The first thing you see on entering the Sex Museum in 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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
The Bad and the Ugly
I’ve already mentioned some of the bad: 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.
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?
I think it’s clear by now that I would certainly 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 horse, with a “special” saddle that moves up and down? Phallic overload.
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. We decided that visiting the Sex Museum might have been worth it just for that.
This is the 12th in my on-going series on small museums in Amsterdam. Here’s the whole list:
- Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder
- Het Grachtenhuis (canal house museum)
- Museum van Loon
- Rembrandt’s House
- The Handbag Museum
- The Brilmuseum (spectacles)
- Huis Marseille Museum for Photography
- The Dutch Resistance Museum
- Red Light Secrets: Museum of Prostitution
- Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum
- Body Worlds: Museum or Freak Show
- The Sex Museum
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