Annie Sprinkle, PhD has been in the sex advocacy business for years. She was colorfully present on Friday, along with her partner in crime Elizabeth M. Stephens, at the Femina Potens Gallery on Mission Street in San Francisco. A good crowd had turned up for the signing of the Ecosex Manifesto. (‘We make love to the Earth,’ seems to be the expression of the evening.) Sprinkle was an unmistakable presence: fascinator of peacock feathers and a bright dress. Across her right breast was a named tag pasted across naked flesh. (Her carriage is enormous and almost as well known as their owner.)
What’s the fuss about? Green sex, sexecology, sustainable sex. Coitus can be environmentally friendly after all. Locate, urge organizers of the new movement, your ‘e-spot’. Let us all be ecovestites. Fancy juggling arboreal frottage?
The art displays are amusing themselves (one features Sprinkle on the ground, legs spread in a vegetable patch, with Stephens watering her pubis), but as with many ideological movements, its rehearsed humor, stage managed in terms of imagery. The canned laugher hits you hard. To have a genuine chuckle about sex would be unthinkable, precisely because people take it so seriously.
That said the slightly clumsy collages featuring the mining in Appalachia make perfect environmental sense. The earth is being violated, and the issue of seeking its consent would hardly bother mining company executives. Sprinkle and Stephens then take the next step and argue that such an avid, dedicated raping requires natural healing and counseling ? hence this Ecosex manifesto, with its penitent promises by the human race to make love to earth itself. ‘I promise to love, honor and cherish you Earth, until death brings us closer together, forever.’ Rutting has never been so earthy.
Then come the signatures, and the launching of the manifesto. Everyone is so chatty with the flowing chardonnay and punch the messages are already muddled. Nor do the pens work. Sprinkle gives one of the girls taking photo shoots her own camera. ‘Do you know how to work this thing?’ she inquires.
Ideology of any sort is unhealthy. It controls, packages, limits. Followers, however green, red or yellow they might be, resemble incurious automata, chanting and mumbling the central mantras and nostrums. Sex movements are no different, because the discussion, however free, is premised on the idea of ironing out contradictions. Even a free sex movement will eventually have partitions and red books of instruction and prohibitions. The habit of streamlining is irresistible to founders and high priests and priestesses alike.
Sex, precisely because it lies at the basis of life, is stunningly hard to pin down, to control. In The World of Lawrence, Henry Miller attempts to decipher the mystique of sex. ‘Sex is the great Janus-faced symbol of life and death. It is never one or the other, it is always both. The great lie of life here comes to the surface; the contradiction refuses to be resolved.’ Hence coitus, annihilation, liberation.
The body of literature available for perusal at the gallery, like any texts that seek to bolster the columns of followers, or win new ones, is unintentionally humourous. Stefanie Iris Weiss has a few tips to offer the lady with child in Eco-sex. No raw meat, deli-meat, no pate, no shell fish. In short, a half-decent Japanese diet with the occasional French trimming is off limits to the eco-sexualist. The idea, incidentally, is not because Weiss is bleeding for the animals of the sea or the unfortunates who get slaughtered for the dinner table. She is simply concerned about diseases and toxins.
Sprinkle and company may wish to have ceremonial reactions to nature (along with Stephens, she has, in all seriousness married the moon, fulfilling that old Republican observation that, ‘These people will marry anything’), but nature mocks them. One can’t help but cast a thought to George Bernard Shaw on the essential rapaciousness of humanity: ‘Man,’ he wrote in 1928, ‘remains what he has always been; the cruelest of all the animals, and the most elaborately and fiendishly sensual.’
Besides, sex is complicated enough without more instruction manuals or dictates that already clutter the modern Californian home. But let us not be too pessimistic. And go back to the punch and extensive fruit platters.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org