Museum of Sex in New York – don’t go there!
Three reasons why I liked the idea of the Museum of Sex and went there:
1. Interesting subject
The subject is interesting and needs to be discussed in a serious way, therefore deserves a museum.
2. The US needs education on sex
There seem to be few alternatives on how to view sex in the US. Either it’s something dirty/sacred that needs to be saved for a spouse or ”anything goes”. If you are not a right wing moralist (who condemns everything from premarital sex to homosexuality) you seem to need to be the opposite. Sex positive. Prostitution is fine, the boundaries for what is counted as harmful is more and more stretched and feminism has to stand back if the “free” sexuality so demands.
3. It sounds like fun
Sex can be quite entertaining, so a Museum of Sex, that has even been praised in reviews, should be fun. But it really isn’t.
Ten reasons why the Museum of Sex is not the answer to our prayers, why they fail with their spoken mission and why you should not go there:
1. Child pornography
In three different spots we saw flirts with the genre of child porn.
The photo above I am not completely sure about, it is some sort of vagina toys that comes as parts to the ”virtual girl” for fucking, so there is this normal size vagina to insert into the doll and next to it we have this baby size vagina. It seems to be saying: if you like adults, go for that, if you like babies, go for that. I cannot interpret it as anything else, but it might be. As with the rest of the items, there was no written information explaining to me what I was watching, or how it related to anything else in the exhibition.
Then it went worse, just look at the picture to the right! It’s a snapshot from the exhibition “the sex life of robots”, kind of fun and artistic exhibition, but what the hell is this? It is not a dwarf doing the fellatio to this adult robot, it’s a child. Perfect size for blow jobs? And the third thing is not even a reference; it’s an actual, explicit, porn movie playing on a big screen in the floor, with a subtitle saying that the girl displayed is “only 16 or 17”. That can’t even be legal!
2. Unsorted, bad selection
A lot of things are just thrown together with no apparent relation to each other. The museum consists of three rooms, the first one is the very most disturbing one, I describe that closer in #5, in the last there is an exhibition called ‘Sex and the moving image’ which seems to be somewhat worked on, but I was so fed up with the rest of the museum that I didn’t really look closer at this temporary exhibition.
I liked the clips of homosexuals in mainstream movies; I have to give them that. But the permanent exhibition, the middle room, is really crappy. It consists of a series of smaller exhibitions related to sex, but it really seems like a high school student was put to google whatever sex/porn/nudity he could find.
A nude blond guy, for once with subtitles, describing him as German from the 1920s, symbolizing “a strong body and a strong nation”.Feels like they forgot something, how is this related to history? (Like for example that this “strong body – strong nation” got some damn serious consequences for the people who were not compatible of the Nazi view on perfection). And besides, how is this related to the rest of the museum? There is no chronological order, there is no logical order, and there are just random artifacts in smaller clusters.
The signs are not telling a coherent story – because there are no signs!
Very few of the exhibitions are complete, for example there is a small corner with some kind of a freak show or sexual fetishes with a few different things like a beaten up woman, gainers and feeders, fat men riding on the backs of women pretending to be horses and a couple more, completely without explanations, without putting this into a perspective of what can turn people on, if this is common, where they do it, why just these fetishes have been chosen, are they chosen or did the person who googled just put up whatever came up first?
It is a bit entertaining at some points, but as a freak show that aspires on shocking, definitely not as education.
4. Romanticizing of (sexual) violence
There are (uncommented) potentially harmful sexual practices exposed in the museum. Somebody is trying to tell us the ”some people like to make themselves (or others!) sick to be sexy, and that is aaall right”. I will only comment on this point with a few artifacts in the museum, but I surely think that is enough. Just look at these photos.
It is a beaten up East Asian woman, who is pretty severely injured from something. On the first picture she just looks miserable, and on the second she is trying to go to the toilet.
There is, as usual, no explanation on what these photos are here for. Exactly how do they match into this exhibition? To me they have absolutely nothing to do with sex, but the pictures are just next to a video where a man with a rubber mask gets his balls filled up with liquid from some needles with the title “playing doctor” and a very fat woman eating pastries very fast. Does this turn some people on? Was she beaten is some kind of a sexual game? Is she an actor or is she hurt for real? Is she or the photos used for something sexual? Was it part of her sexual pleasure?
Everything, or at least almost everything, is obviously seen through male eyes. The objective of all sex machines is penetration with a big cock. The girls love 11 feet down their throats, they love cum in their faces, and they love having sex with ‘the professionals’. A few meters away we can meet these ”professionals”, very ugly guys who are probably 30 years older than the girls.
6. Uncritical praising of the porn industry
– girls love it (well conveying that feeling is exactly the product the porn industry is selling).
– it’s an easy way to make money for women (actively engaging in increasing supply. But for most women it is not that much money, and not easy money at all (other workers risking long term health effects are compensated for that.))
– these are behind the scenes images – what you are told by the commercial images is all reality there is (leaning credibility to the ‘girls love it message’. But all images are performance images. Glossy, in performance clothes and poses, using stage names, and stage selling phrases (“I love cum”). Just adding the little “in reality we are only friends” makes it behind the scenes?)
– It is transgressive, breaking norms and boundaries of who can have sex with whom, how, and when. But critique against the porn industry is not by default against sexual multitude (this critique, for example, is in the direction that focusing on something else than (huge) cocks could be cool. Also, combining queerness and the porn industry, or a ‘sex positive’ position, is that really in the interest of most queers? )
– Oh how glossy those pictures are, how beautiful the women. How loving and supportive the families and friends. What a safe haven. And of course – no background information, no facts and figures, no contextualization. And horribly ugly, much older, men.
7. Confusing and limiting the concept of sexuality
Sex and porn is not the same thing, but this museum does not really get, or expose, that.
8. Unrelated souvenir shop
The souvenir shop does not have anything to do with the museum by the way, it is much less commercial as well, so don’t judge the museum by it’s store. You can’t even get a proper dildo in that store – which coincides with the museum not showing dildos, which would be a logical thing to put next to the fake vaginae one would think, but… I guess I already described this…
9. False (or “the museum I once curated has gone to the dogs”)
The people the administration claim to be collaborating partners haven’t been affiliated to the museum since the inauguration in 2002. My friend Petra who went with me contacted all supposed board members she could get hold of and got a reply from 12 of them. Only two had had any contact with the museum at all since 2002. None of the board members working in academia, with museums, or as editors had had anything to do with the museum, nor did they know anything about the current exhibitions. Some of them did not even know they were listed as on the board, while some had been asking for years to be removed from the list. The former curator described it as “the museum I once curated has gone to the dogs”.
10. Bad taste
It’s just ugly and not classy, don’t go there.
The museum of sex in New York city is not worth the entrance fee. It is sad that they could not get a non profit status and get help with public funding, probably/maybe because of the strange American sexual ethics. The Christian right and the porn industry clearly have some common anti-feminist goals sometimes, and in the case of the Museum of Sex they really succeed to make sex look like something pretty dirty.
Should I congratulate or condemn them both?
Also read some articles from 2002 when expectations were still high: