Cripes! I'm not sure I wanted to know that - my visit to London's first sex museum

by QUENTIN LETTS Last updated at 11:36am on 28th June 2007

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Days out in London used to mean the Imperial War Museum, but now in the middle of the capital, we get Amora, a museum of 'Love, Sex and Relationships,' says Quentin Letts

Not every day do you find yourself discussing spanking techniques with a pert blonde in a starched white uniform.

"Go on," she said with scorn, "you can hit harder than that! Let me show you."

At that point she grabbed hold of a paddle shaped a bit like a ping-pong bat. Thwack! Think of Kevin Pietersen going for a match-winning six. It brought tears to my eyes, even though the bottom she was smacking was not mine, thank heavens, but belonged to a plastic model of a naked woman.

I was at London's newest visitor attraction, Amora, the Academy of Sex. The spanking stand is just one of several which place a new gloss on one's understanding of museums.

There is an exhibit about how to find erogenous zones. An 'orgasm tunnel' about the biological mechanisms which accompany sexual arousal. And a fridge full of aphrodisiacs, including the disclosure that 'the scent of black liquorice increases the blood flow to the male genitals'.

Did you know that? News to me, too. I don't think I'll ever be able to look at Bertie Bassett in quite the same way.

An illustrated lecture on kissing is included, and a touch-sensitive display on love-making positions. These range from the Missionary to more novel, indeed agile, options - such as the Wheelbarrow, the Reverse Cowgirl, the Rabbit and the Italian Chandelier.

That last one, to the unsuspecting eye, looks as though a man has asked his wife to help him remove his gumboots. Something like that, anyway. Days out in London used to mean the Imperial War Museum, or Madame Tussaud's, or the dear old Planetarium (RIP). Innocent pleasures. But now, in the middle of our capital, we get Amora, a museum of 'Love, Sex and Relationships', open to visitors from 11am every day, reduced rates for OAPs (Wednesdays are 'gay days').

I trundled along on a Monday just after lunch and was greeted on the pavement outside Piccadilly Circus's Trocadero centre by a husky-voiced young woman whose uniform made her resemble a dental nurse. People pay good money to meet women dressed like this, you know. At Amora, the entrance fee starts at 12.

The dental nurse directed me down some clean, space-agey stairs. As I descended, various words came whispering out from hidden loudspeakers: "Lover. Temptation. Attraction. Sexual." It was hard to work out where the words would come from next. Most distracting. Like being attacked by a darting bat.

At the bottom of the stairs was a welcome desk. Receptionist Siobhan, dressed in a low-cut top, said, without apparent irony: "Let me give you two bits."

One was a leaflet (ah, the ubiquitous leaflet); the other was a hand-held commentary machine.

Amora has been created, allegedly, to instruct and inform. It confronts the visitor with film of couples deep in the throes of horizontal jogging. There is an astonishing collection of sharp-pronged implements of torture which, on closer analysis, turn out to be 'sex toys'. Few would be allowed on to a modern airliner.

In Amora's first hall I found entire walls devoted to video screens onto which flashed images of naked people, nearly all youthful and handsome.

Amora does not dwell long on the less perfect specimens of homo sapiens (although in the Orgasm Tunnel I did spot a film-clip of a woman wearing National Health spectacles).

An exhibit of artsy photographs, entitled Earth Erotics, showed phallic-shaped geological formations. These included rocks shaped like bottoms, V-form gullies with streams in suggestive places, and so forth. They made me laugh.

An American photographer, Heather Firth, had been around the world to places like New Mexico and the Sinai desert. If she's looking for more inspiration she should visit the Malvern Hills. I have long thought that the peak of the Herefordshire beacon, known as the British Camp, has the shape of a woman's nipple.

A handful of heterosexual couples strolled through the rooms without making ribald jests. They could have been patrons at a municipal library, or potential customers at a car showroom. The atmosphere was not particularly sleazy; it was more clinical than that. Somehow toothpastey, shiny, antiseptic.

Science soon reared its ugly head with an exhibit about pheromones - those bodily secretions which can govern sexual attraction. There were learned expositions of Phenylethylamine - "the molecular basis for love" - and Dehydroepiandrosterone, described as "the master sex hormone".

Master Sex Hormone? Isn't he a character in the Hornblower novels?

Other exhibits dwelt on gender differences, along with the claims that "men generally mumble more" and "women speak twice as much as men". One told how to undress in an alluring manner, and how to use cherry tomatoes in a way Delia Smith, I am sure, would never countenance.

Statistics included the fact that the shortest male whatnot in the world was just 1.8cm long and that the longest was 34.3cm, which is roughly the length of a bottle of hock.

Amora, which opened five weeks ago, was started by Johann Rizki, 35, a French-American hedge fund investor. Suave Johann, whose mother is a psychologist (says it all, I hear you say), assembled a budget of 7 million for the project.

He had been to the Museum of Sex in New York but found it "very boring". With Amora he has tried to come up with something that is educational without being too po-faced.

Mr Rizki claims to have had a lot of interest from corporate bookings - Amora as a place for an office party, apparently.

"We also had a family come in the other day and ask for a family rate." (For the record, you have to be over 18 to be admitted.)

Some of the exhibits are "interactive". A touch-sensitive screen allows visitors to build a composite of their perfect lover.

I watched a short man with a balding head of sweaty curls. He kept pressing the 'bigger' button until his image of a perfect woman had such enormous breasts they could have been aerodrome windsocks.

There were rudimentary warnings about sex-related disease and psychological harm. Visitors can feel a fake boob to help them detect the early stages of cancer. Rather a good idea, really. Anatomical models are also provided to help people find the G-spot.

Seventy five per cent of Amora's visitors so far have been couples. I met John and Jane, both 49, from Kent.

"I suppose there might be a perception that this place could be seedy, but it's not like that at all," said John, a fireman.

Hospital worker Jane added: "I don't think we learned much, but coming here has been a giggle."

Jane had just one complaint. By the time she reached the spanking room, the paddle for hitting the male mannequin had disappeared.

Splintered into smithereens by that Kevin Pietersen blonde in the white uniform, I'll bet.

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Here's what readers have had to say so far.

I will certainly be visiting this museum but I can't see many British people going as Britain is not a country that is comfortable with sexuality, instead it is a country that is sexualy repressed!

- David Wheeler, Coventry, West Midlands

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