Throughout history, cultures around the world have talked about sex, regulated sexual activity and produced cultural artefacts relating to sex, often revealing refreshingly or startlingly different attitudes towards sex.

Between 1900 and his death in 1936, the billionaire pharmaceutical giant Sir Henry Wellcome amassed over a million objects from across the globe for his museum of medical history. A substantial proportion of these related to human sexuality. Wellcome believed passionately in the potential of historical artefacts to unlock the secrets of human sexuality by revealing the varieties and complexities of the way that sex has been understood and represented in different cultures across global history.

The variety of attitudes and cultural practices embodied in this display of objects prompts us to question our own attitudes towards censorship and display, the boundaries between childhood and adulthood, control of sexuality, fertility and contraception, pleasure and power relations. It asks our audiences to open up their minds and to reflect on the value and significance of sex to us today.

This exhibition has been organised in partnership with the University of Exeter's Sex and History project. This project aims to empower people of all ages – and especially young people – to talk more openly about issues that matter to them, by using historical artefacts as a springboard for discussing sex and relationships. 

The first ever dedicated display of Wellcome’s sexually related material, Intimate Worlds was co-curated by Kate Fisher, Jennifer Grove and Rebecca Langlands (University of Exeter).

This exhibition contains sexually explicit material.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum
Queen St, Exeter
Devon EX4 3RX United Kingdom
Ph. +44 (0)13 92265858

Opening hours
Tuesday - Sunday
From 10am to 5pm

Related images

  1. Opon igede, a vessel for Ifa divination, Yoruba, Nigeria, 1880-1920 © Wellcome Library, London
  2. An Ampalang, a short metal pin with a carved bone button at each end, for insertion through the penis horizontally as a form of birthcontrol Kayan (Dyak), Borneo © Wellcome Library, London
  3. Replica of a doll used in stillbirth ceremonies, Gambia © Wellcome Library London