I spotted Xplore several years ago, when I learnt about Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle and sex positivism in general. It however took me all these years to finally join the Xplore for the first time on 14th-17th of July 2017, which I find strange now: the creative sexuality, art, ritual, BDSM, and openness claimed by Xplore is all I like.
Nevertheless, I have been reluctant to jump the gap until the last “book” clic and beyond. Mostly by fear of being emotionally and sexually confronted to unknown people; partly because I would have to come all the way from France; and partly because with all the yoga/tantra related workshops and the high price of the tickets, I was expecting the participants to be rich bourgeois playing the orgiastic hippies out of boredom. It is not exactly what I found at Xplore.
For the first day, I decided to take it easy, choosing workshops that seemed not to require too much personal involvement. This plan started well with Bettina Semmer’s workshop called “Touch and Sound: Social Sculpture”: made of exercises about nonverbal communication, this was a light, playful good start in the festival. The flaw in the easy-lazy plan came with Dr. Nathalie Blanc’s lecture, “being violently ill”. I thought taking a lecture was a rather passive activity. But that was before hearing how Dr. Blanc used to love playing with pain and BDSM until autoimmune diseases brought her an unwanted 24/7 pain. And how this changed for good her view on pain, connection to others, pleasure of any kind, life and death. The first of many intense moments to come during the festival.
Those moments came one after the other and often unexpectedly. “Liquid Charm” by Gustavo Frigerio, a workshop creating bonds between people. Body-to-body communication, play fight, stare at each other’s eyes … Intense emotions. But why creating bonds with only one partner at a time when you can do so with many? “Anchor”, by Jana Sarah-Aleihsa and Philipp Terhorst, partners in life, answers this question. This workshop offered a way to deal with insecurities arising when one’s partner experience the freedom of an open relationship: partners are either the “anchor” or the “swimmer” (and switch).
The anchor brings the safety and the warmth to the relationship, while the swimmer explores the ocean of open relationship possibilities. If the anchor is heavy, it limits the swimmer’s exploration and the relationship suffers, but if the anchor is light, the swimmer is free, which does not change the solid bond with the anchor. This seems like a basic concept when one dives into open relationships, but there is a huge difference between thinking it and practicing it, which is where the workshop succeeded. Definitely, this must be useful taking as a couple to guide them through the hard path to open relationships.
To get the best proof that it works, one can just watch how light-hearted, empowered and happy Jana Sarah-Aleihsa and Philipp Terhorst look together. Nevertheless, the anchor/swimmer scheme seems to suit well a situation where there is a “primary” relationship, the “home” where the anchor is, but what about people who do not want to put priorities and prefer as many anchors as there are fishes in the ocean?
Would not just accepting the slut in oneself be enough to reduce the need for external validation and thus, any problem of jealousy? “Such a slut”, brought here some insights. This was led by Rosie Enorah Heart, a wonderful sex positive figure. Her introduction to the workshop still echoes in my mind: “Don’t be ashamed of the slut you are, whatever that might be, (…) including being on your own.” Yes. No shame no matter what. Here we are, sex positivism.
So, sorry but no, Dr. Banki, sex positivism has nothing to do with the peer pressuring (on women especially) for always more sex, more often, more kink, as he mentioned during his lecture “The sex-positive movement in the context of neo-liberalism”. Sex positivism is about removing any shame from one’s sexual life, might it be asexuality. A slut is not someone horny 24/7. The idea that one should do all possible kink in order to be free/cool has been brought by women magazines, media in general and pop culture as a deformed version of sex positivism, with its climax being reached with “Fifty shades of grey”.
The same way as punk died the minute it was used by major record labels and described as a “movement” in the pop culture. But sex positivism is not dead; Xplore and Rosie Enorah Heart prove it. Another point raised by Rosie is that a slut is genderless. Traditional gender roles prevent men and women to be sluts, which from time to time seems a hopeless fight to me. But I was pretty amazed to see, in general, how far the participants of Xplore were from those roles.
These were few among other workshops I could not attend (there were several in parallel): foot torture, naked acroyoga, hippohypnosis (!), goddess rituals… But besides workshops, what make Xplore unique are its play spaces. There is a role play space with a different theme every year. This year was “Monsters and Demons”, and the Jungle, a dark, mazy and gloomy play space, was filled with those. One could choose to be a monster, a plant, an adventurer, a poor victim… A spider grabbing unfortunate passersby and wrapping them up in cellophane.
A dark figure wandering while shaking bones and performing ritual songs. A cute red hood with messed up hair coming back from a corner, escorted by a Bacchus faithful to ancient representations. Those were the kind of things you could witness in the Jungle. For my part, I was a British police officer bringing a tied up punk (a fellow participant) to give his worthless soul to the creatures in exchange for my eternal life. I quickly gave the scum to the monsters and focused on a cat, first wild, but soon tame. I passed by a woman figure staring at me with magical eyes. Mesmerized, I looked away for a second, and when I looked back, she was gone. I wondered for a while if she was real, until I saw her in the festival the next day.
Last but not least, another playground was the silent space, located in what looked like an abandoned factory. Not exactly silent, but wordless, with Andy Benz, Anna Clementi and Jürgen Grözinger playing an incredibly hypnotic music. I stepped in, sat and watched people having sex, whipping each other, or a woman literally tearing a man apart while both performing a very gracious dance. And then it came. I entered a trance-like state of consciousness, a mix of happiness, dizziness and warmth. At that precise moment, I understood precisely why some cults thought they could connect with their gods with this kind of event.
Now the festival is finished. My body aches all over. Every participant has to go back to the “real life”. The bubble with its safe space has exploded. It is now our own responsibility to create a safe and sex-positive environment in the real world, not only for ourselves, but also for others. At least until next year…
Clem, from Utopsy (https://soundcloud.com/user-573696217)