Indie Adult Filmmaker Erika Lust Talks Feminism And Paying For Porn

“I want to portray sex, the way sex feels.”

Porn is weird in the way that it’s so undeniably popular and universally consumed, yet still so blushingly discussed. I mean, have you ever recommended a porno to a friend with the same fever that comes with recommending Jill Soloway’s Transparent? Well, in the unlikely event you have, it was probably one of Erika Lust’s films.

Lust’s first short film, The Good Girl (2004), delivered a female-take on the ‘pizza guy’ cliché, and was her accidental entry into pornography. It is clever and, most importantly, touched by a woman who has a master’s degree in political science and audio-visual management, topped with a specialisation in feminism and sexual studies.

With an academic background like that, it comes as no surprise that Erika is not your standard pornographer — evident largely in her most recent project, XConfessions, where she invited her viewers to anonymously submit their deepest fantasies for her to then create short films around. At the core, she’s a campaigner and upholder of ethical porn production; bound to aesthetics and proper cinematography; a business owner; a published writer (seven books!); and is curious about more than just body parts.

Hayley Morgan: You’ve just done your 100th XConfessions film. The project is really interesting — it has a depth I’m not used to in terms of erotic films — what was the most interesting part for you?
Erika Lust: It’s receiving the confessions by people. It’s so public and so private. It’s powerful to see that all these private fantasies are shared by so many, somehow.

So you noticed the same scenarios coming up across the confessions?
I mean, the couple wanting a threesome must be one of the most shared fantasies. There were so many. Every film I’ve made where more than two people are involved are the most popular. People just love to see more people.

Were there any ridiculous confessions that didn’t make the cut that you can share?
There were lots we had to censor out. There was one where a dog was involved… [laughs]

No!
Not in the sex, but a guy was obsessed with his dog looking at him having sex…

Oh my god!
It was not the kind of confession that I was going to shoot! A lot of people are into this genre of destroying women but it’s not what I want to do. The whole project is about sex positivity — I want to show how people are having a lot of fun having sex. I feel there are so few portraits of great sex in media. Porn is just the physical stuff, and when it comes to cinema there are more movies lately exploring female sexuality — but it’s always the dark side, like Nymphomaniac. There have only been a few lately that I liked, like Shortbus — that’s a huge reference for me. And Jill Soloway — I don’t know if you’ve seen I Love Dick but it is really woah! And Transparent. I think she is the best. There should be more Jill Soloways, that’s what I wish for the world.

With a more sophisticated narrative and approach than most porn films, how do feel you fit within the wider porn industry?
I don’t really see myself taking part in the porn industry. I feel like more of an outsider — an ‘indie erotic filmmaker’. I don’t go to the industry events… I went once to this big event in Berlin called Venus, and I was kind of repulsed by the atmosphere — the tackiness and the way they’re all about objectifying and exposing the female body. It was so focused on boobs and ass, and woman flashing and men with cameras. Even the audience was like “Woah, there’s a naked woman, I’ve got to get this on my camera!” And I felt a little bit like saying, “We are in 2017… have you never seen a naked woman? Have you never seen someone having sex?”

When you’re working with actors, what are you telling them to make them comfortable and understand the story behind the scene?
The most important thing is to put together the right people for the right film. I get to know them so that I can find out what they like or don’t like, and then I can pair them together with someone that I think they’d work well with — or someone that they think they’d work well with. Then, it’s about the small things and taking care of them. When it comes to the sex situation, it’s about going through it with them and telling them the technical things — filmic stuff like where the best light is. I don’t want to tell them exactly what to do sexually. We talk about it but then it’s up to them. It’s boring dictating this position then that position — I want them to just feel it.

Was starting your company difficult? I mean, in all ways… from sourcing legitimate staff to talking with your friends and family about it.
It has been a long ride of ups and downs — you don’t get successful in a day. The most difficult thing for me was telling my mother. She’s 75 years old, and an early feminist, so she’s from another generation and is the kind of feminist that really thought pornography was one of the worst things that you could do to women. It is still a little bit of a challenge. She’s a little uncomfortable with the fact that it’s really what I became. She would have loved me to be in the government, but I think she’s OK with it. She knows that I’m happy and she knows that I love what I’m doing. And people like you help me! All this kind of acknowledgement by the media, academics and feminists has helped her understand that I’m appreciated by a lot of people.

What trends in porn are you trying to change?
The ethics. I’m trying to push for an ethical production process: take care of all the workers, from sex workers to the crew. There must be responsibility in that process and a feeling of security for everyone. A lot of performers I spoke to said that they usually don’t get all the information they need before a shoot. So, I work hard to make sure all of the information is there — what hours we’ll shoot, who we’ll shoot with, I always ask who they like to shoot with, I make sure they’re able to see their partner’s health papers. We talk about condoms, sex toys, lubricants, all of the detailed information about what will happen in the sex scene. I check their boundaries and limits, find out what they like and don’t like, and want them to always know they can trust me. If they don’t feel good, we cut the shoot. I would never push them into doing something they didn’t feel comfortable with. It’s all basic human rights. It seems ridiculous to say it but there should be a toilet, food, water, a shower for after. But if you look at the industry, these aren’t always the conditions they work by. For me this is really important, and I treat my crew the same way.

Is diversity an important cause to push in porn?
I’m trying to include people from different backgrounds, different sizes, races, style — we need to move away from just the Barbie and Ken look. Also, more women behind the camera is important — on my production, we have about 15 people behind the camera and most are women. It gives it a whole different spirit and atmosphere.

What difference do you think women make on set?
We dare to talk when we have things to say — the audiovisual industry is very male-dominated and as a woman it is hard to speak up, because men tend to take so much space. It’s almost censorship by occupation. It’s the feminist statement, it’s the female gaze and the way that we portray sex. It’s very important for us that not only will the female body and the penis be portrayed. Because that’s what happens — a lot of mainstream porn is all about boobs and ass and penis, and nothing else. I want to portray sex, the way sex feels. Not only the positions, penetrations and fluids… I want it to feel intimate and to be able to see how people look at each other. Sex, for me, is a dialogue. And I want more footage of men, because I enjoy men and I want to see them as well. I’m trying not to objectify either of them, but trying to include both people having sex. The other thing I push for is an artistic vision — I want it to become a film, not just a sex scene. I want a narrative about why they want to have sex, and what the reasons behind their fantasies and ideas are.

Why do you think it is that we see spikes in search terms like ‘teen’ and ‘revenge’… does it bother you?
It definitely bothers me. It bothers me especially because I am the mother of two daughters — they’re 6 and 10 now — and they’re at this age where they’re starting to get access to the internet. And, we all know that one third of traffic on the internet has to do with porn because of all of the porn tubes showing content for free. And, as you say, they have some very aggressive language towards women. There’s a whole genre about destroying teens. It’s completely wrong — obviously it is — but no one really talks about it because people are still so ashamed when it comes to their porn consumption. I think it’s extremely important that we start pointing it out. I’m not talking about criticising porn for being porn — I have no problem with explicitness in it or seeing organs — but the horrible values. Most of the porn out there is about women satisfying men, and they’re reduced to being the ones satisfying and not having the fun for themselves. But it’s interesting, does this come from porn or is porn a reflection of what we see in society? I think, many times, that that’s what’s going on, that porn is an expression of general people and about men and women and the roles they’re supposed to play. But there is an objectification and a slutification of women all over, in all media.

People tend not to pay for porn these days, either. How does that work with Lust Films?
Well, I find the people who want to pay for it. Or they find me [laughs]. But seriously, if you look at the porn that’s out there for free, it’s shitty porn. OK, it may work for you if what you’re looking for is a quick fix and you’re ready to close your eyes to all the values that are involved in it. If you don’t want to be a responsible porn consumer, then that porn works for you. But if you are a person that has some values, and you normally don’t buy clothes that are made in factories where kids are working, you don’t buy chicken from the factories, you look for better products where people have been working according to certain standards, then you should do the same thing when it comes to porn. You should check if the porn you’re watching has a creator — does it have some one who made it? Because most of this free porn is not by anyone, it’s anonymous shitty porn with no values.

And how to you think this amateur porn reflects on the industry and its workers?
Well, it’s usually not amateur porn. That’s one of the biggest mix-ups that we all have. We think it’s amateur porn that people have put out there for their own pleasure. But that’s not the case. Most of it is produced by companies, anonymously, who make it look like amateur porn so you think it’s shot by a couple, but it’s not. It mainly reflects on the industry and the workers by way of prices. They have gone down, down, down.

 Getting into more positive territory, what do you like about the porn industry?
The people I’ve met — the performers, especially. I find that most of them are wonderful people, they’re a lot of fun and so sex positive. I really have been lucky to be around them and it has influenced my own sexuality in a lot of ways — feeling more liberated, really. But then there are a lot of things that I feel lack from the industry, like women. Still today, there’s very few of them taking part as business owners, producers, directors… all these important roles.

And what are some of your favourite themes to work with?
There are so many, so it’s difficult to say. I love things that have to do with food, because I am a foodie. I love great locations, I love outdoor sex because it looks wonderful. Like many people, I’m interested in BDSM and power play, because there’s something intriguing about it.

It’s so funny that when I ask you what you dislike about the industry, you’re so confident, but when I ask you what you like, you’re really shy!
I am not so extraverted. I’m seriously more of an introverted person. It’s kind of interesting that I ended up becoming Erika Lust and showing my sexual ideas to the whole world. It’s not really who I am. But I love being on a film set, I love the energy there.

What do you think is the sexiest part of the body?
The sexiest spot is the brain. It’s all in there. It’s what has to work and be turned on and connect.

And, finally, what is your definition of erotic, and how can we achieve it?
It’s the power of getting turned on. It’s a spirit. And how do we achieve it? Well, wine is the best lubricant [laughs].

 

 

Image: Courtesy of Lust Films
Originally published in Oyster #112

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