MoSex Heats Up the Manhattan Museum Experience

The Observer Takes a Long, Hard Look at NYC’s Shrine to Salacity


The Manhattan Museum of Sex displays a wide array of sexual paraphernalia, from old photographs to new erotic contraptions. (Jonathan Armenti /The Observer)

Published: April 3, 2008

“Let’s talk about sex baby, lets talk about you and me”…no that’s not quite how this venture goes. Although the Salt ‘N’ Pepa, early ’90s song seems like it would sum up the Museum of Sex, it doesn’t. To my surprise, this museum does fit the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of museum: “A building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.” After a walk though this museum, you will want to talk about sex, baby, but now the conversation may go a little differently.

Inside the Museum of Sex, the exhibits inform about the development of sex in popular culture, technology associated with intercourse, the influence of sex in art and sexual anthropology. Now that all the bases are covered (no pun intended), let’s take a look at the museum’s highlights.

The museum is split up into three separate exhibits. The first exhibit, “Sex in Design,” reveals the influence of sex in everyday life. This is a good theme to start off with because it eases the viewer into the subject matter. Upon first entering, the wall is covered with colorful commercial ads grouped into categories of genre: homo/hetero-sexuality, power dynamics, the fetish and, lastly, fantasy and stereotypes.

The depictions in the advertisements range from sexy models groping one another to cartoon characters with exaggerated anatomical features. The white wall behind the colorful ads creates a contrast, which encourages the sexuality to pop out. Captions under each category explain the significance of various sexual images portrayed in the media. Even though more themes make up this exhibit,  it’s up to you to explore them.

Moving on, the walk up the steep, dark staircase leading to the second exhibit, “Action: Sex and The Moving Image,” builds anticipation. As the title of the exhibit mentions, it displays the history of sexual imagery in cinema. The first station explains the ever-changing representation of sex, beginning by examining the first film from 1895; the remaining stations explore the emergence of sexual genres. (Also, before I continue, let me mention that the museum was empty until I reached this exhibit).

The exhibit may seem boring in writing, but there is a reason for all the rubbernecking in this room. Accompanying a description of each genre is an artful projection on white blocks of examples of each genre. The celebrity genre, for instance, played continuous clips of the Paris Hilton/Rick Salomon, Pamela Anderson/Tommy Lee and other sex tapes. Also, a sexual position instructional video attracted many spectators to sit down to view the contortions. The images in this exhibit are anything but modest; in fact, they bare all.

By the time visitors are thoroughly shocked, it is time for the last exhibit, “Spotlight on the Permanent Collection.” The permanent collection features over 15,000 objects, including works of art, pieces of clothing, costumes, technological inventions and historical collectables.

Included in the collection is: a Pablo Picasso sketch, “Raphael Et La Fornarina: The Pope is Open Mouthed in his Arm Chair;” sexual education paraphernalia dating back to the early 1900s; corsets dating back to the 19th century; sexual stimulation machines and showgirl costumes from the 1920s.  Furthermore, the museum becomes not only a visual experience but a sensory experience through the display of lifelike sex dolls—visitors can touch a doll (anywhere!) to feel its lifelike texture.

Visiting this museum surely makes for an interesting afternoon. However, I recommend using discretion when including MoSex in the itinerary for your family’s visit to the city. Although it may be more unforgettable to visit the museum with grandma, perusing the visual images will be more fun with friends.

MoSex is easy to find and reasonably priced. With school a I.D., entrance costs $13.50, and the museum Web site,, offers a $3 discount coupon.