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Sexuality

Why can’t a city built on sex sustain a museum that celebrates it?

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Sex ed: The future of the Erotic Heritage Museum—and its exhibits—is up in the air.
Photo: Sam Morris

Many who have never been to Las Vegas’ Erotic Heritage Museum consider it to be some kind of porn palace or swinger’s club. Far from it. It is, in fact, a tastefully organized and curated series of exhibits dedicated to the history of sex. But unless something radical happens soon, the museum could become history itself.

The 24,000-square-foot museum—opened in 2008 by Ted McIlvenna of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, with property donated by Harry Mohney, owner of the Déjà Vu strip club empire—is being sued over unpaid rent, despite McIlvenna’s insistence that the oral agreement never specified rent.

Inside the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Inside the Erotic Heritage Museum.

Mohney assured the Weekly that there are no plans to close the museum. “I would like to expand and improve the exhibits, but do not feel it is possible with the current operators,” Mohney said via email. “They have been asked to vacate the property so that the Erotic Heritage Museum can be given a fresh new look at erotic history and art.”

But Jerry Zientara, the museum’s part-time operations manager, says it’s not that simple. The materials in the museum—valued at $3.5 million and including things like erotic art and vintage issues of Playboy—are under the stewardship of the nonprofit organization, not Mohney. “We don’t know when we’ll be loading things out, but we do expect we’ll be doing that,” Zientara says.

Even without the looming lawsuit, the Industrial Road museum faces monumental challenges. Amanda Morgan, a UNLV professor who teaches classes at the museum, says that it has closed for days at a time due to lack of staff. Erotic Heritage currently has just one full-time employee, but must also have at least one volunteer to open. And volunteers, it seems, have been in increasingly short supply since the museum’s volunteer outreach coordinator, Mercedes Zavala, died last November. “The museum wasn’t open last Saturday, Sunday or Monday,” Morgan says. Compounding the problem is the lack of any advertising budget. “The museum has always had massive quantities of potential, but it’s never been met, because the advertising budget has been basically zero. I told them all we need is a sign twirler on Las Vegas Boulevard, because we’re only a block away from the Strip, and people there are bored and want to learn about sex.”

Zientara was brought in a month ago to help assess the situation and determine if the Erotic Heritage Museum could survive. “It’s not impossible,” he says, “but it does depend on the good will of a lot of people.” Morgan urges Las Vegans who haven’t been inside the museum to go now—if only to see what Las Vegas could be losing in the near future.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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