Meet the Woman Who Curated a Sex Museum For a Living
When you think of museums and sex, tiny-dicked nude sculptures are probably what come to mind first.
But Sarah Forbes, former curator of the Museum of Sex, made it her life’s work to prove that museums can be sexy. Or at least, hers can.
Sarah worked as the museum’s curator for over a decade and just released a book of stories from her time there, entitled “Sex in the Museum.” We caught up with her to find out her backstory, what it’s like to date as a sex curator, and society’s last sexual stigmas.
When you were a kid, did you ever think you were going to be a sex museum curator?
I can confidently answer no. The Museum of Sex is very much a creation of the time we live in, and in some ways it makes sense that I came to this field in my early twenties, just out of college. I was open minded and hungry to do something different from the expected path. I wasn’t intimidated by the taboos surrounding the topic. The Museum and I have grown and matured along side each other, and in some respects, share the same ideology and dedication to being and doing something revolutionary.
If not, what did you want to be?
An artist and an adventurer. From an early age I knew I was deeply curious about the world and wanted to “make something,” but I could never have predicted that thing would be making more than twenty museum exhibitions and now writing a memoir about those experiences. No less, a memoir titled “Sex in the Museum!”
When did you realize you had a knack for understanding sex on a cultural level?
I feel so fortunate that I grew up in a household that made sex a natural part of life. In college, as my academic interest in Anthropology developed, intensified by experiences studying in Mexico, Venezuela and Hawaii, I was fascinated by how gender is constructed across the world. With the combination of jumping straight into grad school at twenty-two and a chance visit to the Museum of Sex, that interest in gender bloomed into one of sex. I believe my success in the field has come down to being an open-minded, non-judgmental person, who really wants to understand the human species better. I’ve learned: understanding sex, is understanding people.
What’s it like dating as a sex museum curator?
It makes sex — almost right after learning their name — the first conversation you ever have with a new partner. Many guys I met made assumptions about what my job meant about my sexuality, what I would be interested in, and some thought “curator” was a euphemism for “sex worker.” For the good and bad of that, it was a great way to get a true sense of a person. I would learn more about their porn viewing habits than their families.
Are guys intimidated by your knowledge?
It’s typically a combination of intimidated and overly intrigued, thinking my job has a direct correlation to how I’d be in bed. On an early date with my now husband I walked him through a film exhibition [Action: Sex and the Moving Image] I had recently curated, as had to explain that part of “curating” meant I had spent the previous months watching porn non stop, choosing which gang bang, deep throat or orgy clip was more interesting than another. Only years later did he tell me how intimidating that was to hear.
In your travels, which city is the best one for sex?
Each city has its own dating culture, which has a huge relationship to the kind of sex people are having. The best sex is when people can be communicative about what they want and treat each other as equals. While people think that seemingly conservative areas might be having less sex, in some cases, these prohibitions just make what people do behind closed doors that much more experimental. For many, taboos can be highly erotic.
What’s your favorite MoSex exhibit ever?
While they all have a special space in my heart, I think The Sex Lives of Animals was one of my favorites. Not only does it cover the fact that animals engage in oral sex, anal sex, group sex, same sex relationships, masturbate and even make their own sex toys, it also brought fascinating scientific information to light that too often isn’t shared with the general public. This exhibition not only highlighted information few people are aware of, but also was my effort to contribute to a “new natural history,” one that normalized the diversity that exists in the natural world.
What’s your dream exhibit that hasn’t happened yet?
While most museums and cultural institutions don’t think about sex and gender as a defining characteristic of their collections, my dream would be to create an exhibition from the art, artifacts and ephemera housed at major museums like the Met and Louvre. There is nothing more authentic in the human experience than sex and most great artists and civilizations have created works that touch upon the topic. I think it’s time the topic of sex wasn’t just the domain of the Museum of Sex.
What do you think is the last sexual stigma? (Or some of the last if there’s more than one…)
In working at the Museum of Sex over the last decade I have seen so many stigmas surrounding sexual content begin to fade away. For instance, when I first started in 2004, sex toys were still a bit of an underground industry, and now a vibrator is considered one of the most common household appliances. Or similarly, the fact that the term “gender fluid” is so now often used in the mainstream press. But in spite of all this great momentum, one of the last stigmas comes from us as individuals finding comfort in ourselves, our desires, our identities and not trying to compare our sex lives to others or to what we see in porn.
What can people expect from your book?
What I’m most proud of with the book is that is gives you both a look at who I am as a person as well as all the crazy things I’ve learned across a decade at the Museum of Sex. There are moments of humor, learning and empathy. Readers will be able to imagine going through the completely unexpected adventure of what it was like to become and be a “Curator of Sex.” And I can promise that experience was anything but boring.