Widely considered the first adult film ever made, A Free Ride, which was released in 1915, spoofs movie legend Charlie Chaplin. In it, a Chaplin look-alike with an obviously fake mustache arrives in a Ford Model T, meeting two squirrelly girls on the side of the road — one wearing a Mary Pickford wig — and, well, you get the rest. And honestly, it was quite entertaining, in a strange, humorous way.
I’m seated on a couch resembling a red sombrero in the circular film room at the Erotic Heritage Museum, located on Industrial Road. In addition to A Free Ride, there are four other adult movies playing, including the famous 1972 swinger flick Behind the Green Door and The Operation, filmed after-hours in a hospital in 1995 using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show the actors’ body heat. What each of these movies has in common is they are representative of the era and the sexual culture of the time period in which they were filmed.
“I don’t see it as porn,” says Dr. Laura Henkel, executive director of the newest museum to hit Vegas. “They all have cultural relevance. An adult film is a sliver of the time in which it was produced. It reflects and captures the social and sexual behaviors of the day. We’re not a sex museum. We’re really arts and academia. We’re here to educate.”
At first glance it’s hard not to classify the Erotic Heritage Museum as a “sex museum” when passing display cases filled with 17th century Japanese deflowering instruments, crystal penises and plaster casts of porn stars’ body parts. Add Jefferson Gord’s functional art pieces, which include “Mechanised Maidens,” intensely complex moving bondage devices (Henkel says, “He loves engineering and he loves women. He found a way to combine the two.”) and you have reason to argue. But on closer examination, Henkel is right, the museum is indeed — gulp — educational.
Owned and operated by the Exodus Trust, a nonprofit which happens to have 25 warehouses of sex toys, pop art and memorabilia, including the largest adult film and book libraries in existence, the museum is actually a classy joint. Everything here is portrayed artistically, from the peep show booths to the giant porn star trading cards tacked to the wall. Henkel says the museum will rotate exhibits. Currently on display is work from fetish artist John Willie, black-and-white drawings and sketches dubbed The Naked Line by François Dubeau, vibrant paintings by Bobby Logic, forced perspective sculptures by Todji Kurtzman, and photography by Michael Grecco, including Jenna Jameson as you’ve never seen her — in a ball gown. And everything, whether straight, gay or lesbian, is not separated by category but displayed together. “I didn’t want to label or put anything in a box. It’s all part of our history.”
As we complete our tour of the dual-level, 24,000-square-foot space, which shares a parking lot with the Déjà Vu gentlemen’s club, Henkel hammers home the point, “This celebrates our erotic heritage. The purpose here is to educate people on human sexuality: where we’ve been, where we are now and where we’re going.”
Get an erotic history lesson at www.eroticheritagemuseum.com or call 702.369.6442