How Festivals Help to Decommodify Sexual Expression

Article by: Jenna Sessions|@JtheSesh

Tue July 17, 2018 | 11:45 AM

Dimond Saints were seducing Symbiosis attendees with their deep, downtempo beats. A figure caught my eye and I turned to look; a glittering creature had slid next to me to gaze upon the music makers. I felt my mouth drop open. Well over six-feet tall, dressed all in white, with dark, black, dreaded locks and mocha colored skin glistening, serene eyes piercing through the shadows; I stood in awe of the beauty before me. 

We quickly locked eyes and I blurted out uncontrollably, “You are an absolutely stunning human.” I received gracious thanks in the form of a bow. A friend popped into the interaction saying, “I love that you just used the word ‘human.’ You didn’t say ‘man.'” Suddenly, I was struck with the profundity of what had just happened. I replied, “The beauty I saw had nothing to do with sex. I was simply overwhelmed with adoration for your loveliness and defining it in that way didn’t seem important.” All three of us hugged and went back to listening to the jams. 

Festivals are amazing in this way. There is such freedom to express oneself beyond the bonds of sexuality or sexiness. We have the opportunity to experience human sensuality on a greater scale. It is the sensual nature of our festival interactions, often without overt sexual overtones, that is changing how humans are experiencing each other.

Sziget 2015 Sandor Csudai 1

Photo by: Sandor Csudai

I always found myself slightly offended whenever someone asked me about Burning Man by saying, “Is that the one where all the hippies dance around naked in the desert?” I always defend and downplay the nudity because A) There isn't as much nudity as people think, and B) In our culture, nudity is always commodified and sexualized. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with sex. But in America, nudity is too often presented in movies for shock value — and somehow seen as dangerous. 

Maybe this is a throwback to our deeply ingrained Puritanical roots, but something different is happening on the playa, and at other festivals like Canada's Bass Coast, as well. Naked hippies do dance, and we're taking back control of our bodies. We are beginning to see our bodies as the gorgeous, wondrous creations they are – and coming to a place that a dear friend of mine refers to as “abundance instead of scarcity.” This "abundance" mindset proposes that sexual interaction can come from a place without ownership of the beloved. I would take this one step further to say that sexual opportunities can be accepted — or ignored — freely, because there is no desperate need to procreate anymore, as there once was. We can see a beautiful naked person and play with them in the sun without ulterior motives, because on some deeper biological level, we understand we no longer need to fight to live. 

Arise Festival 2015 Juliana Bernstein   35

After all, the history of mankind's will to survive is centered around reproduction. We are deeply ingrained to ensure our legacies intact through our progeny. We are biologically programmed to….well, mate. But what happens as we continue to evolve and thrive is that we have the chance to really see one another – and allow ourselves to be seen – without the fear or inevitability of a sexual outcome.

Sex feels good, of course! It drives most of our interactions. But that's the body controlling the mind. Festivals encourage elevating the mind above the body in order to find transcendence and nirvana. It’s why they hold a precious place in our lives. They offer a chance to step out of our comfort zones and to express ourselves more freely, and to treat the planet and each other with more respect.

Burning Man 2015 Galen Oakes   51 Of 168

Photo by: Galen Oakes

We interact with others every single day. In the best circumstances we do so mindfully, with respect and gratitude for those around us. In the worst circumstances, we see hate crimes and abuse. And frequently, we see and feel interactions centered on sexual conquest. 

Talking recently with another friend, we discussed how many are culturally bred to seek a “hook-up” every time they go out at night. It drives a sort of goal-oriented experience. I refer to this action as modern day human hunting. As women, we are bred to resist and constantly monitor when to relent to these advances. Another friend mentioned how he struggles with finding a mate in the gay community because he feels pressure to be promiscuous. And an androgynous friend confided that they are fed up trying to make other people feel comfortable around them because they are not easily identified as one of the binary sexes.

Bestival 2015 Victor Frankowski Bestival 2

Gay. Straight. Male. Female. Bisexual. Poly. Monogamous. These are all terms that we use to categorize each other and ourselves so we can feel comfortable interacting, so we can know and understand whether or not the person we are interacting with is trying to get in our pants – or whether we want to get into theirs. But in the festival world – it often feels like all bets are off. We are casting off our daily lives, labels, and yes, sometimes our clothes, to honor the human body and all its glory without an agenda. It’s not discarding our bodies or being ashamed of their forms. It’s embracing them with all of our sensuality, and its not always centered on sexuality.

We crave to feel beautiful without being conquered. We want to play together as animals and creatures that see and feel each other. Our human bodies can be celebrated – in all forms – as we come together to dance under the sun and stars. I have felt that twinge of fear when strolling into the waters of Symbiosis, sarong covering my chest, debating on what would happen if I removed it. I just wanted to feel free. I wanted to feel feminine, but not sexy. As a dancer, I have an intimate and deep connection with my body and I wanted to feel the sun on my skin. So I turned towards shore, bent slightly over, and slid my cover down to my waist. As I met my friends in the water… something incredible happened: nothing! I walked through the crowd of people, all in varying states of nudity, and felt a gratitude for the safety and space we gave each other to feel liberated. There were no lewd glances, comments or compliments. It was as if we all realized that we had a precious gift to be ourselves without the disapproval or approval of anyone. It was glorious.

This article was originally published in November 2015.