Annie Sprinkle on porn, love and ecosexuality

From starring in, writing and directing porn, to gaining a PhD in Human Sexuality, to an art career that spans some 30 years, Dr Annie Sprinkle has made it her mission to show us that there is something deeper connecting all of us, in the erotic.

You were a pioneer female director and writer of adult film in the 1980s. Nowadays female directors are becoming more and more common. Is the porn industry more embracing of female directors these days, or will these women be facing similar challenges to those you faced?

Dr Annie Sprinkle. Photography Julian Cash

Dr Annie Sprinkle. Photography Julian Cash

I started doing my own thing in porn in 1981 with Deep inside Annie Sprinkle. There were a few female directors in the 70s, but they were mainly doing the same types of things that men did. At the time, men and only men were in charge of the industry. It’s really changed dramatically, it’s just so different. It’s so much bigger now, for one thing.

The internet has been a driving force because women can start a business pretty easily online. In the past, you had to have distributors, and distributors wouldn’t bother with female pornographers because they thought men didn’t want to hear what women had to say.

It’s still a relatively new thing that women have been able to represent anything creative in our society
beyond cooking.

There’s still a long way to go. It’s still a relatively new thing that women have been able to represent anything creative in our society beyond cooking. In 1981 when I directed Deep inside Annie Sprinkle, which has just been re-released, I had to stick to the formula because the guy putting up the money was the distributor: I had to have the six sex scenes, one anal scene, one lesbian scene, one orgy scene. However, I still did the first female ejaculation scene in a film as far as anyone can ascertain, and I talked directly to the camera, which was pretty much unheard of. I also got to try out a lot of my conceptual ideas; for example, I did a scene where I go into an adult movie cinema and one of my films is playing on the screen, and I’m having sex with people in the cinema, and of course then people are watching that in a cinema. It became the second biggest grossing porn film in the US that year, which ultimately proved the distributors wrong. But still I was mostly playing by their rules.

Where did you go after porn?

Annie Sprinkle's performance 'public cervix announcement'

Annie Sprinkles performance public cervix announcement

I developed what I called post-porn modernism: porn that’s more conceptual.

When I showed my cervix to 40,000 people on stage with Public cervix announcement, it was a loving gesture; it wasn’t about shocking people or turning people on.

It’s not necessarily focused simply on being erotic, but can be porn that is more political, feminist, experimental, exploring conceptual art ideas. These kinds of films are generally shown in the film festival and art circuit. My film Sluts Goddesses showed at New York’s Guggenheim Museum and I’ve also performed in London at the ICA. At that time in the UK, I had to censor quite a lot – namely the hardcore. It was really hard to do a presentation about porn and have to take out the hardcore!

What sort of porn do you like?

Annie Sprinkle and partner Beth Stephens, ecosexuals. Photography Julian Cash.

Annie Sprinkle and partner Beth Stephens, ecosexuals. Photography Julian Cash.

Because I’m older, I like to see people who are older. I also like diversity of race and colour. Marina Abramovic did a film called Balkan erotic epic, and that was the most exciting sex film I’ve seen in a decade. I’m interested in the eroticism of nature. My partner Elizabeth Stephens and I are ecosexuals. We recently did a new theatre piece called Dirty sexecology: 25 ways to make love with the earth. In the show we get naked and have sex in dirt, like two piggies rutting.

Beth and I collaborate on art projects that explore love. For example, when my hair started to fall out when I was having chemotherapy for breast cancer, we took pictures of ourselves shaving each other’s heads and then having sex. For me that’s really post-porn: we called it cancer erotica. It’s about love and relationships, and what happens when the body starts aging. Our motto is eroticise everything!

What do you think about the porn industry nowadays?

Annie Sprinkle's art piece 'Anatomy of a pin-up'

Annie Sprinkles art piece Anatomy of a pin-up

There’s a lot of porn that I don’t necessarily like or identify with, but to me that’s okay. Porn is a reflection of where people are at and what people like. I’d like to see more people in the art world experimenting with pornographic images. I love art. There are so many kinds of porn now, it’s better to call it pornographies: plural.

Erotica is lovely, but I want some intellectual stimulation, innovation, creativity, interesting lighting or new ideas. I want to see something I’ve never seen before. I want to be surprised or shocked or blown away.

I love what Filament’s doing, talking about and exploring the female gaze, and combining it with intelligence and wisdom. I like that more than just erotica on its own. Erotica is lovely, but I want some intellectual stimulation, innovation, creativity, interesting lighting or new ideas. I want to see something I’ve never seen before. I want to be surprised or shocked or blown away.

I find nature photography really erotic right now. Beth and I did these big weddings where we I took vows to love, honour and cherish the earth, sky and sea. Now I’m in love with nature, erotically, so if I see a beautiful photograph of the Himalayas, my pussy gets tingly. Nature is just unbelievably sexy. We’re doing sexological walking tours of nature around parks or neighbourhoods, talking about the eroticism of nature. By the end of the tour, everyone’s a committed ecosexual. We get sexy with nature – sniff plants, hump a tree, lick a rock, find our V-spots (favourite views) – there’s so many sexy experiences with nature! We’re aiming to make the environmental movement more sexy. We think of the earth as our lover.

Many people describe your live performances as life-changing experiences. What do you set out to achieve, and how do you think you’re having such an impact?

Annie in the 1970s

Annie in the 1970s

I like to share what I’m enthusiastic about. It’s pretty much always something to do with the body or sexuality or love. I think my gift has been unconditional love, something I got from my parents. When I showed my cervix to 40,000 people on stage with Public cervix announcement, it was a loving gesture; it wasn’t about shocking people or turning people on, it was really, ‘I love my body, and I love you, and, let’s take a look at where we come from!’ It came from the heart.

I’ve broken – fixed, actually – a lot of taboos: golden showers, fist fucking, kinky stuff, fetishes but the most taboo thing I’ve ever done is being a somewhat chubby, older woman, and being naked on stage.

You’ve chosen to make so many parts of your life public – from your cervix to your battle with breast cancer. Why bring these things into the open?

It’s a compulsion to express myself and share my experiences through art. There’s no other good explanation. Right now I’m 55. I’ve broken – fixed, actually – a lot of taboos, like golden showers, fist fucking, kinky stuff, fetishes but the most taboo thing I’ve ever done is being a somewhat chubby, older woman, and being naked on stage. If you’re old and chubby you’re supposed to keep your clothes on. So I do a nude ballet striptease. I think that if I can overcome my own body shame and help other people overcome theirs by doing a nude ballet at 55, or showing my cervix or masturbating on stage, why not?

How has surviving breast cancer changed your outlook on life?

Detail from Annie Sprinkle's art piece, Breast cancer ballet

Detail from Annie Sprinkles art piece, Breast cancer ballet

The treatment nowadays – I had chemo and radiation – really wasn’t bad. I still have both breasts. Other women were not so lucky.

For me it was pretty easy. It was early, and thankfully I had good health insurance through my partner – in California I could do that. It wasn’t bad at all, and I owe it to the women who came before me who were part of studies, for example.

The treatment nowadays – I had chemo and radiation – really wasn’t bad. I actually could say that it was an exciting adventure. I still have both breasts. Other women were not so lucky. If I was going to get a disease, I was glad it was breast cancer because a lot of my work has been about my breasts, so it fits in. Beth and I made art from it, like we dressed up for chemo and created a Chemo fashion show, did erotic head shaving photos and made love when my hair started falling out, Hairotica, and we made collages combining my old pin-up photos with breast cancer medical treatment plans.

You have represented the female body a lot in your art work. What kept you from representing the male body more?

Another image from Annie Sprinkle's 'Breast cancer ballet' artwork series

Another image from Annie Sprinkles Breast cancer ballet artwork series

I was a photographer for lots of sex magazines, for about fifteen years in the 80s and 90s. I have a lot of photographs of naked and erect men. I was shooting for a lot of gay magazines, using the name Top Chakra, as a play on the SM meaning of being a ‘top’. But there were just more magazines with women in them, for men.

You’ve been an advocate for sex workers for many years. Do you think sex work should be decriminalised?

I’ve been part of the sex worker rights movement since 1975. I really thought it would have been decriminalised [in the US] by now.

I’ve been part of the sex worker rights movement since 1975. I really thought it would have been decriminalised [in the US] by now – it’s still illegal everywhere in the US except for parts of Nevada. We cannot be a sex-positive society until we have compassion for those people who want to pay for erotic pleasure and not stigmatise those that want to offer sex for money. It breaks my heart, because I have many friends who have suffered at the hands of the bad anti-prostitution laws: they can’t report a robbery or a rape, they can’t get the same police protections, they get threatened – criminalisation makes sex workers very vulnerable.

You and Beth decided to make art that explored and generated love when war broke out in Afghanistan. This included doing a series of performance art weddings using various themes and colours. Any ‘getting hitched’ advice for Filament readers?

Annie and Beth's 'green' wedding

Annie and Beths green wedding

We’ve done eight weddings in five years. It takes a village – let people help you. Write your own vows, even if you use parts of ready-made vows. And, it’s all about the dress, right? Don’t expect to have sex on your wedding night, because you’ll probably be too tired!

Finally, what’s your favourite celestial object?

Next wedding we’re going to marry the moon, so we’ve proposed to the moon. I love all celestial objects – all the planets, all the stars. We married the sky last summer; can I pick the whole sky? Why settle for one celestial object when the sky is the limit?

This interview appeared in Filament magazine Issue 4 – March 2011. Unfortunately that issue is now sold out, but you can order our latest issue direct, or browse a list of stockists. For more about Annie Sprinkle’s solo work visit www.anniesprinkle.org, and for her work with Elizabeth Stephens, visit the Love Art Lab.

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