This summer, I went to Paris for the first time as an adult. My plan was to travel Europe alone and really spend some quality time with myself. After only a few days, it became apparent that myself and myself really don’t get along that well. My big European adventure turned into a weird, crushing loneliness and a desire to speak out loud to someone, anyone.
I started feeling disconnected from the world around me, like a ghost floating through unnoticed and unwanted. I would go see the sights, alone. Watching the sun set over the Eiffel Tower, alone. And go to bars at night, alone.
One day, I wandered into the Pigalle area, which is home to the Moulin Rouge and a lot of sex shops. Nestled there is also the Musee de L’erotisme, or Eroticism Museum. It’s a sex museum, not unlike the one in New York City which I’ve actually never been to despite hosting a stand up show in the building next door for two years. I peered in the window of the gift shop, my eyes catching DVDs and toys and postcards. I went inside and bought a ticket.
Inside, the museum starts with a bunch of sex statues from ancient China. The male statues have swollen members, the females large breasts. There’s also a splayed out sex manual which was given to newly-married couples so they could figure out different positions or what to do on their wedding night. Up one flight of stairs, there was a series of darker colored paintings of people having sex: two women blowing the same man titled “Happy Birthday” which I found delightfully cheeky, a bunch of portraits of penises replacing famous historical figures or moments (so for instance the renowned Iwo Jima picture but with penises or “The Penis in Chief”) and a television screen showing 1920s silent film porn.
In front of the screen were three chairs. I sat in one on the far right. A young guy, also at the museum alone, sat in the far left. We kept our eyes locked on the screen as, in a surreal display, actors behaved with the same jerky movements and overblown facial expressions as seen in the typical silent film, while boning each other. There were even sexy title cards with their dialogue. It was interesting and maybe hot in a way, but also hilarious. The guy and I would laugh at the same things, and I thought about acknowledging him but I was too scared. It was then that I realized I was watching porn with a stranger. But nothing happened. We were in our own worlds, together. And that was enough.
Eventually, I left the museum — my sour mood completely lifted. I went to a cafe to have a cup of coffee and write about what I’d seen. I tried to figure out why I was feeling so much better after visiting the sex museum and I think it’s this:
I felt light. I felt connected to humanity in a way that spanned millennia and continents. I felt better about the state of the world and the people in it. I felt like, yes, okay, we are all so different and so much time has passed and so much history is behind us but in the end, we are the same animals. We are all animals. The ancient Chinese were having sex in the same positions that the frat boys and state college girls will tonight. And I felt GREAT about that.
At our base level, humanity is ridiculous and silly. And we take it so seriously. We put so much pressure on ourselves in our lifetimes and in the end, every generation’s continuation comes down to this bizarre, wonderful, life-affirming, sexual moment. We are all made from those statues in crazy positions. We are all scraps of DNA shot out of a funny-looking appendage. Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it wonderful? Isn’t it relaxing? Don’t you feel connected?
I left the Paris sex museum and I felt like I loved people again. Like I wanted to be part of this bigger, squirming race on Earth, everyone just doing their best to live life and to find some time to rub against each other for pleasure. It became clear to me that we were all in a long tradition of the same wants and desires and worries and hopes and love. I felt like I could reach back and relate to any other human, at any time, in any place.
I tucked my notebook under my arm, paid in euros and walked out of the cafe. I smiled at everyone I saw.