Recently, I visited my favorite land in High Falls with Leigh, one of the models I photograph for this project. It was sunny and warm for a winter day, but still chilly. I wasn’t expecting her to work nude, but she has a Capricorn Sun and Moon—she’s winter’s child, confident and present in the world.
Determined to make good pictures, she peeled off her layers and stripped down to a thin pair of sweats. In the photographs, I blended details of her body into the magnificent winter landscape till the goose bumps took over. Noticing them vividly through my lens, I suggested she get dressed. In those 15 minutes, we got some earthy photos of an earthy girl.
Then we wandered around the woods for a bit. I spontaneously started collecting bits of kindling from tree branches, and suggested we make a fire. This we did, and sat in the cold January sunlight for hours next to the flames and slow-rising smoke, eating Five Fruits Lifesavers and talking about everything that came up.
This of course included sex. After we had gone far enough into the discussion to appreciate the complexity of our subject, she said some words that fairly well stunned me and would have been cheered at any human potential workshop in the 1970s, long before she was born—“It’s not about sex. It’s about self.”
What she had observed, mainly through observing herself, is that when you follow sexual awareness into yourself, you’re taken to the core of self-awareness. The psyche in its deepest layers is so closely intertwined with sexual consciousness as to be one and the same with it. Because it accounts for how we come into the world, which is the only world we know, sex is cosmic. Yet discussion of sex is a kind of ruse for the real discussion, below the surface, and that is about one’s sense of identity and existence.
This makes sense. Assuming they are not cloning people yet, we all come into existence through sex or at least sex cells. Half of us starts as a sperm cell that experiences an orgasm and then takes a big ride on an ejaculation, carried along in an ocean of whatever feelings are present. The sperm cell who became us personally went up to that enormous egg (our other half) and kissed it, surrendering its prior form and identity into a new entity. That is how our existence begins, and that memory is, I would imagine, directly in our DNA, along with the instructions for how to do it again.
Sex is what creates us, so it’s sensible that eroticism (that is, all the feelings we have about sex) will have the potential to carry our creative impulse into life, and throughout our lives.
It also works the other way. When someone is conditioned to either not think or experience sexuality with full awareness (or any awareness), or if they are programmed to respond with guilt and fear, self-awareness becomes blocked. If there is a sexual injury or the perception of one, it can block much of our creative energy, potential, and happiness.
Our relationship to sex and sexuality is our relationship to existence. If we feel good about our erotic experiences, needs and feelings, we tend to feel good about life. If we are bitter, if we don’t get what we need, if we feel guilty or ashamed of our sexual feelings and experiences, that is most likely how we’re going to feel about life. This can manifest in some strange ways, such as violence and manipulation, just like feeling good about sex can manifest as a passionate, creative person who creates their existence consciously every day.
Why don’t we see the connection? Well, we’re conditioned not to, principally by religion. Notice that this thing we call religion takes credit for our existence at the same time it makes sex bad. You also can’t be aware of something you cannot feel, have no experience with or don’t know exists. For 25 years, Americans have grown up with something called abstinence-only sex indoctrination, which in effect denies the existence of their natural sexuality (Europeans who know about this think we’re on crack).