“I hope you leave feeling different than when you came in!” a cheery museum attendant calls to a group of people as they exit a small theater labeled “Tunnel of Love,” having just finished experiencing a “four-dimensional, abstract, artistic rendition of an orgy.”
Equal parts education, art and entertainment, the Museum of Sex draws attendees in with its playful advertising and taboo subject nature, with an interior that sparks thoughtful conversation about a wide range of topics. Queer identities and inclusion, the entertainment industry, pregnancy, abortion and sexual exploitation are all explored through historical artifacts, film and art. The museum describes its mission as intending to “preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality.”
The museum spans four floors and is cyclical in nature, both beginning and ending in a large gift shop. After entering through the store, there is a staircase that leads to the first floor, which is made up of a large room full of historical paraphernalia housed behind little windows. There seems to be no categorical order to the items, which include adult toys and clothing, anatomical models, OBGYN tools and explicit “how-to” guides. Many of these items were donated to the museum from personal collections of important activists in queer and sexual liberation scenes. All items are accompanied by notecards that not only explain the inventions and functions of the artifacts themselves, but also the historical and political context of the time they were made and any controversies that may have arisen due to their creation.
The second floor is an art gallery currently showing an exhibit titled “F*ck Art: The Body and its Absence.” The exhibit showcases pieces of art that explore themes of sexuality and identity from artists of many different cultural backgrounds, including works by Native American 2Spirit, Latinx, African American, Asian, Caribbean and Queer and Disabled artists. Many of these artists are also native New Yorkers. The gallery includes sculpture, painting, photography, mixed media and film pieces that display a variety of attitudes towards sex and sexual liberation.
The third floor currently houses an exhibit called “Porno Chic to Sex Positivity: Erotic Content & the Mainstream.” This exhibit explores the history of sex and sexual exploitation in American media starting from the 1960s, all the way up to that of the current day. The room begins with walls of magazine advertisements and props from television commercials with notecards that detail the sexual controversy that followed their airing. The tales of outrage were spurred by anything from the sexual exploitation of women to the placement of women in traditionally male positions of sexual power.
Past these artifacts there is a theater proudly displaying a banner with the words “Scandalous Scenes of Cinema” printed across it. Inside the theater, visitors are welcome to sit and watch both implicitly and explicitly sexual clips from mainstream movies that have scandalized audiences since their airing. Along the back wall of the room, behind the cinema, is a series of tall stalls labeled respectively with a decade. Aiming to present the evolution of sex as heard in music, visitors can step inside a stall to listen to music and watch the accompanying music video from each decade. The final wall of the room is dedicated to artifacts, much like the first floor, but relating to sexuality specifically within the music industry.
The third floor serves not only as the final floor of the museum, but the first floor of “Super Funland,” the accompanying amusement to the museum and the reason so many bachelorette parties frequent the building. Super Funland echoes the three-floor nature of the museum, but flowing down the stairs instead of up. To enter Super Funland, visitors are guided down a hallway featuring old carnival pictures and mirrored dioramas depicting the underground, risqué history of carnivals while they wait to be seated for the next showing of a six minute film about the history of the carnival, starting from ancient Greek times all the way up to today. After the film, the museum’s very own “Erotic Carnival” begins.
After exiting the film there is a large hallway with kaleidoscopic video footage from Coney Island that leads to a room of traditional carnival games — with a rather provocative twist. In Skee-ball visitors are assigned a different “God of Sex” as their icon, claw machines contain sperm and eggplant shaped pillows, the bounce house is fashioned out of balloons shaped like female breasts, and the entrance to the “Tunnel of Love” promises viewers an incredibly unique, four dimensional experience.
Going down the stairs to the second floor, one will immediately be welcomed by a spinning sign that says “Pornamatic,” where budding stars can step into a photo booth to see their faces on the — X-rated — silver screen. This room is perfect for couples, with a machine that dispenses wedding vows and rings, as well as a game where couples who kiss for at least thirty seconds can spin a wheel to win prizes. Most of the room is dominated by a collection of pink posts that you can climb up to reach a slide, with the entrance fashioned to look like a red-painted mouth.
The slide is long, winding and contains rainbow multicolored lights that blink wildly as you slip down to the first floor. The first floor contains the museum’s bar, as well as several themed photo booths and a few more carnival games. Exiting will bring you back into the same gift shop that houses the entrance, though with a renewed sense of wonder at all of the items within.
Overall, the Museum of Sex does a wonderful job of balancing “business and pleasure,” ensuring an educational, but never dull, experience for its attendees. Tickets include both museum and Superfunland admission, as well as one round of each carnival ride and game. It’s easy to win little knick-knacks for free as souvenirs, in case a friend asks you what you were up to this weekend. The elevator is currently non-operational due to ongoing repairs, so anybody in need of accessible accommodation is encouraged to call ahead to ensure a smooth experience. Admission is solely for those 18 and up.