SUE WESTWIND

Mental wellness, Earth-spiritual practice,  Ecosexuality, Poetry.

Sue Westwind writes from America’s prairie woodlands.

Humans, how can you bear it? Your loved ones, homes, and hunks of familiar terrain lost to strident weather patterns worldwide. The footage of it happening has to jar loose some feeling even in the most comfortably numb heart. How can the small but mighty syllable “sex” possibly relate to these troubles?

Perhaps it’s easier for me to say because I’m one of the lucky ones. Local lands are lush but not soggy and despite living in Tornado Alley, roofs and walls here stay intact. Soaring temperatures are hurtful, even scary, but they break. In these parts, climate deniers and upheaval criers haven’t been shaken from their separate camps.

For me, Nature is still a lovely lover, even with her/his/their rage. I want to be a better listener to that roar but won’t forsake an eco-erotic approach in favor of fear. Ecosexuality means treating the Earth as a bonded partner asking for attention to every aspect of the relationship — pleasure and conflict. Let’s go deep with this term to see if it has relevance for the topic of natural disaster.

The acknowledged founders of “ecosexuality” are Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle, a couple that wear and often share these descriptors: performance artist, filmmaker, college professor, author, Third Wave feminist, sex worker turned Ph.D., and coal miner’s daughter.

They assert that “E” for ecosexual should be added to the sexual identity umbrella known as LGBTQIA+E! They assure us that ecosexuals can also be heterosexual, asexual, and/or Other. You don’t have to have sex in nature, or with nature, to be an ecosexual either.

Stephens’ and Sprinkles’ deep thinking about human-to-nature relationships that brackets their flamboyant, public Weddings to the Earth (and the Moon, Sea, Sky, Fog, plus locales like the Appalachian Mountains) prodded me to coin a phrase with a slightly different twist: “applied ecosexuality.”

I wrote a book called The Land Erotic: Acres, Ecstasy, and Marriage in Midlife and Beyond about living on a modest spread of prairie woodlands during a difficult marriage, and how the sensuous affair I had with our land helped me grow psycho-spiritually precisely because it was so physically intimate.

I drafted the book before I’d heard of ecosexuality, knowing my intoxication with our acres was real and beneficial, but also wondering if I was weird, maybe oversexed. Then I accidentally came across an appalled Breitbart/Fox News article on ecosexuality one day on my phone, and it was a huge Aha!

I was a cis-gendered, heterosexual woman raising a family in the heartland, but encountering Ms. Stephens & Ms. Sprinkle’s “pleasure activism” and “strategies of joy” convinced me: beholding our planet as Lover Earth could speed a healing response to our global crises — just as we go out of our way to hear and help our human lovers with the immediacy that body pleasure-sharing incites.

Stephens and Sprinkle (S&S) ask:

What if our bodies didn’t stop at our skin but were much, much more expansive? What if we are the Earth, not separate?

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 their water, minerals, bacteria, biomes, and even stardust!

When it comes to “natural disasters,” S&S’s wide-ranging Assuming the Ecosexual Position: The Earth as Lover notes with fervent hearts the effects of the pandemic while pleading for global and environmental justice throughout. With much focus on their adventures — earth weddings, Ecosex walking tours, filmmaking, and collaborations — other chapters showcase new theories about how this bleeding, crying, overheated planet can be loved back to health. My head was spinning with terms like posthumanism, the new materialism, and human exceptionalism.

S&S talk about the use of the moniker Mother Earth, much more comfortable to most of us than Lover Earth:

To be someone’s lover is more open-ended than being their mother…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 the parent and avoids heteronormative family ideology.

Mother represents an ideological construction that has been used to police the excess of pleasure and ecstasy.

Seeing humans and nonhumans as children of the Great Mother has held decades-long spiritual appeal for me; it is my go-to when I am most down and my inspiration for belief in a better future. “Mother Earth” has its place when we lean toward a nurturing All, boundless beauty and sustenance. But that maternal designation may not be empowering when it comes to environmental action.

Applied Ecosexuality, as I define it, grows out of my work as a therapist and my personal healing on the land as much as my theology. Consider: ultimately as children we submit, but given the best of moms, in her worst times we couldn’t save her. How many adults still suffer because as children they were powerless when they witnessed their father’s narcissistic, violent, or rapacious actions toward their mother?

In patriarchal-racist cultures, mothers are enshrined in lofty rhetoric but often demeaned, from the motherhood-penalty in the workplace to the high maternal mortality rates among African American women. Not to mention the time-worn tradition of blaming bad mothers for every mental health problem under the sun.

To finally take Mom’s side, environmental activists cast today’s volatile Earth as Nature’s revenge, Mother finally extracting justice at our expense. This view separates humans from Her body and openly wishes our species suffers extinction sooner rather than later.

But is it logical to accept the death penalty for our crimes against the environment when the majority of human citizenry abhors eco-destruction? When 8 men make more money than 3+ billion people and the 1% manipulate corporate greed that hurts the planet, isn’t seeking justice a better paradigm for necessary encounters with Earth’s exploiters?

S&S also show how ecosexuality is, to Indigenous peoples, “a hard sell.” Critiqued as too hippie or New Age, Indigenous people have called out settler-colonial mentality in those trends. S&S relay how one of their mentors, an academic named Kim TallBear, notes that the phrases “all my relations” and “making kin” that characterize First Nations’ worldviews can be resources for Ecosex theory and practice; Ms. TallBear helps them envision

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.

Ecosexuality’s contributions to queer studies is rich. For S&S, LGBT identity was one among a triad of influences, along with their sex-positive feminism and art careers. But they take things further, much to my delight as a gal getting up there in years!

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 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.

In my book, The Land Erotic, I struggle with how I anthropomorphized features of the land. Anthropomorphize: “to attribute human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object” — for example, humans with their dogs! My uneasiness asks: “isn’t it hubris to project that beings without my precious language skills feel just like me?”

S&S counter, via philosophers Bruno Latour and Colette Guillaumin, that not anthropomorphizing separates humans from Nature in order to dominate nature. If we view the nonhuman as a blank slate incapable of emotion and reason and nuanced communication, we keep humans on the familiar pedestal, robbing Nature of agency and power.

I translate this as trusting the human mind enough to be an open and listening mind, grasping that if Earth and humans are truly one, then human empathy can become a mouthpiece for the nonhuman. A positive example of this was popular in the nineties — the Council of All Beings workshops, spearheaded by Buddhist scholar and peace activist Joanna Macy. Humans dressed as various species, made a humble and sincere effort to connect their consciousness with these entities, then spoke as and for them about the fate of the planet.

I don’t know about speaking for a hurricane, drought, wildfire, or straight-line wind, because it seems to me their message is clear. So how might ecosexuals react to the carnage that weather catastrophes bring? By holding fast to love for Lover Earth. Recognizing that love of self is love of nature, and vice versa. The best part of having a human lover is to feel united in body and of like mind and spirit — this gives us stamina to work on the relationship.

It’s self-protective to react with fear to an ominous forecast, or to get a grip by scoffing at the science of climate change. But how telling it is that in communities undergoing natural disasters everyone pulls together to help each other. The urge to rebuild and reinhabit also seems universal: if our land wasn’t as personal as our bodies, why bother?

We also know how to grieve, and that unites us as we survey gentle giants like arching trees uprooted or burned in acres of blaze. When Earth seems like an angry lover, can’t we discuss things with her/him/them rather than plot our escape to a distant habitable star? This story about how “fire is medicine” to Indigenous people is a true tale of such communication success.

Maybe the human plague of poor body-image is our worst projection of all. Many cultures engender body-dysmorphia — the problem of obsessing about flaws in one’s physical appearance. Religion often views the flesh as a dumping ground for shame and sin. Advertisers urge us to buy more products in hopes of body perfection. Ecosexuals say Nature provides a wealth of beauty images to identify with, and there’s nothing like expanding your definition of sex (hint: it’s more than orgasm!) to climb out of these negative traps.

Applied-ecosexuality suggests that Earth as beloved — inhabited, cherished ground or polymorphous Everywhere — is willing to share helpful advice for daily living and soul conundrums — your confidante, therapist, priest/ess and lover-friend. As a burned-out activist, you can be recharged there too. As a personality traumatized by fear of abandonment, you will at last and irrevocably find a place to Belong.

If the doomsday tone of environmentalism makes you shut down, try ecosexuality for the joy in a foundational relationship that sparks energy to act for Lover Earth’s wellbeing.

We need softer barriers between the rational and intuitive, the personal and political, humans and Nature. Don’t be surprised when a tree conveys a truth or the moon reveals your next steps to tackle a problem, no matter how large or small. If or when disaster strikes, you won’t have to touch the pain alone.

 

 


Sue Westwind

Writer interested in the earthspiritual and eco-erotic, who seeks to learn and share ways we can solve our mental health crisis through alternatives to medication that heal mind, body, and spirit.

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