has also allowed me to see curricular patterns emerging, patterns that appear to have been driven by the societal concerns of the time. For example, in the mid-1980s child sexual abuse prevention first appeared in the BC health and guidance curriculum; by the late 1980s, sex education curriculum had a strong focus on the prevention of HIV /AIDS and sexually transmitted infections. The 1990s saw a greater emphasis on healthy relationships, which seemed to reflect an increase in public awareness and discussion of domestic violence.  These social issues exerted a strong influence on the curriculum and in some cases, renewed interest in sex education in our schools.  The last 10 or more years has seen a move to include themes of sexual diversity and inclusion, and recognition of the need for comprehensive sexual health education at both the elementary and secondary level.

Tracing the history of sex education in Vancouver schools has been daunting and discouraging, at times. The research I have done to date  seems to have only scratched the surface! I’m hoping that some keen historians and grad students will continue the process of unveiling and recording how we have taught — and are teaching — this important subject in our schools. It says so much about who we are as a society, and we have much to learn from that history.
 

Posted by: Viviane Gosselin on July 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Sex Talk in the City blog

Let’s face it; the Internet has become the most popular “sexual educator” for people of all ages. In light of this, we’re using the section of the exhibition dedicated to exploring the ways people learn about sexuality (the Pedagogy Zone) to address the question of media literacy and the need for children and youth to cope with the barrage of sexually explicit material online (as consumer and creator).

In working on this, a Vancouver-based law firm offered to cover the cost of having their articling students look at the intersection of law, social media, and the dissemination of sexually explicit material. I just received the last version of their text and LOVE their idea of re-packaging key information in the form of tweets!

Here are couple of examples:

Text messages that describe sexual activity, or “sexting”, is only illegal if it describes unlawful sex. [105 characters]

Teens can be charged with a criminal offense for taking pictures/videos of obscene sexual activity and sending them to friends. [130 characters]

If you don’t teach your teens about privacy, sexuality and social media, where will they learn? [98 characters]

I asked the two law students to reflect on their experience working on this project:

This summer we were asked to do some legal research for the upcoming Sex Talk in the City Exhibition. Our focus was social media, which is relevant in today’s world of smart phones, posting, and instant technology in general. We also researched the evolution of consent by looking at legislation and court cases. These topics complement and contrast each other since social media is modern and contemporary while consent has a long history in Canadian law. The biggest challenge we faced was condensing all the information we found into an easy-to-read format for the exhibition, since the law in these areas is complex and always changing. But that is also what makes legal research so much fun, believe it or not! Being involved in this project has given us the opportunity to discover more about the evolving relationship between the law, social media, sexual activity, and consent. We hope that everyone involved in the exhibition — from the creators and staff to the public at large — will find these issues just as interesting as we did.

Emelie and Amanda are law students in Vancouver.

Posted by: Danielle Lafrance on July 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm

Sex Talk in the City blog header

While reading Greg Smith’s post on the Sex Talk in the City blog, I got to thinking. Greg’s idea of sexual “hang-ups” seem to have a lot to do with the process of medicalizing sexuality in the 19th and 20th century.

The medicalization of sexuality is not only the construction of sexuality in medical language or the act of mandating interventions (which has led to significant public health improvements), it is also the introduction of pathology and medical explanations used to frame “deviant” behaviours. Hysteria, homosexuality, and transsexuality have a history of being explained as medical disorders in order to defend what is thought of as normal sexual behaviour and what isn’t. As Sex Talk in the City will remind us, these constructions are felt in the present day and do affect our sexual experiences – they lead us to understand ourselves within these medical terms, sometimes out of necessity, due to a lack of alternative language.

When discussing sexuality we can’t forget the work of French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault. Foucault demonstrates how “repressive pathology” has a quality of administrative inquiry into our private lives. It confines sex to the 'privacy' of the home while maintaining a wider, external world of repressed sexual expression. Pierre E. Trudeau's famous declaration in 1967, "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation," highlights the tension between the state and the individual, and through omission suggests that sexuality and sexual expression belong only in the bedroom.

Sex Talk in the City isn’t necessarily unique. It is a process of construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of the meanings attached to sexual experience and sexual conduct. Through its position of authority (coming from a museum), the exhibition can’t help but be part of the medicalization of sexuality. However, the exhibition also provides space to negotiate how authorities have affected our individual impressions of sexuality.

Knowing that the development of vibrators was an experiment in speeding up the female orgasm and finding out the “hidden truth” of a woman’s sexuality changes the ritual and may bring up new questions to the visitors. Will the audience second guess its usage? Or maybe the historical element will enter the arena of new fantasies, a new taboo? I wonder how the exhibition and the knowledge it produces will challenge power (the institution, the tools) and how might it be the same mechanism that misrepresents. 

Sex Talk and the City is a self-reflexive exhibition. It’s conscious of misrepresentation by defining itself in these fluid terms, using humour to suggest another world to be probed. It’s radical but careful. The multi-media nature of the exhibition “allows” multiple access points to sexual discourse. The history of the vibrator installation not only uses dresser drawers to augment mom and dad’s secret treasures (Joy of Sex, anyone?), but can also act as a sexual confession, a clinical codification behind the doctor’s door. The museum itself waits, coyly, for our Visit the Sex Talk tumblrattention.
 

Danielle LaFrance is a digitization assistant at the Museum of Vancouver, and is the author of Species Branding (2010).

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