NSFW? When You Work at a Sex Museum, There’s No Such Thing.
Working as the director of exhibitions at any museum sounds interesting enough. But when the museum in question is a sex museum, it makes for a whole different conversation. Mark Snyder should know. For the past 14 years, he’s been directing exhibitions at New York City’s Museum of Sex, one of the few of its kind in the United States.
It’s certainly not a run-of-the-mill job—or museum, for that matter. Exhibits at MoSEX tend to have names like “Funland: Pleasures and Perils of the Erotic Fairground” and interactive elements such as, say, an inflatable boob room (it’s exactly what it sounds like: a bounce house filled with giant PVC breasts). New York Magazine likened the 2014 exhibit, which is now part of the permanent collection, to a “Willy Wonka sex dream.”
Still, it’s not all boobs and bounce houses at MoSEX. Since its inception in 2002, the award-winning museum has featured more than 28 exhibitions, all with a “mission of advocating open discourse surrounding sex and sexuality,” according to its website. The permanent collection alone houses more than 15,000 sexually related artifacts, from racy photography to vintage condom tins. One of Snyder’s favorites is the “Guide to the Harem,” which he describes as a brothel guide to New York City during the mid-19th century, complete with addresses and “the type of services one could expect to receive during a visit.”
We recently talked to Snyder about what it’s like to work at the Museum of Sex, and how sexually related objects help to paint a more comprehensive picture of human history. One thing became apparent almost immediately: when you work at a sex museum, NSFW no longer applies.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How does a typical day at the museum begin?
“Each day begins and ends with a walk-through of the museum’s galleries. Whether we are installing a new installation or caring for the artifacts on display, there is much to be done before patrons arrive each day.”
What’s your favorite part of your job?
“The museum focuses on sex through a multitude of lenses, from art and history to science and culture. I constantly feel lucky that, as a museum, we get to ‘reinvent’ ourselves with each new exhibition we create, engage different communities, and examine different angles of sexuality. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing scholars, historians, designers, artists, and innovators.”
What’s the most surprising thing about your job?
“Though I have worked with the museum for the past 14 years, I am constantly learning about new aspects of human sexuality. One might think that, after so many years, there wouldn’t be much new to explore. But I find the more you learn about this subject matter, the more you realize that, when it comes to sex, virtually anything and everything is possible. Indeed, human sexuality is nearly limitless.”
What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you at work?
“I’ve had an opportunity to get so many different glimpses into such a wide array of people’s lives and experiences that it actually takes a lot to surprise me. Every once in awhile, when I receive a vibrating package in the mail or review thousands of Playboys, I realize that perhaps I don’t have the most ‘normal’ job in the world. My barometer for ‘crazy’ has certainly shifted over the years.”
What are some can't-miss features at the museum?
“Make sure to check out ‘Iron Hole’ by New York-based artist Mike Sullivan. The piece was created specifically for the Museum of Sex and features a portion of an ongoing film animation project entitled ‘The Sex Lives of Robots.’ Sullivan’s work, partially constructed from altered Barbies and G.I. Joes, explores a fictitious world in which robots are able to reproduce with each other.”
Why do you think it's important to preserve sexually related objects in a museum?
“Simply because a piece of our history might make us uncomfortable, [that] doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be preserved for future generations. In fact, the often overlooked aspects of these objects often reveal a history that might otherwise be forgotten or erased.”
The Museum of Sex is located at 233 Fifth Ave. in New York City. For more information or to plan your next visit, click here.