About a week ago, I went to the Museum of Sex. It was the most amazing amalgamation of the "lowest" and "highest" brow art I've ever experienced. I am still giddy about it.
Upon entering, you walk directly into a sex shop. There are dildos and vibrators right by the doors. You go in further to see lollipop tits and penis shaped Runts, and the Kama Sutra and all its sex book friends. I found it incredible, but I will also say I had brief thoughts of *scoff* *such overt sexuality is trashy* *I came to a museum for christ's sake* etc. These thoughts were coming from a defensive place--my very personal struggle becoming comfortable with my sexuality fighting with my deep desire to feel sexually liberated (I'm using the word sexuality to describe simply having a sex life as a woman, not sexual orientation...*yet*). But I was so willing to learn that I let these thought bubbles pass and I walked right in acting like a pro. I bought my ticket and my wristband to Jump for Joy (bouncing on inflatable tits), thought mildly about getting an alcoholic beverage, then proceeded to the second floor to get my sex education on.
I am in serious need of sex education. I am constantly renegotiating my relationship to sex: understanding my many (mostly) consensual yet incredibly mediocre sexual experiences, the several terrible not consensual sexual experiences, the guilt I was taught to feel about my sexuality from a young age, etc. I know that my inability to fully grasp my right to consent and decipher how consent feels comes from a (taught) disrespect for my body and a rude misunderstanding of what sex is. There are many reasons for this, but I believe one major one is the lack of sexual education taught in school. ABSTINENCE. Talk to a boy you'll get pregnant! STDs. Touch a penis you will get Chlamydia! And of course, my personal favorite, the (ridiculous) concept of VIRGINITY. Your worth directly correlates to how many people you've slept with! (whaaaaat)
*True Story* In the 8th grade, all the girls sat in a room and a "sex educator" handed us a PINK Paper Heart. She told us to rip it up as many times as we wanted, then told us to put it back together. Once we had a fragile heart shaped puzzle on our desks, she told us to tape it up, try to make it look like it was before we ripped it. Okay great. We've all got fucked up looking PINK hearts in our hands. Now what? "Think of this heart as your virginity, girls. And think of all these rips as sexual partners. The more times you have sex, the more partners you have, the more you rip up your 'heart.' And no matter how hard you try, it won't return to its original pristine state. Is this the heart you want to give your husband?" Of course everyone was like, "Uhm.. No?" And that was that. She then showed us pictures of STDs, warned us about (not) getting pregnant, and we went about our teenage lives thinking of our bodies as something that can be given away.
Never mind the fact that there were undoubtedly young women who were sitting in that classroom whose bodies had been taken from them, be it through sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Being indirectly told you already have a damaged body before you realize your body does not exist to be given and certainly not taken, is a whole other kind of abuse. But this was the extent of my sex education. No body autonomy, no understanding of how sex works, no discussion of rape or consent, no acknowledgement of what a healthy partnership looks like. Abstinence, STDs, and Virginity. That's what we got in Phoenix, AZ. I won't get started on how this is a direct result of sexism and a contributing factor in rape culture, unwanted pregnancies, unhappy relationships, the list goes on. I mean... it would be just a small tangent, but I'll save it for another day. Here's to hoping you read that sarcasm like a billboard.
Back to the Museum.
First, I was introduced to the wonder that is Leonor Fini. It was a more traditional exhibition, she was primarily a painter, so the sections were organized much the way you're used to seeing in a museum. The first floor is her earlier work: realistic, inverting the Gaze, female subjectivity, male body as the object.... Her later work: the corporeal and the mystical, human and animal, obscurity, women as transcendental... There were her costume designs, articles about how blasphemous she was, other artifacts belonging to her and her legacy if you will. It all felt very familiar and beautifully radical. The second floor was more Fini, her much later work: pornographic sketches, film projects, costumes, self motivated illustrations to plays and poems she liked. I was so moved by the way she saw the world. It made me think of a line from a movie (I hate--details reserved for another Thought) A Star Is Born, "There are only 12 notes between any octave, and then the octave repeats. All any artist can offer this world is how they see those 12 notes. That's it." And then there was some bit about Bradley Cooper's character loved the way Gaga's character heard those notes. As cheesy as it is, it's true. And I was so fucking jazzed about the way Fini saw the world and how she used her art to share it with us. She saw it through so many different styles and mediums. Ugh. DONE GUSHING.
BACK TO THE MUSEUM.
So ANYWAY. I walk up to the third floor and there was diorama of robot people fucking at the top of the stairs. Delightful. Then it was into the Punk Exhibit. There were more vibrant colors, varied texture, the lights were on brighter, especially compared to the softer colors and dimmed lights of the Fini exhibition. There were TVs with headphones playing 70s Punk Propaganda videos, there were T-shirts on the wall in plexiglass casing, porn magazines, records and song lyrics, it was a punk overload. I was here for it. Finally it was the Jump For Joy room and the Stag exhibit: like 12 TVs each playing a different genre of early porn films with a bench in front of each TV to watch while you wait to bounce on some titties. I learned about how it was standard for straight white college boys to meet up and watch porn together, hence the "Stag" name (leads me to yet ANOTHER Thought for another time). So I watched some archival porn, bounced on some titties, got embarrassingly out of breath after a 2 minute jump, and then proceeded to the sexy gift shop.
Reflecting on how comfortable I felt in the gift shop compared to when I first arrived was a dramaturgical dream come true. I was impressed with the museum curators--These people know their shit. They took me on a damn roller coaster. They thwarted me immediately, forcing me to enter directly into a sex shop, buttered me up with artistically depicted vaginas and penises and the "high brow" version of exploring sexuality and gender, gave me what I thought I was looking for. Then they punked me out, kept teaching me of sex and culture and training my eye to be less concerned with seeing sexual organs in all their glory. And then of course they went deeeeeep and gave me my own (public) peep show and interactive museum, arguably with the "lowest brow:" porn. By the end, I felt somehow more comfortable with my own body, less afraid of others, and like I did something respectable (museum going) and taboo (sex and porn) all at the same time. IN CRED I BLE.
After the many trials and tribulations I went through to actually start accepting and advocating for my body (which I hope one day is not a right of passage for young women), I seek every experience to get more comfortable with her. I also seek every opportunity to participate in the demystification and desexualization of the female body (human body too but I feel it's particularly pertinent to the female). This museum is a critical lens to view how sex impacts our culture and how culture impacts our sex lives, it's a welcoming way to put yourself in a *SAFE* uncomfortable situation, it is a celebration of the human sex and the many facets of life it affects, and it is just fucking exhilarating.
Our bodies are important. They are not objects, they are not taboo, and they are not intrinsically sexy. I think sexiness comes from everything but a naked body. Because honestly, if you can't handle your thoughts or control your actions around a naked body, you are a fucking pig. Simple as that. We NEED to see more naked bodies in American society. We have to normalize bodies, because their purpose is so much deeper than that of a sex object, or something that can be damaged by consensual sex or be given as a damn gift. Fuck that.
I have loved discovering the kind of sexy a body can be when you understand the person inside of that body, when you get the chance to learn what they want to do in that body, and then when you are given permission to touch that body. Respect is sexy. Asking for consent is sexy. Getting consent is sexy. Advocating for your body is just fucking sexy. And feeling sexy is okay. Having SAFE CONSENSUAL sex with as many partners as you trust is fabulous. Enjoying sex is NECESSARY. I wish they taught that in schools. Alright... any middle school teachers down to take their kids on a field trip to the Museum of Sex??