Let’s Talk About Porn

Erika Lust on the making of indie adult cinema

Erika ClugstonErika Lust Films

A sensual touch, a kinky fantasy, a witty plotline, and a cinematic, toe-curlingly orgasmic fuck. These are just a few of the sumptuous elements of Erika Lust’s erotic films. The main ingredient? Pleasure.

While one might assume that pleasure should be the main ingredient for any porno, such is not the case in the mainstream industry. Lackluster, hetero-normative narratives dominate mainstream pornography, with women almost always featured as the means to an end for male sexual gratification. Erika is seeking to change this.

Erika Lust is a self described “female provocateur and erotic film director”. With artistic vision and feminist values, Erika is at the forefront of today’s sexual revolution, confronting the mainstream porn industry with an ethical alternative and reclaiming the cultural discourse surrounding women’s sexuality. Erika’s adult indie cinema creates a new narrative in which sex is a collaboration between individuals and women take control of their pleasure, desire and sexuality.

Porn is an opportunity to discuss what sex and sexuality can be. For many of us growing up, sex is a taboo – a subject that cannot be discussed at the dinner table. Sex is a mystery, and porn is a source of enlightenment. And while this actually isn’t true with most porn, we can’t help but feel all of the feelings when we watch Erika’s films. So in the name of enlightenment, we spoke with Erika ahead of her XConfessions screening in Berlin to find out more about her work. Read on for the juicy, juicy details.

How do you define feminist porn? To me, it’s porn directed by feminist directors who directly inject their feminist values into their films. They make sure women are behind the camera and get to make active decisions about how it’s produced and presented. This means having women in leading roles as directors, producers, art directors, directors of photography, etc. so the stories are told through the female gaze.

It should represent female sexuality, pleasure and desires. It shows women owning their pleasure and taking control of their sexuality. Having their own agenda. Women have a voice in the story and they seek their own desire. It promotes role equality and the culture of consent is paramount. It shows women and men as sexual collaborators, not as objects nor machines.

Regarding the themes, there is never any simulation of coercion, pederastia or fantasies of abuse. There is no depiction of aggressive violent sex or rape scenes. Diversity is key and it pushes the representation of human sexuality, of the diverse ways of desiring and having sex and the different sexualities and identities out there.

I think there are also a lot of misconceptions around the term “feminist porn” that make people think that my films are female exclusive. I have always tried to make my films accessible to everyone, male and female alike and people really responded to that. I think it would be wrong to assume that men are only interested in mainstream porn because intimacy and tenderness and appreciation of a good film aren’t gendered values. These are things men also are interested in. My films mean you don’t have to compromise your sensibilities and endorse certain practises that some mainstream production companies stand for. I am very pleased that I’ve gained a large male following, it indicates the movement towards equality is becoming stronger.

At what age did you first encounter porn and what were your first experiences like? Like most people, I was exposed to porn at a young age when I was at a girlfriend’s sleepover. We were so excited to uncover the mysteries of sex! But of course we were disappointed with what we saw. A few years later, when I was dating my boyfriend in college he suggested we watch porn together and so I decided to give it another try. Again, I was disappointed with the lack of imagination, story line, and relatable characters. It could arouse me but I felt uncomfortable with the degrading behaviour shown towards women and the neglect of their pleasure.

We can definitely create films that show women as sexual collaborators with men – rather than sexual conquests of men.

Why did you begin making indie adult cinema? I studied Political Science and Gender studies at University and was reading Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible”, by Linda Williams when I had my lightbulb moment. It was the first book to treat pornography as a genre with it’s own history and as a specific cinematic trend. I realised that porn is actually part of a discourse on sexuality. It makes a statement, an idea, it expresses ideologies and values, and also opinions about sex and gender. As Williams states,”Pornography as a genre wants to be about sex. On close inspection, however, it always proves to be more about gender.”

The more I learned, the more I wanted to try and create something totally different in the genre. I wanted to make an alternative to the degrading mainstream porn gaze, something that would express my ideas and my values. Something that I would like myself and that I thought other women and men looking for something more fresh, sensual and ethical would also like. That’s how it all began!

What is the gap in the pornography industry that you are addressing? In the vast majority of mainstream porn, male pleasure is the ultimate goal. The scene typically unfolds through the male gaze and the cumshot seems to be mandatory to end the scene. The female character is used to satisfy others, but never themselves. There are endless categories with never-ending tags and labels that cater to every whim and fetish imaginable but in the end it is all the same, just body parts served up in the same way bashing against each other.

In my opinion, production companies seem to have forgotten the passion, the intimacy, the touching, the pursuit of real pleasure in sex and have taken some of the humanity out of it. There is no foreplay, no caressing and performing oral sex on a woman is practically non-existent.

In my films I present people as subjects, not objects. So when directing I approach the work with a focus on the performers. Male characters are human beings, not machines, and women have their own sexuality and desires and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. Women have a voice in the story and they seek their own desire. There is a mutual exchange of pleasure and respect and consent is always paramount.

I also put a lot of emphasis on cinematic values. I shoot with a real cinema camera and spend a lot of time in post production. We pay attention to every detail as in every indie film. Casting, styling, locations… We work the same as any other indie film production team.

We also work under the values of ethical adult cinema and ensure the sets are always a safe and comfortable space for the performers.

How did the XConfessions project begin? When my first movie The Good Girl was downloaded over 2 million times in a few months, I realised I wasn’t the only one that wanted something different. There were other people out there who wanted to watch sex on screen in a more realistic, sexy and intelligent way.

People were writing to me to compliment the films that followed, Five Hot Stories For Her, Barcelona Sex Project, Life Love Lust and Caberet Desire, and they began sending me their fantasies asking me to turn them into films. That is how the idea of XConfessions came to life in July 2013. It was a crowd-sourced project since its origin!

It’s now a site where users watch short films based on their own anonymous sexual confessions and stories. Every month I pick two of my followers’ fantasies and turn them into erotic explicit short films. I launched my 100th short film with XConfessions Volume 10 last October!

XConfessions was a way to get my audience involved and make the experience of making and watching adult films a totally crowdsourced one. With XConfessions, I know the films are going to be innovative and fresh because it’s not just my imagination I’m using, so no themes are really repeated.

What’s the wildest confession that’s been submitted and turned into a film? All of the confessions are wild! But there are a few that have stuck out to me due to the nature of the film or because of where they were shot.

The confession for Feminist and Submissive was really special for me. I know a lot of women who identify as both feminist and submissive but there is still so much stigma attached to submissive women. Before filming I brought together a group of women, from sex workers to journalists, to address the question, “Can you be a feminist and submissive?”. Then I shot my longest film for XConfessions yet, a BDSM scene featuring Owen Gray as the master and Lina Bembe as the submissive.

Another favourite is the newly released Dirty Feet. The film explores foot fetish in a very artistic, creative way. It’s the perfect balance between romance, tenderness and some hot foot action. It also stars Lucy & Miro, a real life couple who bring an energy and passion to the set which is so pure, real and intense.

And maybe one of the most fun I’ve had on set was for Boat Buddies with Benefits. Filming in the middle of the open waters of the Mediterranean on a boat from the 70s was a special day at the office! It was challenging but worth every moment.

Several of your films were shot in Berlin – is there something about the city that facilitates porn production? I love Berlin. I have never shot in Berlin because I would have to move my entire production team and that would be very expensive, but I have produced short films from directors Bruce LaBruce, Goodyn Green and Poppy Sanchez for XConfessions.

It’s a diverse city with lots of artists, creativity and the alternative scene is really well developed. The city has a longstanding tradition for allowing total sexual liberation and all preferences are accepted. The freedom that Berlin offers for everyone involved in the industry is very special.

Sex is as worthy of artistic framing as any other human experience, so I’m trying to frame it like the beautiful act it is.

You and your husband, Pablo Dobner, started The Porn Conversation to teach younger generations about the complexities of sex and porn. Why do we need to educate youth about porn and how do we talk to kids and teens about it? Unfortunately children nowadays are learning about sex not through school, or their parents, but through pornography. And what they see is unrealistic at best, and violently racist, sexist and homophobic at worst. We really don’t yet know how mainstream porn is affecting our children. They’re the first generation to grow up with instant access to the internet on their phones. They merely have to type “sex” into Google out of natural curiosity and they will be hit with a seemingly endless stream of free videos and images.

My husband and I have two kids who will likely stumble across porn and so we want them to be prepared and have critical thinking. Porn is coming into our homes, and so parents need to be ready to educate their children in parallel to this influence. If we don’t have the porn talk, we are neglecting one of the most important parts of growing up – nurturing your mind and your sexuality, and coming to terms with who you are sexually. We need to give our children the tools to decode and critically analyse the messages embedded in one of popular culture’s most ubiquitous influences.

The Porn Conversation is a collection of articles and videos concerning the topic with guides for 3 age groups. Adjusting the material according to age is crucial. Important conversations with 16 year olds, such as the difference between healthy and unhealthy porn, will not be appropriate with 10 year olds. The most important thing with young children is to not leave them alone with the disturbing images they will find on the internet.

Porn can often be a way for people to learn about sex, yet much of it is unrealistic. Would you say you’re making it any more realistic? The alternative, indie adult community as a general rule proves itself on showing people, and the sex people have, in a more authentic light.

When it comes to sex the main key is that I don’t direct it. I let the performers do what feels pleasurable. Then it’s down to me and my team to capture all those tiny details that make up sex and create a narrative that shows the fun, passion and intimacy of it. My goal is to stimulate all the senses and arouse the viewer in as many ways as possible. Sex is as worthy of artistic framing as any other human experience, so I’m trying to frame it like the beautiful act it is.

How do you reply to the sect of feminists that argue that pornography, no matter how ethical, cannot be feminist? Pornography is a medium, it’s a discourse about sexuality, it’s explicit material that can sexually arouse the viewer, there is nothing inherently anti-feminist about porn, because there is nothing anti-feminist about wanting to be aroused. Porn can be feminist, but much of the content accessed by millions of viewers on the ‘porn giant’ websites like PornHub and RedTube is problematic.

Because most of this porn is made by men for men, the films embody the male gaze, and it results in women being presented only as objects of desire, never as subjects of pleasure. Men are missing from much of straight porn, only appearing as disembodied penises, which is also a form of strange objectification.

But it’s fully possible for films to be both sexually explicit and still show women as human beings who deserve respect, even when they’re naked, and that they have an equal right to sexual satisfaction, pleasure and desire. We can definitely create films that show women as sexual collaborators with men – rather than sexual conquests of men.

So porn can definitely be feminist. Show consensual sex on film and make it in a non-sexist way. Show women and men as equals and show that sex is something you do together, not something a man does to a woman.

Do you think the tone of mainstream porn is dictated by the consumers or the industry? I believe a lot of the content being created in mainstream porn is dictated by the current climate of the industry and pushed down our throats. The rise of free porn tube sites means there is a huge amount of content available and a very saturated market. This has increased competition and has put pressure on production companies to stand out with more extreme and ridiculous scenes in hopes of gaining a larger audience. As a result, people are exposed to a type of pornography which can warp their view on what sex should be.

Sex should be a wide, beautiful universe of sensuality and pleasure.

What has the response to your work been like? The response has been fantastic. I started XConfessions because I wanted to make films based on the actual fantasies and sexual experiences of people from all over the world. It had felt so great for me to get to bring my own ideas to the screen and I wanted to see if I could make that happen for other people too. And also, I was just very curious to see what people would come up with. Luckily people really connected with the idea and started confessing these amazing stories. Definitely some things I could never think of, and lots of funny and sexy memories from real life

When the films are released, I receive messages on my Facebook page, twitter, via email…. Every week there are positive comments from men and women! Single, married… there is not an specific demographic, what all of them have in common is that they appreciate the work I am doing for a more sex-positive culture where female pleasure matters, and they thank me for bringing me a more positive light into their sex lifes and sexuality. The absolute best thing to see or hear is also how much my films have inspired another woman who now wants to pursue a career directing sexual explicit films.

And so it was really amazing when so many people responded to my open call for guest directors. It really feels like we are part of a revolution now, and that alongside one another we are going to forge a new adult cinema.

A friend of mine had a profound response to your work, prompting her to prioritize her sexuality in ways that she previously hadn’t been. Have you had other responses like this? Yes, absolutely! Many viewers say it helps them celebrate their sexuality and encourages them to become empowered by sex in a variety of ways. In an industry that caters solely to male fantasy and is devoid of sexual intelligence, creativity and narrative, it can be a revelation when viewers discover indie, female-led porn that celebrates women’s sexuality.

How has the advent of free porn and porn tubes (YouPorn, RedTube, XTube, PornHub et. al.) affected your work? How do you work in the current landscape of the porn business? The tube sites have completely disrupted the adult industry. Performing in adult cinema is no longer as lucrative as it once was, with many performers taking on side jobs. Most of the performers now also do webcamming, live erotic performances and engage in other activities to create a brand around their name, gain fans and become well known. This is the way for performers to gain financial security. It’s hard work.

However I do think people are becoming tired of the massive free porn mills and tube sites and are also beginning to produce their own content for their own sites. When someone is interested in having a positive experience without nasty pop-ups and degrading ads they look for an alternative and are willing to pay for it. There is a higher demand for adult cinema that is smart, sex-positive, and respectful towards women.

Paying is also the only way to guarantee you’re not accidentally endorsing exploitation. You want to support a company that pays its actors fairly, treats them well on set and always priorities consent. And quite simply, the industry cannot exist if no one is paying for it’s products.

What have you learned about sex from making porn? I’ve learnt that sex and sexuality aren’t limited to a narrow idea, and especially the idea of the predominantly white, middle aged, cis men running the free tube sites.

Sex should be a wide, beautiful universe of sensuality and pleasure. It can be funny, or kinky…. it can be anything you want it to be.

To attend the XConfessions screening at BABYLON on February 18th, 2018, book your tickets here. Follow Erika Lust on Facebook or Instagram to stay up to date and if you’re feeling lusty yourself, check out her website and explore the world of indie adult cinema.