Erika Lust – The Woman Behind the New Porn Revolution!
The Stockholm born artist Erika Lust is one of today’s most distinctive and avant-garde feminist writers, producers, and directors of erotic films. After realizing that female voices within the porn industry were practically inexistent - a genre and a business made by men for men - Erika decided it was time for a change! She directed her first short adult film in 2004 which was distributed for free on the Internet and downloaded 2,000,000 times in the first few months after its release. It would go on to win the NINFA prize for the Best Short Film at the International Erotic Film Festival Barcelona (FICEB). With such a huge response to her first attempt, Erika has since inspired the world with directing five award-winning erotic films, creating the famous online XConfessions made for anyone to share their sexual adventures, and writing many successful articles and books. Erika talks about porn as a tool for self-knowledge, education and pleasure – fiercely defending women’s assertion over their sexual agency and freedom. It is inside her gorgeous brick-walled office in Barcelona that EWA had the immense pleasure of getting to know the glowing Erika herself.
By Francine Raveney and Alexia Muiños Ruiz.
What led you to go from studying political sciences to directing erotic films?
It started off in Barcelona! I completely fell in love with the place. Every summer during my university breaks, I would go there to study Spanish. When I realised this was where I wanted to live my life, I began searching for work in the field of international development. The problem I faced however was that Spain hosted very few if no international organisations at the time. This was quite problematic as I was in serious need of some money! Luckily, I had some friends working in the audiovisual sector who were in the advertising branch. They were so busy doing so many shootings that they offered me to help them with everything and anything that needed helping.
From then on I served as a runner to all of the actors – driving them around from the airport to the sets. I got to know more and more people by also helping out with the catering – until one day someone offered me a job as a production assistant. It was fabulous! I was a hard worker and always did my best which got people liking what I did. I observed very closely my environment and the people in it which is how I slowly and surely gathered the subtleties of the art of making films. Suddenly I had this restless feeling wanting to make my own movies. That’s when I took a few night courses to study film direction, in order to understand how the camera works, what perspectives you have, what lensing is and so on. By that time I had earned enough money to concretely carry out my own project and together with my partner Pablo; who was also very interested in filmmaking, we wondered about the endless possibilities of making a short film. The question that remained was: what should it be about?!
Is this when you had the idea to direct an erotic short film?
Yes as it was a period of my life where I was very interested in films related to sex. When you’re in your twenties, you try to figure out who you are, and questioning your sexuality is a huge part of that. Coincidently I had a friend working in this big porn company and I remember thinking at the time how crappy the conditions were on set. People would show up for the shoot and crucial things would be missing like the sheets for the bed or even the filming material. There was such a lack of professionalism! It got me thinking that I somehow wanted to direct my very own adult movie. However I wanted to see if I could change some of the more traditional concepts of adult cinema in order to make a film I actually liked.
That’s when The Good Girl was born which was a twist on the classic “pizza guy” porn! I was young and brave, and I didn’t think much of the consequences as maybe I would have done if I had been a little older. When you look at it today, even though it’s technically poor, it still somehow works! The idea worked, the connection between the actors worked, the sex worked. Besides the film is really cute in addition to being funny and very, very different from what we are used to seeing in mainstream porn.
How did you manage to turn your passion into a business?
Well that’s a very important question and one of the main problems with plunging into art - people go into it without ever thinking about the business model that follows. And let’s be honest, if you want to be able to do what you have in mind, you need funding! With such a huge response to my first short film I created my own production company, Erika Lust Films. Since then, I have found even more success in bigger projects with the aim of challenging the adult industry to rethink how it presents sexuality and eroticism. One of the things I also realised back then was that the Internet was blooming, and that instead of using the distribution network, you could reach customers directly. So I created an internet business http://erikalust.com/. I create Internet properties on line that make money even when I’m sleeping!
We have the www.lustcinema.com, which is an online site that works as an online cinema. You can sign up to be a member and every week we present a new movie to you. One week it is one of my films, and one week it is a film our team selects. We are trying to create a group of a new kind of filmmakers, with a different vision of the porn-industry. A new good porn revolution! It’s a small group, but every year there are new people making that bold step.
Where do you get the inspiration for your scripts?
In the beginning, I’d simply invent my own stories, but now I have this project called XConfessions. It’s basically the first crowd-sourced project in the history of adult cinema where anyone is welcome to submit on my website their personal fantasies or sexual adventures. Each month, I release two short films based on the anonymous confessions submitted to me! I have already published three compilations of shorts. What I like about it is that it offers the opportunity to see more of real life sex rather than the repetitive male dominated ideas that completely take over today’s porn industry. Personally I am not attracted to such stories – actually I feel that they’re just boring. When I read what people post to me, I get reminded how much richer and so much more interesting sex can be – unlike what you see on most pornographic websites!
How do you choose the actors who incarnate these “regular” people?
I find choosing the actors one of the most important things. I need to know who they are, and for that I need to meet them. We shoot with people coming from all over Europe. Having won so many awards in the last few years, including the Porn Award in Toronto, has made my career choices so much easier. I have been much more in the media. People are starting to know who I am in the adult film sector as well as in mainstream female magazines. The good thing that comes with that is you get recommended amongst industry professionals, and therefore able to work with some of the top artists out there.
What do you think are the main challenges in the adult film industry?
I still see a lot of resistance from young filmmakers who are very afraid of getting into the business. I have friends who tell me: ”wow, what you’re doing is so exciting, I would love to do something similar, but I don’t want to have the stamp”. Undeniably it is still very scary to be an adult filmmaker. There are many difficulties and barriers that lie ahead. I myself have trouble every day being in the adult filmmaking world. For example on my website’s online sale, when using Paypal I am free to sell sex toys but not allowed to sell erotic movies. The reason for this is that Paypal doesn’t want to be involved with anything related to erotic films, which is ironic because they do want to deal with all the other things I sell which are still sex related.
Additionally I was kicked out of Facebook last February 2014 just when my account had 40,000 followers! You would think that it was caused by some naked picture of some sort, but in fact it had to do with a pro-abortion image. I put up a memo that said “mi cuerpo, mi coño, mi decision” – my body, my pussy, my decision. The anti-abortion movement flagged my post hundreds and hundreds of times reporting me. So Facebook looked at my account and sent me an email saying: “we had to close your account because you are promoting self-harm”. Can you believe it! I complained but what can you do – they obviously didn’t give my account back. So I opened a new page, but I don’t have as many followers and I’m not putting energy into it. Why would I put energy today into something that Facebook could take away tomorrow?
Would you argue that this is still due to a persisting conservative view of women’s sexual agency?
It is a fact that there are no countries where women are equal to men. Unfortunately this equally goes for the film industry both on screen and off screen. And on screen – you’re able to create a fantasy world so why the hell not create a world where women and men are set out to be equal! You have to see it to be able to believe in it, and eventually to be able to picture yourself living in that world.
What do you think of the way sex is shown both in conventional films and in porn?
I think it depends on the era. If we look back in time we can witness differing approaches to the way sex has been portrayed in erotic cinema. Generally though, the sex in mainstream porn is undeniably a little grim, particularly for women. Their roles are frequently marked by what you can call a "stultification". I feel that this is somewhat similar in conventional movies. When you see strong women in any film owning her sexual agency, she’d somehow get punished for it. She’d end up getting pregnant, have problems with her family, face societal rejection, or in many cases she’d be assimilated to some crazy disturbed lost case.
We also have to remember that conventional films don’t portray sex with the same objective as in adult ones. In erotic movies, sex is a key component of the plot and ideally will cause you to feel provoked in physically pleasurable ways. Achieving erotic cinema means that when I’m shooting I want the audience to feel pleasure. For that I personally find it easier to portray sex as something that’s joyful, happy, interesting, and fun. I love the fact that I can portray people. Not the stereotypes that include plastic dolls, desperate housewives, nasty nurses, horny teens, or slutty nannies. I am tired of these! I just want to see people like you and I having awesome sex.
Do you think that sex in porn can be used as a good example for real life sexual encounters?
I am so fed up with today’s mainstream porn serving as a form of sexual education to all the young people out there. Schools are also doing a rather poor job at giving good sexual education. There are no changes in the way schools educate their kids from when sexual education began centuries ago – the only difference is that back then you’d actually do your own bit of research by going to libraries, or you’d buy playboy magazines. The images were in no way as harmful as they are today! Today we have such awful adult films! Women are depicted in horrible ways. When young women watch the stuff that’s online they tend to believe that that’s what sex is all about, whereas men think of it as the normal attitude to treating their girlfriends. It’s easy for kids to think this way when they have very little sexual experience and when parents tend to shy away from speaking openly about sex. Many parents do not have good sex education which makes it harder for them to answer their children’s questions! I don’t want Mateo – a big name is Spain’s porn industry - to teach my daughters about sex! That’s where I think this comes in, and I feel as a person, as a woman, as a mother, I have a responsibility to portray sex differently, and to give the next generation other images than those commonly seen in the everyday adult world. At the end of the day; porn is a political discourse about sexuality, masculinity, and femininity.
When was the first time you watched porn?
The first time I was in my early teens and I laughed at it, not quite grasping the impact it had one me. It seemed silly to me at the time. Later on during my late teen years, I began undertaking my studies in political sciences and gender relations at Lund University in Sweden. At that time I wanted to work for international organisations and defend women’s rights. This meant that when I’d watch porn I’d feel immensely conflicted. There was a huge incongruity between my brain and my body! I had that pleasurable reaction to it, there was something about it that I liked - well it felt good! But I hated what I saw! So I felt terribly disturbed and really didn’t understand why I had to have such a huge conflict between my very own values and what I felt on a physical level. I wanted to watch a movie, enjoy myself and still like what I see. This is why I now want to present female pleasure in a sense that women especially can enjoy themselves without feeling deranged by what they see. To make beautiful erotic movies that are great for the senses and also feel good for the mind!
Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Erotic and adult films need its filmmakers! I feel it’s been abandoned by many as a genre because most feel that it’s too dirty – almost like it belongs to this underworld! Many also feel that making adult movies isn’t really about the film making aspect of it but just a question of making money. The result is that most cinematographers don’t want to get involved. But if you go back to the 60s and 70s pornography was made into these amazing proper movies – that’s what we called erotic cinema! Those who made it were artists and certainly visionaries! They told stories and showed them in such visually attractive ways. Many went to watch erotic films in cinemas and it was then open for debate. That’s maybe one of the most interesting sides to it. It really formed part of public debates. It was only much later that somehow there was this general consensus that pornography was this unimportant film niche made by a couple of insensitive men – for men. But sex isn’t some underground disgusting thing reserved to alpha males. Adult movies are a huge part of the culture we’re living in, it’s part of our sexual education whether we like it or not and women should not ignore it! Therefore I feel that I need to participate because I have something positive to add and to say. So join me! If you are reading this, dare to show sex differently!