Sex & Art

The Way it is.

The smell of food can make us hungry. Should the sight of sex make us horny? In cultures throughout history, people have drawn or carved sexual images with the purpose to excite. However, since the advent of civilization, there has been an equally strong desire to repress those images in the name of 'morality.'

One of my 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.

During the course of my assignment, I noticed 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 fuzzy when it came to defining exactly what was erotic to them. 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.

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 the 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 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!