New York Shows Us the Way

Our houseguest — our beautiful and charming 28-year-old daughter — is wonderful.  However, for some reason, she passes on the opportunity to go to the Museum of Sex with my husband and me.  We try to remind ourselves that kids just don’t like family outings once they get into their teens and twenties.  So, we go it alone.

The Museum of Sex!  They don’t hide it here.  They put it on Fifth Avenue, as a matter of fact, without plain brown wrapping paper covering it.  We join many other onlookers (but not too many families, we notice; none, to be precise).

Here is a funny fact about sex: Every one of us onlookers and staff members in the Museum of Sex and the sidewalks and streets beyond are here because of sex.  Sex is, when you think about it, the most common and ordinary event in the world.  So, why is still such a big deal, still somewhat mysterious, still a little embarrassing?  Don’t answer that question.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe it’s precisely why we should have a Museum of Sex in New York City.  Otherwise, it would be as boring as a sport and you’d have to put the museum in Cooperstown.

Anyway.  We wandered through the sex video section — old movies and smart, funny commercials, sexploitation, Tommy and Pamela and Paris’ sex videos (the last of which are, obviously, in the public domain, but I find it in questionable taste and extremely unerotic to watch other people’s sex videos.  Call me old-fashioned.  Go right ahead.  I’ll live with it).

Upstairs, the long history of the rubber was featured.  Female condoms, male condoms, Army videos on gonorrhea and syphilis, French ticklers, trojans, moral objections to rubbers by religious conservatives until troops went to war, at which time they became patriotic.  A section on big, anatomically correct dolls (called, by some soldiers, “Dutch wives.”  I asked my husband, who claims to be of Dutch descent, why his ancestors got such a bad rap with Dutch dates, rubs, treats, courage — and now this latest insult.  He said other people were just jealous of the Dutch).

In a long video, couples talked about their sex lives from kissing on down the road.  Like I said, it was a long video, out in the middle of the aisle; I would have preferred a darker venue with plush seating and, maybe, popcorn, for maximum enjoyment.  Also, who were these people?  They looked suspiciously attractive to me, so I’m thinking they weren’t real couples with real relationships and real sex — just the Dutch facsimile version.  It would have been nice to find this out, but the room was crowded and who wants to loiter around look like a pervert?  We moved on, to the faces of people going through orgasm.

From there, we walked to Madison Square Park, ogling and pointing at the body-shaped silhouettes on the tops of surrounding buildings (someone evidently called 911, fearing a suicide jumper, early on).  The more we looked, the more art we saw — all public, all hidden in plain sight like a wonderful secret waiting to be discovered.

A man passed us, pushing a cart and sporting a T-shirt that read: “Welcome to New York,” followed by the outline of a gun, then “Duck, Motherfucker!”  With Texas being so Second-Amendment-obsessed, you would think a local version would be a bestseller.  But no.  Too rude!  (As I once explained to my daughter the first time she came to New York, when she was 10: Texans might pull out a gun in traffic and shoot, but would never honk like New Yorkers, because that would be considered rude.)

Later, my husband and I discussed the Sex Museum and how fascinating it was.  He said he thought it wasn’t nearly big enough and they’d left out all kinds of important topics.  “But it was a good start,” I said.  Come to think of it, in the best of all worlds, sex is almost always about good starts.

Art!  Firearms!  Sex!  All in one afternoon!  That does it.  I’ve officially fallen back in love with New York.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about the night the boys came to dinner

15 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    I laughed out loud at the guy’s T-shirt.

    That is strangely true about Texans. My dad can whip out a gun at a moment’s notice but I have never seen him honk at anyone.  Why honk when you can shoot?  🙂

  • John and I went there when we were in NYC. There were parts of it that were interesting, but there wasn’t very much that was erotic. But I guess it is a museum. As with most museums, my favorite part was the shop!

  • Craig Link

    Well you bring up a topic that has always puzzled me- the notion of “kissing on down the road” . Ah there’s the rub. As soon as I got down the road a piece I couldn’t find what I was supposed to be kissing and just lost interest in the whole shebang. I may have to come up there to look into maps. 

  • I’ve read about the Museum of Sex in guidebooks, but never been! I didn’t realize celebrity sex tapes are included, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised!

  • I was amused at your reaction to watching a video of other people having sex. My attitude has always been, it is such a disappointment to simply watch something that is so much better to DO.

  • So, Ruth, is it a must-see? Might have to add it to my list of museums to visit!

  • Sex might be the most urgent, or the most fun, common, ordinary and ordinary event in the world.  But, sadly, it is not the most common, ordinary event in the world.

    It is likely that the world would be better if it were.

  • I second Sheryl’s question: is it a must-see? I’ve been curious about what they would include. Celebrity sex tapes? No, thank you.

  • Ruth, I wanted to visit the museum on my last trip to NYC, but I got caught up in conference stuff and didn’t have time. Sounds like an interesting attraction, though!

  • Why don’t we talk about sex? I think it’s just from upbringing and socialization. We’re taught that we’re not supposed to, so no one does. Since I talk about sex nearly all the time, I’ve found that most people really want to talk about this topic. They are just too scared to bring it up themselves. Of course, I live in a liberal bubble. Things could be different for me if I was in a red state? Not sure.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I’m not sure the Museum of Sex is worth putting on your short list.  But do go to Madison Square Park and see the art!

  • My friend’s sister visited the Museum of Sex when she was in NYC a few weeks ago at the same time I was going to ASJA (and got to meet you in person Ruth!). She loved it. Though was a bit shocked. And she’s seen … a lot. I definitely want to visit on my next trip!!

  • How have  I lived in NYC all this time and never heard of it. Did it just open. Seriously, I ride NY mag and the New Yorker and somehow I’ve missed it!!!

  • Sounds like fun. And the sort of place I’d go to so I could say that I’d been and look knowing…

  • Okay, you’ve officially given me another museum to add to the list for when all the 20something Aussies stop by for their NYC tour.
    Come to think of it, it might be the only museum some of them would be willing to check out.

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