Last Thursday night at Portland, Maine’s SPACE Gallery, Annie Sprinkle guided guests on a slideshow tour of her monumental career, which was a rollercoaster ride to say the least: First a prude. Then a prostitute. Porn star. Filmmaker. Trained photographer. Sex educator. Performance artist. PhD in human sexuality. Author. And through and through, a sex positive feminist who loves her body and isn’t afraid to show it (yes, all who attended are now nipple eyewitnesses of the "bosom ballet"). Sprinkle’s current era is one of ecosexology—a motion to raise awareness about our sexual relationship with Mother Lover Earth and environmentally friendly sexual practices. Seeing her in the flesh, I noticed the glow of a prophet—an activist prophet who continues to herald our unrestrained and humane exploration of sexuality (that behavioral jungle which may never cease to escape its mapmakers).
It’s important to recognize that this San Franciscan prophet of history (or in Sprinkles’ parlance, herstory) was sponsored by the Portland-based sexuality boutique called Nomia, our local torchbearer of Sprinkles’ same mission to “promote sexual literacy.” With sincerest thanks to Nomia, Portland witnessed a biography ranging from Public Cervix Announcements to lavishly nude marriages of Sprinkle and the Earth, Sky, Sun, Sea, Snow and the Sea again for a second time…
I first stumbled upon this hidden gem of a shop last fall in the heart of Exchange Street. To get there, you ascend a staircase to the second floor, a perch that helps ensure customer anonymity. Since opening in 2004, the store has responsibly offered an array of academic and erotic literature, lingerie, hosiery, and first-rate adult sex toys and accessories that cater to all sexes and sexualities. I remember after about an hour poking through their book selection, I felt something in the air heighten my sexual curiosity... Wow, I thought to myself holding a shopping bag in the street, I really just bought a leather riding crop! This purchase (which has been quite a hit—) nicely exemplifies why Nomia is here. Yes, it’s a retail store, but it’s also a resource center, an education initiative, and a progressive sexuality movement helping people realize that they owe it to themselves to explore bodily pleasure on a truly individual-specific level.
Gina Rourke is the magician behind Nomia, and she approaches her work from a background in community organizing and time spent studying in an American Civilization PhD program (particularly, women’s labor history and critical theory) at Brown University. Having “gone from public organizing to private organizing,” Rourke keeps a strict a one-on-one approach to the educational side of things. “Sex is a practice through which you express your sexuality,” she said. “And when you think of sex as a language, you understand that there’s a remarkable diversity in terms of people’s experience, and the staff is trained to work with customers very much on an individual level because everyone’s coming at it from a different place.”
Rourke’s work does not end with the store and the training of an extremely informative, judgment-free, and friendly staff. Taking Nomia beyond Exchange Street, she often consults medical practitioners on various topics. In one recent workshop, Rourke helped therapists find the vocabulary they need to speak effectively about the myth-laden subject of pornography with clients who have porn-related issues. Rourke also works to adapt sex toys for therapeutic use by individuals who are physically disabled. As Nomia’s success shows, progressive businesses will find loyal support on the Portland peninsula.