Plans for Sex Museum Create an Uproar in Rio

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A plan to build a museum honoring carnal desire may be too hot to handle, even for residents of steamy Rio de Janeiro. But many applaud the building's avant garde design, even if they don't like the subject matter.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Some people say that sex is never too far from the minds of residents of Rio de Janeiro. And these days it's even more front and center. In the city that is often considered synonymous with decadence, there is now a heated debate about the merits of a museum honoring the world's oldest practice, if not the oldest profession. From Rio, NPR's Julie McCarthy reports.

JULIE MCCARTHY reporting:

Architect Igor De Vetyemy thinks Rio is suppressing its urge to talk about what birds do, bees do, and in the words of Cole Porter, even educated fleas do. De Vetyemy wants to strip bare this social taboo.

Mr. IGOR DE VETYEMY (Architect): People are afraid of talking about sex. It is a paradox. Everybody knows Brazil has this connection, and Rio de Janeiro specifically has this connection to sex. So I started to think, why not talk about it and know how to deal with sex, because we are connected to it.

MCCARTHY: As his final university graduation project, De Vetyemy designed a museum complete with sex education and a medical clinic. The proposal also envisions large capsules in which to practice Kama Sutra. The 25-year-old architect says these specially-contoured walls and floors would make the difficult positions in that ancient art of lovemaking doable.

Mr. DE VETYEMY: It's like when you see a revolted sea.

MCCARTHY: So it's like waves.

Mr. DE VETYEMY: Yeah. Just like waves. So it's like this but solid, so it gives the support for the positions.

MCCARTHY: If you're not inclined toward Kama Sutra, can you get into a kind of capsule that has a bed?

Mr. DE VETYEMY: There are some easy positions, of course.

MCCARTHY: But psychoanalyst Luis Alberto Piz(ph) says the proposed museum is nonsense, and that his patients are more interested with getting into relationships than with getting into bed. As for Brazilians' fear of talking about sex, he says...

Mr. LUIS ALBERTO PIZ (Psychoanalyst): They do not have to talk. They practice it. It's much more important than talking about.

(Soundbite of music)

MCCARTHY: At the recent gay pride parade, a riot of pink fishnet stockings, stiletto heels and extravagant bustiers suggested that many Rio's men are anything but sexually inhibited. As for the sex museum, they loved the idea.

Mr. PHILIP BRANDOW(ph) (Parade Participant): Very good, yes.

MCCARTHY: Sporting a black micro swimsuit and dancing boots, Philip Brandow says it's a good idea because sexually we are all the same. And, he says, a museum like that shows that we are all sexual beings no matter what our tendencies are.

The proposed site is here in Copacabana, fabled for its beach by day, sex by night.

(Soundbite of nightclub)

MCCARTHY: In this nightclub, just across from the sex museum's proposed location, tourists nuzzle hostesses while female dancers exchange good-natured teasing over their strip-teasing. It's remarkably easy-going. Prostitution is not outlawed in Brazil. In fact, the Labor Ministry's Web site provides guidelines for sex workers.

Civic activist and attorney Oratio Maganay(ph) says Copacabana has had sex establishments for over a century, but insists this is a family neighborhood that's been overrun by sexual activity.

Mr. ORATIO MAGANAY (Attorney): (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: This is not a moral crusade. Prostitution has always existed here, he says, but it has to be at tolerable levels. Today there's a veritable industry, he says, adding, we want to get rid of this stigma, and the installation of this sex museum is totally inappropriate.

Award-winning architect Flavio Ferreira says it's not the content of the museum but its design that he objects to.

Mr. FLAVIO FERREIRA (Architect): You know, it's the only great space of the neighborhood of Copacabana, and they fill it with a kind of flaccid phallus. It's really ridiculous.

MCCARTHY: De Vetyemy's avant-garde structure is tube-shaped and would stretch down the median of a wide boulevard like a gigantic white slug. The project has stirred new controversy and old jokes. Ferreira recalls a one-liner from the late Brazilian humorist known as Basunda(ph), who was especially beloved in Rio.

Mr. FERREIRA: They ask him where was the most strange place in which you made sex? And he answered, Sao Paolo.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MCCARTHY: The last laugh may be on de Vetyemy's critics. Even many opponents of his project approve of the experimental design. De Vetyemy says Brazilians want to be in the architectural vanguard again.

Mr. DE VETYEMY: What gets to the people are the dynamic things, the ephemeral things, the fluid things. So about architecture, I think it's time to get this.

MCCARTHY: Architect Flavio Ferreira sees the enthusiasm as a symptom of a city that finds its corruption scandals old, and not just its scandals.

Mr. FERREIRA: The architects are old, the soccer team is old, everything is old. And people are so anxious to see something new that they support that. They more support than they like.

MCCARTHY: Ferreira's advice on improving the museum's design in this most decadent of cities?

Mr. FERREIRA: Maybe more sexy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MCCARTHY: Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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