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I Went To Amsterdam's Sex Museum And It's Probably Better Than The One In New York.
In 2007, while I was studying abroad for a semester in Spain, I decided to set aside a few days to explore Amsterdam, though I didn’t get to the famous Sex Museum until my second visit. It was an experience that pushed the envelope even for the most liberal person. By comparison, New York’s Museum of Sex was lackluster, or at least it was when I was there.
But let me rewind a bit.
During my first trip to Amsterdam, I stayed at The Museum Hotel, where my parents had their honeymoon in 1984. Being an artist, I checked out the Rijksmuseum, housing works by the Dutch masters, and the Van Gogh Museum. I also made it a point to wander The Red Light District alone, which was unforgettable, but that’s for another article.
No matter where I went, I was touched by the kindness of the Dutch, who extended so much hospitality to a stranger. When I was trying to decide where to eat one night, a young Black man locked up his bike in front of The Hard Rock Café, and out of nowhere, invited me to have dinner with him and his friends. Small wonder, then, that I was chomping at the bit to return to Holland as soon as possible, and 2009 gave me the chance.
When I arrived at Schiphol Airport, my Dutch friend, who I was meeting for the first time, greeted me. We connected through a shared love of classic Hollywood, which was all we talked about during the train ride to her home in Utrecht, a smaller city about 30 minutes away from the capital.
My friend played her hostess role to perfection, taking me to her favorite little nooks and the tourist spots in both cities. We rode bikes, smoked a joint, and my jaw went slack when somebody projected an erotic movie onto the side of a building as we were eating. My friend chuckled at it, but from what I could tell, no other local had much of a reaction, suggesting that this might have been a tired, overdone joke.
It went without saying that the Sex Museum, also known as Venustempel in Dutch, was on the itinerary, and the dreary weather didn’t deter us in the slightest. The closest I’d been to a place like this was the Erotic Museum in the heart of The Red Light District, which was decent. But I quickly learned why the Sex Museum was, and still is, one of the most visited museums in Amsterdam, possibly all of Holland. Its aim was to educate, titillate, and shock, and the transition between these wasn’t always so smooth.
This rodeo was nothing new to my friend, since she lived in a country that had been progressive about sex for some time. To her, sex was just a fact of life, case closed. But her American friend could just contain her excitement.
There were phalluses from antiquity, fine china, figurines, and sex contraptions of varying degrees of sophistication. Photos from the Victorian era boldly featured what wouldn’t have been discussed in polite society, and they put to bed the notion that people then didn’t add seasoning to their sex. There was one room with vintage photographs so outside the parameters of good taste, that they had to put a warning sign. I kept my time there short; even though the point was to educate, it was too intense for me.
The façade of the museum didn’t let on just how spacious it was, and stairs led to higher levels. There were statues of recognizable figures like Marilyn Monroe in her iconic white dress, Mata Hari, and Venus. Some rooms featured audio of a woman in the throes of orgasm, and other such acoustics. There was an iron chastity belt from the 12th century, and you couldn’t help but cringe, because it was a monstrous device from an unevolved time.
Taking pictures was allowed, and I, like probably every other tourist who passed through the museum, jumped at the chance to sit on one of the giant penises fashioned as seats. Sure, it was cheesy, but that was the point, and I briefly wondered what reaction I would get if I got something like it for my living room.
In a similar vein, there were red telephone booths, where you could pick up the phone and listen to erotic recordings in Dutch and English. I had no idea what the woman was saying in Dutch, but the English recording was so comically bad I couldn’t stop laughing, and this, I believe, was also intentional. When you think about it, sex can be funny, and those telephone booths played that up to great effect.
Fast-forward to some years later, when I heard about the Museum of Sex in New York, which had been open since 2002. The first thing I wondered was: how didn’t I know about it back then, considering how well acquainted I am with my city? How would it stack up next to its Dutch counterpart, which predated it by almost twenty years?
It was clear that New York took its cue from Amsterdam; creating a space that was both educational and provocative. In the two or three times I went, the exhibits rotated, showcasing attitudes about sex across cultures and time. The Free Love era of the 1960s, and The Golden Age Of Porn in the 1970s were featured, complete with an explicit film playing on loop.
Where I thought New York had a one up on Amsterdam was its on site sex shop, and its interactive exhibits. Mind you, I hadn’t been in a bouncy castle in years, let alone one lined with cartoonish breasts. It was smaller than the standard bouncy castle, so they only let about 2 to 3 people in at a time, but it was freeing to be silly with friends. I gave up trying to stand upright, and flung myself from one breast to another like it was going out of style.
The rock climbing section was also enjoyable, and you had to grip stone phalluses as you moved laterally across the wall. It wasn’t rigorous enough to qualify you for Ninja Warrior or anything, but it was fun just the same.
Museum of Sex expanded, and has an exhibit called Superfunland, a adult take on the traditional carnival. Aside from the bouncy breast castle, there’s The Glory Stall, The Pinch, Grab, and Claw Games, and La Matadora, an erotic, mechanical bull. I might have to visit and discover exactly what’s so erotic about it. I’ve been on one before, and the effort required to clamp your thighs around it is more sweat- inducing than you might expect!
If you’re looking for some sexy fun with friends, both museums are worth the price of admission, but I think that overall, Amsterdam comes out on top.