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Image of the Week: Freud’s Porcupine

21 Nov, 2014

L0077373 Porcupine model, bronze

In honour of The Institute of Sexology opening yesterday at Wellcome Collection, we’ve decided to showcase a very special object from the exhibition. This little porcupine has been gaining quite a bit of attention recently, but we feel that it is well deserved.

What is the link between porcupines and sexology you may wonder? Whilst many objects in the exhibition have an obvious link to the study of sex and sexuality, this innocent looking porcupine may seem a little out of place amongst the phallic amulets and Wilhelm Reich’s Orgone Accumulator, parodied by Woody Allen as the “Orgasmatron”.

This bronze porcupine was kept on Sigmund Freud’s desk. He thought it represented the prickliness of human relationships. Porcupines crowd together when cold; however their sharp quills cause them to move away from each other when they get too close. This forces them to shift closer and then further apart until a balance of proximity is found. Freud used this to illustrate how people can both benefit from and be harmed by those they are most intimate with. The porcupine, on loan from the Freud Museum, was a gift to Freud from James Jackson Putnam, a neurologist and psychologist.

This isn’t the only porcupine to feature in the Institute of Sexology – they are also featured in footage of the mating practices of animals, from the archives of the Kinsey Institute. Originally an entomologist, Alfred Kinsey was interested in animal mating rituals as well as those of humans. The practices of porcupines were of particular interest to Kinsey and his colleagues. When perceptive to mating, the female lays her quills flat and curves her tail over her back so that she doesn’t impale the male. In other words, porcupines mate carefully.

The Wellcome Collection invites you to “undress your mind” with their free exhibition, The Institute of Sexology – now open (running until 20th September 2015).

Image Credit: ©Freud Museum, London

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