The Wisdom of Annie Sprinkle: Sex and Body Positive Before It Was Cool

Public Cervix Announcement

Before Annie, I cringed during my dreaded yearly OB/GYN exams. This made “internals” even more uncomfortable. After Annie Sprinkle, I began to see these exams a whole new way. I was actually able to relax. It's just a vagina after all.

You might not think that a former adult film star, self-described post-porn modernist, avant-garde performance artist and ecosexual would possess a sage-like wisdom, but Annie Sprinkle does. Her insight has helped me through the worst of times. I’ve found myself repeatedly guided by the wisdom of Annie Sprinkle.

Back in the 1990s, as part of a performance art piece dubbed “Public Cervix Announcement,” Sprinkle demystified female genitalia by showing her cervix. She would prop herself in a comfy chair onstage, insert a doctor’s speculum, and invite audience members to take a peek. Armed with a flashlight, they did! In more than a dozen countries, thousands lined up patiently to observe Sprinkle’s celebrated cervix winking at them. I mean who doesn't want to see a cervix?

“My ‘Public Cervix Announcement’ has given me great satisfaction and brought enlightenment to many all around the globe,” said Sprinkle online. She even devised a way to bring her innards to even more people: by posting it on her website.

Annie in 1990

Before Annie, I cringed during my dreaded yearly OB/GYN exams. This made “internals” even more uncomfortable. After Annie Sprinkle, I began to see these exams a whole new way. I was actually able to relax. It's just a vagina, after all.

Thoughts of Annie even helped me chill — pun intended — when I had cryosurgery (freezing of the cervix to destroy abnormal tissue) a few years ago. The procedure is done in the doctor’s office, feet in stirrups, speculum inserted, while a device called a cryoscope does its job. It’s not painful, just a bit uncomfortable.

I lay on the examination, breathing fully and deeply. ‘Annie Sprinkle shows her cervix to people all the time,’ I told myself. ‘This is no big deal.’ My doctor remarked on my calmness and asked what I was thinking about. “Annie Sprinkle,” I told him. Although he was a bit baffled, I think he was glad I’d found my happy place. And even moreso that I wasn’t cringing during the procedure.

Public Cervix Announcement

Sprinkle has the reputation of doing all sorts of oddities in the adult world, many involving extremities, bodily functions, piercings, and the like. But throughout it all, she maintained a refreshing sort of awe and wonder. I’ve often described her as being the Tinkerbell of Porn. Even though, at some of her film presentations, viewers groan and turn from the screen, everything she did was with a sense of discovery, cheerfulness, candor, and humor. It was all exploration and it was all good, as evidenced by her one-woman shows “Post Porn Modernist” and “Annie Sprinkle’s Herstory of Porn.”

I’ve never met anyone who could turn lemons into lemonade quite like Ms. Sprinkle. I remember interviewing her right after she’d lost all of her earthly possessions in a houseboat fire (her houseboat-sitter had left a candle burning when the sitter went out to do the laundry). Everything — Sprinkle’s two beloved cats, her photograph archives (she’s also a gifted photographer), manuscripts, works in process, computer, clothing — absolutely everything was gone.

Instead of being devastated, Sprinkle saw it as an opportunity for rebirth. She was overcome by the outpouring of generosity. People reached out to her, donated money, and supported her in ways she never imagined (even my cheapskate editor sent Sprinkle a check after I turned in my article). “It was a blessing in disguise,” Sprinkle told me. “If it hadn’t been for the fire, I would never have known how many people loved me.”

How could someone who’d lost so much think they were lucky? I was absolutely floored by Sprinkle’s response and I never forgot it.

But I didn’t understand the true depth of Sprinkle’s statement until I was in the middle of my breast cancer journey two years ago. The level of love and support I received from my friends and family helped carry me through the worst thing that ever happened to me. Sprinkle’s words about being lucky rang in my ears.

That’s another thing Sprinkle approached with a performance artist’s gusto — breast cancer. Sprinkle and her wife Beth Stephens even incorporated it into their Love Art Laboratory, a seven-year art project. A large part of “2005” involved Annie’s breast cancer. Her surgery was chronicled and her infusion sessions evolved into a chemo fashion show where the pair dressed in outlandish costumes, raising their spirits and the spirits of Sprinkle’s fellow infusees. When Sprinkle lost her hair, she and Stephens shaved each other’s heads quite erotically — and posted the pics online — ingeniously dubbing it “Hairotica.” This was an incredible inspiration for Chemo Girls everywhere.

Annie Sprinkle

I figured, hey, if I had to get breast cancer, I was in good company. Annie Sprinkle’s wisdom showed me that there were ways to approach cancer with creativity, panache and hope instead of with a fatalistic attitude and stone-cold fear.

Cancer-free for 10 years, Sprinkle continues to inspire. Having accomplished a variety of sexual milestones, Sprinkle and Stephens are now dedicated to saving Mother Earth. They’re pivotal in the ecosexual movement, which supports the belief that if you see the earth as your lover, you’re more likely to treat her with respect. Sprinkle and Stephens are on a crusade to raise ecosexual awareness and have staged elaborate ecosex weddings across the globe. They married dirt in Austria, snow in Ottawa, and rocks in Barcelona.

The pair even produced a documentary, called Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, to save the West Virginia region where Stephens was born from mountaintop removal destruction. Look for the couple in a city near you as they spread the joy and the activism with their Pollination Pod (a traveling ecosexual museum) this summer.

Re-imagining the cervix, preserving the earth, facing breast cancer in a whole new way…Annie Sprinkle’s wisdom abounds. “Life is a performance art piece,” she said recently on Facebook. And thanks to Annie’s example, it truly is.

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