Getting into the 'eco-sexual' position

As Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle wrapped their arms and legs around a tree in UNLV’s Xeric Garden this afternoon and Sprinkle quipped, “We often have treesomes,” it all came together — sexology and ecology, lighthearted lasciviousness and serious activism. The pair of self-described sexecologists was, literally, hugging a tree. And yet, it felt more pornographic than environmental, perhaps because, leading up to the tree hug, they'd already felt up a yucca plant and licked a rock.

I’d been struggling to wrap my own mind around their concept since Tuesday evening’s lecture, “Assuming the Ecosexual Position,” an installment of UNLV’s University Forum series and the first of four Las Vegas events Stephens and Sprinkle are doing in celebration of Earth Day. There, they told a jam-packed room how they met, collaborated as artists, fell in love and — over the course of a 7-year performance project called the Love Art Laboratory — came to be the spokespeople for the erotic environmental movement.

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The couple was far more entertaining than the lecture series status quo. Narrating a slide from the day they became domestic partners at San Francisco City Hall, Sprinkle said it happened because “we fell madly, deeply in love.” “Also, I had health insurance at my job,” Stephens added, without missing a beat. The full meaning of the statement would come later in the presentation — during the part about Sprinkle’s experience with breast cancer, which, true to form, she and her partner turned into an art project and meticulously documented on film.

Despite the engaging balance of levity and gravity, though, I didn’t get the point of what they were doing. The art was rich and provocative, but their description of it suggested it was meant to elicit more than shock or introspection; there was a hint of activism — but to what end? I started to grasp the answer during the Q&A following the lecture, when one student asked how their work confronted class issues, something they’d mentioned earlier, in passing.

“We’re trying to involve people who don’t usually get involved,” Stephens said. “Annie (a former prostitute and porn star who has advocated for such workers’ rights) has a whole sex-worker contingent that doesn’t usually get involved in environmental issues. I’m really interested in opening up the conversation to queers. And then there’s artists … Rachel Carson brought her message to housewives who were giving their children milk. Anybody can touch the communities they belong to.”

The message they’re bringing to their community may have come to life during event No. 2: a moonlight wedding ceremony following the lecture in which Stephens and Sprinkle enacted their Vows for Marrying the Earth (e.g., “Every day we promise to taste you and be moved”). Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for that. So, it wasn’t until the “treesome” that I saw, firsthand, what they were all about. And I realized why it wasn’t for me.

Sprinkle and Stephens provide an alternative entrée to environmentalism for people who otherwise might not respect the Earth or lift a finger to protect it – specifically, people who relate to the world through glamour and sex and titillation. I don’t need this entrée, already being someone who respects and works to protect the Earth. The fact that I see it more as a sister than a lover means their approach wouldn’t have drawn me in anyway, but kudos to them for looping in a huge population that the traditional environmental movement has missed. The way things are going, Earth needs all the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and lovers it can get.

The final event of Stephens and Sprinkle’s Las Vegas visit is a screening of their film, “Goodbye Gauley Mountain,” a documentary about mountain top removal mining in Stephens’ home state of West Virgina. It takes place this evening (April 23), 7-9 p.m., at The Center.

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