Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Museum of Sex: 27th St and 5th Ave

The Museum of Sex stands prominently on 5th Avenue and dares passersby to take a peak.  There are display windows that tease and taunt with a bit of wit.  But really, I thought that the $17.50/adult admissions fee was probably exorbitant (to pay the rents") and I wouldn't bother.  However, when Goldstar (a great site to get amazing discounts on an updated basis for things to do in NYC, among other places) came up with a discount of about 40%, I reconsidered.

The store does not require museum admission to shop.  By the time I left the place around 3, it was packed with shoppers (I imagine it would be a good source for stag or bachelorette parties).  They have T shirts (see right), novelty gifts as well as the more lascivious toys you might expect from a place called the Museum of Sex.

The museum starts with a couple of rooms dedicated to the expression or innuendo of sex in films and television, ending in some unnecessarily graphic porn.  The next rooms continue to explore the representation of sex in photography and comics (including Tijuana Bibles (which are neither from TJ nor Bibles) and spoofed Disney characters in sexual acts (for which the artists and publishers were never prosecuted by The Walt Disney Company). 

Finally on the top/3rd floor, they have a great display of animals and their sexual behavior.  This part of the museum seems the most "museum-like" in that it educates visitors about animal sexuality in all of its various forms.  They tell the stories of animal homosexuality like the gay penguins, Roy and Silo, from the Central Park Zoo who raised an abandoned baby penguin from San Diego named, Scrappy.  They reveal that some animals like the dominant female California Bluebanded Goby birds that can change genders when a harem is left without a dominant male and can change back again if a new male joins the group.  There are also numerous animals who have group sex like frogs and horseshoe crabs to help improve survival odds and implement group nurturing strategies.  They also describe sequential monogamy in animals like the penguin (after 6 years Roy and Silo split up and now Silo has female partner) and animals who have sex for pleasure rather than for procreation (see dolphin sculpture at left demonstrating "blowhole sex").  The list goes on, but basically, the museum uses animal sexuality to introduce the "normalcy" of what some may consider "deviant" behavior in humans.

The museum spends much of its vast gallery space to try to show that what some might consider aberrant or deviant behavior such as fetishes and sadomasochism (see the gas mask and the inflatable mask at right) may actually be different but just as normal as more "accepted" sexual behavior.  Some interesting tidbits include that vibrators were initially used as medical devices to treat women for "hysteria" and then moved to home use with Sears Roebuck selling them as "beauty aids."  Also, early J. H. Kellogg breakfast cereals and Sylvester Graham's now famous crackers were first developed in an attempt to quell male masturbation. Perhaps this is all laughable now, but it made me wonder what things people do and believe today that will be seen as ridiculous in the future.

There is also a large space dedicated to describing the life of a Samuel Morris Steward (aka Phil Sparrow) (1909-1993).  This writer, artist, professor (teaching at several universities, including lastly the Catholic, DePaul University), and tattoo artist, apparently defied homophobia through the McCarthy era and had sex with an estimated 807 different men during his life.  He kept a "stud file" with details about the encounters and relationships he had with men, including Rudolph Valentino, Roy Fitzgerald (better known later as Rock Hudson), and Thornton Wilder.  I'm not sure why so much space was dedicated to this one gay man, but I suppose it was an interesting exhibit overall, even if only to contemplate the changing world he lived in through his 83 years of life.

Overall, I would say it is an interesting, if occasionally disturbing, museum.  Its large and unabashed 5th Avenue address is a testament to the tolerance of New York City.

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