3 min

Sex guru comes to town

Show and tell with Annie Sprinkle

Credit: Julian Cash

I admit it. I was a bit nervous when I called famed artist and sexologist Annie Sprinkle for an interview. With a 32-year career ranging from porn films to performance, I assumed she’d get talking about G-spots and genitalia right away. So how did we wind up discussing breakfast cereal?

Crunch, crunch. “Sorry,” Sprinkle laughs, on the phone from her home in San Francisco. “I just flew in from New York and I’m still getting adjusted to the time difference.”

Could this be the same person who has performed masturbation rituals in crowded theatres, designed her own dildos, and was once called “one of the 25 most wicked women in history” by dyke philosopher Camille Paglia?

The mundane details of everyday life are just as important as orgasms, Sprinkle insists. “It’s where my inspiration comes from,” she says enthusiastically. And, after talking about her home, her partner (artist Elizabeth Stephens), and her dog (a black Labrador retriever called Bob), it’s easy to see that, for Sprinkle, sexuality is just one facet of having a healthy, happy life.

“A sexually satisfied person is a happy person,” she maintains. Sex isn’t just about arousal-“it’s a way to learn all about life” and how to connect with life.

It’s a message she’s been touring around North America to colleges, theatres and art events for years. And now, for the first time, Sprinkle is coming to Vancouver.

Appearing as part of the “That ’70s Ho” series at the Western Front, Sprinkle joins local and internationally renowned artists celebrating women’s performance art from the 1970s. Curated by Victoria Singh, this two-week festival features US artist Linda Montano and tributes to Yoko Ono, Carolee Schneeman and Kate Craig. Sprinkle’s presentation is a highlight of the series.

“I’m really excited to be coming to Vancouver,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to take people on a walk through my career, and see where I’m coming from.”

Where she’s coming from is anything but mundane. After a shy childhood in southern California, a young woman named Ellen Steinberg recreated herself as Annie Sprinkle, a self-described “exhibitionist” and “fearless sex slut.”

After working in a massage parlour (which she proudly describes as “public service”), she moved to New York in 1973 and began to act in porn films. She starred in over 150 films and became the second-best-selling video star in the US for her film Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle.

It was around this time that Sprinkle discovered her talent for humour. “After about 10 or 20 films, I realized I was better at comedy than trying to be serious,” she says. “Humour makes the medicine go down.” This tongue-in-cheek approach to performance has remained consistent throughout her career. Even academic credentials haven’t slowed her down-recent photographs show Sprinkle proudly displaying her PhD degree (awarded in 2002) over fishnet stockings and bare breasts.

After creating a successful film career, Sprinkle found a whole new audience in the art world. “Artists are so open to different things,” she says. She declared herself a “Post-Porn Modernist” and presented her own unique take on feminism and culture. Some of her most infamous performance pieces include the “Public Cervix Announcement”-an opportunity for sold-out crowds to view Sprinkle’s cervix using a speculum and a flashlight.

So, is it all about de-mystifying sex? “You know, I don’t really see it as de-mystifying anything,” she says. “You can never take away the mystery of the body, or of sex. The more we study, the more we know, and the bigger the mystery it becomes.”

And sexuality isn’t always “sweet and nice,” she notes.

“AIDS has had a huge impact on my life,” she says, acknowledging the many friends she’s lost to the disease. “It’s important to remember that we’re dealing with something very powerful. Sex is powerful, which is all the more reason why we have to educate each other and support each other.”

For now, Sprinkle is thrilled to be able to share her life and her sex-positive message with others, regardless of their outlook. “My presentation in Vancouver will be very inclusive. I’m calling it “An Intimate Show-and-Tell Evening,” and I think there’s something in it for everyone.”

Does that include queer audiences? “Oh, yeah,” she laughs. “I’ve been really queer for 12 years, and pretty queer for years before that-I’ve slept with men, transsexuals, women-I cover the entire rainbow!”


Annie Sprinkle: An Intimate, Informal Show-and-Tell Evening.

Fri Oct 5, 8 pm.

Western Front, 303 E 8th Ave.

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