August 04, 2015

Erika Lust talks about how porn, ethics, values are not mutually exclusive ideas

Erika Lust 

Born in Stockholm, Erika Lust is a Swedish feminist porn director, screenwriter and producer. Along with Anna Span and others. Lust has pioneered the field of feminist pornography across the world. 

Lust is a graduate in political science and feminist studies. She became interested in pornography during her days as a student at the University of Sweden; she also credits authors Linda Williams and Jean-Jacques Annaud as her inspirations. She has also written several books on the subject. 

Lust works out of her own production house called Lust Cinema. The production house is known for its diverse films, ethical standards of production, and is hugely popular with women and men worldwide. 

Apart from leading a Ted talk on the future of the porn industry, Lust won the Feminist Porn Award for Movie of the Year in 2012 for her film  Cabaret Desire 

It also won the Cinekink Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature. The first two compilations of her XConfessions series have won her the Feminist Porn Awards for Hottest Straight Vignette in 2014 and 2015 respectively. She has also written several books on the subject. She lives and works in Barcelona. She sees “porn as a discourse about sexuality.” 

Lust is known for promoting fellow female artists and directors
Lust with her family

*Q&A with Erika Lust

How did you get started making pornographic films?

It was while studying political sciences and feminism at university in Sweden that I became interested in the link between feminism and porn. The book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible by Linda Williams really opened my eyes to seeing porn as a discourse about sexuality, and it hugely influenced me and deepened my interest in porn as a genre and a tool for sexual liberation.

I then moved to Barcelona to study film. I made the short erotic film The Good Girl and put it online, and within a few months it had over  2 million views! I was thrilled to say the least! That's when I realized there was an audience for the kind of films I wanted to make and see myself, a real appetite for intelligent cinematic erotica! I knew I wanted to keep creating films and decided to start up my own production company, Lust Films, and it's now been ten years since I made The Good Girl!

What is different in your films the what one usually finds on the net?

Me and my team put a lot of work into script-writing, making sure the narratives and locations are captivating, that the performers are relatable and interesting... and they have to have real chemistry! 

There is so much that goes into my films apart from the sex... the buildup, seduction , anticipation, the aesthetic. Humans are sexually intelligent creatures and there are so many things that can excite our senses. As much as I want the sex to be exciting,  I also try to capture as many of those other things that make sex exciting too!

Also, with my project XConfessions, I get to know that people really fantasize about. On my website, people from all over the world share their erotic fantasies and memories, and every month I pick two stories and turn them into erotic short films. It's an incredibly exciting and inclusive project. I get to make my audience's fantasies come to life! That's something that you won't see on a mainstream site. The stories that come in are so imaginative, each one is so different from the next!

Why do you think it's important to have female-centric porn when the stats say more men watch porn than women anyway?

Well, part of the answer is in your question, why do you think more men than women watch porn? Because most films out there are male-centered and cater to the male gaze only! It doesn't have to be that way though: alternative erotica offers more diversity, higher production standards and exciting narratives, that both women and men can enjoy!

How do you feel about the treatment of women in the porn industry?

In chauvinistic porn, the sad reality is that women are often taken advantage of, abused and forgotten when they have been "used" - not in all porn, but of course that horrible side is a reality as well. I want to have an alternative to that! There is no reason sex on film should all be done in a smutty, shady, exploitative manner - it can be done in a safe space, artistically, humane and with respect for everyone involved. It can be a truly positive thing if we choose to create films based on good values and with respect and love for our fellow human beings!

Lust at work
Sex can be fun, and so can its portryal 

What do you do in your films and company to counter the exploitation of women in the porn industry?

If you visit my page, you can see plenty of interviews with performers from my films. They are all different and everyone has their own, unique story about why they want to be in my films. You will see that they are all articulate and have thought long about their decisions and all have their individual reasons they want to work with us. Something that they all have in common is that they are all sex-positive and smart people, who all understand that sex is a beautiful thing and nothing to be ashamed of! I only work with people who share my values and understand the Lust ethos.

In India, we are debating whether porn increases violence against women. Do you agree that it could?

I think chauvinistic porn could have negative effects on society. I think porn is a discourse about sex and works like an educator about sex and gender  - so if a massive part of the cultural landscape, meaning traditional porn, is chauvinistic in its portrayal of women and embodies regressive ideas about women, sure those ideas are going to rub off when they are presented again and again: that's why it's important to have positive alternatives!

What do you think the industry and society could do to counter the false notion or real effect (as the case may be in your opinion) ?

First of all, I don't think chauvinistic porn is a sole cause for violence against women - because those films don't exist in a vacuum- They are based on a sexist ideology and part of a patriarchal structure. 

So just talking about porn isn't going to solve anything, we have to talk about everything, about women, about men, about gender, about sexuality, about double standards, about power. Talking is important, and once we start getting these important things out in the open, we can better understand why we have, for example, such a vast amount of porn that is hostile against women. Often people are just fed with images that they respond to without questioning where the ideas behind the pictures come from! 

I would love to see more female-led erotica. Like all other sectors of society that are striving for equality, sex on film should be an equal thing as well. Cultural categories concerning sex and sexuality need the ideas and decisions from women! 

Do you think female friendly porn is also important and appealing to men?

Often the category called "female-friendly" is often produced by men and is full of romantic clich├ęs and terrible narratives. My films are different than those, and yes I know for sure that men love them! 

Over half our audience is male. Just because my films pay attention to the sexual needs and desires of women doesn't mean that men don't want to see them. That would be quite depressing if that was the case! Luckily it's exactly the opposite, and men like women, love to see erotic films with high production standards where the performers look engaged, pleasured and enjoying themselves for real. 

It's a myth that female-led erotica is just for women - my films are for everybody!

What's your favourite part of a porn film?

From my own erotic films: every part from initial idea all the way through the final product.

Which other directors and film makers would you recommend from the industry?

Ovidie, Tristan Taormino, Jennifer Lyon Bell and Vex Ashley from A Four Chambered Heart. I admire their innovation and creativity in erotic film a lot and they are really engaging in the new erotic movement that is going on at the moment!

Any message for young girls just starting to discover porn and experiment sexually?

I think sometimes as a woman, it can feel as if your sexuality has been hijacked - maybe by societies ideas about sex, social stigma, mainstream porn, unrealistic beauty standards, - it can be a lot of different things! To enjoy sex, you have to think about what you want, what desires and fantasies you want to entertain and what makes you happy, and also what doesn't make you happy.

It's good to know that all the images we see about sex are not necessarily true.

I think it's important to try to wash away the shame that it seems a lot of young women are still expected to feel about sex. Sex is meant to be pleasurable and fun! It's a natural thing after all. Whether you want to have sex or not have sex, you should be able to feel free to think about it, have it, and enjoy your sexuality in any way you want, as long as you don't hurt anyone else.

In your opinion, what will change in society, and in how men and women view sexuality, if and when the genre of porn changes and starts making content that respects women?

I'd love to see more alternative erotic film makers. I hope my films will inspire some to make their own films. Also, It's been great to see that more and more people understand the concept of feminism more in the last couple of years, where as before it was so vastly misunderstood in the public conversation. I think that is something that can help in conversations about porn and representations of men and women. Feminism is about equality of the sexes, men and women, working together for equal rights. When we can talk about sex and sexuality more openly we can start to make positive changes that can benefit all of society!

What do you think of the GoI's recent ban on porn sites?
I find it quite contradictory that such a country with a young population, and a sex positive history going back to B.C., would go so backwards in time by banning pornography. I think that sexual education, and -- why not-- porn education, is more vital and effective than censorship.

Banning these sites won't stop people viewing X-rated content, it will only fire their desire to go to other places to find it, , or use thing like Black VPN. Possibly alternative erotica sites and material that do further the cause of ethical treatment of women in the films and industry will not be reachable from India, because they are going to be put in the same box as the chauvinistic porn.

India needs to keep fighting for their right to sexual expression and exploration. Looking at old scriptures of your ancestors exploring their sexuality freely is legal, but tryung to find a modern depiction of sex is illegal. That's irony defined.

People in India are smart and opinionated. You have already started the debate, let's discuss porn instead of banning it.

*An edited  and shorter version of this interview appeared on the Hindustan Times website on August 4, 2015