I recently had the privilege to spend a Friday afternoon at the Museum of Sex here in New York City with a group of my fellow Her Campus at Pace University members. What started as a simple opportunity to hang out as a club was soon transformed into one of the most educational, entertaining (and kinkiest!) experiences you can find in the city. According to the website, the museum’s mission is to “preserve and present the history, evolution, and cultural significance of human sexuality” through curated exhibitions and virtual installations alike. The board of advisors are leading scholars and historians in the field, so you know that what you’re seeing is authentic and accurate. It should be noted that the exhibits featured aren’t permanent, so one visit could be entirely different from another.
Upon our arrival at the museum, we made it through the sprawling gift shop (which you can’t be underage to enter) filled with toys and games beyond our imagination. The tour began and was split into four exhibitions. My personal favorite had to be the Portia Munson exhibit titled “The Pink Bedroom.” The room features a mix of media: drawings, paintings, and sculptures centering on “the many, and often conflicting, expectations we put on the production and consumption of the female body.” But the main spectacle is a small room stuffed to the brim with all things pink and feminine, which is an ongoing project by the artist. Look around and you’ll see what was described by the tour guide as everything a girl could want and need throughout her entire life, from the baby clothes hanging from the ceiling to the more explicit objects like lingerie, whips, and sex dolls. The environment highlights just how early the sexualization of girls begins, essentially from infancy. There’s a bizarre mixed feeling of both comfort and unease; it’s like you belong within the space but are simultaneously trapped in it. This feeling so accurately depicts the fetishization of what is considered for women and marketed to them, and how conditioned we are to accept this as the standard. Her Campus at Pace member Emilia Valencia, 18 years old, said that the piece “…spoke volumes to what it was trying to represent. Someone could spend days looking in that room finding new things that were important to the artist and her vision.”
In the other exhibitions, you’ll find topics such as the evolution of how “sex sells” and its history of being marketed in film, tv, music, and advertising. There was a lot to be learned about how we as a society view sex in mass media and just how blurred the lines are for what is acceptable or despicable. For example, the “porno chic” movement of the 1960s inspired a more open dialogue about sexuality and pornography. The engaging visuals and sounds, not just in this room but all throughout the museum, are truly what make this place so exciting and unique. But the real highlight of the journey is also the very last: Superfunland Carnival. An emulation of the old world carnival and how sex used to be at its core, filled with an assortment of dirty games free to play with your admission! Our group participated in everything from claw games with stress ball butts, a bouncy house of boobs, pole dancing, and an automatic marriage machine. Maybe the most memorable moment was when our group experienced the 4D short film titled “Tunnel of Love,” an extremely abstract depiction of an orgy. I don’t think it needs much description to visualize what that experience was like. This carnival truly arouses the senses and stimulates the brain, not much unlike the theme of the museum itself.
Sex is simultaneously so ingrained into our society and media, while also considered too taboo to be present in a classroom. The reality is sex is in history, media, and psychology. It is in religion and science. Being well-educated on the matter and how to practice safe sex should be as important as reading and writing, once the student is old enough to understand. Places like the Museum of Sex are so empowering and important because these topics and imagery don’t need to be uncomfortable or seen as off-limits when presented in an environment that is safe and accepting. Her Campus at Pace member Madison Wolff, 19 years old, agrees, “It was a really cool experience. Learning about the way the world has looked at sex among many different cultures was definitely a highlight, as well as the games we got to play after looking at the exhibits.” The Museum of Sex is a definite must-visit in the city, but prepare to be a changed person on the trip back home.