Museum of Sex

Edification value  
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  2/5
Time spent 73 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A wall text in the animals exhibit about a Dutch biologist who wrote a paper on gay necrophilia in mallard ducks.  Those Dutch biologists, man…

Museum of Sex, New York

Museum of Sex, New YorkWhat can I say about the Museum of Sex?  It’s fun.  The gift shop is hysterical — if you’re at all prone to blushing, it will make you blush.  It’s immensely positive, and in a weird sort of way, innocent, maybe even willfully naive about its topic.

The Museum of Sex (MoSex for short) opened in 2002 and is, according to its website, “one of the most dynamic and innovative institutions in the world.”  Ok then. Its collection includes some 20,000 pieces, including both art and artifacts, only a small fraction of which are on display at any given time across the four floors of exhibitionist galleries in its space a few blocks south of the Empire State Building.

Peep Show

The layout of MoSex suits its subject matter.  With galleries of varying sizes off several staircases, it feels somewhat unpredictable, where you never know what you might run into.   Like a sex club or S&M dungeon, with less sticky floors.

When I was there, the following shows were on:

  • “NSFW:  Female Gaze.”  Art by women that has some nudity and/or a sexual component to it.
  • “Canon.”  Photographs of gay and transgender Peruvians.
  • A text-heavy show about how animals have sex.  With some sculptural models. The point being that diversity is the order of the day, there are examples of homosexual behavior in some animals, and some slugs have really weird penises.  Also, did you know that river dolphins have been observed engaging in blowhole penetration?  Somehow I no longer feel so bad that they’re endangered…
  • A small show of Zana Bayne, a designer who specializes in high-fashion, “post-fetish” leather takes on bondage wear for people like Madonna and Nicki Minaj.
  • A photo exhibition commemorating Studio 54 and the other disco clubs of 1970s New York.
  • The permanent collection display, a selection of amusing or even wacky sexual paraphernalia, catalogued and displayed in beautifully designed glass cases.
Museum of Sex, New York
River dolphins being pervy.

You Must Be At Least This Tall to Ride This…Um…Ride

For a museum, MoSex features a lot of fun attractions, rather like Madame Tussaud’s with nudity.  When I visited people could pay extra to jump around in a grown-up-sized bouncy castle full of giant puffy breasts.  There was also a couples-only virtual reality experience.  I was flying solo the day I visited, so I can’t speak to how that works.  

Museum of Sex, New York
The safe-for-work end of that stationary bike gizmo

There’s also a Rube Goldberg-y stationary bike-based contraption.  Pedaling it drives a piston to which is attached a large plastic phallus.  Visitors are only allowed to ride one end of that gizmo.  Not the phallus end.

The World Through Rose-Colored Condoms

Here’s my problem with the Museum of Sex.  It lives in its own little fantasy world where sex is only ever a positive thing.  And, yay, that’s great, we can probably use more of that in American culture.

But if this place really wants to “preserve and present the history, evolution, and cultural significance of human sexuality,” (from its mission statement on its website) I think it has to tell the darker side of the story too.

The main thing about sex in the news for the past three months has been the pervasive alleged sexual misconduct by all sorts of leaders in business and media.  Sex has always been about power and it hasn’t always been consensual, and I don’t see MoSex acknowledging that fact.

Things you won’t learn about at the Museum of Sex:

  • VD
  • Bill Cosby
  • Rape
  • Abortion
  • Infidelity
  • Pedophilia
  • Basically anything that makes sex seem anything less than a wonderful thing all the time.

I can’t blame the curators for not wanting to be buzzkills or whatever. Doubtless fun sexy stories attract more visitors. But if I went to a Museum of Sugary Soft Drinks and there was nothing there about childhood obesity, I’d take note of that.  And I don’t see why MoSex should get a pass.

Should You Visit the Museum of Sex?

Museum of Sex, New YorkMoSex is as lighthearted and silly as the Library of Congress paying to publish a braille edition of Playboy.  I’m not sure if it’ll turn you on. But I’m also not sure it’ll make you think, and it definitely won’t encourage you to confront the problems related to sex in the country or the world today.

If you’re interested in a place that addresses gay, lesbian, transgender, etc., etc., topics in a museum setting, the Leslie-Lohman Museum is a better bet.

If you’re interested in a grown-up-sized bouncy castle full of boobies, this place is for you.

Otherwise, I don’t recommend a visit.

Museum of Sex, New York
Exit through the gift shop…

For Reference:

Address 233 Fifth Avenue @ 27th Street, Manhattan
Cost  General Admission:  About $20; varies slightly by day and time