Annie Sprinkle swims forward

A sex icon takes stock in the aftermath of her devastating houseboat fire and finds satisfaction as a mermaid.

Published February 8, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Self-mythologizer Annie Sprinkle
fancies herself a mermaid these days. Her latest video, "Annie Sprinkle's
Herstory of Porn," ends with an exhortation to "make your own porn movie,"
complete with a helpful demonstration. In the "how to make a porn video" within the
video, Sprinkle plays an older mermaid who sexually initiates a "merteen" played by
Sirena. After the two women have sex with each other and a Fabio look-alike diver,
Sprinkle passes a lighted torch to the younger creature, then dies orgasmically in her

"Herstory is my swan song in front of the camera," the porn star/performance
artist/sex activist explains in a telephone interview. "I was saying goodbye to
my old films. I'm 45 years old now, and I have to let go of that stage."

Based on a show that she has been touring for a few years, "Herstory" shows clips
from Sprinkle's 25 years of on-camera sex, starting in 1974 with "Teenage Deviate,"
and ending with the underwater torch pass.

"Herstory" chronicles Sprinkle's remarkable self-directed career through 150 porn
films, first as a starlet, then as writer-director-star. In the mid-'80s, she
discovered tantric sex and made a movie about it. She later pioneered safe sex in
porn films after her co-stars started dying. She then became a performance artist
at the right mid-'80s moment. In one of her most famous acts, she opened herself
up with a speculum and invited the audience onstage to peer at her cervix with a
flashlight. Around this time, graduate students began writing about Sprinkle's
"locating the discourse on her body" and her "dissension with hegemonic

Her sexuality shifted in 1991 to gain entry to the lesbian world when she made
"The Sluts and Goddesses Workshop," she says. Lately, Sprinkle's been exploring the
sexual side of yoga, conscious breathing, meditation and goddess/mermaid
identification. She's run through as many personas as Madonna. But she's not
trend-hopping; she's on a pilgrimage. "My evolution follows the chakras from the
bottom up," she explains. "It moves from the sex chakra to the heart and then
hopefully it becomes more spiritual."

Sprinkle mixes the woof of porn and the tweet of New Age into something far more
charming and self-aware than either part. For example, in her mermaid movie, she
explains in voice-over, "Sirena read about me in her women's studies class and
wanted to apprentice with me. So I put her in my porn movie!" That line,
delivered in her breathy Gracie Allen voice, neatly encapsulates Sprinkle's
expansive views about sex. There's (1) "How great is it that my job is wearing
fun costumes and having sex with academic groupies." (2) "I know that's funny."
(3) "But I'm not exploiting her because sex is a precious gift from the goddess."

In both her show and "Herstory," present-day Sprinkle acts as tour guide or MC
through her career, changing costumes to fit the era and commenting on the action
` la Mystery Science Theater 3000. Sometimes she interacts with her filmed self,
at one point rubbing her microphone across the giant shaved vagina she's
masturbating on-screen.

The MC Sprinkle's relationship with her younger on-screen self is fascinatingly
fluid. For the first segment, MC Sprinkle plays an enthusiastic ingenue in
pigtails, a character like Terry Southern's Candy. "Isn't that a beautiful
camera angle?" she trills, watching herself suck a 10-foot-high penis. "You can
almost feel that big dick in your mouth." I'm puzzled by the sarcastic tone,
which jars with her anything-goes reputation. Isn't Annie Sprinkle someone who
appreciates a big dick in her mouth? What is she saying about her 20-year-old

She sighs and answers, "I look back on those early movies, and I think I was such
a bimbo and such a part of the patriarchy and so superficial, only into the
physical parts of sex. So yes, I was making fun of it, but there's also something
I love about that person and that time when sex was just so physical and easy and

Sprinkle admits that "feeling ugly and wanting to be touched" drove her to porn and
prostitution in her teens, but she doesn't wring her hands over it. "Porn was
exactly what I needed," she says, "and up 'til my mid-20s, I really liked being a
prostitute." How did former Girl Scout Ellen Steinberg dodge the "sex negativity"
dumped on middle-class girls in the '60s and '70s to become Annie Sprinkle? "I
just went by my own experience," she says. "I'd do something that was so-called
taboo and say that doesn't feel bad. It's like growing up with a religion you end
up rejecting."

"Herstory's" second segment, 1977 through 1982, covers Sprinkle's
"fetish phase," which carved her a special place in the porn world as
a gal who would try anything. "Straight-porn directors didn't want to
work with me anymore," MC Sprinkle relates proudly. "They said I was
too kinky." What follows is a mind-boggling montage of fisting,
rimming, bondage, golden showers, sex with dwarves and amputees, and
what she calls "rainbow showers" -- vomiting on her partner. During
the vomit scene, MC Sprinkle chirps, "Feel free to masturbate; I'm sure
you're getting really turned on."

The segment ends with a film clip of Sprinkle being dragged and shoved
and slapped by four naked men. She's crying and screaming, and by
this point, you know she's not that good an actress. MC Sprinkle
confirms that "this scene got a little out of hand. ... After
that, I never had another rape fantasy again."

The on-screen brutality and sad voice-over set up "Herstory's" next
stage: Sprinkle's attempt to make porn she liked. In 1982, after
starring in 100 movies written and directed by men, Sprinkle wrote,
directed and starred in "Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle." This was
several years before she went to college and discovered feminism in a
women's studies class, but the movie subverts porn's dehumanization
by putting Sprinkle's pleasure front and center.

In "Deep Inside," Sprinkle continually addresses the camera, inviting
the viewer along on her adventures like a D-cup Mr. Rogers. She
leads us to a porn theater showing Annie Sprinkle movies, stands by a
poster of herself and tells us that watching her own movies "gets me
so hot that I just start doin' all the guys around me."

Then 1982 Sprinkle goes into the theater and begins sucking and fucking
and getting eaten out by her delighted neighbors. She's the
aggressor, and she's the celebrity ("Why, you're Annie Sprinkle,"
cries a white-haired gentleman as she pulls his fingers into her
mouth). At the end of the film, she faces the camera and says, "I've
had a wonderful time with you today. I love you. I still feel kind
of horny, so I hope we run into each other very soon."

I ask if she worried about issuing such an invitation to every nut
watching her movie. "I think lunatics probably respect me more
because I'm a porn star," she replies. "I came across this big old
ex-con on a dark New York street once and I felt scared until he
said, 'Oh my God, you're Annie Sprinkle. I had your picture up in my
cell.' I felt safer then. People think porn fans are antisocial
weirdos, but they're mostly all nice and sweet and innocent, and they
wouldn't hurt a fly."

Though she became a lesbian about 10 years ago, Sprinkle retains her
regard for her johns, co-stars, fans and ex-lovers of every gender.
(She's been romantically involved with several post-op transsexuals.)
Last year, all that affection flowed back to her after the houseboat
she lived on burned down while she was out touring. Everything she owned burned, and both of her 15-year-old
cats were killed. She's had no permanent address since the fire, but
a friend sent out a mass e-mail telling of Sprinkle's plight,
which unleashed a flood of letters, e-mails, money and gifts from
friends and strangers.

In a group letter sent a few months ago, Sprinkle reported that
"people from the art and theater worlds, the porn, SM, tantra and
sex worker worlds were all incredibly generous. ... A big, soft,
psychic pillow was created for me to fall back on. The pain of loss
was washed away, and my heart burst open."

A new lover also materialized from the ashes. A mysterious woman
(who, it turns out, was born a man) pulled up in a pink speedboat as
Sprinkle was sifting through the wreckage of the fire. This knight in
silicone armor asked Sprinkle if she could help, and they've been
together ever since. The group letter ends on an upbeat note, with
the two of them "making mermaid-love" on an island and Sprinkle
admitting that she's adrift in life, "doggy paddling around in an
enormous ocean of possibilities."

Sprinkle has several sex-related gigs now, yet I wonder if her mermaid
identification signals a move away from sex. Though they're alluring
creatures, how would you get busy with them? They're as smooth as
Barbie below the waist and don't even have legs to spread.

Sprinkle bristles at my denaturing her beloved archetype. "The mermaid's
whole body is sexual," she says with irritation. "She's undulating
and breathing and holding her breath and feeling the water all over
her. Look, I go out with transsexual people and I know there's a lot
more to sex than genitals."

OK, OK, I'm convinced. If anyone can illuminate the mysteries of
third millennium, post-menopausal, transgender, genital-transcending,
underwater sex, it's Annie Sprinkle.

By Virginia Vitzthum

Virginia Vitzthum is a writer living in New York.

MORE FROM Virginia Vitzthum

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