Sex Museum, Amsterdam
For a bit of fun and possibly out of pure curiosity, during a trip to Amsterdam in March 2012 we took a trip to the Sex Museum. Until this weekend away I had no idea such a place existed so I didn't really know what to expect. I guess the name was pretty obvious but really... how can they put sex into a museum?
When we arrived at the entrance to the Sex Museum we could see a couple of naked statues on display but nothing more than what you will see everywhere else in Amsterdam. On the wall to the right of us was a large sign written in four languages, including English, giving a brief overview of what was included within the Sex Museum and a warning about the contents of the museum.
The Sex Museum's claim is to show sex and eroticism through the ages dating as far back as the ancient Greeks right through to sex today. The museum isn't just based around the Sexual history which lies in Amsterdam, but rather sex as a whole from all over the world.
We headed for the payment kiosk and paid our entrance fee of 4 Euros before entering the museum via a turnstile. We were immediately greeted by a mass of nakedness and more genitals than we had ever seen in our lives! The first few exhibits were displayed in large glass display cabinets and contained many items, mainly ornaments of naked men and women and a few of actual sex scenes.
As we moved along the corridor we realised that there was no real 'correct' direction to walk around the museum so we headed into a large room containing many old photographs of various sexual scenes. Some of the photos weren't too graphic but others were borderline porn! In all honesty I found the photo display a bit weird and I did feel slightly uncomfortable so I moved on to the display cabinets on the other side of the room. These contained many more ornaments and various artefacts including some examples of early sex toys. These did make me laugh and some of them made me want to cross my legs as they looked more like objects of torture rather than pleasure! This room also contained a large Marilyn Monroe display in the corner which I thought was good but maybe a little out of place in the room with photos and early sex toys.
As we continued our walk around the museum we found ourselves heading upstairs. The stairs themselves were quite amusing with models of bums decorating the main staircase. Once upstairs we discovered a world of Sexual Art and spent some time viewing various paintings and artefacts which showed some more history of sex through the ages. A lot of these displays had a slight Chinese theme to them. I didn't really like these displays as I thought they were quite random and simply not that interesting so I continued up some more stairs which brought me into a small room with displays of sex in film and cinema. These exhibits were not porn but rather more examples of the old Peep Shows and the machines which you insert money in the slot, look through the eye holes and see a short flicker of a film involving a provocative, often naked, lady. I found this part of the museum quite interesting as I enjoyed looking at the film memorabilia and I was fascinated with the old machines. None of them were working but it was still pretty cool to be able to see them there.
Heading back downstairs the Sex Museum was, in my mind at least, quite repetitive with many of the displays seeming to repeat themselves. Nevertheless we walked around and looked at everything. Some things made me think "OMG" where as others simply made me laugh.
There is an area of the museum based on Amsterdam's Red Light District. We entered this area underneath a red neon sign and walked along a scene of shop fronts and alleyways displayed in such a way to show the history of the Red Light District. I personally preferred walking though this Red Light District much more than the previous evening when we had walked through the real thing! One thing I did like about this part of the museum was the shop window displaying various cakes which had been made to resemble both men's and women's private parts! They were much better made than the classic "boobs" cake which we see in so many shops and supermarkets these days and there was an even mix of both men's and women's cakes which made it a little more even!
Near the Red Light display is another room with a blackened entrance. The entrance has many warnings to tell you not to enter if you are easily offended as there are pornographic scenes contained within. We laughed a little at this due to the fact that we thought come on, its a sex museum what do people really expect?! So we entered the room and then it was quite clear as to why the warnings were in place! The room was full of modern day porn and extremely explicit photos from 'top shelf' magazines. Well, this isn't our kind of thing so we left the room and headed back for another look at some of the more amusing displays before heading for the exit.
Due to the stairs located around the Sex Museum I would say that this museum is unfortunately completely unsuitable for wheelchair users as I didn't see any kind of lift at all.
Location, Opening Hours & Entrance
The Sex Museum is located in Amsterdam on Damrak 18. It is open every day from 9:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night. The entrance fee at the time of our visit was 4 Euros and you must be over 16 to enter.
The museum is quite close to the main train station and we walked here from the city's market square within around 20 minutes.
Overall I did enjoy our visit to the Sex Museum. While there were some exhibits which weren't really to my liking I think that overall I found the museum as a whole to be rather entertaining and some parts of it were rather interesting to say the least! In my personal opinion I thought that some of the displays were very random and not very well displayed, especially on the lower floor of the museum. Upstairs did seem to be a little more organised and displayed quite well. I don't think I would visit here again as I felt like I've seen it all now, but it was a museum with a bit of a difference and I would recommend it to you if you are pretty open minded about sex.
We spent around an hour and a half here and I think we managed to see everything... Literally!
Thanks for reading :)
In terms of popular culture, Amsterdam is famous for its coffee houses, where the menu seems to focus on a lot of other items rather than coffee, and its Red Light districts (I say districts as there are apparently three in Amsterdam!) with poor unfortunate ladies parading in windows and tapping on window panes. Arriving at Centraal Station, it was clear to see where a lot of the tourists were heading straight to - the Red Light District which is prominently marked as such on the tourist information maps.
Having been told by friends that the Sex Museum, located on the Damrak, only 250m away from the Centraal Station was worth a visit, as there were etchings that looked similar to works by Beardsley, I duly headed to the museum. The first thing to confront me was the fact that there was a steady throng of visitors, from the puerile gaggle of guys on stag nights, the bemused Japanese tourists, who were posing for photos next to a flasher exhibit, and the broadminded who just wanted to see what was to be seen.
Admission was EUR 2.50, which is considerably lower that entry to a lot of museums, and there was a tour route to take you through the museum although there was nothing to stop you from doing the museum in whatever order you wanted to do it in. The museum does advise that some items may be distasteful there is for example one room containing samples of pornographic material for various non mainstream interests - bestiality, scatology etc. and visitors are warned about the content of the room before they choose to enter. Each room is named after a sexually renowned celebrity the Oscar Wilde room and the Catherine the Great room are two examples. The museum is on several floors, with very tight and twisting staircases, so this museum is obviously therefore not ideal for those in wheelchairs.
The museum seeks to be an educational experience it is not merely an out and out display of pornographic material - it includes artefacts dating back to antiquity and seeks to track the sex industry from a factual point of view rather than being a collection of old pornography. Various topics are dealt with prostitution, voyeurism, erotica in antiquity, literature, the use of media to spread pornography, although in this instance there is no reference to the use of the Internet for the propagation of pornography.
Part of the exhibition contains a number of artefacts from bygone eras for example there are some 17th chastity belts as well as a number of oriental and Greek pottery artefacts depicting graphic sexual acts. There are a large number of sexually explicit paintings from around the world, with most of these really doing nothing more than showing the very kitsch nature of some of the items on display.
Before people wince when I say that the exhibition is a hands-on experience, dont be horrified by the prospect of a mucky magazine free for all. The hands-on section of the museum consists of a number of "What the butler saw" machines which you can try out to see how people in bygone ages got their (cheap) thrills, as well as two phone booths with English and Dutch recorded phone sex lines to listen in to. Similarly there is a walkthrough miniature red light district featuring mechanical exhibits leaving little to the imagination, as well as a collection of literature on prostitution etc. through the ages.
In exploring the medium of photography there is a special focus on how titillation has developed - from the barely risqué to the fully explicit, and similarly how the medium of film has been used down the ages. This being a retrospective, there is again no real mention of the DVD age, but the role of the video player and its propagation of porn, and it making pornographic films "affordable" by the masses is one item looked at in detail. Times have clearly changed from when film projectors were hired out to groups of gentlemen with several reels of film for them to watch.
Before anyone accuses me of neglecting the focus of my visit I was slightly disappointed the artwork which was Beardsley-esque was far from abundant - most of the etchings were certainly not Beardsley or even similar, and there was nothing in the exhibition about Beardsley's etchings.
Overall the museum is certainly worth a visit as it does put a new perspective on sex and past attitudes to sex. Obviously this exhibition may shock some, so those of a certain disposition may be best advised to give the museum a miss. It covers a topic very openly, something which is a commendable approach prudishness is after all not the way to tackle a subject which exists and which has always existed and will continue to exist and be propagated from now until eternity. The only down side is that the space available to the museum means that in some areas the surface is barely scratched.