Annie Sprinkle has taken on many roles: prostitute, porn queen, performance artist, and Ph.D recipient. The Philadelphia-born sex icon has appeared in more than 200 films—hardcore and educational alike—and has toured her intimate and funny sex-as-art performances around the world. Sprinkle comes to Washington, D.C., this Saturday, April 4 as the keynote speaker for American University’s Visions In Feminism conference. She spoke with The A.V. Club from her home in San Francisco about showing her cervix to 40,000 people, being resisted by feminists, and the albino peacock who's busy performing a mating dance on her lawn.
Annie Sprinkle: Do you hear that bird? It’s a male calling for a lover. It fluffed its feathers for me!
The A.V. Club: I think he likes you.
AS: Talk about sexy. He’s doing a mating dance.
AVC: How did you become a “post-porn modernist”?
AS: I got into the sex industry in 1973, at age 18. I made a bunch of porn and got into prostitution. But I enjoyed it. It was a positive experience, generally. I bridged over into art in my early-30s, doing performances about my life in the sex industry—like one of my most well known pieces, Public Cervix Announcement.
AVC: Why do you emphasize the humor of sex?
AS: I’ve shown my cervix to about 40,000 people over the years. I toured [Public Cervix Announcement] for five years. I’d give people flashlights, and I put a microphone there and people could comment. It was very innocent and playful. People told me it helped them relieve some shame. You know, “If she can show her cervix like that, maybe I should take a look at mine.” Humor can make the medicine go down. I like a good laugh-gasm. People are nervous to talk about sex, so by taking it lightly, it defuses it.
AVC: You and your wife, Elizabeth Stephens, once kissed for four straight hours during a Love Art Lab performance. What happens when you kiss for that long?
AS: That’s called “Extreme Kiss,” and we do different lengths of time. You get very high. It’s like eating pot brownies or something. It’s a very intimate conversation. As I go along, I become a better and better kisser. It’s a meditation. The hard part is not going further than kissing, which we don’t.
AVC: What’s the significance of a prolonged kiss?
AS: The last one we did was at a fancy museum in Düsseldorf, Germany, in a room with drawings by the masters [like Rembrandt and Picasso]. It was an exhibition on nudity, and we were naked and we did a two-hour kiss. Naked chubby gals kissing for two hours. People passed through and checked it out and moved on. Kisses are beautiful. Prostitutes often don’t kiss their clients. They don’t want it to be too serious, too important. But with just the kiss, less becomes more.
AVC: You are outspoken about supporting sex workers and porn—what has to change in our culture to make that socially viable?
AS: I don’t think we can be a sex-positive society until we decriminalize and destigmatize sex work. Not everyone has a lover. People have different reasons for seeing sex workers. Just like there are all different kinds of nurses and doctors and manicurists, there are all different kinds of sex workers. It’s a huge industry. They are professionals—I call them “erotically gifted.” It’s already a huge part of our culture. And it can be healing.
AVC: Why do you think it’s seen as degrading?
AS: Sex is normal and natural, and we’ve made it abnormal and unnatural.
AVC: You have a Ph.D in human sexuality from the Institute For Advanced Study Of Human Sexuality. How have you been received by the academic world, especially in women’s studies circles?
AS: I love to engage people who think differently than I do. I do a lot of university lectures, and there’s always some controversy. At the last university event I did, none of the feminists or women’s studies people would come or help fund it. It was sponsored by the LGBT people—the feminists were pretty anti-porn.
AVC: Despite the controversy, what do you try to accomplish with those talks?
AS: My whole purpose is to bring what’s hidden out in the open so people can look at it and discuss it. And sexually oriented material is very important to study in an academic setting. Controversy is part of the fun.
AVC: What will you be presenting at Visions In Feminism?
AS: I’ll be talking about my journey from not being a feminist to identifying as one. I’d like to see feminism really be more loving. Feminists have a lot of righteous anger, and have done a lot to fight for rights. But we need a lot of love and compassion—to embrace people, to educate people. I wasn’t a feminist until l I was educated about what it was. I would love to see men attend, and transgender people. Everyone is welcome.