Lonely Planet Writer

A fascinating exhibition tracing the history of sex in Vienna has opened in Austria

An exhibition called ‘Sex in Vienna – Lust. Control. Disobedience’ has opened at Wien Museum, and while it sounds risqué, it’s purely educational and historical. The Austrian exhibition outlines the history of freedom and repression of sexuality in Vienna from ancient times until today. It examines the kinds of sexual desires that could be experienced openly, and the ones, including gay encounters, that were only permitted in secret.

"Contact Zone", Raaber-Bahn-Alley 2016 from Sex in Vienna exhibition at Wien Museum. Image: Klaus Pichler/Wien Museum
“Contact Zone”, Raaber-Bahn-Alley 2016 from Sex in Vienna exhibition at Wien Museum.
Image: Klaus Pichler/Wien Museum

It describes how societal mores have changed in Vienna since the 19th century, where lectures and police control were unable to regulate sexual matters in the bedrooms, secret rooms and dark corners of the city. As the city developed, it promised anonymity, ways out of social control and the fulfilment of sexual desires. In tandem with this, it simultaneously created new possibilities for the monitoring, disciplining and categorising of sexuality. The exhibition describes the repercussions for people if they were caught having sexual encounters that weren’t permitted.

Aber sicher, 1998, from the Sex in Vienna exhibition at Wien Museum. Image: AIDS Help/Wien Museum
Aber sicher, 1998, from the Sex in Vienna exhibition at Wien Museum.Image: AIDS Help/Wien Museum

The exhibition contains postcards, explicit advertisements, posters and film clips. It also contains artefacts such as a vibrator from around 1900 that was confiscated by the police, and a condom made from sheep intestines. A three-minute sequence showing the first female orgasm in film history forms part of the exhibition, when Hedy Kiesler appeared naked in the 1933 movie Ecstasy.

Still from the film Ecstasy, 1933, from the Sex in Vienna exhibition at Wien Museum. Image: Filmarchiv Austria/Wien Museum
A still from the film Ecstasy, 1933, from the Sex in Vienna exhibition at Wien Museum. Image: Filmarchiv Austria/Wien Museum

It is being run in conjunction with QWIEN, the centre for gay and lesbian culture and history. Due to the adult nature of the material, only people aged 18 years and over are permitted to attend the exhibition, which runs until 22 January 2017. Please see Wien Museum for further information.