Pteridophilia 1 (Video Still), 2016 © Zheng Bo.

50 Shades of Green

When you’re turned on by nature

Reading Time: 5 min

Who said that we should only do it with one another? Ecosexuals practice free love in alignment with nature. This is more than mere treehugging, this has become a sexual orientation in its own right. As always, it challenges questions of boundaries. Naughty by nature? An article by Lisa Andergassen

A mother-to-be is spending her time renovating her boyfriend’s house. She prefers to be alone with him, as he likes to hang out with as many people as possible. When his continually growing group of guests begins acting rowdily, the pregnant woman attempts to put them in their place. This is how the film „Mother!“ (2017) starts. At first, the arguments are civil, but become increasingly frantic. And while she is desperately trying to curb the intruders’ insults, she helplessly watches her home turn into a post-apocalyptic battle ground.

„Mother!“ should be read as a metaphor for the exploitation of our „Mother Earth“, according to director Darren Aronofsky. Humans as abusers, who are treating the planet as their property, are also the protagonists of our Anthropocene. Alternatives to this aggressive approach are greatly in demand, especially in these times of rapid climate change.

One such movement is re-interpreting our relationship to the Earth: „Nature is your lover, not your Mother“ is the battle cry of the so called „eco-sexual“ movement. While “Mother” is willing to overlook and even excuse her offspring’s misconducts, lovers meet on the same level, which asks commitment from both parties involved. This at least is how ex-prostitute, performance-artist, and sex-education-icon, Annie Sprinkle, defines it. She started the Eco-sexual movement in 2008, when she and her partner Elizabeth M. Stephens were unified with the Earth in a wedding ceremony. In the time since, Sprinkle und Stephens have pledged their fealty to partners as different as Lake Kalavesi, coal, and dirt.

Pteridophilia 1 (Video Still), 2016 © Zheng Bo.

Though mixing performance art with environmental concerns and identity politics, they consider these events to be more than artistic expressions: The idea is to tear down the borders between species and elements, leveling categories like gender and sexual preferences, as well as race, class, or other social attributes. Human, radish, spring water – they are all the same. Of course it would be enough to treat the planet with respect in order to save it. However: The closer the relationship, the bigger the healing impact for everyone involved.

Which is why Eco-Sexuals chose to approach their objects of desire in a tender way. They rub their bodies on plants, caress and hug them. Or they have sex with them, by masturbating under waterfalls, or orgasming while wallowing in mud. Sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, sometimes together with people. Flowers arouse them. They kiss each other through strapped-on grass masks or they lie down naked in brooks. Taking this step from living in harmony with nature to having a relationship with it is not so much of a novelty. A look into history shows why.

Pteridophilia 2 (Video Still), 2018 © Zheng Bo.

In his book „Anxious Pleasures – The Sexual Lives of an Amazonian People“, anthropologist Thomas Gregor gives insight into the ancient tradition of sex with trees by describing two particular episodes. One is about a native of the Amazon who builds an artificial vagina from leaves, which he is taking advantage of regularly. In the second one, a man stumbles upon a decidedly satisfactory hole in a tree, which he ends up preferring over his wife and mistress. Both men, so the story goes, had fallen so much for the attributes of their botanic love objects that they found themselves in deep mourning, after their concerned tribe members decided to destroy their adored ones.

This special form of tree love is so common that it deserves its own name: Dendrophylia. It is no coincidence that it’s the trees which attract humans in a special way.  Oak, birches and pines mirror attributes many are looking for in potential partners for long-term relationships. Down-to-earth and strong , they are braving all harmful influences from in-or-outside. They give us shelter and comfort. Trees are low-maintenance, long-lasting, and there for us whenever we need them. They stay with us no matter what, without ever asking for something in return: a commitment all genders appreciate.

Tree of life or object of desire? To be considered, next time you take a walk in the woods.

How nature interprets these human advances is unclear. Flowers, bushes, and spring water are shy about communicating their needs. Safe Word? No chance! The potted plant appears to be especially vulnerable in this context. Completely depending on human caregiving, it is always in proximity to a potential sex offender. One of the most pitiful specimens became –so it has been reported– a victim of a Harvey Weinstein-related drama, when the now infamous producer, while dining at a restaurant in front of a lady who had been rejecting his attempts at seduction, masturbated lustily into that very same domesticated plant.

In contrast, for Eco-Sexuals „do no harm“plays an important role in their relationships with plants. The artist Genevieve Belleveau, for example, is against having actual sex with plants. Instead of exercising power over plants who can’t utter their consent, she is doing it in nature with her partner Themba Alleyne. The couple shares an interest in BDSM and they engage plants in a different way into their love play: as sex toys in plant-style. Orchids meticulously designed to imitate nature adorn butt plugs, deceptively real-looking grass forms a whip. “Eco-fetishes” like these are the bread and butter of the couple’s company, Sacred Sadism. Their desire (apart from saving the planet): bringing BDSM practices out of the dark dungeons into airy nature. BDSM don’t have anything to hide. On the contrary, the opposite is the case: no other sex practice is valuing respect, trust and consensually more, explains the duo.

The Orchid Show © Sacred Sadism

The Succulet Swatter © Sacred Sadism

For all of you who neither appreciate to be whipped with grass, nor have erotic body contact with mud, there are more subtle ways to make your sex life more eco-friendly.

The company Einhorn, for instance, is selling condoms made out of natural rubber, which not only have great names like „Sunseeker“ or „Thicket“, but are also vegan, fair, and sustainable. Or you can add to your repertoire by buying eco-friendly sex toys from ventures such as Other Nature or Amorelie. And you probably should, because a satisfying sex life will dial down aggressive tendencies altogether. Mother Earth will thank you for it.


The video Pteridophilia by chinese artist Zheng Bo was shown at Manifesta 12 in Palermo. It shows seven young people, strolling through a forest in Taiwan, seeking intimate encounters and emotional ties with plants. More on the work of Zheng Bo, which partly illustrates this article, can be found here.