A Trip to the Museum of Sex Explores How We Relate to Physical Intimacy

museum of sex

Here, voyeurs are free to look, listen, contemplate…and act. image: igor khodzinskiy

True or false: a little bit of sexual repression makes the world a better place. Be honest now…Is the idea of having sex in a virtual world intriguing to you? In some ways, the answers to these questions are not as important as the questions themselves. And they’re exactly the kinds of questions visitors to Manhattan’s MoSex receive on the museum’s phone-operated personality game. In addition to the contemplation, attendees discover things about their sexual preferences—and how to use them.

Fusing a timeless act (sex) to a beacon of modernity (a smartphone), the museum attempts to break cultural and chronological barriers by, in a way, taking us out of the space itself. That space—four exhibits, a ground-floor shop and a very special bouncy castle on the top floor— evokes an initial reaction, turns it on its head and transports viewers back to an era where crassness and public revelations of intimate details weren’t the defining aspects of one’s behavior. By placing people face-to-face with raw sex, the curators force audiences to consider how sex has shifted in culture over time.

This is seen most readily in the “Splendor in the Grass: Kinesthetic Camping Ground” installation by Studio Droog. Running through the spring of 2016, five interactive camping tents explore the different stages of arousal and stimulation. Upon entrance, visitors are presented with behavioral and actionable prompts, encouraging the shift from passive viewer to active participant. One couple did opt to take the museum’s cues as prompts to fulfill outside of the tents, bringing new meaning to the term “PDA,” but if not within the Museum of Sex then where?

Putting sex on display without restraint, Manhattan’s MoSex seems to cater to a digital age defined by instant gratification and the need to make something public in order to prove its realness. Today’s America—characterized by sensationalized news stories and lenient ideals of modesty—functions as the perfect backdrop for this space dedicated to the public analysis of, arguably, the most intimate of human acts. The museum calls into question, among other things: Are we okay with seeing sex this way because we seemingly see everything this way?

“Splendor in the Grass” joins permanent exhibits “The Sex Lives of Animals,” “Hardcore: A Century and a Half of Obscene Imagery” and “ObjectXXX: Selected Artifacts from the Museum of Sex Archive” in offering an engaging exploration of the history of sex. But it is “Jump for Joy” that ends up being the most memorable experience. After all, who could forget jumping around a bouncy castle made of blown-up breasts?