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Filmmaker Erika Lust Explains How You Can Support Ethical Adult Films

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As much as it sometimes feels that way, pornos aren’t a given in everyone’s life. Some of us are totally into them, but others feel lukewarm or even ice cold about the whole idea. There are many, many reasons for that. Some people aren’t into the body types or storylines used in films coming out of mainstream studios. If it’s not getting you off, what’s the point? But, others have more principled objections that stop them from logging on to Pornhub and rubbing one out to a naughty milf and her well-hung stepson. You don’t have to agree with these concerns, but you do have to understand them.

Luckily, these issuess are being addressed in a genre of adult cinema referred to as “ethical” or “feminist porn.” Erika Lust –one of the luminaries of this growing, indie adult film scene — has made her name offering an alternative to traditional pornography with artistic, imaginative erotic films that feature sex-positive narratives with a reverence for female pleasure. She’s a strong voice for feminism in a world that has often been associated with the aggressive degradation of women, the female orgasm, and even consent.

Born in Sweden, Lust moved to Barcelona in 2000. She took classes in film directing before she made her mark in the adult film industry in 2004, with a short film titled The Good Girl — a twist on the pizza delivery boy trope. The accolades she received motivated her to continue with a career in the field, and she has gone on to spearhead four multi-award-winning features while authoring five books.

In 2013, she launched xConfessions — a website where users share anonymous sexual fantasies. Once these fantasies are uploaded, Lust chooses a designated number per month for herself or another talented adult director to turn into short explicit films. Over one hundred have been produced so far, and all of them are the product of the ethical process Lust advocates.

The director made her principles of advocacy explicit when she presented her talk “Time for Porn to Change” at TedxVienna. She promoted a shift in the industry that would lead to greater focus on making women’s pleasure matter; having cinematic values in adult cinema; using a greater diversity of body types, ages, and races; and using an ethical production process.

While we love her ideals, we also know that terms like “feminist pornography” and “ethical adult independent cinema” can be a little confusing. So we connected with Erika Lust to learn more about what she believes and how she puts her values into action.

This genre of filmmaking goes by a couple names. What do you call it?

I refer to it as adult cinema, but also ethical adult cinema, and sometimes even feminist porn. It depends a little on the context, what people are talking to, and who they are. What I’m doing has so much to do with the cinema, really. The only thing that is different from in the cinema is that my main goal is to show sexuality. I do show sexuality in an explicit way. So, it’s adult. Right?

How is the ethical nature reflected in the working conditions?

For me, it’s very important that everybody who is involved in the process, from crew members to cast, feels good about what we are doing. They should have the right information, so they can take positions on a personal level and decide how far they want to go, for example, when it comes to the whole sexual part. From many conversations that I have had with performers in the past and their stories about how the mainstream adult industry works, they don’t feel that they have too much power. They feel very left out in the feed of information. So, that is something that I have been working on a lot. I want to include them all in the creative process.

When I have an idea for a short film and I have the first script and I have an idea of who I want to work with as performers, then the first thing I do is I contact them and start talking to them. If I don’t know them, I do a first casting. If I can sit down and have a coffee, that’s perfect. If I can’t do that, we meet through the internet on Skype. Then we get to know each other.

I tell them about who I am and my visions and I listen to their stories about who they are, why they are in their line of work, what turns them on, what kind of sexuality they have, and with what kind of performers they have good chemistry and good connections (because most of the performers who are active have favorite coworkers, of course). I start telling them about my idea for the film. I send the script and I look for their feedback.

Then, we get into more practical information. That’s salary and the legal paperwork that they will have to fill in. We talk about health testing and transparency (that all actors have the right to see the health testing of the other performers who they’re gonna work with), in case they want to use condoms and/or lubricants. We discuss whether sex toys will be involved and what kind of toys.

And I make it very, very clear that on my set, nobody will push them into doing anything that they haven’t agreed on in the first place. We talk about boundaries. What personal boundaries do they have? Are there things that they don’t like, that they don’t want to do?

What I really, really have seen is that they (especially the women) feel that they are working in a much safer environment on my set because they’re surrounded by a lot of other women. Because behind the cameras, in my crew, we are almost 15 working women. That’s a huge difference — because in the porn industry if you’re lucky there’s a makeup girl. But you are normally surrounded only by men.

I think that that is the most important thing when it comes to the ethical process. The ethical working process should be a standard in any industry, not only in the porn industry. In any job ever.

Absolutely. Okay. And you’ve referred to it as the “porn industry” and you said you call your work “feminist porn.”

Yes. Sometimes I talk about feminist porn. But when I talk about feminist porn, I emphasize the role of women particularly. Having women involved in the creative process behind the cameras is extremely important. We are talking about an industry where not so many women are participating. So that is important to me. But it’s also important how you portray gender roles, for both men and women, on screen. I try to run away from the aggressive male penetrative sex machine and the typical blow-up girl. I try to show my characters as real people.

That’s good for everyone. ‘Cause I worry that people think it’s just about women.

Feminism is definitely not a genre that is for only women. When you say feminist porn, for example, people get scared because they see this army of women with hair under their arms and strap-ons.


I am concerned that people think “Oh, women are these evolved creatures who want nuanced adult work and men just want to wank it to girls with fake tits sucking cock.” They don’t understand that feminism is for everyone.

Right. But it’s not true. I can really tell you, because I’ve been in so many conversations with people, and it is really starting to change. Things are, at last, starting to move. Especially when it comes to men. I feel that there are so many men out there that are awakening at this moment, especially since the #MeToo movement got out there. They’re starting to understand that “Oh my God, all these images on the tube sites are awful and the language, like ‘Latina sluts’ and ‘destroy a tiny teen’ and ‘choke a woman until she vomits,’ is horrible.” All of that is starting to get to them. I hear men telling me that kind of that they were happy before with just regular porn because they didn’t think about it. They were not aware. But now, they have come to an awareness that makes it difficult for them to keep on consuming sexist porn.

This also happened in the food industry. The last, let’s say three years, we have seen these horrible, nasty videos online of chickens in factories standing on each other and being massacred. When you see that, you don’t feel like going out to the supermarket and buying yourself a piece of chicken, right? The first thing you want to do is check if that chicken or those eggs come from a real place, a farm, where the chickens are walking around and able to eat the grass.

I think that this is the kind of the message that we need to get out there to people. When it comes to porn, it’s not only the producers and the creators of the website who have to change, it’s also the consumers. There needs to be a base of responsible consumers. When you’re going porn surfing, you need to check out the porn that you are looking at. Where does that porn come from? Who is making that porn? Under what kind of circumstances and conditions? Do the sites have an about page? Can you see who is the owner of that site? Is there a real person with a name and a picture and an interview that you can watch or read? Can you watch a making of that movie?

You need to get some kind of guarantee that it has been done correctly.

That’s really good. And I love that you brought that up because that was totally one of my questions. What are we supposed to do? How do we find it?

This is a good way to start. Become a responsible consumer. I think it’s sad how we just accept that porn is a free product. Why would porn be a free product online? I don’t really get it. Because that is giving it no value at all. Because if hamburgers were free, you would ask yourself “How come? This is strange, right? Who is paying for these hamburgers? Who is earning money, inviting me to free hamburgers?” Right?

And you would assume they weren’t good for you.

Totally. That’s the first thing you would say. “This must be shitty meat.” The same goes for the free porn. The free porn out there, it’s not good porn. It’s not good for anyone. And people are earning money on it who are not really ethical production companies.

Look at the tube sites. What is their business? They started 10 years ago before there were production companies making porn. They had paysites online, so if you wanted to watch the content, you had to pay for it because they were paying the crews and the cast and they were paying the streaming service and all of this. But what’s the deal with the tube sites? How can it be free? How? Because they pirate content. They steal content. My content is up on the tube sites. Why? Because they say that their users have uploaded it. They are not obliged to check that the users are uploading content that they have right to upload.

That’s troublesome and if it was Hollywood, people would be up in arms.

It’s my responsibility as a producer; if I see my content uploaded, to claim it. I have to write to them and to say “Hey, Pornhub. Hey, YouPorn. I see that you have uploaded my movie. Please take it down.” But it’s not even that easy because it’s a whole page I have to fill out and send and even send proof that I am the rightful owner of that content. That’s a full day’s job if I want to take down all the pirated content that is out there on the internet.

These tube sites, their business is not even porn. That’s not what it is. Their business is traffic. And why do they want traffic? They want traffic, so they can sell advertising. And what kind of advertising? It’s shitty advertising. It’s advertising like fake grow your dick pills. It’s advertising that poor, poor lonely people are falling for because they are watching porn and then they see these ads and think that maybe, maybe those pills will work. So, they fill in their credit card details. Then, the pills never arrive, or the pills arrive, but they obviously don’t work. But these people don’t go to the police because they feel so ashamed that they have fallen for it.

What is this business? I don’t really understand it. Then when you go online and you look at the language that they are using, how sexist it is, how racist it is, many times even homophobic. I don’t understand how we can just accept it.

At this moment, there are so many discussions going about porn. People are panicking, and people are afraid, and people are saying porn is so bad. But I’ve always tried to tell people that it’s not the porn that is bad. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of watching people having sex. That’s not the problem. It’s not the explicit sex that is the problem. The problem is the high levels of sexism in most pornography. What we have to fight against are those values.

We have to make better porn that is more equal, where people are portrayed in a more realistic way. They have to make porn that is respecting people, not porn that is dehumanizing people.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BhZXHp6lmwE/?hl=en&taken-by=erikalust

Speaking of innate sexism and homophobia and racism, do you think performer diversity is something we’re gonna get more of? Right now, it’s very niche.

I think it’s totally needed because I would like porn to represent the world, and it’s not at this moment. Then, when I compare porn to other media, it’s even worse because porn is better than television. Porn is better than fashion magazines. Porn is better than the dolls in a fashion store. I mean, porn at least tries.

I don’t know how to say it. What’s sad about porn is maybe the way it’s happening because it’s a lot of fetishizing people for different body sizes. Like the chubby category and then it’s the tiny category and then it’s all this, the Latin and the Asians, and the ebony, divided by ethnicities. It’s exotification and fetishism of people’s skin color. Porn needs to stop doing that and go beyond dividing us into groups. But at least, what I do see in porn, is an intent to include people from different varieties of humanity, which I would love to see a lot more on television and in Hollywood films and in fashion magazines.

Do you think that mainstream films that focus on sexuality also have some of the issues that pornography has?

When it comes to the film industry, the mainstream is almost not showing sex at all. Sex, in a Hollywood film, is basically they are kissing, it gets a little hot, then they’re under the sheets, and then it’s the next morning. That’s the normal way of showing that people are having sex.

Then there’s the indie cinema, which shows more of sex. But in the indie cinema, it’s almost always the dark side of sexuality. The problematic. The maniac. Like Nymphomaniac, for example. Like, touching the darkest side of sexuality.

I think that what I’m trying to do is another angle. I’m trying to show how marvelous and wonderful and fantastic sex is because that’s how I feel about it. I’m trying to show sex positivity, how sex can be something that fulfills us. I feel that there are very few films showing that aspect of sexuality. They normally use sexuality as some kind of dark way of explaining a character. It’s like, remember the Basic Instinct. This dark, psychopath woman, she’s very sexual. It’s rare that there’s stuff like a main character, a woman, who’s just having a great sex life.

True. Yeah, that’s absolutely true.

I feel that people, at least my audience, they are very hungry. They are thirsty for sexual storytelling. They are interested in seeing how people relate to each other sexually. Not only how they are having physical sex, but how they communicate when it comes to sex. I always say that in my movies, I try to show you what it feels like having sex. Not only what it looks like. Why are these characters attracted one to each other? Well, what’s the situation there? What’s the chemistry going on between them? I think it’s interesting to show aspects of sexuality that haven’t been shown so many times. Like, for example, consent. How can you make that into a script and a situation where you show people how you can ask another person for their consent to be sure that is what is going on? Right? Or condom use. How do you propose that in a script in a natural way? I feel that that is very helpful for people. Because then they can incorporate that into their own lives. They get tricks and tips on how to talk to people about sex.

It’s clearly a subject you understand on a deep level. I love to hear you talk about it.

I love to talk about this. This is my passion. I am not doing this because I have no other opportunities in life. I’m doing this because I really believe that it’s important. I believe that if more people who care about sexuality and women’s issues and feminism and filmmaking would get into the adult industry, we could change the perceptions that we have about sexuality. I think that is worth a try.

To learn more about Erika Lust, check out her website, go to xConfessions, and find her on Instagram.
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