A Visit to the Chinese Sex Museum


With this disclaimer, we would like to share our visit to the Chinese Sex Museum, in the water-town of Tongli.  The museum is also known as “The exhibition For Chinese Ancient Sex Culture.”

We had read about this in our Lonely Planet Guide to China, but from the description we had no idea what to expect.  Arriving and paying our admission fee of 20 RMB, or just under $3 US, we entered the museum grounds and were quite impressed with the place.  It had beautiful buildings, grounds, and gardens to start with.  There were some very unusual sculptures, as you will see.

The place is not just a tourist attraction or “seedy come-on,” it is a serious museum.  It was started and run by two Chinese sociologists, Professor Liu Da Lin (he is a man), and Dr. Hu Hong Xia(she is a woman).  They are referred to as China’s leading “sexologists.”  They first started this museum in Shanghai in 1999, but moved it to its current location in 2005.  The two sociologists have collected over 4000 pieces of sexual artifacts, mostly from China.  Some of the artifacts date back 5000 years, and some are modern.   They have organized these artifacts into four sections of the museum:  Sex in Primitive Society, Marriage and Women, Sex in daily life, and Unusual sexual behavior.

The museum has a healthy attitude about sex and gives a positive message stating any sexual behavior that is entered into willingly and does not hurt the participants is acceptable.  The museum shows that it has a sense of humor about sexual behavior, especially in some of its sculptures, some of which are modern and some old.

Sculpture called "What can't be chained"

The sculpture above is what you see as soon as you enter the museum grounds.  It is not old.  They have a whole sculpture garden filled with erotica.  There is another statue of a Buddha with a giant penis growing out of his head with a turtle sitting on top while a woman rides piggy-back hugging the penis…not quite sure of the meaning (?) of this one!  This one is an older sculpture…not sure of the date.

Buddha penis-head turtle-top

More on the sculpture garden at the end of the entry.  We went in the first building of the museum:  “Sex in Primitive Society.”  As you enter this exhibit you read, “There are two instincts and basic needs of human life, one is food, and another is sex. These two elements greatly influenced the development of society.  As for sex of human beings, there are two characters, one is natural as well as animals, another is cultural, which is different from animals. ”  This hall contained many old artifacts, some from 3500 b.c., mostly stone carvings, and some pottery with explicit scenes on them.

A different take on the 3-legged stool

Worshipful object sculpture from 2500 b.c.

The exhibit goes on further to say,”…because of their low productive forces and simple way of thinking, the primitive people worshiped sex.  Sex worship included worship of reproduction, worship of sex organs, and worship of sexual intercourse.”  After walking about the museum, it was clear to us which sexual organ got the most worship!  See if you can guess!

The stone carving below, while quite erotic, also shows the creativity of positions by early primitive people…it even may show where the uneven parallel bars came from (notice lower left figures)!

Early sexual primer

It went on to say that ancient Chinese people believed sexual intercourse could help “avoid evil spirits and deities.”  This probably became a line husbands used, “I think I see an evil spirit!”  It said further that “ancients believed female genitals had the power to counter evil spells (15th-17th century).”  Uh-oh!  That could lead to another line!  So the power of sex was/is quite important to the Chinese.  You don’t have 1.3 billion people by accident!

We went on the second exhibit “Marriage and Women.”  In Chinese history, as in most of the world, men were the ones in control,  so women’s role is sex was an unequal one.  Early on, it stated that men had many wives, but they soon found that “this disorganized marriage system was not beneficial to the growth of later generations and not to the stability of society…”  Added to this they said, “…wives were always ruled and oppressed by men, acted as tools for men to satisfy their sexual demands, to give birth to children, and to do homework.”  This role of women has not changed much in many parts of the world today.   And women still have a ton of “homework” to do!

The museum contained other pieces of sexual materials such as chastity belts, chairs for sexual use, oddities such as a wooden pillow with a drawer built into it holding a wooden penis, or dildo-it said these were used by nuns!  “Sweet dreams are made of these…!”  They had chairs with crank apparatus that were used to bind Chinese women’s feet, and other things used to subjugate women.  There was a wooden saddle with a long wooden penis/dildo that was used to punish “licentious” women.  It was clear to us that this museum, while about sexuality, contained mostly items, with men in a favorable (in power) view, and anything negative (no power), was relegated to women.

Ceramic couple pleasuring each other

On a more positive note, there were many artifacts, sculptures, ceramic figures, terracotta shapes, that showed couples enjoying their sexuality, being with each other in the most intimate sense.

Happy coupling!

More happy coupling!

The third section of the museum was “Sex in daily life,” and included sex education in Chinese culture.  The Chinese, and most Asians for that matter, are very private about their intimate lives.  So how does one go about instructing about sexual things?  The Chinese, from the old artifacts shown, were subtle, and while not necessarily speaking or talking about the “birds and the bees,” made many ceramic models demonstrating techniques.  The Chinese, had some items called “trunk bottoms” that would be placed in the bottom of trunks to ward off evil spirits. These items looked on the outside like a ceramic fruit.  When it came time for a daughter to marry, her mother would take the ceramic item out of the trunk, and lift the top off, revealing inside a couple in a position of sexual intercourse-giving the daughter some idea of what was to come.

"Trunk bottom"

Inside view of "Trunk bottom"

Another item of sex education was a scroll (sort of a do-it-yourself manual) that contained 8, 12, or 16 poses of sexual intercourse, that was included by parents as part of their daughter’s (the bride’s) dowry.  On her wedding night, the newlyweds would take out the scroll and try out the instruction manual.  So the Chinese used “visual means” for most sex education.  It appears that the wife was entrusted with the key knowledge, and was responsible for passing this on to her daughters.

There was some sex education in schools for the children of nobility, probably using similar visual artifacts.  The nobility, like the Han Dynasty, did not want to leave procreation to chance…gotta have those heirs!

The last section of the museum, “Unusual sexual behavior,” recognizes homosexuality. It contained artifacts recognizing deviant sexual behavior like zoophilia (sex with animals), necrophilia (sex with corpses), even sadism-masochism.  As they state, “To know…will be useful to promote psychological health.”

We met an American fellow touring the museum.  He seemed to be an expert on sex museums/exhibits.  He asked us if we had been to Khajuraho, the sex temple in India.  We said no.  He said, “Peru has a good sex museum, have you been there?”  We said no.  The last thing he asked us was, “Another good sex museum is in Amsterdam, have you been there?”  We said no again.  We wondered (?) about that guy after that.

We left the museum with many impressions.  Barbara said this about the museum, “To me, the penis is king…and it’s not that big…just get over it!  It isn’t even pretty!”  The Chinese Sex Museum was a true adventure!  We leave you with a couple more silly sculptures and what we thought they should be titled.

"Could I get that in a size 13?"

"What's the opposite of 'hung-over'? Over-hung!"

6 thoughts on “A Visit to the Chinese Sex Museum

  1. Hmmmm….This was VERY interesting. I have visited the sex museum in Amsterdam and the Chinese museum seems much more dignified. I saw things in Amsterdam that burned unforegettable images in my brain. I was pretty naive and it was an educational experience. Thanks for sharing about your visit! I especially love the caption on the last photo! Happy travels.

  2. Wow!!! That looks like a fun and educational day out. You would think that first guy would have trouble walking.

    Teachers never talked about this in history class… though I think it would be much more interesting and useful.

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