Erika Lust & The New Standard of Porn

erika

Erika Lust is a mother, author, blogger, Tedtalker, and an award winning erotic film director. She started making porn with the mindset of changing the industry, disagreeing with the one sided, sexist porn that was out there. Since 2007, she has created several awardwinning features and short films, as well as having written numerous books, including Good Porn: a Woman’s Guide, The Erotic Bible to Europe, La Canción de Nora, and Let’s Make a Porno: a Practical Guide to Filming Sex.

Strangely, sex-positive porn is often considered alternative, as sexually violent and degrading material has been mainstream for so long. Erika’s films are creative, respectful, realistic and relatable, in contrast to the unconvincing and degrading porn that is all too common. She focuses on diversity when casting actors, and the cinematography of the overall picture, making the films aesthetically pleasing with lighting, music and original stories. We couldn’t help but get Erika to tell us more about her vision and work.

 

The first steps into the porn industry
Starting at the beginning, I’m from Stockholm, Sweden but have been based in Barcelona for over ten years now where I live with my partner Pablo and our two daughters, Lara and Liv. I studied Political Science and Gender Studies at Lund University, Sweden before moving to Barcelona in 2000, where I started studying film directing. Whenever I had come in contact with mainstream porn I felt there was a lot of important aspects missing. Female perspective for example, a huge aspect, was completely missing. Also, I’m a cinema nerd, and I just hated how mainstream porn was shot! Why omit lighting, narrative and cinematography just because you’re depicting something explicit? I started thinking about creating an alternative, something I wanted to watch myself, something sexy, cinematic that paid attention to female pleasure as well. I made my first erotic short film in 2004, The Good Girl, and put it online for free. It had over 2 million views in only few months, which was overwhelming, but a happy surprise. It was great to know that others felt the same way I did, that there was a big need for a different type of adult films. I’ve been directing ever since and I’m celebrating ten years as an erotic film maker this year.

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Situations you can relate to
A lot of women dismiss the idea of porn. If there is no curiosity at all to begin with, I don’t think anyone should force themselves to watch adult films. The interest should come from a place of curiosity and joy! However, if women are curious and have dismissed porn because they feel there hasn’t been any attention paid to the needs of women in the mainstream films they’ve seen and if they found it cheap and boring, then yes, I think they might enjoy my films. My films focus on female pleasure, on real pleasure, and the narrative surrounding the sex. Every short film has a context, a little backstory that makes it exciting and realistic. People all over the world have sexual encounters all the time, and the meetings happen because of a lot of weird, funny and beautiful things that lead to sex. Those things are part of the sex too…narrative and context. Narratives don’t have to be overly elaborate, but if done right, they make the whole film sexier, more interesting and intelligent. Sex is more interesting than just watching genitals banging against each other, right? A lot of women, and men, like to see something similar to the ecxiting encounters they have had in their own lives, reflected in adult films.

 

Feminist directors multiply and get stronger each year
I am very concerned about making sure there is consent, professionalism and sexpositivity in my productions. My company only works with people who share our views, enjoy working in their profession, are confident and sure of themselves, are doing it for the right reasons and love sex.  Additionally, we, of course, do all the tests with performers to make sure they are healthy before shooting.

There are a lot of feminist porn directors, too many to mention really! But the movement is getting bigger and stronger every year. The feminist Porn Awards are a good reflection of that. Also, a lot of younger people are creating innovative adult cinema, like Vex Ashley from A Four Chambered Heart, I love her films. It’s good to see the internet generation creating something different than what is offered on the porntubes. In terms of the mainstream industry, I haven’t seen any progressive changes, mainly just repetition of the same old tropes.

I’m a cinema nerd, and I just hated how mainstream porn was shot!

X Confessions our most ambitious project until now.
I wanted to bring in the viewers as part of the production, and know what they were really fantasizing about, what really turned them on. The idea was to get people to share their stories and for me to try to create films around those stories, so that real erotic thoughts of real people could get represented and visualized cinematically. Eventually technology allowed it to happen. We set up a site and confessions came pouring in. I’m so glad people connected with the idea and as a result the project took off. There was obviously a need to share sexual stories a long way from mainstream tropes about sex and attraction. What people were sharing varied, so imaginative, so dirty, tender, crazy, beautiful. Such a rich library of human sensuality and eroticism really. I started shooting films based on the confessions, and it felt great. I loved the communal sharing aspect and the feeling of making people’s fantasies come to life. Confessions are still coming in and the community keeps getting bigger and bigger. We have over 100,000 active members now. It’s definitely my most ambitious project yet.

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It takes a spark to make a movie out of a fantasy
I wish I could turn a lot more of the confessions from the website into films, but two short films a month is a very heavy production output and there’s just not time for more! What I look for is a spark, something interesting that makes you feel the connection, the excitement of an erotic story. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. The films are extremely varied in terms of content and setting. It helps if I can imagine the film instantly when I read it and also if the production is actually possible.. I couldn’t film something in the middle of the Grand Canyon for example!

Sex and donuts
If someone submits a fantasy that depicts something illegal or nonconsensual on Xconfessions site, we won’t publish it. I have a team that moderates the entries. Apart from that, imaginations sure run wild! Nothing really shocks me, but I do get pleasantly surprised sometimes. Stories of ordinary people are certainly extraordinary. I recently read one about a sexual encounter in a donut shop, powdered sugar flying everywhere, donuts used in unusual ways. It was intriguing, funny, well-written and yes, very sexy!

It’s weird that feminist porn is often treated like the strange one when all it does is try to portray sex in a more realistic way than a lot of sexist porn has done.

Being a mother in porn
I am sometimes discriminated for being a woman! Just because you’re familiar with feminist concepts and call yourself a feminist doesn’t mean your immune to discrimination  it just makes you more aware and able to call it what it is  sexism. Sexism is often exercised in a way that the people doing it doesn’t know it’s sexism. It can be talking over women, interrupting, not listening to women in meetings and so on. There is a lot of unconscious sexist bias. Also, as a mother, doing what I do, I sometimes get written about in a malicious way, like you’re not allowed to be a mother and do anything related to sex. It’s the madonna/whore dichotomy, it’s still alive and well today. I generally don’t care, if people are too stupid to engage with, but if needs be I call people out on their sexism.

 

Degrading one gender shouldn’t be the norm
To treat both men and women like human beings is a key factor in porn production. It’s weird that feminist porn is often treated like the “odd one out” or the strange one when all it does is try to portray sex in a more realistic way than a lot of sexist porn has done. So equality is considered “odd” in adult films because there is so much sexist porn. Sexist porn is the norm for the genre. Hopefully that will change over time. Because, it’s not really such a radical idea is it, to portray sex in a positive manner, where people are experiencing pleasure and enjoying themselves, on equal terms? That should be the norm! So it’s a myth that feminist porn is just for women. Lots of men like it too, in fact over half my audience identify as men.

Important to give young people right ideas.
I do find it impossible to keep quiet on issues relating to sexuality, gender and equality. And the more people don’t want to talk about it and the more people want to silence me, the more it convinces me we still have a long way to go. There is still a lot of stigma that needs lifting. We can’t sit quiet and pretend like everything is just ok. We need to talk about sex, about explicit imagery, unfair representations in adult films, about sexism and about gender. I have two girls, so I am also very passionate about sex education and how porn can give a skewed view of sex. We need to offer something more realistic, with sexpositive representations. This is a huge passion of mine so I don’t think I will go into anything else right now.

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Myths about porn actors.
I employ people that understand the Lust ethos, have a passion for film making and a drive to change the landscape of adult film for the better. In terms of actors, I only work with those who understand my ethos and who are sexpositive, mature, smart, happy and healthy. There are many weird ideas about adult performers, but the cast of XConfessions are some of the most interesting, wonderful people I have ever met.

I have two girls, so I am also very passionate about sex education and how porn can give a skewed view of sex

Don’t concentrate on the things that didn’t work.
I’ve learnt not to obsess over the little things, to let go and move on. Then start working on the next thing! Things don’t always work out perfectly so I’ve had to learn to silence the overly critical perfectionist in me and see the bigger picture and to have time to make more films and move forward. I just have to focus on the task ahead and not dwell on things that don’t go as planned. Because things rarely go as planned. I just try to keep my focus, move forward and keep making the best films I possibly can.

Large film festivals coming up.
The office is a hub of ideas, and there’s always projects going. This year we have taken XConfessions to the big screen, with screenings and talks at the Raindance Film Festival in London and the Chicago International Film Festival. It’s been thrilling to bring the films into these forums, a good sign that perceptions of adult cinema can shift and that they are worthy of serious discussion as a cinematic genre. Next year I want to keep pushing that. We have also just released the Lust Club in partnership with Trip4Real to offer unique cultural tours with our XConfessions performers as guides. The chance to discover the interesting and fervent people through experiences and their passion like food, music, art and exercise. A chance to diminish the often negative stigma attached to performers. It’s had a great reception so far. ▪

Check out Erika’s blog erikalust.com and TED talk.

 

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