Had I known the job would involve torpedo tit latex catsuits, ass locks, glory holes, fetish illustrators, sex machines and panda porn (yes, panda porn), I wonder if I would have applied?
But at 22, fresh out of college, I could never have envisioned any of this. I could never have predicted that one interview would change the entire course of my life. And I never would have dreamed I would sit here writing about being, of all things, a “Curator of Sex.”
But some of the best adventures simply can't be predicted.
Sex had never been a taboo topic in my house growing up. Constant communication was the blessing and the curse of growing up an only child with a psychologist single mother. And when I lost my virginity at age 16, using a condom my boyfriend and I bought, I was fortunate that it was nothing but a positive experience.
I guess I was sex-positive, before I even knew what that potent collection of words meant or what that phrase would come to mean to me professionally one day.
My four years in college were defined by a love affair with anthropology and drunk Thursday nights. My inherent wanderlust and an internationally-minded small liberal arts college allowed me to study for semesters in both Mexico and Hawaii, as well as a summer of independent research in Venezuela. I took every opportunity to travel I could get my hands on.
I was going to be Indiana Jones…I just didn't yet know it was going to be an Indiana Jones of sex.
Through these experiences abroad I cultivated a specific interest in gender studies, and the multiplicity and significance of that construction across the world. The more I traveled and the more I studied, the more questions I had. I was convinced I would find those revelations in grad school. Student loans be damned, I was committed to becoming that inspiring professor of Anthropology 101, who changed the entire way people saw the world.
With grad school about to start, and before all of that could begin, I needed my first apartment. Who could have ever guessed that apartment would be four blocks away from the Museum of Sex?
While I was busy signing my first lease, my first step into adulthood, my boyfriend at the time wandered through the doors of the Museum of Sex. Since it opened only two years earlier, I didn't even know it existed. Could there really be a museum all about sex? I thought meeting him there would just be a quirky way to pass the rest of the afternoon.
But beyond the shock value of this specific exhibition, ”Get Off: Exploring the Pleasure Principle,” upstairs an exhibition on sexuality in China, “Sex Among the Lotus: 3,000 Years of Erotic Obsession” captivated every aspect of my anthropology-addicted imagination.
And on that visit, just as I had fallen in love with anthropology in college, I fell in love with the Museum of Sex, an institution that unsettled everything I had known to be true about museums.
Somewhere along the way I had decided I never wanted to live with regrets, so the very next week I dropped off my resume, in all honesty, never thinking I'd get a call back. But to my great surprise, I did get a call back, and the next thing I knew I was setting up my very first job interview.
Getting dressed that morning had been a panic of pulling every last piece of clothing out of my closet: “What the hell do I wear to an interview at the Museum of Sex?”
The following is an excerpt from Forbes' new novel, "Sex in the Museum."
“Hey Sarah! Hot out there, right?” Ryan was the museum's anthropologist and researcher. He was in his late twenties, tall and skinny—an academic Luke Perry. My application came at a serendipitous time because he was on the verge of leaving to do fieldwork for his dissertation.
We started talking, and it became clear that Ryan was just as uncomfortable interviewing me as I was being interviewed. He cleared his throat, and I surveyed the room ... and hundreds of VHS porn tapes that were piled waist high along the walls. I'd later learn that these eighties artifacts were a recent acquisition that comprised over nine hundred boxes of erotic content, including silicone molds of famous porn stars' vaginas.
“So I don't have a list of questions. Your resume looks great. I figured we could just chat. Get to know each another,” he suggested. I was happy for the informality, but this was starting to feel more like a blind date than a job interview. We soon discovered we had a shared love of surfing.
“When you called me I was in the middle of painting my boyfriend's surfboard,” I said, excited we had a common passion, but also concerned that this unorthodox interview would not, in fact, lead to a job offer. Shouldn't we be talking about Foucault or museology or something? But Ryan seemed genuinely interested. Somewhere between describing my favorite surf breaks, telling him about my fieldwork in Venezuela, and the time my host family convinced me to eat a marble-sized fish eye (meant to be a great honor), I forgot I was on an interview. An hour passed. Then Ryan walked me to the door.
“Great meeting you, Sarah. I knew you were qualified for the job; I just had to make sure you were MoSex normal. Some of the summer interns I hired were a little questionable in that department.”
What was MoSeX normal? I would eventually come to realize it meant being extremely professional (that is, not using the job to accumulate sexual experiences), but also fully comfortable jumping into a job that involved Torpedo Tit Latex cat suits, ass locks, glory holes, artificial hymens, the secret world of Syrian underwear, 19th century brothel guides, fetish illustrators, scrotal saline injections, sex machines, and panda porn. Yes, panda porn.
“Let me chat with a few people here and I'll get back in touch very soon,” Ryan said, shaking my hand. “Just to confirm: you're able to start right away?”
I gave him a yes. A big, happy yes.
Sarah Forbes' "Sex in the Museum: My Unlikely Career at New York's Most Provocative Museum" is available now on Amazon.