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December 20, 2014

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The life of a sex nerd: Q&A with the Erotic Heritage Museum’s Amanda Morgan

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Leila Navidi

Amanda Morgan, 25, is the world’s youngest sexologist, and you can find her either teaching at UNLV or helping patrons appreciate the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Even in the fast-paced media age, it’s amazing how many people remain naïve, guarded or even ashamed of sex. Just ask Amanda Morgan, the event and education director for the Erotic Heritage Museum and, at 25, the world’s youngest sexologist. In addition to teaching workshops there on fellatio and cunnilingus, Morgan teaches education for sexuality at UNLV. From museum visitors to workshop participants to her own students, Morgan says we’ve got a long way to go in removing the stigma of what got us all here in the first place.

What brought you to your current position at the Erotic Heritage Museum?

I was really interested in getting my degree from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, because I’ve been a sex nerd basically my whole life. Ever since I was little I’ve been fascinated by sexuality, because it’s something everybody shares, it’s magical, we see it in movies, and even as a child you know it’s something that’s important but don’t know much about it. As a teenager I wanted to become a sex therapist. I’m not that now, but at the time I wanted to help people with their sexuality issues. Because there’s a lot of people who have problems and they don’t have a lot of people to ask those questions to.

I came across the institute in high school. Fast-forward, the museum opened in august of 2008, and I went for the first time in October and fell in love with it—a 24,000-square-foot building dedicated to erotic art and film and sculptures and artifacts from all over the world. It encapsulates the cultural aspect of sexuality as well as the artistic and real. I tried to volunteer but my schedule was busy because I was starting my master’s degree at UNLV in public health.

Fast-forward a year later, I’m at First Friday walking around and saw some of the same art I’d seen in the museum and purchased a print for my parents at one of the art galleries. I ended up meeting a woman who at the time was curator of the museum. She told me they were looking for interns, so I came on as a work study intern in October 2009. And I’ve been there ever since working my butt off.

You’ve seen quite a bit in your time there. What are some of the more unique exhibits you’ve had there?

One of the most unique and shocking was the House of Gord. It was done by a man who makes sex machines, except he makes them just for women—very bondage machines. You have to actually be bound and tied up to these things. And some of them actually make you into furniture. One was a lamp, so it was a girl basically strapped down to a post, and on her head was an actual light bulb and lampshade and you could turn her on and off (laughs). Really strange angles and hydraulic dildos, etc. … That would take a lot of people aback, because they almost look like torture devices. But in context of how they were issued, they were definitely done conceptually. And we have an exhibit now called Gay Gems from the Archives. It’s homoerotic art from all different ages. Like from Asian art, Roman Greek stuff, going to more contemporary times. We have a film reel of some different homoerotic films, and one of them is actually a video of a guy pleasuring himself and basically having sex with himself. As a sexologist, I was like, “Wow! You don’t get to see that every day!” (laughs)

Speaking of that, has anything ever made its way through the doors that surprised even you?

Some of the art is challenging. It’ll throw religion in the mix, or it’ll throw in the different types of fetishes. We have one that’s part of our Aphrodite collection—It’s a bronze, and it’s a woman who is bound with rope around her chest. It’s a rope corset. And then she has gloves on her hands, and she’s blindfolded. She has beautiful stockings. She’s bent over like she’s ready to get spanked. But the detail of this thing is just exquisite. When it came through the door, she took all our breath away. Because it is beautiful and it’s also a perfect example of a submissive rope bondage scene, and I think it’s important for people to see that stuff. Because most people think “rope bondage” and they think of people hog-tied. This is beautiful, artistic. The beauty of the knot and the beauty of the rope.

What’s the biggest misconception people have about the museum?

It looks like a sex-toy store from the outside because it used to be. It was the Love Boutique for many years, and a lot of people expect it to be some kind of cheesy tourist trap where you wander around for 15 minutes and you get that sort of plasticized view. It is not that. We have two large resource libraries for sexuality and erotic art. It’s huge. The inside of the museum is two stories, it has an upstairs, and the way it’s presented is very much like an art gallery—descriptions, documentaries and interviews, and we have the oldest porn made in America, so we present things in a historical context as well. So I would not call it a porn museum. It’s not. It celebrates sexuality throughout the ages. We’ve got artifacts that go back to the sixth century AD. Really old stuff, as well as the newer stuff that’s coming in.

Another thing I love that shocks people as well is the Petals exhibit. It is 24 pictures of female genitalia. It shows the diversity of female genitalia, because not all of it is the same. And especially in porn, you see a lot of the same-looking women. In reality, everyone is different and beautiful. And it’s really healing for a lot of people. We have a lot of women come in and cry, because for the first time in their life, they see a woman who looks like them and they know they’re not alone and they’re normal. There’s nothing wrong with them.

Any reactions from past patrons you weren’t expecting?

Yes. You get three types at the museum, those who come in and wander around an hour and say “That was amazing”; those who are in and out in 15 minutes, and they must have speed walked, because they were totally overwhelmed and it triggered them; and those who come in and don’t know what to expect and they stay for four hours and learn stuff they never knew existed. I had two guys from Utah, and I could see they were doing that running around the museum thing, eyes glazed over, giggling, not quite taking it all in. I introduced myself and in the process of showing them around they started opening up to me, and asking me like questions that in their life and where they come from they were not able to ask anybody. So they started asking questions about their wives, how to relate to them, improve sexual communications. They said to me afterward, we want you to know how much we appreciated being able to talk to you. Because in our entire lives we’ve never had anyone we could ask these questions to, and not be afraid of recourse or being judged. Those are the things that make me feel good at the end of the day. Everybody has sex for us to get here. It’s kind of what makes babies. Then we get the people who come in and you’ll get people who look like your average Jane and Joe from Illinois, and they tell you about the porn company they own. I’ve learned not to judge or assume anything about people, because everybody is different, and it’s really neat when people want to share that. They’ll just open up, show you pictures on their cell phone.

It sounds like what you’re saying is that inhibitions really drop when you go to the museum.

Yes, because it’s a safe place for people to come into an environment and study something like sex and ask questions of people who are either trained in sexuality or have been in the adult industry. We actually have a former adult porn star who works here, Veronica Hart. Her real name is Jane Hamilton, and she is our media director. She still is involved in adult films, producing and acting. We also get a lot of transgender people, and they feel safe to be dressed up in whatever they want to wear. Walking along Las Vegas Boulevard, you might get stared at or yelled at, but at the museum, we take you however you want to represent yourself. We get people who are comfortable walking around in their beautiful nightgown and their 4-inch high heels because they know that it’s a safe place.

Does clintele skew more male or female?

I’d say it’s just about 50-50. It might be more women than men, but we haven’t done gender research on that yet. Sometimes a bunch of girls will show up for a bachelorette party. We get a lot of couples in here as well.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, make a case for the museum as a place for a romantic date.

It’s a place where you can wander around and laugh and learn, and feel like you can be yourself. It can even be a place to open up the conversation between you and your partner to learn things about yourselves. It’s total mental foreplay. It gets your brain going. We have our dirty jokes bathroom. So that’s a fun place for couple to read and write and laugh. Also, we’re having a Valentine's masquerade and lingerie ball. We want people to come in their finest lingerie and masks and come dance and drink the night away at the Erotic Heritage Museum. We throw one heck of a party.

What has been the most satisfying part of your job?

Knowing I help people. I love to help create that normality for people when they feel like they don’t have anybody to talk to. To help them learn about themselves, at the end of the day, I feel warm and fuzzy inside.

You also teach at UNLV.

I am a Rebel through and through. I went to UNLV for seven years (2004-2011) for my undergrad and master’s degree. As I graduated with my master’s degree in public health I was actually doing my doctorate in human sexuality at the same time. So I was in two graduate schools at the same time. It was exhausting, but I’m driven. When opportunity comes knocking, you have to take it.

I graduated with my undergrad in 2008, in human services counseling, and then I went back in the fall of 2008 and got my masters in public health with a concentration in environmental and occupational health and I graduated in 2011. UNLV offered me the job as a sexuality educator because they knew I had the specialty of the sexuality degree and I love teaching. I started teaching in fall of 2011.

Do you find your work at UNLV and the museum intersect?

Absolutely. One of the best skills I learned at working at the museum was how to relate with people, because you never know who’s walking through the door, and you want to make them feel comfortable as quickly as possible. I learned how to relate to my students, in that everyone comes from different backgrounds. I’ve got virgins, Mormons, strippers and people from India in my class. It’s important to learn how to relate to them.

Also the museum has taught me a lot about people. You can read about sex all day long, but hearing people’s stories and seeing them living is a totally different thing. I can tell them stories about people I meet and porn stars I’ve met. And I’ve got students who have come to check out the museum, because we’re the largest Erotic Museum open to the public in the world. We are a resource. It’s an eye-opener for everybody.

I’ve also honed my teaching abilities through both jobs. I teach workshops at the museum. Very different, though—I don’t whip out the dildos and give blow job demonstrations at UNLV, because I don’t want to get fired. (Laughs) At the museum, we believe in practical, real-life sex education, so that’s why we push boundaries—within legal standards. We always have our lawyer there (laughs). But there’s definitely a cross-over, and it’s fun to integrate the academic aspects with the art and creativity, because in my class at UNLV I integrate music and dance and show them videos and talk about the different cultures, and how it’s important to not look at just American sexuality, because it’s conservative compared to the rest of the world throughout history.

What workshops do you teach at the museum?

The Art of Fellatio, the Art of Cunnilingus and the Art of Self-Pleasuring, also called The Art of Teasing and Pleasing Yourself. Every workshop is advertised on our website, and we also send out a monthly newsletter, which I make, and our contact list is up to 3,000 people. Since I’ve been at the museum, our community support has gotten bigger, and the number of people who are members and have sent us donations and help us by volunteering has increased ten-fold. We’re grassroots, word of mouth. We don’t really have any money for marketing.

How is attendance at workshops?

It varies. There have been classes with five to six women, but the first art of cunnilingus class had 35 people. It was co-taught with myself and another sexologist. At the end of the educational, anatomy, history section, we had a heterosexual couple perform it in front of everybody.

Wow.

It was very powerful, for them to see what real sexuality is, instead of porn sexuality.

Are you surprised how many people still don’t know how do these things?

Yes. People have so many myths, but think where people learn most of their sexuality from. They learn it from their friends, from their family, from religion, and then the media. People think there’s something wrong with them because they don’t achieve orgasm every time they have sex. When they actually learn about reality and how few people actually have orgasms, then they know they’re normal. So people just have a lot of judgments about themselves because we don’t portray the reality of sexual expression very well in our society.

I taught a woman in self-pleasuring class about her body, and allowed her to go home and figure herself out in a way she never had before. The only way she figured out how to have orgasms was from a way she learned it when she was 3 years old—by humping a teddy bear or pillow. And she was in her 30s and still humping a pillow. This is a way for people to hold the reins on their own sexuality and be responsible for their own sexual pleasure.

Anything people might not know about you?

I’m also a musician—a singer-songwriter, piano player and ukulele player. I go out at night and play gigs and teach during the day. I perform at Freakin’ Frog every last Thursday of the month.

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