In the beginning, sex created Annie Sprinkle. Before sex, she was just Ellen Steinberg, born in 1954 and an achingly awkward teenager. Ellen would never wear a leopard-print dress with green cuffs and lapels, with a neckline so low it barely existed. Not in a million years.
Before sex, before 1972, Ellen was the furthest thing possible from a porn star.
“I didn’t like being Ellen Steinberg all that much. It was excruciating,” Annie said to the audience Sunday in the Allen Hall main lounge. She clicked through projected photos of her as a young girl, then a frumpish teenager. “A guy would try to hold my hand, and I was uncomfortable.”
But after she lost her virginity at 17, Annie said she suddenly wanted to know everything and became “very promiscuous.” And she started taking notes on what she learned and decided she was going to be someone else. Someone sexy.
“I recreated myself, and by the time I was 18, I became Annie Sprinkle, which was everything Ellen Steinberg wasn’t,” she said.
She lectures in colleges all over the country, drawing on her decades of experience in both the porn industry and sex education to spread her philosophies of sexuality and art.
Annie has many titles. Porn star. Pleasure activist. Performance artist. Ecosex pioneer. Prostitute. They are a reflection of the other transformations Annie has gone through in the four decades since the fateful day she got a job selling popcorn at the Plaza Cinema in Tuscon, Ariz., in 1972. On the marquee? The notorious pornographic film “Deep Throat.”
“I had never seen porn before. I was blown away when I saw the movie,” she said. At the time, the creators of the film were being sought after by prosecutors for violating laws against interstate transportation of pornography.
She found herself at the courthouse, sitting in a waiting room with the director of “Deep Throat,” Gerard Damiano. She fell in love with him and followed him to New York City, where she began working as a prostitute in a massage parlor before entering the porn industry in 1973.
“I was really curious about people’s sexual interests and fantasies,” she said.
It wasn’t just the tangible pleasure of sex that attracted her to this calling. There was something essentially beautiful about sexuality to Annie, something incredibly important, powerful and universal.
Porn star commentary
“Let’s take a deep breath together,” Annie said to her audience. She was about to show a scene from one of her early films.
She breathed deeply and exhaled. “This stuff ... is bad,” she said. “This is bad, and this is nothing to be proud of at all. But I am really proud of it. Try to have an open mind.”
Behind her on the projection screen, a much younger Annie Sprinkle romps and moans as the current Annie commented and laughed at the goofiness of the entire process.
Gwen Schulte, a junior in Social Work, said she was a bit uncomfortable, but it wasn’t just with the content of the film.
“I think it is weird seeing porn with the person who is in it right there,” Schulte said. “But she was cool with it, so I was too.”
Annie added cracks and jokes over the various scenes.
“This director was very good,” she said at one point. She laughed as the scene changed to one that featured a particularly unorthodox use of a kielbasa sausage.
The audience — made up of Allen Hall residents, other students and community members — had mixed reactions, although none was overtly negative. Some were expressionless throughout. Others sat wide-eyed with nervous smiles. Some groaned. A few, like Annie, just laughed and laughed.
Dr. Sprinkle will see you now
Annie always adds glamor and whimsy into any production. On Monday, she donned a white lab jacket with the words “Love Art Laboratory” and “Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D.” written on the front.
Annie headed up a cast of sex educators and experts stationed outside the Allen Hall cafeteria for the night event advertised as a “Free Sidewalk Sex Clinic.” Others in attendance included Sexual Health Peers and a representative from Illini Arcade, a local adult store.
Despite the doctor’s coat and a pair of sensible heels, the rest of Annie’s outfit was just as glitzy as her previous one. Her hair bloomed with red bows and gold streamers. From each ear hung matching red and black umbrella-shaped earnings. Spread on the table before her was a deck tarot cards. About a dozen students gathered around her.
“Is there anything you guys want to talk about, or do you want to just pick a card?” Annie asked, trying to speak above the noise of the room.
A girl spoke up: “Can we talk about orgasms?”
Annie beamed. “Orgasms is a great subject!” she said, and held out the thick deck of colorful cards for the girl to pick from.
To the right of Annie’s booth, Elizabeth Simpson, a local sex educator, held an anatomically correct model of a vagina in one hand. It was made from stuffed pantyhose and some purple fabric. Pausing from the tarot reading, Annie watched as Simpson launched into a demonstrative ballad about using a speculum and proper technique for finding the cervix. It’s the kind of performance Annie has a special affinity for.
A sexual journey
As Annie matured, she distanced herself from the straight-up porn films of her youth, ultimately leaving porn in the early 1980s, when she felt the porn industry failed to address the growing AIDS epidemic. After leaving porn, she earned her Ph.D.
Currently, she’s pioneering a new kind of sexual philosophy that views the earth not as a mother but as a lover, combining her fascination with sexuality and her more recent passion for environmental activism. She calls it ecosexology, a union of sexuality and ecology.
For Annie, ecosexology is just another transformation in her journey, another evolution in her relationship to sexuality that began when boring Ellen Steinberg became the salacious Annie Sprinkle.
“I like to say everyone is at the right place at the right time in their own personal sexual evolution,” she said. “Some people just know what they like, and that’s what they do their whole life.”
Others, like Annie Sprinkle, just seem to keep growing.
Danny can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.