Annie Sprinkle & Beth Stephens
"Here you also have people who love their baths, showers and take pleasure in their swimming pools. These things are the pleasure we get from water. Other people are unaware because you can on turn the tab and get as much water as you want, at the moment, some of us who are lucky at least. People don't think about it. So we’re trying to eroticize water and make people appreciate the pleasure of water, to be positive and cooperate into their sex lives. They do it unconsciously already. Guys masturbate in the shower. Women pour it onto their clits. People are getting a lot pleasure with water." (Annie Sprinkle)
"Some corporation is making money of all of these beautiful trees and air and water, they’re going to take them away from the me while I’m distracted with Facebook." (Beth Stephens)
I visited Annie Sprinkle and her partner Beth Stephens and also made acquaintance with their houseguest, Lady Monster, a queer burlesque dancer and fire tassel thrower. I interviewed the three of them in their beautiful country home in Boulder Creek with its majestic redwood trees and white peacock. It was a very hot afternoon in mid august and the topic of water crisis was on all of our minds. We talked about it also since Sprinkle and Stephens are preparing their production, Aquaphilia, a new movie about their love of water.
During the interview, Sprinkle posits that San Francisco’s sexual energy stems from its proximity to water: “I call San Francisco the Clitoris of the USA. It’s surrounded by water and it’s very very small but very electric. Or course it’s not just San Francisco, it’s the Bay area--Oakland, Berkeley, Marin. So it's a port city. I think the port towns have often been places where there has been more freedom. Being close to water means that people are coming from all over the world on boats and these are cultural centers. LA is on the ocean too. Hong Kong is surrounded by water. It’s also another planetary clitoris.”
Sprinkle defines ecosexuality as a love and care for various elements and entities throughout the nonhuman world. But since the interview is about porn and San Francisco’s queer porn stars, Sprinkle posits that ecopornography could be one of the next frontiers: “Eco porn is still being defined. Jiz Lee and April Flores made a porn film on a waterfall which is very eco sexual. The three of them were having sex. Madison Young has made quite a lot eco sex porn. I just married her actually. She had a wedding and she married her guy, James Mogul. But she also married the trees. This idea of making a commitment with nature is trickling down. Different people would do eco porn totally differently. It might just be having sex outdoors which most people relate to, as they have had first sexual experiences outside .. .Also it's still pretty transgressive to think that sex goes beyond fucking and sucking and it could be an energetic exchange with the tree or with flower. You know, you are sniffing the genitals of a flower, that could be an erotic thing. It's a kind of de-commodification, it’s rebellious act to make love with nature. Because now we are told "you have to have this kind of sex, do these positions and act this way” ….To me, eco sexuality really expands the notion of what sex is.'"
Ecosex Artists Transform Mother Earth into Lover Earth (Credit: Peter Ruocco and Chloe Veltman For KQED arts)
Ecosexuality is also way of being artistically focused and involves queering manners of living and networks of people, friends, organisms. It is not a return to essentialist notion of earth as mother but rather inspired by Donna Haraway’s idea of a “cyborg feminism” in which womanhood and biological genders become fractured agencies. In this sense ecosexuality can experiment with pornographic as bodies and sexual frenzies can help energize our ecosystems.
Beth Stephens believes that it is away of reclaiming radical queer embodiment in the face of assimilation: “In terms of queerness, we’re very open. We are sort of the next queer. We haven't been theorized yet. I think right now a lot of people in the gay and lesbian community are looking to be assimilated into normative communities, either through a same sex mirror or to by joining the military.. There’s a lot of assimilation going on. ….I love feminist pornography and queer pornography because they created new possibilities for pleasure and imagined worlds that could be body-based. I think that pleasure is very important especially in the neoliberal era. When all anyone thinks about is work and money. Because you have to think about those things in order to survive in this world that is not a very pleasure-based world, especially as we move more and more into doing our work with computers or online virtual worlds. Our body has been moved out of the physical world. I think pornography can at least give us a glimpse of it's like to be embodied in the physical world, even if we’re watching it online.”
Sprinkle has been a pioneer of sex-positive feminism and feminist pornography and understands the power of technologizing sexual desires by means of performance art or commercial pornography. As she explains her own ongoing porn-trajectory: “In the 60s it was hetero-porn, in the 70s it was gay male porn. The 80s was the lesbian feminist porn era and then of course it is trans now. Today it’s about the trans-people and I feel like I'm part of the future which is the eco-sex porn.”
She is a former porn star who became a queer performance artist and celebrity who made incisve comments on sex industries and social change. For instance, in one of her most discussed sequence of the performance art piece Post-Porn Modernist (1990-1995), called Public Cervix Announcement, Sprinkle was onstage with her legs spread, inviting the audience to view her cervix with the aid of a speculum and a flashlight. She presented the vagina in all its glory but also deconstructed the common image of the vagina as it is presented in mainstream pornography (1).
Sprinkle became role model for the ‘post-pornography’ movement that has promoted critical research and a special interest in non-corporate, artistic and subcultural sexually explicit media. Besides being critical of corporate global media, post-pornography pays special attention to gender diversity and queer pornographies, as well as questions of racial stereotyping.
Tim Stuttgen who was an advocate of this movement, writes that "post-pornography lays claim to a critical, revolutionary potential within the regime of sexual representation through performative excessiveness.: (Stuttgen, 2010, 10) He explains that media cultures and porn/sex workers alike have histories of self-reflection and emancipation: ‘Sprinkle abandoned the role of the victim in order to develop sexual and artistic practices that no longer naturalize, but instead comment, reflect and parody.’ (2) As sprinkle herself explains: “My personal contribution is “post porn modernism” which was when I made the bridge from mainstream porn into the art, I always wanted to be an artist and I created a performance called “Annie Sprinkle post porn modernist”. It was a one woman show that I toured for 5 years. And then people started using the term “post porn modernist” and then it became a movement and there are pockets especially in Spain, of people who identify as post porn. Post porn is a whole genre is porn more humorous, experimental, feminist.”
In recent years the couple have initiated public art performances such as collective weddings that take place in the outdoors . As Beth Stephens writes in her bio: “Art Professor Beth Stephens and her partner Annie Sprinkle have married the snow. They've married the sea, the sky, the redwood forest, and the earth. These large-scale, highly collaborative and 100% performative events are not merely symbolic rituals, although they are certainly that. They are also part of the couple's ongoing arts activism that blossoms with awareness-raising events all over the globe, in the name of environmental devotion.”
Stephens explains that these and other ecosexual performances are a unique way of implementing a performative rather than oppositional activism: “It would be a joke to think that we would have an effect on corporations. It takes a lot of people together to actually have that kind of effect. We’re artists and I think what we can do is we can frame the situation in a certain way that other people can become inspired by what it is we're doing and really think about what the non-normative reasons for finding this might be and it might be that you know …you’d love to go fishing, skinny dipping, or masturbating in a hot tub… Water brings tremendous pleasure.”
1. Information about this performance be found at Sprinkle's online archive http://anniesprinkle.org/about-annie/the-sprinkle-story/ The sexology projects of Sprinkle and Stephens are located at http://sexecology.org and www.earthlab.ucsc.edu(accessed 26 june 2014) For further information about ecosexuality, see their forthcoming book Gender:Nature (Macmillan Publishing)
2. Stuttgen, T., ed. 2010. Post/Porn/Politics: Queer and Feminist Perspectives on the Politics of
Porn Performance and Sex Work as Cultural Production. Berlin: B_books.
Stephen, Madame and Eve. Image by Greg Archer
Annie Sprinkle talks about:
00:03 #SF as planetary clitoris
01:06 #Her porn trajectory
04:55 #Ecosex is not limited
06:36 #Earth as lover
Beth Stephens talks about:
03:07 #Queering activism
07:15 #Queer pride (anti-assimilation)
09:26 # Two 50 year old dykes rolling around in the soil
10:52 # Diversity is anti-death