Sex in a book — how much is too much?

That’s what Russell Blake, author of Geronimo Beach and other action novels, asked in his guest blog post on the World Literary Café.

When is everyone’s favourite passtime in page form too much, whatever that is? I’ll admit I don’t read bodice rippers or erotica, so that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m asking the open question: when does spice stop being seasoning, and instead overpower the main dish in general fiction?
As you can imagine, the post sparked a debate. At the same time, a controversy  erupted in my home town, Ottawa over Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology.
The exhibit was designed by the Science Centre in Montreal, where it ran to great success but no controversy. It had also been shown in Regina, Saskatchewan, again without eliciting a lot of opposition.
And now, of course, there’s the controversy about the updated health curriculum in Ontario public schools. A loud minority of parents are protesting against their children being educated about human anatomy and sex. And it’s the same argument: learning facts about the human body and certain of its functions will somehow harm children.
The museum “Sex Tell-All” exhibition elicited opposition even before it opened.  The federal (Conservative) Heritage Minister, James Moore said it was “insulting” to taxpayers. In an email to the museum’s director, Moore’s assistant quoted the Minister as saying it was “inappropriate for young children.”
The Museum of Science and Technology described the exhibit this way:

It is an award-winning educational exhibition that answers the main questions young people have about sexuality. It imparts what science has to say on the topic, conveys a positive image of sexuality and, ultimately, helps young people hone their judgment skills so they can make responsible and informed decisions.

The vast majority of comments about it, on the Museum’s website, in the mainstream media and elsewhere, were in favour of the exhibit. There are very few opposed to it. Yet the museum caved into the pressure, removing a section on masturbation and raising the age at which children can visit without a parent from 12 to 16.
The trouble with the latter change is that children whose parents will not take them to the exhibit at age 14 are exactly the ones who need accurate, unbiased information the most.

Discouraging opposition

The opposition to the exhibit is, unfortunately, easily predictable. Before you read some of the comments I gleaned from some easily accessible websites, try to imagine what they might be.
From Peter Baklinski, commenting on the Museum’s website:
I must inform you that me and my four children will not visit the museum again while the sex exhibition is running. The sex exhibition is a travesty to the majority of Canadians who believe that sexual activity is reserved for spouses within the context of marriage.
Thank you for telling all of us how to have sex, Peter.
From Ken Quick on Sun Media’s web page:
Perversion masquerading as “science” and “education”. Your tax dollar at work.
The only reason I give more attention to idiotic comments like Quick’s is that we need to understand the full range of opinion.
I stress that the overwhelming majority of comments on all media (except maybe for Sun Media’s website—but remember that fora like these are moderated, so the published comments do not necessarily reflect the range of comments submitted) are positive. People in Ottawa generally support the exhibit.
From Cathy Payne, who commented on the CBC’s website:
The “insult to taxpayers” argument was rejected as an “attack on freedom” when the Heritage issue was championing the sport where two men go into a cage and try to kick one another to death.
That level of violence had no opponents from the “family values” champions. But while viewing an inanimate art exhibition they see vile sex.
Well said, Ms. Payne!

Your turn to weigh in:

What do you think? How should we talk about sex? From my point of view, sex is a complete normal, and wonderful thing. However, we learned very early that we’re supposed to be embarrassed by it. It’s something kept behind closed doors, under covers — literally. “Wheresmycountry,” a commenter on CBC’s web page, put it perfectly:
The more taboo and forbidden a subject is, the more fascinating it becomes. If you want to foster increased interest about sex among curious young minds, tell them it is something they are too young to know about. Works every time!
Please readers, share your thoughts. How can we talk about sex, write about sex, teach children about it so they don’t have shame, guilt and deeper problems with it? Write whatever you want. However, I will give you one warning: I will have no hesitation in tearing apart the argument that “sex education should be left to parents.” The empirical evidence is incontrovertible: that strategy has never worked.


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  1. Thanks for sharing, Russell!