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The Sex Museum Amsterdam: cure for insomnia

This entry is part 13 of 22 in the series Amsterdam Museums

The first thing you see on entering the Sex Museum Amsterdam is a life size statue of Priapus, the Greek god of fertility, and he’s … well, let’s say he’s pretty turned on, and well-endowed.

The Sex Museum's entrance is a storefront on busy Damrak.
The Sex Museum’s entrance is a storefront on busy Damrak.

Review of the Sex Museum Amsterdam

The rest of the museum goes downhill from there. Unfortunately, if I want to keep this blog rated PG, I don’t have many photos to show you.

Don’t get me wrong, I expected a lot of graphic images, but I hoped that the Sex Museum would be about sex and sexuality. I was disappointed: it was about pornography. And for the most part, it was pornography for men, not for women. I have never seen so many images of women pleasuring men in my life.

I went with a couple of friends, and one of them concluded, “It’s not erotic; it’s de-rotic.”

The other called it “Phallic overload.”

A sign in the entrance announces that what you’ll see is:

Sex through the centuries from the Greek and Roman times to this day from all the cultures of the world, the Amsterdam red-light district, art gallery, 100 Years photography and film, Sado-club, the history of among others Marilyn Monroe and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and much more …

That’s all true. All of that is in the museum. The display on Toulouse-Lautrec shows a mannequin dressed as the artist painting a picture while a naked woman mannequin poses for him.

Marilyn Monroe is also a mannequin, posed in the famous skirt over a grate blowing air upwards. So is Josephine Baker, who is supposed to revolve but seems to be broken, so that the historical film projected behind her showing her dancing is difficult to see.

Josephine Baker: the film plays, but the mannequin doesn't turn. (Sex Museum, Amsterdam)
Josephine Baker: the film plays, but the mannequin doesn’t turn.

The Good …

You’d think, from what you’ve read so far, that the Sex Museum is terrible. It is. But a few sections seemed of some value to me.

I neglected to write down where this object was from. Ancient Rome perhaps? Anyway, it was one of the tamest images in the Sex Museum.
I neglected to write down where this object was from. Ancient Rome perhaps? Anyway, it was one of the tamest images in the Sex Museum Amsterdam.

The historical exhibits, mostly on the ground floor, about the history of sex from many cultures, are interesting at times. Images from the Kama Sutra, fertility symbols from Greece, Rome and Africa, medieval chastity belts, photos of Mata Hari: these are all intelligently labeled and tastefully displayed.

Unfortunately, the whole tenor of the historical section on the ground floor is cheapened by a mannequin flasher (I suppose that’s better than a real one!). Repeatedly, his recorded, leering voice calls out “Psssst!”, after which he spreads open his raincoat to show his penis. What is the point of this other than to make adolescents giggle?

the flasher mannequin. Did you know that the word for a flasher in Dutch is "potloodventer", which translates more or less as "pencil salesman"?
the flasher mannequin. Did you know that the word for a flasher in Dutch is “potloodventer”, which translates more or less as “pencil salesman”?

One “street” is done up to evoke a dark alley red-light district in Amsterdam at perhaps the turn of the 20th century. Scantily-dressed female mannequins beckon through the windows and visitors can peek in to where they negotiate with their mannequin clients. One “shop display” in that section shows corsets and other underwear the women would have worn (the most interesting part of this section).

a corset on display in the Sex Museum in Amsterdam
a corset

The atmosphere, though, is lowered spectacularly when you realize that the male mannequin you can see through a door window sprays an enormous quantity of water at regular intervals from his penis.

A small case in a hallway upstairs addresses homosexuality, if only briefly. A book dating from 1730 lists those executed for “sodomy.”

And some of the art works upstairs in the stairwell are pretty good. In other words, I would consider them art, rather than pornography, even though some were quite graphic.


If you’re planning a trip to Amsterdam, check out my series on small museums in Amsterdam!


The Bad and the Ugly

I’ve already mentioned some of the bad at the Sex Museum Amsterdam: cheesy mannequin displays, phallic overload and a clear preference for male gratification over female.

The rest of the museum was pretty much all just pornography: historical and “vintage.” Mostly it depicts straight couples, threesomes or orgies. The earlier representations are drawings or sculpture and, of course, the more recent are films and photographs. Most of it is brightly and badly lit so that the glass on the cases glares. (One of my friends joked, “It should be more hands-on, but that’s a couple streets over.”) TVs here and there show pornographic videos. Audio tapes in some of the rooms broadcast lots of heavy breathing and sounds of, presumably, sexual enjoyment.

One room holds cases displaying a huge collection of historical pornographic photos of women alone or in various poses with men. We noticed a few things about this collection. The women in the older photos from the early years of photography are distinctly fatter and more rounded in general than the more recent ones.

In the room with the pornographic photo collection, this bronze statue of Hermaphroditos is helpfully explained on an information panel. In the Sex Museum, Amsterdam.
In the room with the pornographic photo collection, this bronze statue of Hermaphroditos is helpfully explained on an information panel.

The earlier photos are also generally tamer, with the woman posed demurely, despite her nakedness, and if a man is visible he is often not even touching her. The postcards become increasingly graphic and the women become skinnier as the decades pass. We also noticed that the men are almost never attractive in these photos. I suppose the idea is that the viewer of the photo should feel like he can compete.

A separate room, the “Sado-room” holds just what you’d expect: more pornography, but in this case many images involving bondage of women. I just glanced in and that was enough.

Would I recommend the Sex Museum in Amsterdam?

I think it’s clear by now that I would not recommend this museum. It says enough that I learned more about human sexuality at the Body Worlds exhibit just down the street than I did here at the Sex Museum. If you want to learn about prostitution and its history, you’d be much better off at Red Light Secrets, the excellent museum of prostitution in the Red Light District.

My friends and I enjoyed ourselves mostly because we had fun ridiculing and criticizing the displays in the museum, both during and after our visit. We considered visiting the Erotic Museum in the Red Light District next, hoping it would be better, but when we went there and just peeked inside, we changed our minds. A life-sized mannequin sitting on a bike, with a “special” saddle that moves up and down? Phallic overload. (I did visit it later with another friend: here is my review of the Erotic Museum.)

I suppose if you’re male and into pornography, but not turned off by seeing a lot of penises, you might enjoy it. If you’re 16 years old on a spree in Amsterdam, you’d find it titillating for sure. Anyone else? Don’t bother.

Now to explain the title of this post. Checking in with my two friends the next day, we discovered that all three of us had slept unusually well the night of our visit to the Sex Museum Amsterdam. We decided that visiting the Sex Museum might have been worth it just for that.

Visitor Information

  • Address: Damrak 18, a very short walk from the Central train station (Hoofdstation)
  • Open 9:30-23:30 daily. Minimum age 16.
  • Price: €4 (about $5)

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Series Navigation<< Red Light Secrets Museum of Prostitution: a reviewBody Worlds Amsterdam: Museum or freak show? >>

28 Comments

  • Ruth - Tanama Tales

    June 4, 2016 at 12:40 am

    When I went to Amsterdam, I think half of the group I was traveling with (about 30 people) went to the museum. Having said that, I am not sure if this is a place to attract tourists. At the end, the people who didn’t go had more memorable stories about the city than those who went.

    Reply
  • Nancie

    June 4, 2016 at 2:10 am

    Hi Rachel! The mannequin flasher cracked me up! 🙂 (weird, eh?) I can see how this could be worthy of a few laughs if your with friends. I would be creeped out going through by myself. Thanks for co-hosting this week. #TPThursday

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 4, 2016 at 7:26 am

      That’s why I got my friends to go with me. It would have been too weird to go by myself! I saw the Prostitution museum by myself and that was fine.

      Reply
  • Marcia

    June 4, 2016 at 3:21 am

    Sounds like the Sex Museum needs a re-think. Too bad it was a disappointment.
    There’s a Museum of Sex here in NYC that I’ve been threatening to visit. I think I’ve not been because I fear it might just have devolved into the pornographic but I might be wrong. I’ll add it to my summer list. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

    Reply
  • budget jan

    June 4, 2016 at 6:28 am

    Sounds like it is aimed at the specific audience of young people expecting a raunchy Experience in Amsterdam. The flasher seems pointless. I can’t believe that flashers get a kick out of exposing themselves. A middle aged man flashed me riding his bike in the rain in Melbourne when I was 19 years old. He stopped his bike to do it. Weird. I was so shocked that I laughed. I wonder what is a turn on about that?

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 4, 2016 at 7:33 am

      Yes, I think you’re right: people out for a raunchy kick in Amsterdam. But there were people of all ages there; not just young people. And it was a steady stream of people on a Saturday, at 4 euros each.

      I first saw a flasher quite recently, or rather, a completely naked man who stepped out of the woods as I walked by with a friend. Smiling at us and playing with himself (unsuccessfully, if you know what I mean). I don’t get it either, but I suppose it has to do with mental illness of some sort…

      Reply
  • Jim | ReflectionsEnroute

    June 5, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Amsterdam is not one of my favorite cities. There’s plenty good about it and some very beautiful parts of the city. I’ve never been to the Sex Museum, though we thought about it on the last trip. Thanks to your article, I’m sure we can find better things to spend our time on in the city. #wkendtravelinspiration

    Reply
  • Ruth

    June 6, 2016 at 7:02 am

    It is said to be a place ‘dirty old men’ go to visit and don’t shake a man’s hand after he has been here. Think your best comment was “It’s not erotic; it’s de-rotic.”
    Don’t think I’d visit! LOL

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 6, 2016 at 11:50 am

      LOL! No hand-shaking happened in the making of this blog post! There were people of all ages and both sexes there the day I visited; not just dirty old men!

      Reply
  • Nathalie

    June 6, 2016 at 7:21 am

    Amsterdam has so many great museums it’s too bad they couldn’t figure this one out. You would think the subject matter would be enough to make something informative and worthwhile. Thanks for the review, I know I won’t be putting this one on my list!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 6, 2016 at 11:43 am

      They do well just as it is: charging 4 euros admission and getting a steady stream of visitors. But yes, you’ll do better at pretty much any of the others on my list below this post.

      Reply
  • Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    June 6, 2016 at 8:21 am

    Your title had me laughing as did some of your descriptions of the various displays! I must confess to having seen “Deep Throat” many years ago with a group of my friends and your word “De-Erotic” pretty well sums up my feelings too! We went to the Museo Larco Museum in Lima, Peru a couple of years ago and stumbled upon a building that contained a huge collection of pre-Columbian erotic ceramics figurines posed in various sexual acts. All I can say is … doesn’t look like anything new has been invented! 🙂

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 6, 2016 at 11:47 am

      Nope, there really wasn’t much difference between the historical items on display and the more recent, except the size of the women. But at least the historical items were interesting because of the history. Somehow it seems less like pornography when it’s an image of some minor Greek god than when it’s anybody you could meet in the street.

      Reply
  • Janice Chung

    June 6, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    No thank you but thank you for sharing. I wondered if you had brought your kids. Thank goodness no. I’d be way too embarrassed. I’m sure you’ll never forget this visit!

    Reply
  • Grey World Nomads

    June 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    It’s much more difficult to write about something you disliked than about something you enjoyed. You managed it very well!

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 8, 2016 at 7:43 pm

      Thanks for the compliment, but I disagree! To me it’s much more fun to write about something I didn’t like. Well, unless it’s a sponsored post, in which case I’d try to be a bit more diplomatic!

      Reply
  • Donna Janke

    June 9, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    I certainly won’t be visiting this museum if I get to Amsterdam again. Thanks for warning me. It’s a shame the tone is so adolescent male. There are a lot of issues around sexuality that could be thoughtfully explored.

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 9, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      And that’s just what I was hoping for and didn’t get. I should have known when I saw that it was on Damrak, my least favorite street in Amsterdam. It’s lined with fast food places and bars and “coffee shops.” All the stuff the stag party groups want.

      Reply
  • Vicki Winters

    June 9, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Totally agree about the museum. It was awful, and I am not a prude my any stretch of the imagination. My father worked for a “marital aid” company and had friends who worked in the industry. For sure the prostitute museum was more informative. I do like the photo of the man holding his coat shut:-)

    Reply
    • Rachel

      June 11, 2016 at 8:56 pm

      There’s a museum of torture in Amsterdam too. I suppose if I’m going to be thorough with this series I’ll have to check it out! I don’t have high hopes.

      Reply
  • Suzanne Fluhr

    June 13, 2016 at 1:43 am

    We might make it to Amsterdam in September. This museum wasn’t on my list of must sees, but now I’ll be absolutely positively sure that it never makes it there. My nickname during my fresh”man” year in college was “The Prude from Philadelphia”. I’m happy to say I’ve evolved some, but not that much!

    Reply

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