Pills, coils and condoms!


Since the beginning of time humankind has sought ingenious methods in an attempt to control fertility.

This exhibition in the Ilot Room on Level 4 of Te Papa reveals a wide range of contraceptive devices and stories from the recently acquired collection of Dame Margaret Sparrow, one of New Zealand’s leading specialists and advocates on birth control and sexual health.

On a basic level the display can be viewed and understood as a chronology of birth control methods and devices that stem from Dame Margaret Sparrow’s life, work and collection. But visitors are guided to interpret the groupings of objects in other ways, that explore and reflect changing social attitudes, persuasive marketing techniques, scientific endeavour and women’s transition through the sexual revolution.

Dame Margaret Sparrow in L'Herbe, 2012, Photographer: Dr Carol Shand, © Margaret Sparrow

Dame Margaret Sparrow in L’Herbe, 2012, Photographer: Dr Carol Shand, © Margaret Sparrow

By engaging with small objects that tell BIG stories it highlights the relevance and significance of birth control and sexual health in our own lives and others, today and throughout human history. The seemingly private and hidden devices speak to the shared journeys of women to control their own fertility, and offer many opportunities to share and discuss both the personal and the universal.

In the exhibition we are asking visitors, If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about contraception, what would it be?

Here’s a small sample of the more saucy, serious and introspective!:

‘Get thee to the nunnery!’

‘No glove, no love.’

‘Children in the backseat cause accidents…Accidents in the backseat cause children!’

‘Wait until you get married before you sleep with someone.’ And then alternatively, “Don’t’ wait until you get married to sleep with someone!  You’ll discover they snore!’

Don’t invest 99% of your teenage years to getting laid.  Focus on other things too.  I mean sex is great, but don’t get behind on life.’

‘Don’t worry if you’re a late bloomer.  It’ll happen and you’ll be so glad you waited.’

 ‘I am  a child that is the result of the failed pill.’ 

I am the mother of the child that is the result of the failed pill.  I wouldn’t change a thing either.’

What would your advice be?

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