A SIGN TELLS visitors to the Arlington Arts Center that there's sexually explicit matter inside. Whether you take that as a warning or a promise, you may be disappointed: The six exhibits on "Issues of Gender" are so non-prurient they're almost asexual.

Only Jim Long, 36, of Richmond, and Annie Adjchavanjch, 23, of Arlington, come at all close to controversy. But even very young visitors are unlikely to be shocked by Long's small-format photos of men cuddling or Adjchavanjch's studies of couples of various sexual preferences. Both artists have chosen grungy settings, and the effect is not titillating but dreary; the homosexual life is portrayed as anything but gay.

More engaging is an attempt by Katherine Kendall, 43, of St. Marys City, Md., to show how differently boys and girls talk about themselves and each other, illustrated with pictures taken by her summer workshop students. The effort was ambitious but the results are only occasionally penetrating, as in the paired comments that "Girls have power when they play by the rules" and "Boys have power when they play tyrant."

Deftly pointed, and definitely on point, are photos by Lise Metzger, 33, of Washington, that show how quickly young girls become sensitive about their bodies and learn to pose for the camera -- and the world. Metzger's pictures will catch at the heart, and trouble the mind, of anyone who has daughters.

Tony Sheeder, 29, of Washington, uses classical sources to document "the institutionalized violence against women in Western culture." His photomurals of Rubens's "Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" and Ovid's commentary on the story are technically impressive and politically fashionable but rather shrill, given the fact that Western females are the least oppressed women among all the world's major cultures.

In the basement is a tender trap set by Trena Noval, 32, of Baltimore. Her installation, swathed in velvet curtains and watered-silk wall coverings, invites the visitor to have a seat in a sex-specific cubicle and listen to stories narrated over telephones. One's about a surgeon who, knowing what goes on in hospitals, operates on his own brain. While listening, you may be observed through a Fresnel lens, thus becoming part of the show. You may not quite understand what Noval's getting at, but it's hard to resist going along with her.