Review: Sex in the Museum by Susan Forbes
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)
“Sarah Forbes was in graduate school when she stumbled upon a museum dedicated to . . . sex. The anthropology student hesitated when her boyfriend suggested she apply for a job, but apply she did, and it wasn’t long before a part-time position at New York’s MUSEUM OF SEX lead to a gig as the museum’s curator. That was over twelve years ago. Now Sarah—a married mother of two—proudly sports her title as Curator of Sex.
In SEX IN THE MUSEUM, Sarah invites readers to travel from suburban garages where men and women build sex machines, to factories that make sex toys, to labyrinthine archives of erotica collectors. Escorting us in to the hidden world of sex, illuminating the never-talked-about communities and eccentricities of our sexual subcultures, and telling her own personal story of a decade at The Museum of Sex, Sarah asks readers to grapple with the same questions she did: when it comes to sex, what is good, bad, deviant, normal? Do such terms even apply? If everyone has sexual secrets, is it possible to really know another person and be known by them? And importantly, in our hyper-sexualized world, is it still possible to fall in love?”
This book popped onto my radar due to a review in Publishers Weekly magazine. Prior to that, I had no idea that there was a museum dedicated to sex (although having visited museums dedicated to things like hand fans, you’d think that I’d expect the unexpected). Giving in to curiosity, and glad that I was reading this as an e-book so that no one could see the cover, I purchased it.
As memoirs go, this one is quite good. This isn’t just a dry recitation of what exhibits the museum has hosted, nor is it merely Forbes’s life story with a few titillating details from her job. The author weaves her professional and personal stories together with great skill while also emphasizing how much she worked to keep those two different sides of herself from colliding. Since she got her degree in gender studies, the joined “plotlines” paint a fascinating portrait of how men and women are perceived in today’s society and over the course of time.
Don’t get me wrong, though… there are plenty of eyebrow-raising facts and stories peppered throughout the book. Readers meet porn collectors, burlesque performers, and people who make dresses out of expired condoms. Kinks are talked about, fetishes are examined, and odd chastity devices are featured. My favorite bit was a word that I’d never heard before: teledildonics, “loosely defined as the integration of computer-controlled technology with the goal of helping achieve sexual stimulation and orgasm”. I was not aware that this word (or this concept) existed, and I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge, but I’m glad to know it.
I do have two minor complaints about this book. First, I would have loved a recommended reading list at the end. The author mentions several books that sounded kind of interesting, and it would have been nice to have a list compiled instead of having to hunt through the text for them. Second, I feel like the last part of the book was a little rushed. Forbes does a lot to parallel her dating life to her life at her job, but after she gets married and starts a family, there is little to see comparing her pregnancies to her work. Given how well she integrated her life with the museum in earlier chapters, I think it was a missed opportunity not to explore what, essentially, happens after sex. Maybe the museum has never done an exhibition on fertility and sex?
Otherwise, I found this book to be immensely enjoyable. Other than the bit of rushed pacing at the end, the narrative flowed well and balanced the “OMG SEX” factor with real information on how a museum works and the behind-the-scenes looks at the people who make it happen. Don’t let the subject matter put you off, because this is a great memoir!