Photo of Professor Kate Fisher

Professor Kate Fisher

Public engagement

Sex and History

Rebecca Langlands and I direct the Sex and History Project, an award-winning and innovative approach to improving young people’s well-being and sexual health. It uses objects from past cultures as a stimulus for discussing sex and relationships.

Stemming from our research, which explores the ways in which, throughout history, people have turned to the past to make sense of sex in their own presents, Sex and History reconstructs such productive engagements with the past, to open up new ways of thinking about sex today. Our research found that encounters with historical material provide eye-opening and empowering examples of cultural diversity which can expand horizons, open up new ways of thinking and legitimate alternative ways of being. Learning about what people from across time and place have thought about desire, arousal, intimacy, gender, body image, beauty, power and control provides both  an arresting focus for discussion, and a safe distance from sensitive issues, that can have a transformative effect.

Sex and History uses museum visits, object-based workshops and games to add a new, rich dimension to sex education.  It empowers young people to make healthy choices about sex and relationships and provides a wider social and cultural framework for the assimilation of biological and practical information about sexual health. The methodology is particularly effective in tackling those tricky subjects outside of the biological, such as relationships, resilience, attitudes, life-choices and pornography and the media. Following the development of a sex education resource pack (the Talking Sex Pack), developed with Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro, trialled in 20 schools in Cornwall, we are currently collaborating with the RSE hub on the production of a new resource for teachers, and with Sophie Sampson on the use of classrooms games to get young people engaging with a range of historical evidence.

Sex and History also works with museums and the cultural sector to enhance the relationship between young people and heritage and to shape social change. We focus on the production of creative interpretations of historical objects (including film making, soundscapes, dance, animation intergenerational discussion and exhibition curation) of demonstrable cultural, artistic, social and educational value, using a model of participation and co-production that has the capacity to transform mental, social and physical wellbeing and economic resilience.

We have received funding from Museums Libraries and Archives, The Wellcome Trust, REACT Pump priming; Catalyst Fund and the AHRC.

We have worked with a wide range of partners including: Age Concern; Barnardos; Eddystone Trust; Effervescent social alchemy; Exeter Foyer; Groundwork SW;  Platform 51; Plymouth City Museum; Plymouth Youth Service; Russell-Coates Art Gallery and Museum; Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter; Royal Cornwall Museum; Truro; RSE Hub, The Science Museum, Wellcome Collection.

You can find out more about our past projects here:

We have a number of exciting on-going projects and events. Please contact us for more details:

The Sex and History Project has received positive media attention, it won an award for Outstanding Social and Cultural Impact at the Exeter University Impact Awards (2011) and was put forward for an EngageU award for European innovation in university public engagement.

Some of the historical objects used in the Sex and History project are going on display at Exeter's Royal Albert Memorial Museum in 2014.