For as long as humans have walked the earth, a broad spectrum of sexual desires, taboos and cultural norms has existed. And after the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, societies started to document, in museums and exhibits around the globe, the ever-changing, often weird and wonderful nature of human sexuality.
Seeking to challenge traditional attitudes to sex and sexuality, sex museums such as London’s Vagina Museum or Las Vegas’ Erotic Heritage Museum have helped to normalise and document subjects once considered taboo, such as homosexuality, sex work and contraception. Equally, sites with wild and wacky exhibits, such as Seoul’s Love Museum, are hugely entertaining and educational in equal measure.
Here’s our pick of 8 unmissable sex museums around the world.
1. Red Light Secrets, Amsterdam
In a 17th-century former brothel in the Red Light District in Amsterdam, where selling sex has been legal since 2000, is the world’s only museum dedicated to sex work.
Inside, you can trace the history of the Red Light District from the 1500s up to the present, sit in a window where people once advertised their services, and hear real-life anecdotes of those involved in the profession.
2. The Icelandic Phallological Museum, Reykjavik
Open since 1997, The Icelandic Phallological Museum contains a collection of more than 200 penile parts that belong to most of the land and sea mammals in Iceland. Visitors can look at whale, polar bear, walrus and even human penises, all accompanied by fascinating nuggets of information.
In addition to the displays of penises themselves, there are artworks and sculptures, cooking utensils and even a penis-shaped golf putter.
3. Erotic Heritage Museum, Las Vegas
In 2008, a pastor and a pornographer together opened the 24,000 square feet Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas. The museum, which aims to celebrate sexuality as an expression of humanity, covers topics such as the evolution of human sexuality, sex under the Third Reich and sex in space.
A particularly popular exhibit is ‘The Wall of Shame: Articles about Political, Religious or Celebrity Personalities Connected to Scandals.’ The museum also has a rotating programme of exhibits from different artists every month.
4. Love Museum, Seoul
Right in the middle of the busy streets of Hongdae Seoul is Seoul’s Love Museum, which contains a collection of artworks and information about everything to do with human sex and sexuality. The collection contains items ranging from Joseon dynasty erotica to modern 3D sexuality paintings.
A particularly interesting focus of the museum is the information about South Korea’s relationship with sex and sexuality throughout history, as well as the more than 140 statues depicting various sex positions and genitalia. Unusually, visitors are encouraged to interact and pose with many of the displays.
5. Vagina Museum, London
Located in Bethnal Green, London, The Vagina Museum started as a series of pop-ups and events in 2017, before opening up at an official premises in 2019. The museum was founded in response to a lack of gynaecological representation in the culture and heritage sector. More specifically, the founder, Florence Schechter, heard of the Icelandic Phallological Museum, and realised that there was no equivalent for the vagina or vulva.
The museum hosts two temporary exhibitions per year which explore topics such as social history, gynaecological health and activism, alongside a programme of talks, workshops and performances.
6. Erotic Museum, Barcelona
The Erotic Museum in Barcelona opened in 1997. It was the first – and remains the only – sex museum in Spain. Located in a large ‘apartment’ on the historic Rambla, it offers a historical and cultural journey of the influence of eroticism on humanity since the beginning of time.
More specifically, the museum attempts to highlight the connection between eroticism and the city of Barcelona itself. Highlights include displays relating to the beginnings of Spanish-Catalan pornography in the 1920s, and two recently-acquired works by Picasso.
7. Museum of Sex, New York
Located in North America’s biggest city, New York, the Museum of Sex is packed full of more than 15,000 objects related to everything sex and sexuality, and is regarded as one of the best human sexuality museums in the world. Open since 2002, on display today are items that cover everything from the sex lives of animals to pornography through the ages.
There’s also an erotic fairground, and a bar named Play where you can order tipples with titillating names.
8. Sex Machines Museum, Prague
The three-floor Sex Machines Museum in Prague houses some 350 sex toys, accessories and erotic art from around the world and across the centuries. Visitors can gaze at devices that were designed to stop Chinese wives from straying from their marriages, or hear about cultural ceremonies surrounding sex in ancient Greece.
Visitors can even catch a screening of an early 1900s adult film in the Old Erotic Cinema, then look at an exhibition about the evolution of BDSM toys and sex machines.