Are our fetishes and sexualities based on nature or nurture? In the case of ecosexuality, an identity that celebrates an heightened connection between body and Mother Earth, it’s all about nature. Ecosexuality is not exactly what you might expect it to be. Nobody is fucking a tree hollow. But, then again, it might be exactly what you think it is.

An ecosexual can get off on earth porn (or lush images of landscapes shared on Reddit), get buzzed by having vanilla sex on the beach against the sound of thundering waves and even embrace marriage to natural landmarks like mountains and trees. It’s tree-hugging on steroids. Ecosexuals can be heterosexual, asexual, gay, transgender or have another primary sexual identity altogether. Of course, ecosexuality can be one’s primary identity, and as such, it’s one that’s almost entirely based on your ability to let go of logic. As the so-called mother of the movement Annie Sprinkle says, “Why do we only fantasize about humans and their bodies when we can also fantasize about being licked by the sea, rubbing on rocks, caressing clouds and connecting with planets?”

In honor of Earth Day 2017, Playboy thought it would be interesting to explore a very queer iteration of sexual identity that relies on one’s wiliness to think of our home planet as not just a cosmic force, but as a sensual one too. Ecosexuality is more than a fetish; it’s a movement. Many of its participants are activists with a mission to save the planet by making love to it and ridding the world of toxic products. It’s literally a sexy new take on environmentalism that cross-pollinates between artists, queers, scientists, scholars, sexologists, permaculturists and activists.

Sprinkle, along with her colleague Elizabeth Stephens, have defined the ecosexual movement for 15 years. “It’s a 50-50 thing,” says Sprinkle of the partnership. She’s a multimedia artist whose work has appeared in university classrooms and museums, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Stephens, an artist, teaches environmental art at University of California Santa Cruz. Her current work is focused on the exploration of ‘SexEcology,’ which explores changing a long-accepted metaphor of Earth as an all-giving mother to a lover who gives but needs to be replenished. “It’s a mutual, more equal relationship,” Stephens says. The duo is currently exhibiting their ecosex art at Documenta 14, a German art exhibit of 100 days that’s widely considered to be one of the most important in the world.

Together, Sprinkle and Stephens authored the Ecosex Manifesto in 2011 wherein they write, “We will save the mountains, waters, and skies by any means necessary, especially through love, joy and powers of seduction. We will stop the rape, abuse and poisoning of the earth.” While the exact number of ecosexuals in the world is impossible to estimate, Sprinkle and Stephens guess as many as 30,000 to 50,000 identify as such as the sexual identity toes a mainstream ascent. With government support of environmental protections wavering with every new administration—despite millennials citing action on climate change a top voting issue—it makes sense why ecosexuality is attracting new members. Protecting the environment isn’t just the cause of tree-huggers any more. More and more people are seeing it as a moral obligation.

Protecting the environment isn’t just the cause of tree-huggers any more. More people see it as a moral obligation.

Last year, Outside, the bible for adventurers, profiled Sprinkle and Stephens, giving ecosexuality an insider’s stamp of approval. (The article was titled “We’re All a Little Ecosexual.”) Around the same time, an Australian art duo named Pony Express created an Ecosexual Bathhouse in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. The bathhouse included a “composting glory hole” and mesh masks lined with sprouting seeds meant to be “incubated” by mask-wearers’ breathes. “Sex sells, and if humans can learn to love the environment, maybe they can learn to preserve it,” the duo told Broadly for its story, “You Can Literally Have Sex with the Environment in This Ecosexual Bathhouse.” There’s even an entire Tumblr, Beyond MOGAI Pride Flags, devoted to designs for an ecosexual Pride flag.

The goal is clear: by shifting the archetypical lens of how we view the planet, ecosexuals say, environmental degradation can be stopped. With sex, they can bring about environmental healing through pleasure. And who doesn’t want more pleasure in their lives?

But how does one go about making love to the planet? The way Sprinkle describes it sounds admittedly ridiculous: “Feel the sun rays penetrate your pores. Smell the soil. Straddle the hot tub jets or shower hose. Don’t just use the water to get off, but make love with the water,” she says. With less pizzazz, that means using your mind, imagination and fantasies to eroticize nature and its elements and fold them into your sexual experiences. There’s even a whole chart of nature fetishes. But first, as with every sexual experience and awakening, ecosexuality has to begin with masturbation.

The Explorer

The Explorer’s Guide to Planet Orgasm by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens; illustrated by YuDori

Because all forms of sex is considered ecosex, so too is masturbation. Since humans comprise water, bacteria and minerals, Sparkle says, “we are part of—not separate from—the earth. So, all sex is ecosex.” When she and Beth give eco-sex workshops, some of the homework they assign is for participants to go home, masturbate and think of a fantasy that involves having sex with something non-human, like a rock or cloud, or to fantasize being tied to a tree.

After their fantasies, the workshoppers share their fantasies with the group. Some draw pictures, others make videos or perform some kind of physical expression of it. “It’s amazing what people fantasize.” Sprinkle says. “[You can] get pummeled by a waterfall, rub your pussy against soft moss, taste some soil, put some stinging nettles on your nipples.” And if you’ve reached peak ecosexuality, those earthly fantasies can lead you to orgasm.

Science has proven just how much power ours minds can have over our bodies, even to the point of moving it to orgasm without human touch. In 2005, Beverly Whipple, a renowned sex researcher who popularized the G-Spot, coauthored a study of 50 women at Rutgers University who reported that they could orgasm by imagery alone. “Of those 50,” Whipple said, “64 percent could orgasm just by thinking, with no one touching their body, including the women themselves.” Sprinkle participated in the same study and in her and Stephens new book, The Explorer’s Guide to Planet Orgasm, calls this thinking off, a form of “energy orgasms” that results from ecstasy-like breathing.

Since our breathing changes during the human sexual response cycle, controlling it can change your body’s reaction. In Planet Orgasm, Stephens described these changes: At the start of sex, normal breathing speeds up and builds to a rapid pace. Generally the breath is held for a few moments before and during a climax. After climax, there is a long exhale, and then the breath slows down and gradually returns to normal.
If you practice deep, conscious, rhythmic breathing, this creates pathways for ecstasy to travel throughout your entire body, providing a more full-bodied sexual experience. You can also speed up the breath to increase excitement or slow down the breath to prolong enjoyment and avoid coming. By having intention with each breath, you can ride one orgasmic wave after another. Ecosexuals take this a step further and breathe with a tree or outside in nature. “Eroticize your breathing and soon enough you’ll be having breath orgasms,” Stephens says. In fantasies, ecosexuals will imagine their bodies lying on the earth and connecting to the sky. Sprinkle advises her students to, “tap into the elements, earth, air, fire and water. Imagine you are water, and you are the Earth.”

Ecosexuality is about incorporating more elements of nature into our sex live and being more mindful of them, as well as our senses.

Sound also plays an important role in connecting sensually to the environment. Years ago, when Sprinkles and a former lover found themselves too exhausted one night to make love. Instead, they decided to get into a tub of warm water to relax. While sitting there, they closed their eyes and each let out a sigh, one after the other, without intending to make a pattern. They thought it’d be funny to make louder sighs in tandem. Soon, there they created a symphony of mmms, oohs, ahhs and other sexy sounds. They weren’t moving a single muscle but felt turned on. If anyone had heard them, they would have guesses they were having voracious sex, just like in that infamous diner scene in When Harry Met Sally.

Eventually, their energy crescendoed simultaneously and both women burst out of their bodies. They discovered they could create the same energy of intercourse simply by making sounds. Sprinkle has since spent a lot of time studying sexual energy with sex educators like the tantra teacher Jwala, who teaches, “Lower sounds stimulate the lower areas of the body, and higher sounds bring the energy up from the genitals to the heart and head.” By moving energy via sounds, we stimulate all things sexual in our bodies, waking it up and resulting in an energy orgasm release.

“In my own personal research, the times that I’ve had the most transcendental, deeply satisfying sexual experiences is when I put the most time into it,” says Sprinkle. Stephens adds, “Really deep, ongoing, full-bodied (and beyond) orgasms sometimes take time to work up to. Once you experience the great results of going beyond what you thought you were capable of, you’ll be raising your pleasure bar higher and higher.”

Kim Marks is a social justice activist and cancer survivor living in Eugene, Oregon. There, she owns a rare kind of sex toy store. Called As You Like It, the shop only sells non-toxic toys and bills itself as an “environmentally conscious sexual health shop that is wholly committed to being sustainable.” She sells organic lubes made of plant cellulose and seaweed and dildos made of black Norwegian moonstone (“It’s smooth and hefty, with a unique design so the user can have g-spot pleasure from twisting it gently side-to-side while inserted,” Marks describes). She tells me that like with any sexuality, being ecosexual can mean many things, but generally, it’s about being connected to the earth.

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he Explorer’s Guide to Planet Orgasm by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens; illustrated by YuDori

One way to be connected is to think about the environmental impact of the products you buy. “We have strong instincts to protect what we love and if the earth is a part of what we love, then we should be more careful with our choices,” Marks says. She recommends buying locally as often as possible and to consider the ethical ramifications of your purchase. Sex toys are not regulated, so you need to buy from a reputable company, otherwise you might not be getting safe materials. “Cheap, mystery internet toys are not concerned with honesty, quality or long-term use,” she says. “You want to make certain your new toy isn’t gassing-off chemicals, which means leaking toxic fumes and liquids your body can absorb through your genitals.”

While the act of buying toys can be a wonderful erotic adventure, you can also recycle things you have around the house: a ping-pong paddle for butt massage, clothespins for nipple stimulators and a cleaned feather duster for small sensations on the skin. “This philosophy is not about limitation,” says Marks. “It’s about expanding your awareness and diving deeply into those connections to yourself, your partners, and the environment. You’re in a permanent relationship with your own body and the earth. Make self-love really satisfying and exciting, you’re worth it.”

Ecosex goes beyond sexual intercourse, too. Recently Sprinkle and Stephens produced a series of weddings, the Ecosex Wedding Project, produced that doubled as art projects. In these ceremonies, the sun, moon, earth, soil and a lake were all “married” in ceremonies in nine countries. “Many who took vows with us to love, honor and cherish nature felt changed and started caring more,” Sprinkle says. They started recycling and doing more environmental activism. They appreciated the earth more. Altogether, Sprinkle and Stephens put on 21 of these ceremonies around the world over the last 10 years. They estimates some 2,500 people have participated.

Marks suggestions for ecosexual exploration are arguably more accessible than Sprinkle’s: when making love at home, open a window and feel the breeze across your nipples. “Allow water in by enjoying a bath or a waterfall,” she says, “and allow fire in by lighting candles or being by a campfire while camping. Really try and connect with yourself rather than just speeding through.”

In the end, ecosexuality is about incorporating more elements of nature into our sex lives and being more mindful of them, as well as our senses. Theoretically, this allows you to connect in a new way and hopefully move you to act more consciously in other arenas of life. Sprinkle says she enjoys eroticizing nature, and she understands that her definition of sex is expanded more than most. Some people are inhibited because of fear of ecstatic states, guilt, shame, or not wanting to lose control or look silly. “But doesn’t all great sex transform lovers? You get a bounce in your step, you feel well fucked and taken care of. And hopefully had some incredibly great orgasms.“