michael j. morris


Annie Sprinkle

As the Love Art Lab has been a huge inspiration for my life/love/art this year (as any dedicated or occasional reader of this blog can easily deduce), I took a little time this afternoon to familiarize myself with a bit more of Annie and Beth’s work. I can’t say that I have an exhaustive awareness of either of their work, history, development as artists/activists/etc., but as I read more, look at more, I am becoming increasingly inspired.

Here are each of their brief bios:

Annie Sprinkle Ph.D. is the prostitute/porn star turned artist/sexologist. She has passionately researched and explored sexuality in all of its glorious and inglorious forms for thirty six years, and has shared her findings all along the way through producing and starring in her own unique brand of sex films, photographic work, teaching workshops, and college lectures. She is also an internationally acclaimed artist who tours theater pieces, and shows visual art, about her life in sex and love.

Annie has long championed sex worker rights and health care. She was one of the pivotal players in the 80’s “sex positive feminist movement”. In 2002 Annie earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality, making her the first porn star to get a Ph.D

Her autobiography, Post Porn Modernist is a pioneering cult classic. Hardcore from the Heart: The Pleasures, Profits and Politics of Sex in Performance, won the Firecracker Alternative Book Award (2002). Sprinkle’s last book, “Dr. Sprinkle’s Spectacular Sex– Makeover Your Love Life” was her first mainstream how-to self-help book.

Currently Sprinkle’s main on going project is The Love Art Laboratory, loveartlab.org, in which she collaborates with her partner Elizabeth Stephens. She also does many college lectures about her work. Her newest DVD, Annie Sprinkle’s Amazing World of Orgasm teaches people lots more about orgasm. Sprinkle is based out of San Francisco and Boulder Creek, California.

Elizabeth M. Stephens is interdisciplinary artist, activist and educator who has explored themes of sexuality, gender, queerness, and feminism through art for over 20 years. Her current passion is SexEcology: the art of exploring the Earth as a lover. This work is designed to create the desire in others to love, cherish and honor the earth as they would their own lover, instead of expecting the earth to take care of them as one might expect from one’s mother. SexEcology combines Stephens’ interest in sexuality and ecology in order to help stop environmental degradation and bring about environmental healing and pleasure. Some of her other works include the bronze sculptural installation, The Academic/Porn Star Panty Collection; the road trip performance piece Wish You Were Here; the video installation, Kiss, as well as her ongoing collaboration with Annie Sprinkle in the Love Art Laboratory. She has exhibited and performed in museums, galleries and festivals around the world.

One piece in particular completely rocked my world today. It is a piece that Annie did entitled “The Legend of the Ancient Sacred Prostitute.” She says that she considers it one of her most important works. It completely conflates live performance art, sacred sexuality, somatic energy work, ritual and magic, masturbation, the public and the private, art and sex work, etc. What may seem very simple seems to me in fact very complex. It ties together so many aspects of my own interests and studies. What I want to share here is Annie’s own writing about this piece (this text is copied from http://www.anniesprinkle.org/html/writings/onstage.html. It was originally published in Annie’s first book, Post Porn Modernist. It, as well as the images below, belong to Annie Sprinkle, just so we’re clear). I’m not sure how this work will strike you. I don’t know if you will find it glorious, provocative, irreverent, irrelevant, or offensive. I find it incredibly thought provoking and inspiring, and as such, I want it to be here as part of my public creative platform. I’m not sure to what degree this work and the ideas it provokes will influence or inspire my work, but it does influence and inspire me. I hope it does the same for you:

THE LEGEND OF THE ANCIENT SACRED PROSTITUTE

Of all the things I’ve ever done in my life, this “performance” was the most important and enlightening. Here is some text about my infamous masturbation ritual, from my book Post Porn Modernist. I invite and encourage you to try doing this “performance” as well. Let me know how it goes.

masturbating_onstage1

THE RITUAL
I put on a costume that was designed from a dress I saw on an ancient granite statue of a Sumerian priestess. It is topless and bottomless. The stage is transformed into an altar, upon which are set gold candles and a copper bowl containing ghee and dried cow dung. With a match I light the cow dung. It burns in a beautiful, inspirational, aphrodisiac flame. To my right is a tray of objects—a loofa sponge, scented massage oil, tiger balm (to stimulate my erogenous zones), several dildos, course salt for psychic protection, items of personal meaning, plus something that ancient sacred prostitutes didn’t have, but luckily we have today: a tireless, strong, battery-operated vibrator. I tell the history of the ancient sacred prostitutes: “Women and sometimes men, from ancient cultures in Mesopotamia, Sumeria, Egypt and Greece, devoted their lives to learning the art of sexual ecstasy. Sex was very different for them than it is for most of us today. In the temples, the main elements of sex were prayer, healing, ritual, and meditation. It was believed that the best time to connect with the Divine, to get visions, and create miracles was when you were in a state of sexual ecstasy.” I cast a circle and make an invocation: “I call upon the spirit of the greatest sex experts and sexual healers that ever lived for their wisdom and guidance.” With each candle I light, I make a prayer, for example: a cure for AIDS, to find a house for rent on the beach for reasonable rent, better health for a friend in the hospital, etc. I invite audience members to make a wish for themselves. The idea is to then go into sexual ecstasy to take the prayers and wishes to the Divine, just as they did in the ancient days.

Theater ushers go down the isles and offer each member of the audience a rattle made from plastic cups with rice and seeds inside them. They are invited to shake their rattles to the hypnotic sounds of Andrew McKenzie’s Hafler Trio. (Andrew made high-tech recordings of the sex sounds of my body, sampled them, and made them into an unusual piece of ‘music’ for the ritual, which are now available on a CD called Masturbatorium.)

Most audience members shake their rattles vigorously, which can create a lot of energy and be very intense. Because I am wearing a wireless headset microphone, my breathing and other sounds are amplified.

I proceed to awaken my body, to create pathways for sexual energy to flow through me by stretching, undulating, shaking, and breathing. I slather myself with scented massage oil, anoint my third eye with my menstrual blood (when available) which helps inspire psychic visions. With the vibrator I stimulate my lips, tongue, the back of my neck, my hara, the base of my spine, my anus and heart. Using deep, conscious, rhythmic breathing, I gather energy from the audience and the universe in general, inhale it up into my pussy, pull it up through my heart, and exhale it out the top of my head, giving it back to the audience and universe, continuously orbiting energy, giving and receiving alternately.

When the time is right, I press the vibrator (on high) to my trusty clitoris, stimulate my Goddess spot (g-spot) with my magic dildo, and gradually lift off into another dimension. I am not in Kansas any more—or at Show World Center doing strip speak. It’s no fantasy. It’s a very real, intense, wild ride, a close encounter of the fourth kind. A bizarre, interactive art/life/sex experiment.

The ritual comes to a climax, lights blackout, and there is silence. Lights and music gently come up. I remove my oily costume, false eyelashes and wig and sit naked on my altar, heart open, nurturing the feelings of the afterglow. Audience members are invited to either leave, or if they want, to stay and hang out.

masturbation_onstage

MY NOTES ABOUT THE RITUAL
As with any kind of sex, or any kind of performance, some days are better than others. Many variables influence the results: the type, shape, size, and feel of the theater, the particular audience, whether the audience is mostly men or women, whether it’s a weekday or weekend, what country I’m in, my head space and health, my technical crew, the moon, the weather, world news, and who knows what else.

The intensity of masturbating on stage in front of hundreds of people brings up a kaleidoscope of feelings that get magnified onstage. Oftentimes, I feel strong, happy, compassionate, and powerful. Sometimes I feel sad, tired, angry, and vulnerable. I’ve discovered that any kind of feelings can co-exist with sexual ecstasy, which is the basis for my approach to sexual healing. Sometimes the experience is not about feelings but about physical sensation, or energy. Often I trance out and travel far; sometimes I feel like dead weight going nowhere. The key is to always try to practice acceptance of what’s there, or not there, and to have no expectations.

So, do I have a REAL orgasm? This seems to be the foremost thing on many people’s minds and what members of the press so often focus upon. (When someone doesn’t like my show, they invariably say I faked an orgasm. And some people just assume that all sex workers fake orgasm.) Why people are so hung up on this point is rather odd and amusing to me. Having an orgasm was never the primary goal of this ritual. The ritual is about learning and teaching, about provoking thoughts and feelings, and about entering a state of ecstasy in order to bring prayers and wishes to the Divine. It is about re-creating the feel of the ancient temples.

I would like to address the orgasm question once and for all. Most of the times I performed the ritual, I experienced one or more types of orgasm; keep in mind that I have a more expanded concept of orgasm than most folks. With the use of the cool crystal dildo, I almost always had a vaginal, cervical, and/or G-spot orgasm (super easy for me). I also usually had some kind of breath or energy orgasm—that’s when a buildup of energy from the deep, rhythmic breathing is released, which feels similar to getting the chills. About half the time, I had a clitoral orgasm, and about one-third of the time I had a clitoral climax. For me these two are noticeably different. I experience clitoral orgasms as smallish orgasms that radiate through the pelvis area; it’s possible to have several or many. I experience clitoral climax as much more intense, starting in the clit, radiating throughout the pelvis, then shooting up through the entire torso and out the top of my head. With a clitoral climax usually comes a throat release of moans or screams. My clitoral orgasms are not as obvious as my clitoral climaxes. On approximately a dozen occasions I had what I call a full-body-mega-kundalinigasm, where ecstasy-electricity streamed throughout my entire body for several minutes. Let me tell you, nothing makes a girl feel more like a real live Goddess than a mega-kundalinigasm.

Sometimes my orgasms were very subtle, and sometimes they were very intense. And sometimes I had no orgasms: at times my battery was empty, I didn’t feel much at all, and those times were an important part of the whole and made the performances all the more interesting and challenging.

My goal in this ritual was to be authentic and be in the truth of the moment, whatever it was. I could see absolutely no point in faking an orgasm, and I never did. (The only time in my life I have ever faked orgasms was in my first few years in porno movies. Back then, I was not very orgasmic. We girls were expected to fake it on cue. Porn directors didn’t think that going for a real orgasm was important or worth taking time for. For that matter, in those days lots of people didn’t even believe women were biologically capable of having orgasms!) I wore a tiny wireless microphone very close to my mouth, so audience members could hear and feel the genuine quality of my orgasms.

I had no role models for public sex magic masturbation rituals. So when I started I didn’t really quite know how to be or what to do. It took a lot of practice and refining, and I made lots of mistakes. Once I tried flogging myself with a cat-o’-nine tails to stimulate my skin, which didn’t really work and must have looked pretty weird. I tried blindfolding myself during the afterglow part so I could stay in my erotic trance, because people would want to talk with me, but I found that it broke my connection with the audience. The camphor I used in the flame bowl to burn the cow dung gave me a horrible cough. My healing ritual was making me sick! (I switched to Duraflame.) Finally, I performed the masturbation ritual for thirty nights in a row in huge theaters of five hundred to nine hundred seats. It took enormous effort to fill those “containers” energetically, and I burned myself out to a crisp. That was the last time I did the ritual, and I’m still recovering!

Over four years, the ritual changed enormously from demonstrative, wild, physical, animalistic, and loud to a more sensuous, subtle, gentle, and quiet performance. There were nights when I felt really beautiful and sexy, and nights when I felt clumsy and silly. After doing it for about two years, I became conscious of the deliciousness of nurturing the afterglow. After the music and energy of the ritual climaxed, the audience had the choice to leave the theater or to stay. Usually about a quarter of the audience would stay. I would fall into a deep, silent meditation and often go deeper into my trance. The atmosphere became incredibly sweet and heartfelt, and this was always my favorite part of the entire show.

Contrary to what most people think, my motivation for masturbating onstage was not to turn people on, to get attention, or to get off on being an exhibitionist. I wish it were that simple. When so many people are witnessing you, it makes every little thing big and clear. I was taking something that’s usually done alone in the dark, putting it under a micro-scope, and shining beautiful theatrical light on it so we could all look at it together. The theater setting became a laboratory in which to experiment; sex became a microcosm for all of life. I learned a lot about how energy works, about how to do ritual (I never had much training), and about trance states.

If I was feeling happy, it seemed like the whole audience was feeling happy. If I was feeling uptight, the audience seemed uptight. I learned about letting go, about attaining visions, and about being authentic and sensitive. I learned a lot about sexuality. It was always my greatest hope that people witnessing the masturbation ritual would get something out of it for themselves. Plus, I believe masturbation is an absolutely wonderful thing, and I wanted to promote it.

Needless to say, this was the part of the show people either loved the most or hated the most. Some people were totally uncomfortable watching me. They became disgusted and even got angry. Some insisted that masturbation should only be done in private. Other people reported they felt love and compassion, received inspiration, had a realization, or had powerful feelings come up. Quite a few even reported having had spontaneous orgasmic experiences. Women’s tears were always the greatest compliment, and there were many. I learned more from doing this masturbation ritual than from anything I have ever done in my life, and I consider it my most important work to date.”

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