Provocative Design: A Day at the Museum of Sex

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Provocative Design: A Day at the Museum of Sex

I always kind of scoffed at the Museum of Sex posters lining the sides of the A train. It wasn’t because I didn’t think there should be a museum dedicated to sex, or that I was in any way against the idea, but the candy-colored posters of overly excited couples bouncing on inflated boobs had me convinced that the museum would be cheesy in all the wrong ways, making a mockery of sex like fifth graders in the back of the cafeteria. You know what I mean. Recently, though, my friend Courtney and I were those overly excited girls bouncing on inflated boobs (see above), and, well, I’ve changed my mind.

Opened in 2002 “to preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality,” the Museum of Sex is located in the Flatiron District of New York City, in a nondescript building on the corner of 5th Ave. and East 27th St. There’s a Chipotle across the street and businessmen strolling past like they aren’t looking through the radiating heart windows to the sex toy-covered tables inside. Dodging past them, walking in felt similar to the cosmetics floor of Bloomingdale’s, but, instead of the latest fragrance, employees are eagerly showcasing glossy white tables lined with every size, shape and color of vibrator and walls of whips, paddles and cuffs. We eventually made our way down to the aphrodisiac-themed cafe, aka basement, where we were sweetly offered breast Jello shots along with our tickets. We passed.

Entering the exhibit space, we first came to Hardcore: A Century & a Half of Obscene Imagery, which is a collection of artifacts proving that our ancestors were dirty, too. With sexual imagery so readily available today, the exhibit acts as a fascinating reminder that the 21th Century isn’t responsible for breaking boundaries when it comes to documenting sex. Pulled mostly from private collections (we’d like to see these guys’ houses), Hardcore included things like a 1855 brothel guide, a hand illustrated sex manual from the late nineteenth century, early photographs featuring interracial sex, group sex, same sex encounters and sex toy use and a collection of erotic artifacts found hiding in the brickwork of a recently renovated Brooklyn brownstone.

Walking into the next room, we were greeted by an employee dressed like a park ranger. The exhibit was Splendor in the Grass: Kinesthetic Camping Ground, and he smiled, reminding us that it was an interactive exhibit and to have fun. Nod, nod, wink, wink. While the exhibit felt similarly to what I remember science museums as a kid, it laid out sexy camping scenarios, and we moved through the five interactive camping tents meant to represent phases of sexual stimulation. Some of them worked, and some of them were simply playing Twister in a sad attempt to imitate sex postions as a single individual. Leaving the exhibit, you’re encouraged to step into a circular room of mirrors and explore your body. It’s questionable, and we opted for (clothed) selfies.

The Museum’s permanent exhibit, The Sex Lives of Animals, again addresses sex in an educational sense, but focuses on the idea that sex is more than a biological drive to reproduce. The exhibit explores animals engaging in everything from foreplay to cuddling. Like, did you know that hedgehogs are into oral sex?

Lastly, we moved to Objextxxx: Selected Artifacts From the Museum of Sex Archive. Pulled from museum’s permanent collection of nearly 20,000 items, it’s a diverse selection including everything from condom vending machines and blow up dolls to Hugh Hefner’s smoking jacket and painful looking S&M play things. And, while the glass enclosed goods were interesting, we couldn’t help but be distracted by the spontaneous giggling coming from the next room.

It was Jump for Joy, the much-anticipated bounce castle of boobs. Originally created for the exhibition Funland: Pleasures & Perils of the Erotic Fairground, you’re granted five minutes in the bouncy castle with one friend of choice and a sensual soundtrack by Dom James. First escorted into hallway reminiscent of an old Hollywood theatre, we handed over our IDs to an employee wearing some kind of magician cape, who very seriously informed us that it was just in case any injuries took place, because, like, that’d be fun to tell your friends. Eventually, we were led back into a darker room, which housed the bounce house and more of those damn breast Jello shots. We declined again and patiently awaited our turn. Of course, it was just as fun as anyone would imagine.

Leaving the museum, we passed an employee snapping Polaroids of three girls holding dildos up to their mouths, informing their photographer that the museum should definitely use their photos for advertising, and maybe they should. While the museum had its cheesy moments as expected, it’s also an adult playground, designed to bring sex to the forefront and have fun exploring every aspect of something that is so present in our society. So, if you find yourself in New York, it’s certainly worth the trip. Until then, you can check out our photos in the gallery.