Earth lust

"If not for sex, much of what is flamboyant and beautiful in nature would not exist. Plants would not bloom. Birds would not sing. Deer would not sprout antlers. Hearts would not beat so fast. But ask an assortment of creatures, what is sex? and they will give you very different answers."

Olivia Judson Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice To All Creation

In the belly of the furnace of creativity is a sexual fire; the flames twine about each other in fear and delight.  The same sort of coiling, at a cooler, slower pace, is what the life of this planet looks like.  The enormous spirals of typhoons, the twists and turns of mountain ranges and gorges, the waves and the deep ocean currents - a dragonlike writhing.

Gary Snyder A Place in Space

Don't worry, it only seems kinky the first time.


If you ever make it up to the Pacific Northwest with an interest in getting back to the fundamentals of primal living, be sure to look up a character called the Barefoot Sensei. The Sensei is a powerful and authentic teacher, a visionary of body, land and foot.

The first time I heard the Sensei speak around a campfire, I became entranced as he delivered an intriguing set of stories, opinions and visions, most of them crafted around the themes of bare feet, land, earth, training and activism. The conversation danced like the flames of the fire. Light faded and stars appeared as the tribe gathered around. Stories came and went, but Sensei held center stage.

After a string of compelling and often hilarious narrative, Sensei became philosophical and began to speak of his personal dream and life trajectory. He promised us that someday soon, he’d be “going back, deep into the wild.”

We waited for more and passed the bottle around, anticipating the explanation that was sure to come.

“I’m headed out,” he told us, “back into the wild. I’ve got everything I need. I’m going to foot the path into the wilderness and have an orgasm with the earth.”

Suddenly, my attention jumped to a whole new level. Never having heard this expression before, my curiosity exploded. “Wait!” I nearly shouted. “What are you getting at? How can you have an orgasm with the earth? And more importantly, how can I have one?”

getting down

Some will dismiss the Sensei’s phrase as a bit of hippie hyperbole, a wild-man fantasy with an erotic twist. But it’s not. The Sensei has done it before and he fully intends to do it again. I have no doubt that this experience is real for him and for others as well. But still, we need to–excuse the language–go deeper and find out what this idea is all about. Undoubtedly, some of us will need an explanation and/or an instruction manual.

So the question before us: what is an “orgasm with the earth?” What is this “earth lust?” Is it sex with the biosphere, our bioregion, this land, this habitat? Is it natural? Is it normal? How do we do it? And most importantly of all, is it hot?

What’s that you say? You’ve never had an orgasm with the earth? You’re kidding, right? Surely you must have at least done some heavy petting with the goddess. You must have done a backpack trip into the mountains or a day hike to a high peak. You must have felt the summer breeze on your skin, the glow in your flesh and the intoxication of your spirit. If not, this is something that you must do, and soon.

If this sounds preposterous to you, think again. When you get right down to it, sex with people and sex with the earth aren’t really all that different. There’s the romance, the anticipation, the first touch, the arousal and the immersion. There’s the sensual contact and the virtuous circle of touching and being touched. There’s a sense of safety and comfort, danger and exhilaration. The physical body rises, bringing forth deep primal memories and unification with all of life itself. If you can do one kind of sex, you can do the other.

my first time

For my part, I can vividly recall a number of earth-shattering earth-orgasms, mostly from my days as a climber in the mountains of California. Climbing, like many outdoor sports, is all about getting your body into intimate contact with the natural, tactile world. Exposure promotes vivid sensation, anticipation and engagement. Gravity provides focus and sharpens attention to the here and now. Tactile awareness deepens as fingers and toes probe for subtle variations in form and texture. Skin becomes alert and aware. Every sense comes alive, passionate, desiring ever more. Long summer days of perfect rock, perfect weather, powerful physicality and the sweet caress of a gentle breeze.

There was usually a climax of course, when we reached the safety and panorama of the summit, but this was but a single orgasmic moment surrounded by hours of caress and erotic pleasure. Even the moonlight descent, with our bodies scraped, bruised and fatigued by our efforts, was sensual magic, a feast for eyes, ears and spirit. Only when we reached the highway would the spell be broken.

Later, I began to realize that climbing, for all its intensity and exposure, wasn’t really necessary to achieve an earth orgasm. In fact, simply walking through the high country of Yosemite usually gave me a similar result. The intoxicating air of summer, the gently erotic curves of the granite domes, the sweet, fresh water that coursed down creek beds into soft inviting meadows, the subtle and revealing light that played across the alpine vistas: there was enough arousal here for anyone with sensation and attention. My skin, my senses and my spirit would always quicken in anticipation. All I cared about was deeper engagement.

John Muir knew it all along of course, this sensual passion for the natural world, especially the Sierras. How else shall we describe his prose?

“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.”

for the love of life

For many, the popular archetype of Earth is female, and some might suppose that it’s only men who would be lured into her arms. But when speaking of earth lust, there’s no need to discriminate by gender, one way or the other. All people, of any sexual persuasion, can find erotic love in nature’s body. Male or female, straight or gay, all can become passionate about the charms of the biosphere, the land and habitat. Many call her “the goddess Gaia” and assume her to be female, but we can use any gender label we like. The biophilic impulse is really pan-sexual. We can all find pleasure here, no matter which pronoun we happen to choose.

Of course, you might want to dismiss this entire line of inquiry as the lunatic raving of hippie philosophers gone mad. But no less a figure than E.O. Wilson has championed a similar, slightly less erotic idea, one he calls biophilia. Wilson is no hippie or pornographer. In fact, he is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. As of 2007, he was the Pellegrino University Research Professor in Entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. He is a Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism. Wilson is not a person given to rash, impulsive carnal speculation.

When all dressed up in asexual academic language, the term biophilia (literally "love of life") refers our "innate tendency to affiliate with other living creatures and processes." Of course, Wilson wasn’t explicitly erotic about his biophilia. (given his views on sociobiology, he attracted enough controversy as it was.) But my guess is that if we could get him around the campfire in the company of a few friends and under the influence of the right libations, he would confess to knowing exactly what we’re talking about.

When E.O. Wilson talks about biophilia, he’s talking about a deep physical, primal need for contact. Just as social animals have a strong need to maintain contact with their fellows, so too do we have a drive to touch our living environment. What our bodies want is contact with plants, animals, rolling terrain and open sky. Our senses crave this stuff. We need to smell the land, touch the dirt with our bare feet, feel the textures of the plants, see the movement of the animals, and feel the wind on our faces.

Massage therapists often speak of the power of touch in human health. We know, for example, that infants who are touched frequently grow larger and healthier, while infants who are touch-deprived fail to develop normally. As social animals, we thrive on physical human contact, but there seems to be an even wider need that goes beyond our species. We need to touch, smell and see living things of all varieties; in a sense, we need to be massaged by the natural world. We need to be massaged by driving rain, blinding sun, steep terrain and long distances. health and biophilia

Nature contact is a powerful driver of human health. Hospital studies show that patients with a window view of trees in a natural setting had shorter post-operative stays, fewer complications and requested less pain medication than those who had a view of a brick wall. And we have all heard about the beneficial effects of pets on sick human patients. It is obvious that contact with trees, dirt, rocks and animals is good for us.

In The Biophilia Hypothesis, Roger Ulrich reviewed studies of human landscape preference and found that "observers prefer forest settings having some similarities to savanna-like or parklike settings, including visual openness and uniform ground cover associated with large-diameter mature trees and relatively small amounts of slash and downed wood." Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we seem to prefer landscapes that offer easy bipedal living.

Ulrich also cites studies analyzing the effects of outdoor scenes on stressed individuals. His findings suggest that "viewing unthreatening landscapes tends to produce faster and more complete restoration from stress than does viewing unblighted urban or built environments lacking nature." Apparently, natural settings tend to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, that branch of the nervous system associated with rejuvenation and tissue repair. One hospital study found that patients exposed to "serene" landscape pictures showed significant reductions in blood pressure. Another study suggested that patients responded more positively to wall art dominated by natural content, but tended to react negatively to abstract painting and prints. A prison study found that inmates with a view towards nearby farms and forests were less likely to report for sick call than those whose cell windows faced the prison yard.

primate’s predicament

Sadly, one thing is obvious: We, as a culture, are just not getting enough earth sex and we aren’t having enough orgasms with the biosphere. I have no way to quantify this claim, but there can be no doubt that modern Americans are suffering an acute earth-sex drought. With millions of people chained to their desks, incarcerated in their cars and stressed to the absolute limit, it seems increasingly unlikely that people are having sex of any variety, much less passionate lust in the arms of the earth.

This may sound like an overstatement, but it actually constitutes a genuine public health emergency. After all, you probably know how it goes when you’re going through a conventional sex drought: anxiety and frustration become acute, distraction becomes constant, health and exuberance begin to suffer. The urge to merge pushes itself into consciousness thousands of times each day. You can’t work, you can’t think and you’re eventually forced into cheap alternatives that are completely without heart or soul. Similar symptoms are certain to arise when we go through an earthsex drought. Just look at modern popular culture.

sex ed

“She will not come to you gliding through the yielding air; the fair one that suits must be sought…” Ovid

Unfortunately, our culture is suffering from an epidemic of erotic amnesia; we’ve forgotten our primal passion for the natural world. And even among those who have retained the simmering lust, the basic skills are often lacking. Obviously, it’s time for some remedial education; it’s time for earthsex ed. So let’s begin at the beginning; what are the basics?

First of all, you’ll want to begin with the art of foreplay. The earth goddess doesn’t reveal her charms without some seduction and effort. You can’t just show up and start fooling around; you need a time for transition, anticipation and romance.

So set the time aside, away from the regular distractions in your life. Block off your calendar, protect some sacred space. Give this priority. Then, once you’re committed, start your preparation. Wear the right clothes, assemble your provisions and plan your route. Set the mood and pay close attention to your lover. Be quiet and observant of detail.

As the engagement begins, move towards embrace. If you’re going to have an orgasm with the earth, you’ve got to put your body out there. You’ve got to expose yourself. You’ve got to make yourself vulnerable and you’ve got to be, in some sense, naked. This doesn’t necessarily mean stripping off your clothing, although it might. What it really means is getting away from the thickest forms of urban insulation: the comfortable housing, the climate-controlled automobiles and all the electronic mechanisms that stand between our bodies and the body of the earth. Urban insulation, when carried to its logical conclusion, acts as a triple-layer condom, deadening sensation and making orgasm all but impossible.

Good earth sex is highly physical to be sure, but it’s much more than just a physical act. Sure, you can drop into nature in a helicopter or on a cruise ship. You can fly over her gorgeous body in a small airplane or gawk at her wonders from the safety of a Land Rover. But while these methods may in fact give you a quick burst of excitement, they lack commitment and intimacy. There’s little risk, little engagement; they are little more than voyeurism.

In fact, most of our modern attempts to love the earth amount to little more than pathetic phone sex. Lacking time or interest in an authentic act of engagement, we simply cue up a BBC nature special on the DVD player or dial in something on the Discovery Channel. And there we’re treated to the leaping whales, the blood-thirsty predators, the time-lapsed glory of Gaia’s naked flesh, all with remote control in hand. A few minutes of this “action” brings us to a pathetic faux orgasm and a return to the sports network or the refrigerator.

To have a truly meaningful orgasm with the earth, you’ve got to get your feet on the ground and your body into the action. Intimacy means involvement. If you want to really get intimate, you’re going to have to do more than fire off a quick email or click on a couple of links. You have to be here, now. This means physical commitment. And that means time.

Naturally, when it comes to earthsex, position is of supreme importance. The standard choices–deep valleys and high mountain ridges–are excellent of course, but don’t limit yourself. Keep your mind open to terrain, light and landform. It’s all about relationship. Anticipate the changing light, the flow of the clouds and weather, the changes in sound and the movements of animals. If a new position draws you, move towards it strongly, but without force. Keep listening and feeling your lover’s moods; the land may suggest a new position, so be ready to adapt.

No matter the position, go towards your lover with a balanced physicality and spirit: strong-soft, powerful-adaptable, eager-patient. You are intent, you are passionate, you are absorbed. But you are also gentle, kind, compassionate and patient. You can be strong but you can yield, always deepening connection, contact and embrace of the divine. The more balanced your spirit, the more you can give, the more you can receive.

just do it!

As most people now realize, conventional sex is a powerfully health-positive experience. Even the most conservative medical publications tell us that sex relieves stress, boosts immunity, burns calories, improves cardiovascular health, boosts self-esteem and reduces pain.

The prescription is clear; sex is good for your health. It’s even better if you do it with people you love. It’ll lower your blood pressure, normalize your stress response, activate your parasympathetic nervous system and help you sleep. For these reasons, physicians now routinely advocate more sex for their patients.

Of course, most physicians are prescribing conventional “sex with people” and have yet to take it to the logical next level. But that may change. As more and more experts begin to understand the dramatically health-positive effects of biophilia and nature contact, they may very well expand their recommendations. They may just start telling their patients to spend more time in natural settings, getting their bodies into intimate contact with wild habitat, dirt, plants, animals, rocks and water.

It won’t be long before they’re writing prescriptions that say “Go outside and have an orgasm with the earth.”

“And call me in the morning. I want to hear how it went.”