During Spring Break, two Argus reporters visited the Museum of Sex in New York City with the sole purpose of educating our fellow students at Wesleyan “Horniest-in-America” University.
Okay, maybe we were a little curious, too.
We didn’t know what to expect as we approached the Museum of Sex at the corner of 5th Avenue and 27th Street in New York City. Our first impression was that it was fairly modest, and perhaps not worth the price of an admission ticket. Would it live up to its reputation and our anticipation? That perception quickly changed when we went upstairs and discovered that it was, er, bigger and more impressive than we thought it would be.
Two hours after entering, we emerged onto East 27th Street knowing more about sex than we would ever be comfortable admitting to our grandparents. The main lesson we learned: some things just can’t be unseen.
The gift shop is the first thing you encounter as you enter the museum, but the real treasures of the Museum of Sex require an admission ticket. Let us note, however, that the gift store should not be overlooked, and this was where we began our research.
Upon entering, we were immediately struck by the sight of penises. Lots and lots of penises. A glass display case at the front of the store proudly showed off an impressive collection of phallic sculptures. And the fun was only beginning.
Our fellow museum visitors seemed to share our excitement.
“Yo, this is like a club or something!” said one man as he walked in.
The gift shop, accessible even to those who do not enter the museum itself, was filled with a remarkable variety of sexual paraphernalia. A condom on a lollipop stick? How convenient! A condom on a keychain? Even more convenient! Latex body paint, perhaps? Penis-shaped cookie cutters? This place had Mother’s Day shopping written all over it.
The most persistent explorers of the Museum of Sex gift shop manage to find their way beyond the gaudy t-shirts and sex position manuals to the discreetly located shelves of vibrators on the back wall.
After much consideration, we bought the only semi-G-rated souvenirs in the store: postcards that simply read: “Impressionism. Constructivism. Cubism. Jism.”
Once we checked our bags with the mysteriously attractive man downstairs and forked over fifteen dollars each for tickets, we entered the actual museum. Despite the giddy atmosphere of the gift store, the overall experience transcended the obvious immature novelty of visiting a museum that was all about sex. It was fun, to be sure, but we also left with plenty of knowledge about animal sex and the history of pornography.
The first room explored the history of pornography from the beginning of filmmaking to the present. The exhibit started with early silent black-and-white erotic films, called ‘stags.’ The display then progressed chronologically until reaching the more explicit pornography of the present, throwing in an old erotic cartoon movie along the way.
The room was dark, with videos playing on screens mounted to the walls. Films were also playing on raised horizontal surfaces, giving the viewer the voyeuristic experience of peering into what should be people’s most intimate moments. Although the material was presented in an educational setting, we couldn’t ignore the uncomfortable fact that we were watching pornography in a room filled with strangers.
Just as interesting as the exhibit itself was the experience of observing these aforementioned strangers. We observed a couple holding hands as they examined the stag films. By the time they got to Paris Hilton’s infamous sex tape, however, they had ceased all physical contact. Another couple watched clips of films depicting oral sex while standing with their hands in each other’s pockets. Not our idea of a great date, but to each his own.
We then went upstairs and discovered the section about animal sex. Sexual cannibalism; dolphin sex positions; and homosexual necrophilia among male ducks are just a few of the animal-kingdom splendors we learned. As an unexpected perk, we also now know how to seduce male chimpanzees using sign language.
The sheer number of pictures, videos, descriptions, and statues of mating rituals was pretty overwhelming. We wondered which lucky artist was commissioned to create the statue of three mating deer stacked on top of one another.
On second thought, we really didn’t want to know.
Instead, we opted to return to our favorite museum activity: people-watching. We observed a middle-aged couple examining the diagrams of animal genitalia. Another couple was more excited about the picture detailing the orifices of dolphins.
“Oh my god!” said the man. “That’s the coolest thing ever! He’s having sex with his blowhole!”
The last part of the museum was the one we found most shocking. Yes, even more shocking than the panda porn on view in the animal room.
This final exhibit displayed ways in which technology has shaped how humans perceive sexual interaction, bringing the recent radical changes of digital media to the age-old act of sex. According to the summary on the wall of the exhibit’s entrance, the Internet has made pornography more accessible than ever before. As a result, “desire has gone viral.”
The exhibit, called “The Universe of Desire,” ranked the top hundred most frequently searched porn keywords and examined the increasing occurrence of online sex scandals. It also featured a chalkboard upon which visitors were instructed to write something they would never search online. Although we opted not to add our own taboo search terms, we marveled at those that were already written, which included “blumpkin” and “snowballing.”
Many of the visitors perused the list of the top 100 pornographic searches, which showed “youth,” “gay,” and “MILF” to be the top three. One man was as surprised by the list as we were.
“I can’t believe ‘gagging’ is 99!” he exclaimed. “’Gay’ is 2 and ‘gagging’ is 99!”
The man, a tourist in his sixties wearing cargo shorts, sneakers, and high white socks while toting a large camera bag, wasn’t the kind of visitor you might expect at a sex museum. But then again, who would you expect? While purchasing our tickets, we asked a staff member about the demographics of visitors.
“There are lots of couples, which really freaks me out,” she said. “We get about half students, half older people. Lots of kids on spring break.”
Caught us red handed.
Most tourists and vacationing students probably aren’t willing to spend the money or time to venture beyond the gift shop. But let’s not kid ourselves—going to a museum and just browsing the gift shop is the equivalent of stopping at first base. For those with the stamina and determination to probe a little further, the actual exhibits at the Museum of Sex should not be missed.