Pandora's Box, a professional house of domination in|
midtown Manhattan. For more info, scroll mouse over photo
or see article on documentary, "Fetishes."
Photograph by Susan Meiselas.
2006 hours & prices
The red "X" says you have arrived. Instead of the metal admission buttons that visitors get at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the stickers at the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art, or the wristbands at the Museum of Natural History, the spanking (heh heh) new Museum of Sex (MoSex) requires its visitors to wear a red "X" sticker. Like the red "A" in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter that signified the wearer was morally handicapped, the red "X" brands the visitors of MoSex.
For all the brouhaha surrounding the MoSex, I can assure you that it's hardly a nymphomaniac's Mount Olympus. To horndogs' dismay, you're going to learn something. The inaugural exhibit, "NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex in America," will teach you things about bangin' in the boroughs from the 1920s to the present. It's, like, educational and stuff. But take heart, fellow children of the gutter, you will see porn. You will giggle. And, oh yes, you will get aroused. (For 17 friggin' bucks, you sure as shit better get tingly.) So gather 'round as Madame Fury walks you through the MoSex. Treat it as a real museum. Don't touch anything. I mean, keep your hands in your pockets.
The museum's design is minimalist white walls, white floors, white ceilings, and narrow walkways so you rub up against people as you pass. The first floor was so fucking hot (as in temperature) that I was literally sweating through my T-shirt. I didn't want that part of sex for my $17, thank you.
"The Bowery, the Bowery, they do strange things on the Bowery..." sings the mystery voice as you enter the first floor. Welcome to New York City in the 1920s. Even back then, this city was a hotbed of naughty men and women who wanted to do the humpty dance. There are pictures and a video of the original beefcake, Eugene Sandow, a touring bodybuilder who can be credited as the model who influenced the skin mag craze. It wasn't surprising that people liked to look at other people, but Sandow helped us admit we liked to look at other people with little or no clothes on. Bingo. Strip-teasers Sally Rand and the lovely Gypsy Rose Lee (who stripped well into her golden years) are rightfully portrayed as pioneers to be cherished. But you can thank the Minsky brothers, the vice entrepreneurs of New York City, for realizing sex sells in the first place.
On display are early contraception devices ("pessaries") made of everything from wood to glass to metal. My love muscles clenched when I saw a glass ball the size of a cue ball. Sure, stick that thing inside me and nothing's getting by not sperm, not laser beams. Thank goodness for Julius Schmid, condom entrepreneur who used sausage casings as the first jimmy hats. Ogle at the really cool vintage condom tins on display. You'll see early abortion tools that resemble small spears, and a story about the illegal practitioner, Madame Ressell, who killed herself days after she was arrested for performing abortions.
Floor two opens with an S & M history lesson. The people in Paris, France and Weimar, Germany were into kinky stuff, but when the Nazis invaded, S & M lovers fled to you guessed it New York City. Read the writing on the walls: "By the late '30s, the nation's earliest known fetish and S & M subculture was based in New York City." Here's where you'll see pictures of ladies in high-heeled thigh-high leather boots whipping and slapping each other. Pictures of Betty Page, the woman with the most famous bangs in history (whoa, ha ha!), show her famously spanking some chickadee over her knee. There's cheesecake ("pin-ups of women in alluring poses"), lesbian pulp fiction novels, and specialty S & M items including hoods, gags, and restraints. Here's something funny when a magazine would offer "unretouched" photos, they really meant "nude" photos.
You'll learn about the first celebrity transsexual, Bronx-native Christine Jorgensen, formerly known as George William Jorgensen. Uptown baby, uptown baby! Speaking of uptown, Harlem had some serious orgies! Many of the popular nightclub singers were lesbian or bisexual and, my, did those sisters share the love. "Buffet Flat Parties" were held in Harlem to help raise money to pay rents. Beats the shit out of a bake sale, no? The parties were so named because they offered men and women "a smorgasbord of sexual acts" to watch and join. And you get to see the pictures!
The second floor also offers really old stag films projected on the wall. The makers of these stag films used monikers like Ima Cunt and R. U. Hard. Aside from cartoons using their huge penises as swords, there's the oldest porn you'll probably ever see: a silent, 15-minute show of some gentleman with a handlebar moustache fucking a proper-looking lady. Up close. Yes, they go there. And you get to watch with total strangers! And the strangers really do watch ... for a long time ... and you might get uncomfortable watching porn next to some woman who looks like your aunt. For a break, move on to the Tijuana Bibles: little comic books of famous people and/or cartoon characters getting busy. Anyone for Ginger Rogers in A Flying Fuck? How about Laurel and Hardy having a gang bang? Check out Broadway Brevities, a newsletter from the '20s that covered the gay scene, most notably the police crackdowns on "Fag Balls."
"Balls" referred to formal dances held for homosexual couples, but really, seeing the words "Fag Balls" in any context will make me laugh out loud.
Floor three is where you find the porn. Linda Lovelace and Deepthroat, Annie Sprinkle spread-eagle, and Vanessa Del Rio sucking more dick than any other mortal would know what to do with. Once again, you get to watch all this in the company of total strangers. Once again, they watch ... for a long time. Photos of big men with their big dicks in big leather jackets being really aggressively friendly to one another will greet you around the corner. Floor three also showcases the onset of feminism, including Gloria Steinem's famous account as a Playboy bunny. Photos of protesters and gay libbers are plastered on the walls, and for the first time since I've been here, I stopped to question. Everything that's hit my eyes has been decidedly pro-sex. But now I saw the word "AIDS" on the wall, and I got scared. Seemingly out of nowhere, people are dying from a disease transmitted through sex. I asked the idiot-question,
"How'd we get from point A to point B?" The museum didn't have an answer. But I refused to leave the museum feeling spooked. Instead, I had a sudden rush of longing for the charm of New York City's kinky days of yore, before things got so dangerous.
For $17, I had hoped the museum could have put more things on display, but three floors can fit only so much. I walked over to the Tijuana Bibles to get once last glimpse of lighthearted cartoon porn. A cartoon lady getting rammed looks at the viewer and her caption reads, "What's life without lots of fucking, anyway?" The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind....
Hours and prices effective 2006...
The Museum of Sex
233 Fifth Ave (at 27th St)
New York, NY 10016
Sunday - Friday: 11:00am - 6:30pm (last ticket sold at 5:45pm)
Saturday: 11:00am - 8:00pm (last ticket sold at 7:15pm)
Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day
Adults (18+): $14.50 + tax
Students and Seniors (with valid ID): $13.50 + tax
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