Annie Sprinkle has been a sex worker all her adult life
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 94 13:18:37 PST
Subject: Annie Sprinkle has been a sex worker all her adult life
Forwarded-by: bostic@vangogh.CS.Berkeley.EDU (Keith Bostic)
Forwarded-by: Wendell Craig Baker <email@example.com>
(Appeared in the Austin Chronicle for Feb. 18, 1994)
AN ODYSSEY WITH ANNIE SPRINKLE
SEX AND THE POST-MODERN PORN STAR
By Lindsey Lane
"Hey, did you know Annie Sprinkle is coming to town?" Aubrey
asks. Sprinkle is a porn film star/prostitute turned artist whose
performance includes inserting a speculum in her vagina and inviting
audiences to view her cervix. Despite how shocking that sounds, I'm
pretty sure shock is not her intention. But I want to see for myself.
"When is she coming?" I ask. "I'm not sure," he says. "Didn't it
say on the poster?" I ask. "Yeah," he says, hesitating, "But, well, I
was pretending to look at something else when I was standing in
front of the poster so I didn't read it all." Annie is stirring things up
and the performance is still a month out.
I've written about the sex industry. The last time I did, I
interviewed and watched topless dancers at the Red and Yellow Rose.
In my article, I suggested that the way for dancers not to get trapped
in the sex industry is to be proud off what they do. Pride is the
contradiction to guilt and shame and the negative feelings which
convince one to stay in demanding situations.
I had witnessed a downward-spiraling exchange of low self-
esteem on both sides of the g-string. While the women undulated
and winked and coaxed dollar after sweaty dollar into that thin strap
around their hips so they could pay the rent, buy food, go to school
or get high, the men knew that their value as human beings was not
a part of this equation. The women were paid if they made men feel
like high-dollar studs in a Kentucky stable. The men were tolerated
as long as they had money in their wallet. Talk about a loud sucking
Annie Sprinkle has been a sex worker all her adult life. She is
proud of her career and has had fun. I wonder if her self-respect
kept her from being demeaned in the sex industry. Did that pride
eventually lead her out of prostitution to performance art? Or is she
still making a buck off her body bringing the porn industry to
THURSDAY, JANUARY 20, 8 PM
Aubrey goes with me. The sold-out house consists mainly of
men. We speculate that many are porn film fans familiar with
Sprinkle from "Teenage Deviate," "Kneel Before Me" and "Slippery
When Wet." When Annie explains the use of a dildo suctioned onto
a refrigerator, many seem to know the scene from "Wet Christmas"
where she fucks her refrigerator.
Annie invites anyone with a camera to come take pussy spread
shots. Thirty men pile on stage. She doesn't seem at all phased by
these peepers at her feet. I can see how her willingness to indulge
people's fantasies earned her $4,000 a week in this industry.
Next is a section called "100 Blowjobs." Annie says that
working in the sex industry wasn't all that great. Of her 3,500
customers, she had probably 100 bad experiences. To a soundtrack
of people cussing at her and spitting out cruelties, Annie licks and
sucks nine dildos until she chokes and pretends to gag on the cum.
The cameras stop clicking. The eyes stop leering. The air goes out of
the room. The sucking sound stops.
Annie doesn't blame anyone. All she says is, "Hey, these were
my bad experiences. They hurt." She even takes responsibility for
her part in it. She isn't on the offense. And the audience isn't on the
defense. The old equation of attacker/victim doesn't play, Annie has
simply taken us inside the sex industry to feel what she felt.
By the end of the show, I am enthralled. I think most
everyone is. I check with Aubrey. "Did it seem like this wasn't a sex
show?" He nods. "She was completely guileless. She's completely
naked up there, but she's more fully clothed than anyone here."
It seems many had come expecting to pick up a fantasy-to-go
but it wasn't for sale. No one could take a piece of her because she
was intact. I wonder if some of the audience feels more intact about
FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 8 PM
Standing room only. The audience is 80% women and from the
instant Annie walks onstage, they are with her, whooping and
hollering and reveling in her expression of womanliness. I wonder
how many had attended her "Sluts and Goddesses Workshop" and
discovered their G-spot orgasm.
I listen more closely to her text. The line that grabs my
attention follows slides of women who've had porn star make-overs.
Each has undergone a startling change from housewife, lawyer,
secretary to Baby Doe, Moon Maid, Peaches Delight. A blank slide
says: "This could be you," with Annie adding, "There's a lot of you in
every Porn Star."
I know. I wonder if that part of us in every porn star is the
part we hate or feel ashamed or disapprove of; if Annie, by fully
claiming that part of herself, lessened her degradation in the sex
industry. I don't think any of us has to fuck 3,500 men to reclaim
that but how many of us feel a little ashamed off how wildly and
delightfully sexy we are. And is that what the sex industry preys
SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 8 PM
The crowd is mixed. A few more men than women. Lots of
straight couples. I sense that this crowd is here largely because
they'd heard the show was daring and shocking and titillating. After
two days of word-of-mouth hype, Annie has become "The-Thing-to-
See." (Emphasis on "Thing.")
Maybe I'm tired. Maybe the language describing "wonderful"
"beautiful" "fantastic" lovers is beginning to bore me. Maybe Annie's
performance is bad. Her pacing seems off, her nervousness
increasing each time no one laughs at her stock laugh lines. For the
first time, Annie looks like a freak in a freak show, complete with
naked pictures of her pierced, tattooed and scarred tricks. When
Annie is doing tits-on-head photos during intermission, I hear
someone say, "Why do I feel like I'm in a mall with Santa?"
Daniele, my companion for the evening, asks, "Do you see the
way everyone whistles when the other women take off their shirts
for the photograph?" It's true. Annie doesn't instigate catcalls but
the other semi-naked women do. I think about Annie's 100 bad
times and how she believes she co-created them. Annie says she
doesn't have any more bad experiences because she doesn't need
them. I wonder how these bare-breasted women are co-creating
In the show's last part, Annie becomes Anya, the sacred
prostitute, and performs a prayer/ritual which includes
masturbating onstage. The last two nights, this seemed beautiful and
sincere. Tonight, even the rattles we're given to shake and help her
reach a stage of ecstasy make us look like we're all jerking off to the
motion of her hips.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 22, 11 PM
Ah, the late night crowd. Ready for anything. These folks buoy
Annie. They laugh at the right places. They're eager to hear
everything she has to tell them about her lifestyle. And that's all
Annie wants to do: demystify the world of porn, not by laughing at
it but by getting you in on it.
A few years ago, I went to a lingerie/sex toy party, similar to
old Tupperware parties. The woman presenting the toys was
straight-laced. She looked like a home-ec student or an Aggie
studying biochemistry. She had a tone of voice not unlike a
kindergarten teacher. As she matter-of-factly explained this
vibrator and that oil, I shrieked in embarrassed laughter. Because
she wasn't squeamish about the topic, I could laugh all I wanted and
then, amazingly, think more clearly about what she was saying and
even ask questions.
Annie does the same thing. She shows a slide of her in
bondage with a hooded man whom she credits with teaching her the
technique of turning pain to pleasure. Then she says, "This comes in
very handy during a root canal." Or, as she inserts the speculum and
the audience becomes exceedingly quiet, she says, as every
gynecologist has said to every woman on the examination table, "You
can breathe now." Or she tells a story about how she started selling
used panties and, oops, all of a sudden had this problem of having
too many orders to fill.
It's very matter-of-fact. It's smart. It's not a show about
exhibition where Annie confronts all those squeamish places just to
make you feel more squeamish. She isn't inhibited and she isn't an
exhibitionist. She's aware of those tricky places and makes light of
them so that people can laugh and possibly, just possibly, listen and
Though I'm not noticing the finer points of her performance,
I'm glad when she has her orgasm, so I can go home and go to sleep.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 23, 8 PM
Finally. The last performance. I am ready for this to be over.
Though I agree with Daniele that Annie is working hard to dispel the
fear and shame and guilt around sex, I can't help but notice that on
some level Annie is performing the same ritualized sex she would in
burlesque. Only she's doing it in an art-house venue. She is still
making a buck off her body. And we are still peeping.
A few days later, I hear that people who hadn't even seen the
show are making a huge fuss about it on radio talk shows. All I can
think is, "Boy, we can't think very well about sex, can we? We can't
even hold a conversation about it. And if we can't talk about it, it
becomes easier for those opposed to it to rant and rave, "It's bad. It's
pornography. Let's close the door on people and/or throw them in
jail when we catch them doing it."
For all my disillusion about Annie's shows, she is still putting
sexuality and the sex industry in front of us, proudly, in a way that
we can look at it and possibly talk about it. It's uncomfortable but
I wonder where Annie will go from here. In her performance,
Annie introduces Anya and says, "Anya exists today because Annie
Sprinkle existed yesterday." The problem is, Anya doesn't exist.
Anya is still Annie, trying to do sex differently but still doing it with
a whole lot of people.
The different ways Annie has learned to be intimate as a result
of having a lover who was HIV positive and died of AIDS is
important. The way she finds the beauty in people who might well
be considered social/sexual freaks is important. The way she admits
she was lucky to have survived the sex industry in such a sexually
confused society is important. The way she can talk about sex easily,
reasonably and with humor is important.
Anya/Annie does have something to tell us. But she may have
to step outside the protection of art to do it, to step up to the
pornography debate table with the likes of Andrea Dworkin. Annie's
message is no less valid because she was a sex worker. It may be
more so. But in stepping into a wider arena, she may have to admit
that, though she survived, pornography is demeaning to men and
women. And right now, that message is just too hard for Annie to
© 1994 Peter Langston