Sex museums are nothing new. Dozens were erected across Europe during the Swinging Sixties when the sexual revolution was in full swing. These days the orgy of sex museums has slowed to a mere mouthful, though they have been stimulated by a new breed of ‘erotic’ museum that aims to steer more towards art than pure physicality. Sex looks like it is going to be back en vogue this year with the release of a certain film, so join us as we go in search of the world's finest sex museum.
In sophisticated Paris they go all posh on matters of the flesh. Here it’s not about sex, but the erotic. The Museum of Eroticism, though, lies in the shady red light district of Pigalle in the shadow of the Sacré-Cœur. Opened in 1997, the exhibits swirl around the erotic art collections of antique dealer Alain Plumey and teacher Jo Khalifa. The eclectic range of art spreads across five floors and hails from as far afield as Africa and Japan, with everything from ancient religious works, though to the avant garde, with temporary exhibitions too. The film Polissons et Galipettes sheds pornographic shorts light on the nefarious Parisian maisons closes.
Maybe it was inevitable in a land so cold and dark for much of the year, but the citizens of Iceland seems to have developed a fascination with the phallus. That is if the Icelandic Phallological Museum is anything to go by. This whopper lays claims to hoarding the world’s largest collection of penises and ‘penile parts’, with over 200 male members. There may be one human penis here (you honestly don’t want to know the story), but it’s not all about man, as there is flaccid flesh from myriad species, from polar bears to whales (they’ve got over 50 whale specimens alone).
Europe’s sex capital was always going to have a sex museum wasn’t it? In fact it sports an impressive pair. You'll find the first in the heart of the red light district in De Wallen, but the stand out is the, er, slightly more upmarket temple to sex on bustling Damrak. It has stood proudly here since 1985 and is actually fairly tame, a way of getting a taste of this sin city without actually getting involved in anything too seedy. The names of the exhibition spaces say it all: Casanova Gallery, Fanny Hill Street and a hall dedicated to the father of sadism, the Marquis de Sade.
Opened in 1997 the Erotic Museum of Barcelona is slap bang in the middle of the city on La Rambla. It promises ‘Sensuality, sexuality, provocation... Fun!’. It’s all here, too, from the sultry world of the Kama Sutra, right through to samples of erotic art that have been banned in Japan. As well as international exhibits the 800-strong collection also delves into the murky world of Spanish pornographic cinema.
If the French and Spanish choose the erotic over sex, traditionally the British are known for evading the subject of sex entirely. This nation of over 60 million sex-starved souls cannot muster up one upstanding sex museum, but being very British London’s landmark British Museum houses a secret section devoted to, well, you know what. Items deemed ‘obscene’ are said to have been stored away in the Secretum since the nineteenth century. Some have made their way into the main collections, though others remain locked away, too shocking for the genteel Brits. We’ve not yet managed to squirrel our way in, but if you do we’d love to hear what you unearth...
The Museum of Sex, or MoSex as it is also affectionately known, opened in 2002 in Manhattan and has expanded to an impressive size since. Its mission statement is to ‘preserve and present the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality’ and it has a scholarly angle to its permanent and ever changing temporary exhibitions. Unlike some sex museums it weaves in lesbian and gay sexual narratives too. Even their café is designed to get you in the mood, and they sell ‘penis pasta’ and the delightfully naughty-sounding ‘dirty fortune cookies’.
The Russians seem to have less qualms about all things carnal with sex museums in both Moscow and St Petersburg. MusEros in St Petersburg opened in 2004 and it’s an impressive member of Europe’s sex museum fraternity with a 3D cinema, multimedia gallery and the largest collection of sex machines in the country. It even claims to have its hands on the preserved penis of legendary man about court Rasputin. It also offers answers to 'anything you ever wanted to know about sex, but were too afraid to ask'.
Many of Europe’s sex museums are actually fairly tame. If you're interested in something a little more hardcore head to Prague. Providing everyone in the group consents, you can visit the Sex Machines Museum. Opened in 2002 it claims to be the only museum in the world dedicated to sex machines – and we are not going to argue with them. Spread across a threesome of floors are a frankly frightening smorgasbord of around 200 gadgets and a store for seriously strange souvenirs. We’ll just mention the more, er, mainstream exhibits like ‘copulation tables’ and the trusty old vibrator. The ‘domination chairs’? Well that is an entirely different feature altogether…
As China has grown to become an economic and political superpower, the country has also emerged as a willing partner on the sex museum circuit. The first sex museum swung open its doors in Shanghai in the late 1990s and has played the field a bit since, shifting between various venues before finally settling down in TongLi. Their eclectic collection is said to number over 3000 exhibits with a particularly impressive orgy of Asian erotic art. The exhibits are laid out in various buildings surrounding a sculpture garden (we reckon you can guess what some of the sculptures look like) along thematic lines such as masturbation, homosexuality, prostitution and threesomes.