Sex museum makes HIV lessons fun
Fri Feb 9, 2007 3:31PM EST
By Krittivas Mukherjee
MUMBAI, Feb 9 (Reuters Life!) - This is India's version of sex in the city.
A rare sex museum in Mumbai, the country's teeming financial capital, is drawing hundreds of prostitutes and their regular clients who say they learn more about HIV/AIDS from its graphic exhibits than staid lectures on safe sex
Antarang, which means intimate in Hindi, is a one-room exhibition of nude statues, models of the human anatomy and illustrations
near a well-known red light district in Mumbai. And it is India's only sex museum, according to its management.
Devoid of the glamour of sex museums of Amsterdam or New York, Antarang greets a visitor with a "lingam," a Hindu phallic-shaped symbol worshipped as one of the representations of Lord Shiva, Kama Sutra verses and wooden and plastic models showing the act of conception, child birth as well as descriptions of various sexual diseases.
"A sex museum is a better place to learn about sex and everything related to it," M.G. Vallecha, the chief of Antarang, entry to which is free
, told Reuters.
The museum is run by the state government in an effort to combat HIV and AIDS in India
. There are an estimated 5.7 million people infected with HIV, more than any other country, according to U.N. figures.
Experts say that number could quadruple by 2010 as many people are still reluctant to discuss safe sex openly.
Authorities all over India try various innovative ways, including street plays and "condom parties," to spread awareness about sexual diseases.
Mumbai is not only India's biggest and most cosmopolitan city, but it is also home to millions of migrants who leave their families in villages to search for jobs.
NO CONDOM, NO SEX
Antarang, whose floor tiles are painted to look like sperm, was opened in 2003.
It became popular among prostitutes and some of their clients after health workers began taking them there.
"A major bulk of our thousands of visitors every year are sex workers and health volunteers,"
Some sex seekers also visit. In India, many prostitutes act as mistresses for one regular client who pays for her upkeep. They can often develop close relationships and sometimes visit the museum together, officials said.
"At first, sex workers coming to the museum are shy. But slowly they discover new things about something they thought they knew all about," said Manish Pawar, a health worker who has brought hundreds of prostitutes and their clients to the museum.
Many of the sex workers say the museum has changed their lives by teaching them about the need for safe sex.
"When they told us about AIDS and all we didn't understand much, but now after visiting the museum it is much clearer to us," said Jyoti, a middle-aged prostitute who gave only one name.
"Now we tell clients no condom -- no sex."
Authorities said they have few ordinary tourists.
"The area where the museum is located is stigmatized and even if they (tourists) want to come they don't because they don't want to be seen in a red light district," said Nirupa Borges, who helps run Antarang.
"We have some school and college students, but we would like more members of the mainstream society."
Authorities are planning to open another sex museum in a northern suburb, away from the red light district, to attract a wider audience.
"This museum is serving its purpose very well. We need more sex museums like this," Borges said.