Museum of Sex

Marilyn Monroe poses over the word sex AP / CBS

CBS News Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood examines a New York City exhibit that tackles a subject that most are afraid to ask about in public — sex.

Birds do it. Bees do it. So why not admit it, even we do it.

Although we live in a culture positively swimming in sex, why is it so hard to talk about sex and still keep a straight face?

We may chuckle at the antics of stag-film sirens such as Betty Page, but just how far have our attitudes towards sex evolved in the last 40 years – if they evolved at all?

While MTV regularly airs scenes lifted straight from "Last Tango in Paris" and the sight of nearly-nude flesh has become positively run-of-the-mill – few Americans seem comfortable discussing in public what they enjoy in private.

So, within the plain brown-wrapper of a building, a new institution will open this week in New York City. The Museum of Sex. It's mission: to answer every question you might have about sex, but were afraid to ask.

Curators and construction crews are assembling displays of pin-ups, pulp comics, photographs, engravings, beefcake and cheesecake. The Museum of Sex hopes to appeal to the appetite of any and every consenting adult.

"Sex is an enormously rich subject," said Grady Turner, the executive curator of the museum. "It brings great pleasure to people. People seek it out, people like to see it represented — people avoid it. They're made uncomfortable by it, there are very few things in our lives that have this kind of power."

Turner pulled together the museum's inaugural exhibit, "NYC Sex: How New York City Transformed Sex in America" — a chronicle of the sex-life of the city. Populated by the likes of hootchy-kootchy dancer Little Egypt and burlesque legend Gypsy Rose Lee. Then there's Anthony Comstock, the sworn enemy of smut. And, Linda Lovelance, the adult film star turned anti-pornography activist.

The museum is filled with characters from the fringes of society. But also revealed, are the secret histories of some pop culture icons — for example: the superhero Wonder Woman.

"Even from the beginning, people began to notice there was a certain kinky quality that they couldn't quite put their fingers on," explained Turner. "There was the issue of her lasso … she could tie people up and compel them to tell the truth."

How about those leather pants and stiletto heels? Turns out, they're European imports from the same people who brought us surrealism and Bauhaus architecture in the 1930s.

The museum doesn't shy away from the consequences of sexuality. The museum examines the turn of the century back-alley abortions and the ongoing crisis of AIDS.

Launched amid its own share of controversy, the Museum of Sex has a strict 18-and-over policy. As you might expect, not everyone is sure the world is ready for a museum like this. But, organizers insist the museum should be rated-R, for responsible.

"This is a serious endeavor," said Turner. "America's really ready for a serious scholarly institution that presents sex in a very responsible manner."
  • Rome Neal

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