NEW YORK ― When I entered the basement of the Museum of Sex last month ― which head of operations Dan McCluskey described as “lovely, dark ... and just a little bit dirty” ― a bold woman in a mesh black top had already mounted the exhibit’s main event: the Cowgirl, a stylish and super-powerful sex machine.
Like something out of the “Barbarella” universe, the Cowgirl is perhaps a distant cousin of the mechanical bull. Sizable yet sleek, the Cowgirl consists primarily of a vibrating (vegan leather) saddle equipped with two possible silicone attachments. MoSex understandably opted for the Rawhide version, which has a small silicone nub. The other option, Wild West, involves a larger protrusion meant for full-on penetration. Both promise exactly what you’d imagine from a sex toy: an orgasm, whichever way you come by it.
The woman riding the Cowgirl with abandon at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday was certainly making a strong case for the efficacy of the silicone nub. As she messed with the toy’s remote control, I could hear the whirr of vibrations intensifying, an escalation mirrored by her moans. Just when I thought I was about to witness a stranger climaxing in a damn museum, she dismounted, muttered “that was intense,” and promptly shuffled to another room.
“Everyone wants to see, feel it, touch it,” McCluskey told HuffPost of the Cowgirl. “It’s a nice way for our guests to lose their inhibitions. Although you’re in public and people can see you, there’s a dark, silly, private feel to it. It’s a very weird experience, but everyone has such a good time.”
As an institution, MoSex seeks to show both the provocative art exhibitions endemic to most museums and the salacious spectacles you’d never see in The Met ― like, for example, a bounce house made of giant, inflatable boobs. Ignoring the cardinal museum rule of “look but don’t touch,” MoSex encourages visitors to not only feel objects like its current sex machine offering but to ride them, too. Smack dab in the middle of a gallery space, the Cowgirl enthusiasts break down the boundaries that separate art and toys, exhibitionists and voyeurs, engaging in public acts that they might never have otherwise.
The Cowgirl is available in MoSex’s notoriously NSFW gift shop for $1,995, but the museum suggests people test out the merchandise whether or not they’re planning to invest. There are no rules governing the test run, though Gwen Rosen, the sex educator who showed me around the space, said the staff tend to cough loudly when someone is getting too carried away on a test run. Occasionally, McCluskey said someone will “get a very deep blush” and hustle out of the room in a hurry. But the Cowgirl is, he assured me, a “100 percent over-the-clothes experience” and the staff has yet to find any machine looking suspiciously, erm, moist after use.
(They still wipe the bacterial-resistant silicone down with cleaning wipes and harsh cleaners multiple times a day.)
At the end of the day, McCluskey surmised that a guest has “almost certainly” had an orgasm courtesy of the Cowgirl, though “it’s more suspected than proven.”
Not everyone will be game to drop nearly $2K on a bulky contraption capable of vibrating at over 1,200 rpm. But big, loud, unapologetic pursuit of pleasure is what the Cowgirl is all about. “Women’s sexual pleasure is important,” sex educator and entrepreneur Alicia Sinclair, the founder and managing director of the company that manufactures the Cowgirl, told HuffPost. “It can take up space.”
Rosen compared the significant apparatus to the barrage of newfangled women’s sex toys touting compactness and subtlety as perks. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a subdued little dildo that doubles as a necklace pendant, there’s something to be said for the conspicuous presence of a hulking machine with no other purpose than to deliver one orgasm after another.
Along with displaying two Cowgirl machines, the compact MoSex exhibit provides a cursory look at the history of sex toys, starting with the 18th century invention of vibrators as medical devices meant to combat “female hysteria.” Dildos, MoSex points out, date back to ancient Greece, where enlightened men, such as 2nd century astronomer Galen, believed that “female semen” built up in single women’s blood over time, poisoning it. According to him, a good old-fashioned orgasm rid women of the mysterious substance. Early vibrators, administered by physicians in later centuries, were extremely powerful; some were even steam-powered. According to Gizmodo, the first model, released in 1734, resembled a “hedonistic egg beater.”
The Cowgirl is no egg beater. In fact, it somewhat resembles a vintage guitar amp, something a guy might proudly display in his apartment.
Although the Cowgirl’s aesthetic reads 1970s retro, it offers some decidedly futuristic perks. For one, the contraption’s “vibration” and “rotation” dials can be manipulated using the Feel Me app, so one woman’s riding experience can potentially be orchestrated by someone across the country. Sinclair is particularly excited about how the app can be used by the cam girl community to take long-distance sexual exchanges beyond phone and Skype.
“From the cam market perspective, the Cowgirl offers a digital way to interact that still involves feel and touch,” Sinclair said. Cam girls can give control over the machine’s functions to viewers who pay to participate. The long game, Sinclair explained, is to create virtual-reality visuals that sync to the machines so that women can feel sensations in harmony with their perceptions.
Before leaving the museum, I had to hop on the Cowgirl for a hot second myself. For me, the museum environment was more than enough to eviscerate any possibility of actual arousal. But as I fiddled with the knobs and dials with total journalistic objectivity, I could feel the power of the machine between my legs, like a Vitamix without all the chopping.
Even as someone who’s often stimulated by museums, this was something else.