Hello Sexy People!
If you only think about museums as being high-brow arbiters of fine art, think again! There are such a wide array of museums in the world from the demure (toy museums, farm museums, etc.) to the more bizarre (bad art, tap water and dog collars to name a few). But, perhaps more interesting is the range of sex museums in the world. Some of these are full-scale museums, while others are smaller exhibits, housed inside similarly themed stores.
Within the U.S., the most well established museums include the aptly named Museum of Sex in New York, NY; the Harry Hohney Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas, NV; and the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, IL.
Noted as, “A museum we never knew we were missing,” by the “Wall Street Journal”, the Museum of Sex opened in October 2002 and was, at the time, “without precedent in the museum world.” Since then, it has become one of the foremost institutions on the topic worldwide, receiving critical acclaim for its exhibits and garnering attention from major publications, academia, and pop culture. With a permanent collection of over 20,000 artifacts comprising art, photography, clothes/costumes, inventions, and historical ephemera as well as housing a research library, the Museum of Sex’s mission is to “advocate open discourse surrounding sex and sexuality as well as striving to present to the public the best in current scholarship unhindered by self-censorship.”
Founded by Chuck Renslow and Tony DeBlase in 1991 as a community archives, library, and museum of leather, kink, fetish, and BDSM history and culture, the Leather Archives & Museum maintains the mission of “making leather, kink, BDSM, and fetish accessible through research, preservation, education and community engagement.” While taking on a more limited focus, this museum makes an important contribution to preserving the “style and culture that developed in the gay bars and motorcycle clubs of the 1950s and 1960s,” as well as providing access to kink, fetish and BDSM-related artifacts.
“Dedicated to freedom of sexual expression and education through the preservation of global erotic heritage,” the Harry Mohney Erotic Museum began as a very interesting “partnership between Preacher (the Rev. Ted McIllvenna) and a Pornographer (Harry Mohney).” Opened in 2008, the two men sought to build a “sex positive exhibition space,” ultimately, at 24,000 square feet, creating “the largest museum in the world for the preservation of erotic artifacts, fine art, film, education and cultural events.” In addition to its preservation role, the museum has also expanded its role to include scientific research working in collaboration with the Kinsey Institute, UC Berkeley, and other prestigious organizations.
While much smaller in scale, the Antique Vibrator Museum, maintained in the Good Vibrations store in San Francisco, CA, is no less important in its promotion of sex positivity. Established in 1977 by Joani Blank (1937-2016), the Good Vibrations store was among the first of its kind — an adult store focused on sex education and women’s pleasure. It has since expanded that scope to focus on everyone’s education and pleasure (regardless of gender identity) and has been a pioneer in refusing to sell toys with phthalates, helping to promote the use of body-safe materials; creating International Masturbation Month, in response to the firing of then-Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders; and “introducing the Summer of Consent, a call for writing, teaching, conversation and commentary about the role of enthusiastic, informed consent in our sex lives.” Not surprisingly for the owner of a sex toy shop, Joani amassed quite a collection of antique vibrators, which was supplemented by customers’ submissions of vibrators found at flea markets and their family’s estates. The collection includes vibrators from the 1800s through the 1970s and is displayed online as well as in the Polk Street store.
Another museum housed in a sex store is the Provincetown History of Sex Museum, located in Provincetown, MA and found immediately inside the Toys of Eros shop. “A record of the fascinating, amusing and sometimes horrifying history of humankind and our relationship towards sex, [the exhibit] starts with a reproduction of a 5,000 year old dildo, made from donkey dung.” Other items include a penis ring (2 CE), Roman coins made especially to pay prostitutes, and an advertisement for anal plugs. They go on to note that, “While we are focused on the educational aspects of our products, the atmosphere is often infused with the fun and antics that pour in from the wild and fun streets of Provincetown.”
With its decidedly artistic focus, the Wilzig Erotic Art Museum, founded in 2005 in Miami, FL, is the only museum in the U.S. devoted solely to fine erotic art. Created from the private collection of Naomi Wilzig, the collection houses 4,000 works of art dated from 300 BCE to the present.
As a final coda to this discussion, while not expressly museums of sex, there are two museums of note in San Francisco that relate to this topic: The Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgendered Museum (GLBT Museum) and the Tenderloin Museum. Opened in 2010, the GLBT Museum “collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture, and arts in all their diversity.” One of approximately 30 LGBT archives in the U.S., this tiny, but well regarded, institution is believed to be the second full-scale, stand-alone GLBT history museum in the world and focuses largely on the LGBTQ communities of San Francisco and Northern California.
Celebrating one of San Francisco’s neighborhoods — the 31 blocks of the Tenderloin district — the small Tenderloin Museum displays “Info-graphics, first-hand accounts, postcards and photographs, newspaper clippings, and descriptions of the illicit, illegal, and corrupt businesses and activities that gave this district its infamous moniker.” Educational exhibits include the neighborhood’s role as a center of LGBTQ activism; the historic sex worker protest of 1917; and the first porn trade show (fittingly held in 1969).
Established in 2016, the Museu do Sexo Hilda Furacão is located in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil. I don’t read or speak Portuguese, so I am unable to provide additional information on this museum. If you are reading this post, and have insights to share, please do add them in the comments to help others following behind you.
Thank you, dear authentically-you-reader, for taking time to lean into sex positivity, your sexual exploration, as well as honoring your own fetishes and sexual interests by reading this article. I so completely honor you living your life, being unapologetically YOU, owning your sexual self, loving your body (did you masturbate today – if not, want to?), and thus giving yourself permission to lean into pleasure.
Why? Because SEX IS FUN and PLEASURE IS GOOD FOR YOU! By you honoring your own sexual freedom – being the warrior/goddess/[insert name of choice] that you are, you help give others permission to do the same. So much YES!!! Own it. Live it. Love it. Most importantly, love yourself.
Next time we’ll cover sex museums in the rest of the world: Europe and Asia.
With love and gratitude,
Kitty Chambliss, PCC, CPC, ELI-MP
Founder, Loving Without Boundaries
P.S. Huge shoutout to my assistant Tracy for her wonderful research and writing skills in helping create this beautiful piece. I love you, lady! You rock!