Erika Lust is a Stockholm-born, Barcelona-based filmmaker who writes and directs what she calls ‘ethical porn’. When you watch her films, you encounter people who are beautiful, simply because they are real people having real sex with one another. It’s explicit as they come, but also has a wicked sense of humour. Cinematically, Lust knows what she is doing. Many of her films have actors in a unique setting and bathed in gorgeous light. There are films for every kink and taste, but always with a view to equality, natural bodies and diverse faces. Gone are the days of fake orgasms and plastic surgery — Erika Lust is creating a porn revolution where the people you are watching look just like you. It’s sexy and subversive in a whole new way.
After watching many of her films for *ahem* research, we asked ethical pornographer, Erika Lust five questions.
1. After making three feature films, you seem to be excited by the short film genre. Can you talk a little bit about why you continue to produce short films and how the short genre is beneficial to porn?
XConfessions is my crowd sourced project where members of the public can submit their fantasies anonymously and I turn two of them into short films every month! It's a lot of work, but I love this format. First and foremost, it means that the subjects, themes and stories in my films are all real people's fantasies, exploring real desires. This is super important to me, moving away from the mainstream, unrealistic narratives (or complete lack of narrative) and creating something that people can really engage with. They see themselves in these films, in the stories. They see their own fantasies, or maybe something they didn't know they liked yet! It also gives me a lot of opportunity to explore creatively. Making shorter films means I can make more of them! In order to offer an alternative to the mainstream, I need to give my fans options and different perspectives, so that they can explore their sexuality, without having to encounter bad, degrading porn.
2. There’s been a lot of debate online about what makes ethical porn. In your own view, is your porn feminist? And what do you think makes it ethical?
When I talk about ethical porn or ethical adult film, I'm talking about the alternatives to mainstream porn, both in what I produce and how I produce it. For me, good adult film is about showing good, real sex, real people and real desires. I want the people who see my films to engage with them; to feel a real sense of pleasure and in order to do that it has to start at the very beginning of a production. Performers and their well-being and safety is the most important thing for me. We always make sure our performers are sex-positive and one hundred percent happy and enthusiastic to be involved. We really get to know them before we start filming.
My production crew and office team are predominantly female, which means that the whole process happens from the female point of view, allowing women's desires to be portrayed as well as men's. It's so important to offer creative women the opportunity to excel in their fields, especially when the result of doing this will always mean films that are diverse, equal and a representation of real sex. In these ways, my films are feminist. But I think a lot of people hear the word feminist and think of romantic, candle lit scenes of a heterosexual couple on the sofa or cute lesbian scenes with a lot of petting.
It is also about the message I am sending out. I want to send out a positive message about sexuality and the culture of consent. You won't find delusions of male power that are degrading to women, for example, representation of incest or simulations of [pederasty] on XConfessions. Sometimes in the industry people consent to partaking in films things that are meant to look non-consensual – and I definitely don't want to portray anything like that. My films represent a huge variety of sexual desires, including gay and lesbian, BDSM, group sex, rough sex and everything in between. The difference is how I frame it and that the performers receive the same amount of pleasure. They're never degraded or asked to do anything they don't want to. In front of the camera, this creates adult films exploring sex, sexuality and fantasies, in a way that's respectful and relatable.
3. Your work has been screened at the Chicago Film Festival and Raindance in London. What makes your films so accessible to not only programmers, but to the mainstream?
I think a lot of people, even if they’re not subscribers to my sites, appreciate my films because, firstly, they're aesthetically pleasing with high production values, and secondly, because it's kind of a novelty. A lot of people didn't know adult film like this could exist! Suddenly they find my films and see something that they can relate to, laugh at, engage with and that makes them feel something positive. I've spoken to a lot of people who said they enjoyed my films regardless of the sex.
4. Was there ever a time in your life where you were hindered by cultural taboos? What inspires you about them now?
Well, as a woman, especially as a woman who produces adult film, there has never been a time when cultural taboos haven't caused some kind of hindrance! But I think I do what I do because I want to change this. For example, I recently directed a film called Feminist & Submissive which includes a round table discussion with me and three other women, including adult performers, about whether you can still be a "feminist" and indulge the submissive part of your sexuality. This sparked a lot of discussion, mostly positive, but there were some comments which I think still came from a negative place and put sex, sex work and BDSM in a degrading light. Unfortunately, things like this always come from a place of ignorance. They think that being submissive to a man or a lover is being weak and not in control. Actually, BDSM practice is entirely about all parties having control. It involves trust and communication, which in the end leads to a very healthy attitude towards sex! Either way, it's important to have these conversations, so I'm glad I can encourage this.
5. How do you think adult films can affect culture and the feminist movement?
The adult film industry has been dominated by men and the male gaze, well, forever! Which means that only the male point of view and male pleasure were ever considered important. This perpetuates the idea that women aren't in control of their sexuality, that they don't have a say in the matter. When all the porn you see is of women being degraded, humiliated and used as toys for sex, it doesn't have a very positive effect on your ideas of what female sexuality is . Even now, sex positive women still feel confused about how they should behave sexually - you want to embrace your sexuality but if you're too liberated, you're a "slut" and if you're too conservative, you're a prude and to some women that goes against their "feminist" beliefs. The way I see it, women should have the opportunities to explore their sexuality in ways that are safe, representative of their desires and where shame doesn't exist.
In a wider sense, I think we desperately need to address the fact that young people have more access to porn than ever and that they will seek it out. Rather than make excuses for bad, misogynistic porn and hope they'll look the other way, advising them on where and how they can watch good, ethical porn can be useful. There's no shame in wanting to learn about sex or explore it, so giving kids the tools to do this in a way which is healthy and teaches them about respect and consent could lead us to a future where there's less gender inequality, less danger for women and less shame in sex work or sexuality in general. It's sounds crazy, but it could be that simple.
Erika Lust is the founder and creator of Erika Lust films. She has won multiple awards for her films as well as initiating the #changeporn campaign online. She’s currently featured on Netflix’s ‘Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On’, produced by Rashida Jones. She considers pornography to be the "most important discourse on gender and sexuality."
Twitter @erikalust • FB @erikalustfilms