"Private parts" seen in public is just shocking, well ... to some. And considering that many adults refer to parts of the human anatomy by pet names or crude monikers, it's no wonder seeing or discussing them publicly stirs awkward, if not uncomfortable, feelings. But it shouldn't.
If we are too embarrassed or alarmed by the very nature of what makes us the people we are, we are depriving ourselves of understanding our minds, our anatomy and how our bodies work. We are also missing out on understanding a fundamental part of being human that connects us to other fellow beings and to all other people who lived before us.
The generations before us obviously had thoughts of sexual nature. They wrote about them, painted pictures about them, and even graffitied penises on their equivalent of the bathroom stall, smirking at the thought of the person who would find it.
"Calling a vulva 'a vagina' is just as ridiculous as calling a penis 'a urethra'", says Kathleen Baldwin, a local sex coach and certified sexuality educator, to a crowd of mostly women who laughed knowingly. In addition to the flowing alcohol (and a couple of aptly named mixed drinks too racy to name here), Talbott Street Nightclub presented an ideal atmosphere for the candid Q&A session for Indianapolis' first installment of the Sex Salon sessions. This session dealt with the topics of sex in the media, dating, hooking up and the way we dress.
Most of us remember how we found out about sex or even the first time we saw a naked body. For many of us, that "sighting" was of art depictions of goddesses or marble statues with their goods chiseled to realistic perfection. The first time I clapped eyes on a nude form was some scantily clad version of Adam and Eve strategically covered with leaves. But thankfully life eventually granted me other opportunities to learn about the human body through the work of artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Frida Kahlo and my third-grade friend who was generous with his limited drawing skills.
At the Sex Salon, I sat up front with my husband and a few of my friends, including a diverse group of women; different races, countries of origin, religious backgrounds and sexual orientations. We all have in common the fact that our relationship to sex and our bodies has been shaped considerably by the same shame brought upon by misconceptions and lack of education.
Because we are not alone, the Bloomington Sex Salon has been presenting a monthly community-based speaker series on the topic of sex research, education and advocacy for almost three years. It was funded and is hosted by Dr. Debby Herbenick, an Associate Research Scientist for Indiana University's School of Public Health-Bloomington, in collaboration with the Center for Sexual Health Promotion.
For as long as humans have been making more humans, people have been having sex -- coupling is as much part of the complete human experience as eating and the digestive repertoire that comes after eating. Understanding ourselves and our relationship to sex has also been part of our creative journey and our art history.
This is evidenced in early artworks and depictions of the human figure, where sexual features are emphasized prominently, such as in the cases of The Venus of Willendorf, the paleolithicVulveStylisée and the Mercury frescoes of Pompei. Additionally there is an immense amount of artwork depicting various figures interacting with each other in explicit ways, such as in the cases of the Khajuraho monuments, Japanese Shunga wooden prints, and the famous Marquis de Sade etchings.
The first installment in our city was not as highly attended as I would have expected. Perhaps its purpose as fundraiser for the often demonized organization Planned Parenthood was part of the reason, although thankfully there were no protesters in attendance. But as an almost-30-year-old adult woman who has now done her homework, I couldn't help but think that many people I've met throughout my life, and many people who partake in the comment section of our beloved newspapers and publications should have been there.
According to a 2015 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, nearly one in four millennials has had no sex education at all.
And so I am left wondering what can be said through art about a time when the way we relate to each other is increasingly changed by technology. If we are stuck figuring out the basics or reminding people, for example, that the female genitalia exists at all, then when do we move on to explore the more complicated topics?
The next installment of Sex Salon in Indy is yet to be announced, but you can follow Bloomington Sex Salon or Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky on Facebook to stay in the know.