Porno movies. Risqué comics and books. Tabloid-style sex scandals. Openly gay culture. Mae West.
You have New York to thank for all of them — and probably for your perceptions of sex — say officials of the Museum of Sex.
The brand-new museum, located at Fifth Avenue and 27th Street in Manhattan, is set to open Saturday with its inaugural exhibit, "NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex in America."
"It was called 'Sodom on the Hudson'; that was the name for New York City," says Daniel Gluck, the museum's director and founder. "The idea, 'Only in New York,' is not a recent term or cliché. It is a fairly old one. And that is because it seemed that almost anything was possible in New York — good and bad, vice and achievement."
Gluck openly aspires for the Museum of Sex to be considered among the top ranks of serious, world-class museums. Just as New York's Museum of Modern Art is known as MoMa, Gluck and colleagues refer to their institution as MoSex.
The museum's official mission "is to preserve and present the history, evolution, and cultural significance of human sexuality," and those connected to it boast the museum fills a niche as the only one of its type in America.
"This is a serious endeavor, in the sense that it wants to inform and educate as well as to entertain," says June M. Reinisch, a historian adviser to the museum and director emeritus of The Kinsey Institute, a beneficiary of the exhibit's proceeds.
"Sexuality is a very important part of individual human life and to culture," she adds. "To not understand it is to be handicapped in your understanding of human relations and culture."
And where else to depict the sexual aspects of America's culture besides New York? Museum officials say that as America's pre-eminent commercial, cultural and media hub since the early 1800s, New York, more than any other place, historically has pushed America's sexual envelope.
The exhibit makes its case with artifacts connected to New York — including the explicit pornographic film, A Free Ride (aka A Grass Sandwich), made between 1915 and 1919 and purportedly the earliest surviving "stag film."
One museum panel displays early homemade bondage implements. Another shows news clippings and video footage of Christine Jorgensen, a World War II veteran who became a sensation when she addressed the New York media as a transsexual woman in the early 1950s.
There are erotic paintings and drawings, suggestive (but clothed) depictions of 19th-century contortionists, male beefcake photos and Fighting on the Grass, a black-and-white movie by Irving Claw showing silk-shredding women ripping off each other's clothes in a passionate catfight. It's said Claw stymied the censors by leaving the women's private parts strategically covered.
Lesbian pulp novels with titles like Trap of Lesbos and Warped Women are displayed on a panel next to an array of comics featuring Wonder Woman, who the exhibit notes wore spiked heels and a cinched waist as she tied up her enemies.
"All of this stuff comes from New York, was made in New York, was influenced by New Yorkers, and that sort of theme carries through the entire exhibition," Gluck says of the show, which is restricted to adults 18 or older and costs $17 for admission.