Cracking down on the ill-fitted constructions of the male established porn industry takes gusto. Yet revered erotic filmmaker Erika Lust is relentless in her mission to change the rules and so, is dominating the cyber sphere. Lust is changing the porn game through film and her works are something to be infatuated with. As provocateurs, the Femme Heroine team cannot get enough of her and we got lucky enough to nab an interview to suss out how one women can begin to spark an online revolution.
FH: What provoked you to become an Independent Erotic Filmmaker? How did you start out and what was the process?
EL: I grew up in Stockholm where age-appropriate sex education at school tackled everything from petting to consent, respect and emotions. I was taught that sex can be more than physical; it can involve emotions and connection, so I always had a very natural approach towards sex. Mainstream porn just did not work for me. It could arouse me but I did not like the degrading behaviour towards women and how their sexuality was so neglected. When I was in college, I read Linda William’s book ‘Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’ and it made me realise porn was not ‘only porn’, it was also about gender roles. It was a discourse on sexuality. The more I learnt about this the more I disagreed and I wanted to try to create something totally different in the genre – an alternative to the degrading mainstream porn gaze–and that is how I decided to create an alternative adult cinema that reflected my views.
I thought that it would be great to be aroused where there was an interesting plot and with female characters treated as real people and not only as sexualized objects of men’s desire. I was working as a runner, production assistant, coffee girl in an advertising company (anything I could do to belong to a film crew and absorb everything that happened on set while taking film making classes) and I was so passionate about the idea of changing existing porn I decided to invest my money in a short film called “The Good Girl”. It was my debut and it was downloaded over 2 million times in just a few months. It was a twist on the classic “pizza delivery guy” porn.
“My motivation was and is still this: to change porn for the better, to improve it.”
FH: The porn industry is a predominate sphere of the internet responsible for the sexualisation and objectification of women. Do you believe that misogyny within adult entertainment industries shall cease to exist in time to come?
EL: I don’t think porn is to blame. Pornography is a medium, a form of entertainment; scapegoating porn as the sole perpetrator of misogyny is to deny filmmakers the chance to enter into the sex industry with erotica that explores sex from a female perspective. That´s not to say we aren’t part of a culture that treats people as tools and objects, just that the problem is larger than pornography. The way in which I believe it should be tackled is, for one, to radically disconnect the idea of sex and pleasure exclusively belonging to men. Women’s pleasure and sexuality, in explicit depictions of sex, is neglected and women are only permitted to be sexual within the confines of a one-dimensional view that has to, in the end, satisfy men. A further result is the continued perpetuation of the virgin-whore dichotomy that denies women the space to be defined by something other than sex. This is what makes the vast majority of mainstream porn particularly poisonous and what needs to be deconstructed in order for the adult entertainment industry to be rid of misogyny.
To defeat these issues within the industry, it is important to have women behind the camera, too. Having the female gaze present at every stage of producing erotic films, means there´s no space for misogyny to manifest by the final cut. If women we’re included more in the conversations at the production companies of mainstream porn, misogyny in the adult entertainment industry would, most likely, disappear.
FH: It is this sort of unethical porn that has distorted the concept of sex and erotica for many. How would you explain the difference between unethical porn and the erotica you create to a novice?
EL: When I talk about ethical porn or ethical adult films, I’m talking about the alternatives to mainstream porn, both in what I produce and how I produce it. With this, I don’t mean at all that all mainstream porn studios are not ethical in their production process. There are many studios regardless of the final product, that take care of performers and their working conditions.
Mainstream porn is full of repetitive codes and tiring power tropes where 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 being used to satisfy others, but not themselves. Women like sex just as dirty, kinky and exciting as men do.
For me, good adult film is about showing real sex with real people and real desires. I try not to direct the sex at all so they have total freedom and are in control the whole time. I don’t tell them put your leg here or your arm there or do 5 different positions and show me your butt hole! I am not interested in bodies bashing against each other. I want the audience to immerse themselves in my films and feel a real sense of pleasure.
In order to do that a shoot has to receive ethical treatment from the very beginning of production and every part of the shoot is discussed and agreed upon beforehand with the performers and every shoot includes multiple breaks, food and an open, welcoming atmosphere.
As well as this, our casting process is long and thorough. We ensure that our performers are 21+ and have had their own personal sexual experiences, are sex-positive and enthusiastic. I care a lot about the message I am sending out with my stories. Culture of consent is paramount for me. You won’t find delusions of male power that is offensive to women. There is a relatable context, a narrative and a connection between characters that are equal to one another. There is the passion, the intimacy, the desire and lust, the touching, the kisses, the grabbing, the pursuit of real pleasure in sex. People as sexual collaborators. 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.
To keep the company at the forefront of the production of ethical adult cinema we insist on certain principals. As I said earlier, women must be part of the discussion and so my production crew and office team are predominantly female, allowing women’s desires to be portrayed as well as men’s. This also leads to a more open exploration of male sexuality, where men are more than just a disembodied penis but have the opportunity to be vulnerable and enjoy sex without the trappings of toxic hyper-masculinity. The end result is adult films that explore sex, sexuality and fantasies, in a way that’s respectful and relatable that helps individuals get rid of taboos.
FH: As a feminist proudly exploring sex and female sexuality in a positive light, how do you deal with the backlash of criticism from other feminists who oppose your work and your message?
EL: I am proud of what I do, so the criticism doesn’t really affect me. However, I agree with the fact that we live in a society with hypersexualized and ‘pornified’ images which do have the capacity to shape gender and sexual identity. The solution, however, isn´t to just criticize pornographic images or to ban them but to create alternative ones that empower everyone involved. Still, this idea persists that porn is *always* exploitative for women which isn’t true. I think anti porn feminists don’t understand this because of their own moral principles and personal views, but every human is different. The porn industry has a huge influence on society and in sex education so it can actually be beneficial in showing a healthier representation of sex and communication around sex and relationships, if made ethically.
FH: What is your process to creating an erotic film?
EL: On XConfessions I approach each film as an incredible creative craft, taking advantage of every aspect and putting a lot of emphasis on the art direction, styling, locations and cinematography. I take into consideration all the elements that are key to making a good film, everything that you would pay attention to in a film without explicit sex. Music for instance, it’s as much of a fundamental part of an erotic film as the sex. It’s crucial in creating a desired mood or atmosphere to highlight the narratives playing out visually on screen. If you can answer the question “why are these people having sex?” in a captivating way, it makes the whole thing more fun.
FH: Which of your works are you particularly proud of, that you urge others to watch and explore more about?
EL: I love many XConfessions short films! I recently read this confession that an XConfessions member called ‘Pouring pleasure in a concrete cityscape‘. Within the years, I learnt that inspiration, fantasies and arousal can come from different sensory experiences. Erotic films, poetry, books… When I read this confession, the writer’s yearn for rain made me feel so alive. The way this person describes the rain in a country with a hot tropical humid summer, its soothing feelings while pouring, the erotic romantic association it makes in its fantasy. I could imagine myself in the rainy season with euphoric relieved people dancing in the streets and laying down naked on my terrace while the water touched me. I couldn’t be happier with the results! XConfessions is getting more and more diverse so there are many different stories and fantasies!
Erika Lust Films have recently launched ‘We Are Lust’, a film clip which divulges into the Lust team and the values they hold. Lust herself is a lady with a lens for change and triumphing in her will for a more female-centric porn industry. With a growing empire producing ethical adult films come a large following of like minded men and women. Lust is altering the industry for the better and if we’re being real, we can’t keep away.