The Museum of Sex

Mar 1, 2010

Taking your sweetheart to a museum on Valentine’s Day might not be everyone’s idea of a hot date, but that doesn’t apply when the destination is the Museum of Sex. The holiday is so big for MoSex, as it calls itself, that last month the museum extended its hours for the entire Valentine’s Day weekend and the first thing visitors saw was a newly designed, brightly lighted and greatly expanded museum store.

After almost eight years, the Museum of Sex is no longer bashful.

Since October 2002, when MoSex opened at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 27th Street, the store had been hidden from passersby and access to the museum was through a discreet doorway on 27th Street. Now, however, the entrance — plate glass doors with prominent chromium handles that form an X — is right on Fifth Avenue, flanked by wide windows that allow for more than a peek inside. Visitors must go through the store, now double in size to 2,000 square feet, to reach the ticket counters for admission to the exhibits.

Inside the five-story MoSex, there are further signs of renovation. Just behind the store, a redesigned Film Gallery chronicles sex in movies, from the celluloid of 1920s stag films to today’s pixel-packing peccadilloes. The second floor houses the current exhibition, “Rubbers: The Life, History & Struggle of the Condom,” plus selections from the museum’s permanent collection. Museum offices are on the third floor, where additional construction could mean another gallery. A library, open by appointment only to scholars and researchers, is on four, while the fifth floor is rented as office space.

The museum is also expanding its branding efforts. Inside the store, and available online, are MoSex candles, intimacy kits, T-shirts, mugs, key chains and the museum’s very own “aphrodisiac chocolates.”

When MoSex was launched by entrepreneur Daniel Gluck, its executive director, it professed a lofty goal: “the exploration of the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality.” Despite that, it was denied a charter from the State Board of Regents as a cultural nonprofit organization. Hence, MoSex operates as a for-profit corporation, a position with an upside. It need not worry about outside censorship or a dip in public money in times of economic belt-tightening.

Funding, said communications director Jessica Vaccaro, comes primarily from entrance fees, with more from sponsors of individual events. Trojans, for example, sponsors “Rubbers,” the museum’s 15th special exhibition. “Rubbers” includes artifacts such as unusual packaging designed by Andy Warhol and a 1930s display case crafted by Julius Schmid, a maker of sausage casings who became the millionaire owner of Sheiks and Ramses; art (condom-inspired sculpture, for example); and sections addressing such contentious issues as contraception, AIDS and safe sex, along with relevant cartoons, posters and other ephemera.

With sex and sexuality as its subject, MoSex is obviously not for everyone and no one under 18 is admitted. The galleries are graphic, displaying paraphernalia invented not only to enhance pleasure but also to inhibit it — chastity belts, for example, for her and him; erotic drawings and photographs; dolls and robots at play; a section entitled “Kink and Fetish”; and sex toys made of precious metals.

As for anyone who wants the flavor of a more conventional museum, a Picasso etching is also on display. Definitely X-rated, but assuredly Picasso.

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