Sex & Art

World Art Erotica: Virtual Museum of Sexuality

The smell of food can make us hungry. Should the sight of sex make us horny? In every culture, in every time, people have drawn or carved images of sexuality with the purpose to excite. But since the advent of civilization, there has been an equally strong desire to repress those images in the name of ‘morality.’

One of my major essays as a student majoring in Sociology was called Pornography; where do we draw the line? As part of this assignment, I decided to go around campus showing female staff and students a series of sexually explicit pictures cut from various men’s magazines, and then ask them whether they felt these images were erotic or pornographic.

I was also hoping to meet a couple of open-minded girls. That’s why I chose this topic!

No such luck. Though it was only 1982, Political Correctness had already established firm roots in this cold, dreary Canadian campus. Many of the females found the pictures degrading and exploitative with no redeeming features whatsoever. The horror was that I had personally picked the photos and I had grown quite fond of some of them. I was condemned to be a lonely young man for quite a long time after that survey.

However, during the course of my assignment, I did notice the not-too-subtle difference between men and women when it came to their enjoyment of erotic and pornographic images. I read the feminists; Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin, Gloria Steinhem and so on. ‘Give us erotica,’ they cried, ‘not pornography!’

I surveyed females on campus and asked them to describe what they saw as ‘erotica.’ They often went all fuzzy when it came to defining exactly what was erotica. No two answers were the same. Yet feminist writers and many females I spoke to were almost universal in their condemnation of pornography per se and the male commercialization of sexuality in general.

The male counter-reaction was often just as harsh. “These women who want to ban sex films are just prudes who just can’t face the sight of an erect penis,” and “feminists are anti-sex and anti-men,” or “they see only lesbian depictions of sex as erotic; anything else is pornographic,” and “Some ‘wimmin’ seem to think that if a guy reads Penthouse then he has to go out right afterwards and rape.” And so the war of the sexes rages on. For me, writing that essay was a turning point in my life. This issue was just too interesting to let go.

Eleven years, two trips ’round the world, and after much more investigation into the subject…

Over the years, I slowly began to build a collection of erotic art and literature from the various countries of my travels. I would often show samples to female friends. Almost without exception, they were fascinated by these decidedly different interpretations of erotica. It was quite a difference from that first survey I did all those years ago at York University! My curiosity was awakened.

As an unemployed Sociology major, I had time to go deeper into my investigations. And so I did. I journeyed to the netherworld of the Netherlands, the notorious city of Amsterdam. And there, near the infamous red light district, was my destination, The Venus Tempel Sex Museum. Though the name was rather tacky—as were many of its exhibits—this ‘museum’ was nonetheless quite an eye-opener. It had one of the largest collections of historical and cultural erotica in the world, and so it was the perfect place to observe reactions of visitors from around the world.

I stood outside the museum for many long days in the cold, wet, dreary Damstraat of central Amsterdam, feeling like a bedraggled voyeur but nobly pursuing my calling. With a damp, soggy notebook in hand I would collect statistics and observe the nuances of visitors. I discovered that 42 percent of the museum’s visitors were women. I thought this figure was especially impressive when compared to the almost negligible number of women who frequent more traditional sex shops and other sex-oriented establishments.

I saw some of the most surprising things. Time after time, when couples walked by the museum, it was the female who dragged her protesting boyfriend or husband inside by the arm! Many women also went in singly or in pairs. Once inside, they would gaze in open admiration at the exhibits and read most of the explanation captions with obvious interest. There was nothing furtive about their behavior. On the contrary, both the female and the male visitors would often giggle, laugh and generally have a good time.

It was the same in other museums of this kind. I found that The Museums of Erotic Art in Munich, Hamburg, and Copenhagen as well as The Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco all had large proportions of women visiting their historical and cultural erotica sections.

Eureka! I began to see that there was an alternative to the images of sexuality put out by our male-dominated pornographic industry. Historical and cultural erotica, whether art and philosophy from the Kama Sutra, statues and carvings of Dionysian revelry from Ancient Greece and Rome, or sumptuous nineteenth century erotic French paintings—they provide the depth, context and romance that male pornography often lacks.

It was with this knowledge in mind that I founded World Art Erotica, a museum dedicated to historical and cultural erotic art and literature. Perhaps not surprisingly, 39 percent of our customers are female. The times are changing again! After a long period of decline due to AIDS, the Sexual Revolution is once again picking up steam!