ECOSEXUALITY: THE STORY OF OUR LOVE WITH THE EARTH*
*“Ecosexuality: The story of our love with the Earth” is excerpted from Assuming the Ecosexual Position: The Earth as Lover by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens with Jennie Klein. Copyright 2021 by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle. Published by the University of Minnesota Press. Reprinted by permission.
Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens have been life partners and 50/50 collaborators on multimedia projects since 2002. They are authors of the Ecosex Manifesto and producers of the award-winning film Goodbye Gauley Mountain and Water Makes Us Wet, a documentary feature that premiered at Documenta 14 and screened at MoMA in New York. Sprinkle is a former sex worker with a PhD in human sexuality. Stephens holds a PhD in performance studies and is founding director of E.A.R.T.H. Lab at University of California at Santa Cruz.
In this excerpt from their book, Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens explore the realms of ecosexuality as they became lovers with the Earth and made their mutual pleasure an embodied expression of passion for the environment. Since 2008, they have been not just pushing but obliterating the boundaries circumscribing biology and ecology, creating ecosexual art in their performance of an environmentalism that is feminist, queer, sensual, sexual, posthuman, materialist, exuberant, and steeped in humor. They explore the theoretical grounds of ecosexuality, in particular, their perception of Earth as Lover, and their understanding of ecosexuality from the perspectives of the Anthropocene, new materialisms, and posthumanism.
Keywords: ecosexuality, ecosex, ecofeminism, Anthropocene, new materialisms, posthumanism
Eighteen years ago, we fell in love and immediately began making art projects together about our relationship, love, and pleasure. We could not have imagined that one day we would call ourselves ecosexuals and take the Earth as our lover, or that we would make work about environmental issues. Yet here we are, ecosexuals, following our muse, our desire, our imaginations, and our conscience as we engage in the daily practices of living ecosexually. After we did a performance where we married the Earth, we started using the word ecosex, because it sounded like what we were doing. Then we adapted it to fit our needs. When we first used ecosex to describe what we were doing and ecosexual to describe our sexual identity and our work, we were being a little tongue in cheek. But then after a while we saw that there really was something to it. Suddenly things got serious. We started asking ourselves: What is ecosex? Who are the ecosexuals and what do they do exactly? Where did the concepts behind ecosexuality develop? How can ecosex art and activism help bring about much needed change? And what inspired us to assume the ecosexual position?
Becoming ecosexual was an unexpected move for us back in 2008. Ecosex and ecosexual were words that were floating around on a few dating sites. We couldn’t put our fingers on a genuinely good definition, one that we could really get behind. For example, Wiktionary defines an ecosexual as “an environmentally conscious person whose adherence to green living extends to their romantic and/or sexual life (particularly their choice of partner).” Being ecosexual could mean anything from being a nature lover or vegan to refusing to wear leather clothes or use leather sex toys. Both of us came of age during third wave, sex positive feminism. We thought these definitions were inadequate and decided they needed to be expanded in order to create the deeper meanings that interested us. We eventually created a definition of our own, which we published in 2011 in our Journal of Ecosexual Research:
ecosexual \ ˈɛːkəʊ ˈsɛkʃ(əw)əl: eco from ancient Greek oikos; sexual a borrowing from Latin, sexuales. 1. A person who finds nature romantic, sensual, erotic, or sexy, which can include humans or not. 2. A new sexual identity (self-identified). 3. A person who takes the Earth as their lover. 4. A term used in dating advertisements. 5. An environmental activist strategy. 6. A grassroots movement. 7. A person who has a more expanded concept of what sex and orgasm are beyond mainstream definitions. 8. A person who imagines sex as an ecology that extends beyond the physical body. 9. Other definitions as yet to be determined.
For many people, ecosex and ecosexual immediately conjure images of Birkenstocks, tree hugging hippies, and New Age Californians. We were very conscious about the negative perceptions of New Age environmentalism as a mostly white, middle-class endeavor. Granted, Annie was a hippie for a couple of years in the Sixties, and Beth had some older hippie cousins she loved and admired, and we do live in California. But for us, ecosexuality is more of a punk rock, queer, drag, pin-up grrrl version of environmental activism rather than the New Age stereotype that often gets hurled our way. We align ourselves with the AIDS activist organization ACT UP, sex positive feminism, ecofeminism, Fluxus performance art, and, sometimes, the hippie movement. We recognize that hippie culture was problematic, especially in terms of its habitual patriarchal treatment of women and neocolonial appropriation of Indian and Indigenous American cultures. But we also recognize that the hippie movement challenged the status quo and rebelled against capitalism, sexual repression, imperialism, war, and the destruction of the environment. Hippies embraced a collective utopian future, and we too aim to create a better society for all!
Earth as lover, Earth as mother
We respect the Indigenous and Aboriginal cultures, as well as ancient western and eastern civilizations that have embraced, and still embrace, Earth as mother. We both learned from these traditions. These knowledges have influenced our practices for much of our lives. We have, and sometimes still do, embrace the Earth as mother: the Earth does give us life and takes incredible care of us, giving us what we need to survive. Our manifesto, however, boldly states that we see the Earth as our lover, that we love the Earth and find erotic potential in nature, and we are turning our love for the Earth into revolutionary actions. Even as we move to embrace the Earth as lover rather than Earth as mother, we do so with respect.
Figure 1. The Ecosex Walking Tour in 2015.
The Ecosex Walking Tour, shown here in 2015, begins with Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens presenting the 25 Ways to Make Love to the Earth. These practices are then performed through the tour offering the audience a chance to try them. In this production, in San Francisco, the Sprinkle and Stephens' Pollination Pod was used as a gathering place, dressing room and stage. Sprinkle and Stephens costumes by Sarah Stolar. Photograph by Seth Temple Andrews.
But we don’t relate to the Earth only as a lover or mother. The Earth can morph and be imagined as any archetype interchangeably or in combination with other archetypes: friend, host, caregiver, sister, empress, magician, crone, patient. . . . The Earth lover can also be imagined as a sexy Earth mother—after all, many women have sex to become mothers. Given the virgin–whore dichotomy that still pervades western culture, many people find it abhorrent to think of mothers as sexual beings. Someone on one of our Ecosex Walking Tours commented that the Earth could be imagined as a MILF (Mother I’d Like to Fuck). Given that MILF is not about incest, and in the porn lexicon an “older” woman can be in her late twenties or beyond, we see this as a term that eroticizes women beyond a certain age. Some folks don’t want to think of the Earth as anything but Mother Earth, and we respect everyone’s choices in this regard.
Figure 2. A movie still from the film Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story (2014).
A movie still from the film Goodbye Gauley Mountain—An Ecosexual Love Story (2014), produced by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens . It is the true tale of two ecosexual artists in love who join forces with environmental activists in the quest for environmental justice to stop a destructive form of mining called mountaintop removal (MTR). It’s a David and Goliath struggle for survival in the coalfields narrated by Beth Stephens during a family visit home to West Virginia. Photo by Jordan Freeman.
Our version of ecosexuality has quite a bit in common with ecofeminism, even though we don’t always see eye to eye with ecofeminists. The ecofeminism movement emerged in the 1970s as a critique of both the oppression of women and the destruction of the Earth as mutually reinforcing systems of patriarchal oppression. For ecofeminists, embracing the construction of Earth as Mother was a means by which nature could be anthropomorphized and thus understood as something that should not be harmed. We are in agreement with that ideal.
After coming out as ecosexuals, we began thinking about how the Earth had been described as female and mother in the stories and spiritual traditions of contemporary and ancient cultures. In western literature the “Earth” has always been constructed as feminine, a trope that was not challenged by second wave feminist theory, which posited the idea of Earth as mother as an alternative to patriarchy. We wanted to go beyond the gender binary when it came to thinking about the Earth. As bad grrrl feminists, we were skeptical of binary constructions of the Earth as Mother/Other. As queers, we were eager to embrace the concept of the Earth as nonbinary or trans. Mothers (including Mother Earth) have not been treated terribly well in popular culture, which tends to construct the ideal mother as either asexual or heterosexual, self-sacrificing, white, and Christian. As feminists, we have a great deal of empathy and respect for the first generation of ecofeminists who promoted the idea of Earth as Mother to bring attention to the need for environmental activism. As queers and ecosexuals we wanted to expand the idea of environmentalism by combining it with the sex-positive feminism of the nineties, the cultural context from which our art careers were nourished. Today, as aging women whose bodies are no longer taut, we want to acknowledge the materiality of nature, a materiality that doesn’t always conform to patriarchal anthropomorphizing fantasies of nubile, beautiful, fertile women or of dangerous vagina dentatas ready to do away with humanity at the drop of a hat. To counter these stereotypes, we adopted the metaphor of the lover instead.
An important event for us was Joanna Macy’s workshop The Work That Reconnects. Macy basically argues that all of our connections to the Earth are intimate and ancient. Attending her workshop brought us together with like-minded participants who were also thinking about more profound, more loving connections with the Earth. We love the queerness of the idea of Earth as lover and we align our practice with ecofeminist scholar Greta Gaard, who has explored the connection between ecofeminism and queer theory and called for both movements to learn from each other. Gaard writes:
A queer ecofeminist perspective would argue that liberating the erotic requires conceptualizing humans as equal participants in culture and in nature, able to explore the eroticism of reason and the unique rationality of the erotic. Ecofeminists must be concerned with queer liberation, just as queers must be concerned with the liberation of women and of nature; our parallel oppressions have stemmed from our perceived associations. It is time to build our common liberation on more concrete coalitions.
Embracing the Earth as our lover, rather than our mother, radically changed our relationship to the planet that we share with billions and trillions of living and nonliving material entities. To be someone’s lover is more open-ended than being their mother. The lover assumes a relationship based on romance, sexual attraction, and sensual pleasure. The lover’s relationship does not assume identities that conform to the gender binary and power dynamics of male and female. The category of the lover is more slippery than that of parent and avoids heteronormative family ideology. Our metaphorical and material shift to Earth as lover holds the potential to create relationships between humans and nonhumans that might lessen destructive and controlling practices such as taking resources (mining) or domesticating (damming rivers and streams). The lover archetype evokes pleasure or jouissance based on mutual needs and desires. Earth as lover has the potential to inspire humans to give as well as receive both love and support from the Earth. Furthermore, the category of Mother represents an ideological construction that has been used to police the excess of pleasure and ecstasy, whereas the lover represents the promise of the as-yet-unknown. A lover is someone we want to get to know better, treat well, pamper, romance, and pleasure. Most to the point, if one does not treat a lover well, the lover can leave for someone else who will treat them better. While the Earth can’t actually leave us, it can become so inhospitable that we have to live in radically different ways on it—or leave it. Mars, anyone?
Figure 3. Sprinkle and Stephens two woman show: Dirty Sexecology.
Sprinkle and Stephens two woman show: Dirty Sexecology, was their first show to explore eco sexuality. It was directed by Patty Gallagher, Beth’s professor colleague at the University of California where she teaches. The first scene takes place at the International Conference on Sexecology where Sprinkle and Stephens present their research. This version of the show was produced by Theater Offensive in Boston. The show climaxes with Sprinkle and Stephens getting naked and down and dirty in the soil. Photo by Mark Sneider.
We understand that “Earth as lover” is a metaphor that anthropomorphizes our planet. We feel it can be a useful and fun strategy to help both ourselves and others connect with that which extends beyond human understanding. French philosopher Bruno Latour has recognized that refusing to anthropomorphize a nonhuman is the height of human arrogance because it makes the nonhuman lesser than the human. Latour states: “to enforce the gap between human subjects and nonhuman objects is the most anthropocentric of all modes of relation invented.” Or, as Colette Guillaumin pointedly writes, “As soon as people want to legitimize the power that they exercise, they call on nature—on the nature of this difference.” Both Latour and Guillaumin point out how humans use the idea of nature to justify their domination over it. Ecosexuals, on the other hand, anthropomorphize the Earth to help examine and, hopefully, help heal the human–nature binary embedded in western epistemology. This binary erases our connection to nature by elevating humans above all else. Jane Bennett, in her book Vibrant Matter, suggests that as scholars and human beings we take seriously all things human and nonhuman. The vitality and agency of these more-than-human things wield influence on how we navigate, feel, understand, and are in the world. Anthropomorphism can be used to take the agency of nature seriously and to position it as an active participant in the ongoing development of life on this planet, but it also means that we seek to understand nature on our own terms, yet again. We ask, as humans, what other terms can we employ given that the Earth is so much more than simply human?
Ecosexuality, the Anthropocene, new materialisms, and posthumanism
Our definition of ecosexuality deliberately reflects current ideas about posthumanism and new materialism, in which the human is understood to be one of many sentient and nonsentient beings that exist on this planet. Some people assume that sex has to be genital, or that ecosexuals primarily engage in physical sexual acts with nonhumans, but physical contact is not mandatory in the evolving field of ecosexuality, although it can be a part of it. In terms of engaging with nonhumans, many ecosexuals take a more conceptual, playful approach. This allows humans to connect and derive pleasure with nature and ideally to be inspired to give something back to it. Ecosexuality provides alternative ways of thinking about sexuality that go beyond human reproduction, genital sex, and human exceptionalism (the belief that humans are different from and superior to all other forms of life). Since humans are part of nature, ecosexual practices can include human-to-human sexual contact, including genital sex. Ecosexuals, however, consider all parts of the body to be potential sexual organs and sites of pleasure. We see the body as expanding beyond its own skin, in forms such as biome clouds, the unique clouds of bacteria and microbes that surround the bodies of all organic beings, animals and plants. Ecosex is a paradigm shift: we don’t have sex with just another person but instead we have sex with water, minerals, bacteria, biomes, and even stardust!
We are influenced by the work of Donna Haraway, whose book Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene called for humans and nonhumans to stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged Earth. Haraway was one of Beth’s colleagues at UC Santa Cruz before she retired, and we are intimately familiar with her work. Less dystopian than the idea of the Anthropocene, Haraway’s alternative construction of a Chthulucene era (with a name based on the Greek word for earth) suggests that postindustrial ecologies will be radically different from what they are today. Haraway’s ideas about science, posthumanism, new materialism, and contemporary ecofeminism have been tremendously influential for us as we have formulated ecosexuality and sexecology. She is critical of the theory of anthropocentrism and has instead advocated for the self-organizing powers of nonhuman processes. Her work has guided our understanding of the theoretical underpinnings and the consequences embedded in the human and nonhuman relationships that make up the material and political worlds in which we all live and die. The knowledge we have gained from her work has helped us understand how religion, science, and other secular practices have constructed the human exceptionalism that drives culture, politics, and religion in western culture. Human exceptionalism, global capitalism, and Darwinian ideologies justify the right to use or destroy other humans and nonhumans to serve one’s own self-interest and guarantee one’s own survival above and beyond other creatures. This is the root of much of the environmental degradation that affects our whole planet as well as the cause of other social justice inequalities.
Even as Haraway deconstructs human exceptionalism, she opens new possibilities for human beings to act with ethical responsibility. She does this in part by critiquing the destructive consequences that binary thinking such as nature/culture or human/animal have created in order to set some humans apart. Exceptionalism generates deadly real and conceptual technologies for segregating the world into what/who is, and is not, killable. Ecosexuality creates a new series of inclusive and intersectional relationships that change the conversation and the stories regarding who deserves to live well. As Haraway reminds us, we are all messmates at the table and we are mutually engaged in an ongoing meal of life and death. Much of our work has been concerned with creating the kinds of mobile communities knit together by kinship and affinities of which Haraway writes.
Kim TallBear has also supported the formulation of our theories of ecosexuality. Her work examines the historical and ongoing roles of technoscience in the colonizing and subjugation of Indigenous peoples. We acknowledge that ecosexuality is still problematic in that it largely reflects a white, middle-class perspective toward environmental interventions. Kim TallBear, who was one of Beth’s professors when she was pursuing an art practice PhD and is now a friend, makes it clear that, for Indigenous populations, ecosexuality is a hard sell:
There are occasional references in ecosex literature to Native American knowledges in ways that are what I would classify as “New Age,” and I would advise caution around the appropriation of Native American knowledges and motifs to the ecosexual ceremonial and artistic repertoire. . . . There are no easy, literal translations between indigenous ontologies and ecosexuality, at least among the indigenous people I run with. Rather, there are careful conversations with much careful thought to be had.
We appreciate Kim’s willingness to have these careful conversations with us and to engage with material with which she doesn’t necessarily identify. Looking beyond our differences, Kim was able to see places of connection:
Beth and Annie want to diversify the environmental movement, its actors, discourses, and strategies for change. I also increasingly embrace laughter as a response to the absurdly hateful politics of our time. Laughter sustains me when anger wears me down and feels unproductive.
Kim’s discussions with us about relations with humans and nonhumans, Earth as lover, and our deployment of humor have helped us examine our assumptions (or white privilege) when it came to hippie or New Age strategies. We have come to recognize that settler colonialist ideology was present in these movements and we resolve to eschew this ideology and embrace an anticolonial position. Kim was the keynote speaker at Environmentalism Outside the Box—An Ecosex Symposium, an event we held at UCSC in 2017. In her talk she noted that many Native Americans’ concept of “all our relations” is similar to and could even influence ecosexual practices that acknowledge the vibrancy of all entities. She spoke eloquently about the urgent need to decolonize and undo settler sexuality in relation to “making kin.” Decolonization is essential to begin to help heal the damage colonization has caused. We must do this work in order to build new kinds of relationships based on reciprocity rather than ownership and other forms of power that objectify life. If our ecosexual ideas and practices help create new, more open ways of thinking about sexual relationships, then we have accomplished hopeful work toward creating worlds where we can all live for the betterment of the Earth.
For us, ecosexuality is a new and expanded identity construct that can change the idea of relationships between humans and the more-than-human world. We proudly add an E to the growing list of letters that now comprise the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans) acronym from the eighties and nineties. We strive toward radical inclusivity and see this as being foundational to our version of this concept. A person can identify as an ecosexual and still claim and maintain any of their other sexual identities. From our point of view, all humans are already engaged and intertwined in any number of long-term, intimate relationships, ecological and otherwise. Ecosexuality can be a framework for understanding ourselves within the context of larger systems. Being ecosexual can be akin to identities such as pomosexual (the postmodern challenge to the assumptions of gender and sexuality), pansexual (enjoying love and sex with people of multiple genders), queer (outside heteronormativity), metamorphosexual (experiencing sexuality as always being in a state of change and evolving from one sexual preference to the next, also called fluid). We view ecosexuality as an identity capable of including or complementing all sexual identities, orientations, and identifying terms.
Queer theorist and curator Paul B. Preciado, with whom we have worked on multiple projects over many years (and to whom this book is codedicated), guided us toward the realization that our work held possibilities for radical political activism through joining together queerness, sex positivity, and environmental activism. He introduced us to the work of the Argentinian social activist and conceptual artist Roberto Jacoby, who advocated for what he called “strategies of joy”: small actions that face down and confront the fear in people’s minds. Jacoby, who is gay, lived through the brutal Argentinian dictatorship sometimes called the “Dirty War,” which lasted from 1976 until 1983. In these worst of times he organized celebratory gatherings such as dance parties that provided a reason for survival when all seemed lost. His idea and practice of “strategies of joy” resonate with us. We love his idea of navigating times of struggle through art, dance, music, and sexy fun. We believe that pleasure activism can be a path that empowers many of us who are outside the mainstream to enact change. Just as violence is powerful, pleasure can be powerful, too.
Ecosexuality in challenging times
We finished writing this book in the summer of 2020, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis police. This pandemic has seriously damaged any facade of equality in the United States, revealing grotesque underlying inequalities such as the historic effects of genocide and slavery. The physical reality of navigating police violence and white supremacy in a society that brutally constructs difference through skin color and other physical norms can result in physical, mental, and spiritual brutality, as we are seeing during the uprisings against systemic state violence in 2020. In our developed country, many people—prisoners, people without money, immigrants in detention—are at particularly high risk of contracting COVID-19, and politicians at the highest levels of government today don’t care, as is evident by the death toll. As a Jew and a Hillbilly, we are familiar with the category of being not quite white enough, although we try to be aware of our own white privilege and do antiracist work to bring about systemic change. Ecosexuality calls out how we have abused our more-than-human companions (microbes, trees, pollinators, soil, insects, water, and so many more) who do the increasingly difficult and invisible work of maintaining ecological systems so that life can exist. For years, scientists have been warning of more killer viruses and diseases emerging from destruction of the environment. We pay attention to the daily news that covers the elevated numbers of Indigenous, African American, Hispanic, and Asian people who get COVID-19 and die at rates vastly disproportionate to those who control most of the world’s wealth. The fact that a grotesque percentage of COVID-19-related deaths were elderly, vulnerable people is heartbreaking. Certainly, it is not the end they deserved. We humbly propose ecosex as one of many pathways to healing the pain of both the present moment and the horrific injustices of the past by encouraging people to love the Earth (including each other) more and to consider that we are all part of the Earth’s ecosystems—and we can aim to have a good time along the way.
 “ecosexual,” Wiktionary: The Free Dictionary, https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ecosexual. Accessed May 17, 2020. The post was first created in 2012, according to its history.
 When we use the word nature, we are referring to the material Earth and all of the entities it holds, including humans. We also use this word to mean something other than culture. We understand that the definition of nature has changed a great deal over the years and has varied meanings within different cultures, societies, and groups. We recognize as well that the idea, or understanding, of nature has been used to benefit some folks at the expense of others.
 This definition is a revised version of the one written by Elizabeth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle published in Journal of Ecosex Research 1, no. 1 (2011): 20 https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.ucsc.edu/dist/3/101/files/2016/06/Journalecosex.pdf. Accessed July 3, 2018.
 For thorough accounts of the emergence and development of ecofeminism, see Karen J. Warren, ed., Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997); Catriona Sandilands, The Good-Natured Feminist: Ecofeminism and the Quest for Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999); Val Plumwood, “Ecofeminism: An Overview and Discussion of Positions and Arguments,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 64 (June 1986).
 Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal (Parallax Press, 2007).
 Greta Gaard, "Toward a Queer Ecofeminism,” Hypatia 12, no. 1 (1997): 114–37.
 Ibid., 133.
 Bruno Latour, “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto,’” New Literary History 41, no. 53 (Summer 2010): 481.
 Ibid., 483.
 Colette Guillaumin, Racism, Sexism, Power, and Ideology (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 224.
 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010).
 Bacterial cells conjugate using the pilus of biome clouds.
 We have been most influenced by these essays and books by Donna Haraway: “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 149–81; When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016).
 Haraway, When Species Meet, 80.
 Ibid., 15.
 See Kim TallBear, Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013).
 Syd Krochmalny, “The Dematerializer: Media, Ways of Life, and Politics in the Work of Roberto Jacoby,” Guggenheim USB (blog), December 14, 2014. Accessed January 15, 2020. https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/map/the-dematerializer-media-ways-of-life-and-politics-in-the-work-of-roberto-jacoby.
 Jim Robbins, “Ecology of Disease,” New York Times, July 14, 2012. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/sunday-review/the-ecology-of-disease.html.
Reference for citations
Sprinkle, A., and Stephens, B. (2021). Ecosexuality: The story of our love with the Earth. Ecopoiesis: Eco-Human Theory and Practice, 2(1). [open access internet journal]. – URL: http://en.ecopoiesis.ru (d/m/y)