From Nowhere to Elsewhere: sex-positivity for burners

The odds are stacked against us when it comes to sexual liberation. Everywhere we look we are told that there’s something wrong with our sexuality: too much, too little, too weird, too kinky, too normal. This is our collective expression of shame – the feeling that we are not enough – and when it comes to sexuality we have plenty to work against. And as with most things we can’t quite feel in ourselves, we turn it outwards: making each other wrong and limiting what’s possible.

Then along come people like Ruby May and I, inspired by our teachers Dossie Easton, Barbara Carrellas, Fakir Musafar, Joseph Kramer and others, with a big sign saying “You can”: as long as it’s consensual you can do anything, be anything, feel anything you want. It’s all about permission – living in a world where we are so constrained, it’s vital that people feel they are allowed, that they are welcomed as they are.

This is why I was so attracted to the burningman culture, which seems to be all about saying YES to who we are and breaking free of individual and collective limitations and constraints. So after many years of flirting with the idea I finally got my shit together and made it to Nowhere (a European regional burn) in 2012.

Faerie at Nowhere 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the desert but I was struck by the attitudes to sexuality I encountered there. Like everything at a burn, there was a broad spectrum, from the wonderfully switched-on and sex-positive Touch & Play (who I camped with) to young folks who only seemed capable of sexual contact when thoroughly bladdered – and quite a bit in between.

I recalled my friend Katie Sarra‘s distinction between shame-free and shameless sexuality. Those who are shame-free are considerate, mindful and conscious with their sexuality – aware of the power it contains and in control of how it’s used and directed. By contrast those who are shameless have to be bold and brash to push through their unconscious shame. This often expresses itself as ‘really going for it’ – usually with drugs and alcohol as a support. The extreme of shameless behaviour is something like Ibiza Uncovered, which is uncomfortable and a bit painful to watch.

Overall there seemed to be more shameless people at Nowhere than shame-free ones. It was a pretty hedonistic, let’s-get-mashed kind of event anyway – but it was striking how little ‘action’ happened during the day, when people were more sober. I noticed that my frank, direct approach – “I’m really enjoying hanging out with you, would you like to play?” – was met with surprise and limited success; whereas the more traditional approach – “let’s talk about anything but sex while shuffling up to each other” – seemed to do much better.

I’m useless at that so I ended up without many playmates during the festival. When I arrived at Schwelle7’s Xplore Festival a few weeks later, where my direct approach was met with considerably better results, I realised that the culture at Nowhere and I were not compatible. It saddened me a bit, since I had wanted to go to a burn for so long – and at the same time I recognised that there was potential for rapid change within this alternative culture.

So you can imagine how excited and happy I was when Ruby May told me about her project Elsewhere, combining what we’ve learnt as sex-positive teachers with the playful, dynamic, co-creative culture of the burners. It seemed to me that this was exactly what we needed to bridge the gap between these two compelling sub-cultures, so I jumped at the chance to co-facilitate the first two Elsewheres (London & Berlin) with her.

Since then Ruby has taken Elsewhere to Prague, Copenhagen and Vienna – and in a couple of weeks’ time we are back in London to do it again. It feels like an enormous gift to help people overcome shame around their sexuality and then create a space where they can be free to express themselves in all their shades and colours. With this beautiful double-whammy of permission in place, amazing things can happen – and we know from previous Elsewheres that they often do!

Would you like to discover what’s possible when you are given permission to express yourself without shame – sexually or otherwise? If so, we’d love you to join us for Elsewhere London. Be part of the co-creation and find out what can happen when you are allowed to be more of who you are.

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  • Dusty Petticoat

    Interesting read and Elsewhere sounds like a great project – but I have to say that my impression at Nowhere 2014 was very different. I felt that there was a lot of acceptance and freedom to express yourself sexually and/or non-sexually especially during the day and many times without any alcohol involved. I loved the possibilities, the broad spectrum of play and lack of judgement. The only attitudes I had trouble with were people (predominantly men) who seemed to feel entitled to sexual encounters, complaining about being “turned down” by others or how the burn was not sexual enough. This, for me, is not in the spirit of the event because it really should be about every individuals needs and boundaries! If you “just” want to kiss, cudle or not be touched at all this is fine and should be respected. It is all about consent and self-expression also entails the right not to be sexual!

    October 12, 2014
  • “I realised that the culture at Nowhere and I were not compatible. It saddened me a bit, since I had wanted to go to a burn for so long – and at the same time I recognised that there was potential for rapid change within this alternative culture.”

    I’m sorry to read that you felt that way, in part because I feel it exposes a somewhat narrow view of the event. I don’t see a singular culture at Nowhere – to me, there are numerous subcultures with varying degrees of overlap. As an example, I’m personally I’m not a big fan of getting drunk (or high) and dancing on uneven dusty terrain to marginally entertaining music (maybe I’m just a grumpy old man), and I’m not likely to attend much of the goings-on at Touch and Play, but I find a lot of value in the connections that can be forged in temporary autonomous zones like Nowhere and Burning Man.

    I think there’s room for many different models of expression at Nowhere, but can understand why it might have felt frustrating at time if you came to it expecting a greater degree of openness about shame-free sexual play. I wonder if you would have had a different experience if you had simply allowed conversations and connections to occur – on its own merits, and without explicit sexual / sensual intent – rather than introducing an inflection point by extending invitations to play.

    A general observation about burner events – there seems to be a greater general interest in hooking up / copping off / pulling than playing. Of course, there are places – like Touch and Play – where invitations to play might be received more warmly.

    I think that a comparison of individual receptivity to play invitations at Nowhere and Xplore Festival is bound to disappoint. It’s safe to assume that nearly everyone at Xplore has at least some interest in the kinkier side of life, and may be more shame-free about sexuality, so it seems immediately obvious to me that you’d have better receptivity there.
    That is absolutely not a safe assumption at Nowhere.

    All of the above aside, I love the distinction that you make here between shame-free and shameless behavior around sexuality. It’s a distinction and context that I will share, so thank you for that.

    October 12, 2014

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