The exterior of the Museum of Sex in Manhattan — Photo courtesy of Museum of Sex
Park yourself on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 27th Street in the Flatiron District in New York City, and you’ll quickly spot a common theme: tourists giggling with their friends as they scurry past the Museum of Sex, all the while wondering what lurks behind the doors. Inside, signs play up the mystique: “Please do not touch, lick, stroke or mount the exhibits,” reads one well-Instagrammed plaque.
When it launched in 2002 by Executive Director and Founder Daniel Gluck, the Museum of Sex claims on its website that it was "without precedent in the museum world." Fittingly, Gluck chose to open the museum in an area of New York formerly known as the “Tenderloin.”
“This district of NYC was made notorious in the 19th century for its bordellos, dance halls, theaters and saloons,” says museum spokeswoman Lisa Hanock-Jasie.
Today, the Museum of Sex toes the line between entertainment and education, with the mission of “advocating open discourse surrounding sex and sexuality, as well as striving to present to the public the best in current scholarship unhindered by self-censorship.”
That’s all well and good, but let’s be honest: You probably came here to read about the scandalous and salacious – both of which are readily present through the museum’s doors, not to mention in its cunningly named cafe/den/bar, Play.
Along with rotating exhibitions, the museum features a permanent collection of more than 15,000 items, including erotic paintings, vintage vibrators, BDSM objects – even female RealDolls, life-size sex mannequins with a moveable PVC skeletons, steel joints and silicone flesh. In case you’re wondering, the museum makes an exception on their touching rule and allows for RealDoll fondling. (In the name of research, obviously.)
Mural graces the walls of the Museum of Sex — Photo courtesy of WalrusWaltz
But lest you think that all of the exhibits revolve around indulging kinky fantasies involving "furries" or "pony play," keep this in mind: The works of Picasso and Keith Haring, two acclaimed, albeit very different, artists also adorn the walls of the museum.
Additionally, the museum holds an esteemed board of advisors comprised of leading scholars and historians responsible for guiding curators toward research resources and relevant artists.
All “professional” purpose aside, stepping through the doors still feels vaguely naughty – like you’re in on a preserved secret from a pre-Giuliani New York. You know, the one that existed before all the fun, filthy smut was wiped out with the crime.
Inside, in addition to the permanent collection, you may find something like "Grumildos," a “bizarre, grotesque, sordid, charming” show that highlights the red-light district of Lima, Peru, through theater and puppet performance. Or perhaps "The Sex Lives of Animals," an in-depth look at the animal kingdom a la dolphin blowhole sex and panda porn.
Two pandas getting randy at the Museum of Sex — Photo courtesy of WalrusWaltz
Places like the Museum of Sex are what make New York the weird, wonderful city that it is.
If nothing else, what other museum could you ask a curator about the curly penis of a duck without getting thrown out in the street?
When You Go
The Museum of Sex is open to visitors 18 and older. Allot around two to three hours to peruse, with more time for the, ahem, “unique” gift shop.