September 11, 2009 / 9:56 AM / 9 years ago

Body Worlds anatomists plan show dedicated to sex

ZURICH (Reuters Life!) - The German anatomists behind the Body Worlds exhibitions that display preserved cadavers plan to stage a new show solely dedicated to sex, they said in an interview with Reuters.

A plastinated human specimen is shown during the media preview of the Koerperwelten ('Body Worlds') exhibition in Zurich September 10, 2009. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Married couple Gunther von Hagens and Angelina Whalley aim to democratize anatomy by showing the public corpses prepared using a technique invented by von Hagens called “plastination” that removes water from specimens and preserves them with silicon rubber or epoxy resin.

Body Worlds creative director Whalley said it was important to provide a counterpoint to the media portrayal of sex as something indecent by putting it in its scientific context.

“It’s not my intention to show certain sexual poses. My goal is really to show the anatomy and the function,” she said, adding the sex exhibition could be staged next year.

German politicians called the current “Cycle of Life” show, which charts human existence from conception to old age and which opened in Zurich on Friday, “revolting” and “unacceptable” when it showed in Berlin earlier this year because it included copulating cadavers.

Von Hagens, who in 2002 performed the first public autopsy in the United Kingdom for 170 years, hoped the Swiss, who have a long tradition of direct democracy and personal freedom, would be tolerant of the Cycle of Life’s sexual content.

“In Germany I am the mucky pup. I am loved by the masses but in intellectual circles they think I have a screw loose,” said the down-to-earth von Hagens with boyish incredulity that belied his ‘Dr Death’ media image.

“Switzerland is the first country that already said from the outset that we could show whatever we wanted,” added von Hagens, wearing the trademark black fedora favored by Renaissance anatomists.


Body Worlds exhibitions, visited by 27 million people across the world, have been criticized for presenting entire corpses, stripped of skin to reveal the muscles and organs underneath, in lifelike and often theatrical positions.

Von Hagens, who is responsible for positioning the bodies in their poses, said he discussed at length how to do this with Whalley — often leading to disagreements — to make sure he did not cross the boundaries of decency.

“The sex act we discussed for about seven years,” he said.

The way a plastinate is exhibited can also vary from country to country to reflect local sensibilities. A vote of local employees decided that one of the copulating female cadavers should wear fewer clothes in Zurich than was the case in Berlin.

“Zurich is ready for two sex acts, but it’s maybe not so easy in every other town,” said von Hagens.

Von Hagens said he would draw the line at dehumanizing a specimen by showing it juxtaposed with a machine, but the proposed exhibition on sex presented other ethical issues.

“We have discussed whether it is proper to show homosexuality and in what way. This is a very delicate subject,” said von Hagens, adding society’s fear of it was even bigger than depicting straight sex. “But when we see the development of this over the past 20 or 30 years, it is more and more accepted.”

Von Hagens and Whalley said they both intended to donate their bodies for plastination, but would not leave instructions about how to display them, dismissing this as vanity.

“I find it a great opportunity to give something to others by donating my body, namely self-awareness,” said the glamorous Whalley, dressed in a chic salmon dress and heels.

Von Hagens said he and some other body donors even saw plastination as an alternative to burial or cremation, giving them more certainty about would happen to their bodies after death: “Cremation for me is hell.”


The majority of body donors were Christians, said von Hagens, as they saw the soul and body as separate, though he himself doubted the soul could live on after physical death.

The anatomists said they aimed to engage visitors on a philosophical and aesthetic level, rebuffing accusations their exhibits portrayed only the mechanical functions of the body and failed to show what really made people human.

“The body that’s left is the vessel of the soul and the soul’s vessel of course evokes the soul,” said von Hagens.

Whalley said the absence of the soul from the exhibits helped viewers to examine themselves.

“It is the absence of the soul from the exhibited bodies that makes it all the more present, because visitors reflect on the fact what they are looking at was a loved one,” she said.

Editing by Steve Addison

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