Meet the sex-positive indie adult filmmaker and author.

World

3.30.2018

A Lesson In Feminist Porn With Erika Lust

When you think about the people behind porn, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the stereotypical scene of a sleazy old guy surrounded by strippers in his pop-up San Fernando Valley mansion; a Swedish mother of two isn’t exactly who you’d have in mind.

Erika Lust, creator of XConfessions, is a sex-positive, award-winning, indie adult filmmaker and author. Based in Barcelona, Lust strives to create films that have a positive societal impact. Lust didn’t have to wait long for her vision to take root, and subsequently go viral—her first short film “The Good Girl” reached over two million views within a few weeks. XConfessions is a platform where she encourages people to write about their experiences and fantasies; she then brings these ideas to life in the form of short films, bringing powerful women together both in front of and behind the camera.

This past weekend, XConfessions came to LA for the first time, hosted by the Berlin Film Society and in partnership with Safe Movement. Following a screening of the director’s picks, Lust took part in a Q&A hosted by clinical sexologist and lifestyle personality Shan Boodram. Afterwards, Milk sat down with Lust and her partner Pablo Dobner at Soho House in West Hollywood. Read our conversation with the pair below.

First of all, congratulations on your first event in Los Angeles. How did it go? 

Erika: I thought that it was completely fabulous. Really, really. I was surprised by all the emotions. I found people to be more emotional than what I would have expected. I’ve done different events in different cities, and everywhere people have their own style and their way to be. So, just a few weeks ago I did two events in Berlin where I have been many times and where I have a huge audience, but their audience is kind of more stiff, more German, more organized. There are a lot of intellectual questions. Here I really felt the vibe of a city where entertainment is the king, or the queen. And then of course how the event was produced: our lovely presenters, Shan, who did a wonderful job of warming up the audience, and the dancers and the sponsors.  But for me the most amazing thing is when I have young women coming up to me saying,”Erika, you helped me, you changed my life, you showed me what good sex can be like.”

I know, it’s something that really isn’t talked about that often. You briefly spoke about this, but can you tell me a bit more about the partners that you worked with? There was the Berlin Film Society and Shan Boodram—how did you get in contact with them and what did you like about them? 

Erika: Well, with Shan, we met online—the classic way, nowadays. She was writing an article for Playboy, and I made contact with her, and she just has this wonderful personality and seemed like a great fit. Berlin Film Society, I’ve been working with them for years now. I mean it’s maybe a little strange that they were organizing it in Los Angeles,  but it kind of happened that a friend of Jack’s lived here. We got in contact with Fox Wolf and they told us about this wonderful venue, Mack Sennett studio. You know, little by little, all these partners came together; in the same way with our sponsors and the people who believe in the project and believe that we need to start talking about sexuality.

And what about Safe Movement?  I was looking at their website and from what I can tell it’s based on just having a space for women to feel safe and feel protected and to feel like they are supported. How are they doing this? 

Erika: It’s a kind of a new company, so they haven’t really got lots of information out there, but one of the things that is kind of revolutionary with what they are doing is they’re creating an app where people can upload their sexual health history. People can cross-check with each other, on a 1-1 basis. The idea is that it would make it easier for you to trust and to be close to another person. And also if you’re not tested, the app will allow you to find facilities and resources to get tested—to show you where the closest places are.

I think that’s really amazing. That’s super helpful. Circling back to the event, I have to admit that even though I consider myself to be a very liberal feminist, I thought, “Oh my gosh, what am I getting into now?” Why do you think the topics of sex and female pleasure make people so uncomfortable?

Erika: I mean we live in this society that is often sex-negative, especially towards women. It’s not really about empowering us as sexual beings going for our own pleasure. Women are being used all the time to satisfy others, as beautiful objects smiling and flirting to sell a product. We are not used to expressing our own desires and what we really want. There are so many women out there who never really think about what they want, because sex was never about what they want. It was always about satisfying others around them. And also when we look at pornography as a genre,  that’s the biggest problem with it. It’s so male-centered. There are so few women involved in the process of making it. And I think that the only way we can really reshape the way we look upon sexuality and gender balance and the power play between men and women is if we start changing these images; if we start creating new kind of images where it’s about us; where we have the power, where we are in the center, where we can be the one desiring. We need a lot more of those spaces. We need a lot more of those images.

How do you think as individuals we can propel that idea?

Erika: We can talk to people around us, we can talk to our friends and help each other. It’s kind of what the #MeToo movement has been doing since it’s started. It’s put our personal stories into the light and made lots of women realize that they are part of a bigger structure and a bigger context. When you realize that it’s not only me, it’s also you, and it’s her, and it’s her, then it becomes so much bigger and you feel less guilty on your own part. So I think sharing is definitely important, sharing things with other women, but also sharing with other men—putting pressure on them. Saying stop and saying no and telling them what is not OK, because they are also a little lost in all this. I mean men are products of the society that they have been brought up in, they are taught toxic masculinity and aggression. And there are so many men who don’t feel comfortable with it, but they think that it’s what is expected of them. Especially young people because they haven’t had so much life experience. So sometimes they are more lost when it comes to behavior and their first sexual encounters, instead of just taking their time and trying to figure out how it works, they are trying to reproduce what they have seen in online porn. Most of it has nothing to do with real pleasure, so it’s frustrating for the women, and it’s frustrating for the men, and it’s sad. We need much better sex education that dares to talk about this subject. And I think it’s important to say that today it’s not enough to only talk about sex. We need to include porn in that conversation, because it’s such an influential genre. People don’t think that; they think that porn doesn’t matter because it’s only something that some men are watching during some late hours at night. “Who cares? It’s not a big deal.” But it is a big deal, because they are learning, mis-learning. We are learning how to do the wrong things.

During the Q&A at the event, I remember you said when you were younger and kind of figuring out sexuality you looked to pornography and thought, “OK, my body is definitely feeling something, but my mind isn’t agreeing with it.”  What was the first initial step that you took after that? 

Erika: At first, it all happened on a very intellectual level, I had absolutely no connection to the porn industry. I just felt that I wanted to make a short film that portrayed a woman in a different way, owning her own sexuality and being in charge or her own ideas. So that was really what I tried to do, and it worked. I mean, I wrote this little script, then I made my little film, and it showed this whole different kind of perspective. Then it just started to happen by itself.  I started a blog online, where I was talking about all the things I was learning and trying to understand. I uploaded the film there for free, and that was when the revelation came to me because in just two weeks I had two million downloads. That was the moment I realized that I was definitely not alone and that a lot of people wanted the same thing.  Pablo and I sat down, and we started to talk about creating a production company. We got our money together, small capital, and we did our first film project. And then it kind of took off! Since then our business has just grown, and grown, and grown. And these last four years have been really amazing. We are doubling our business every year.

Speaking of business, I remember you saying, “If you’re not paying for it, who is?” And I think that was so important, because a lot of the time people don’t even want to talk about the fact that they’re even looking at porn, so when they do look it up, it’s just some random website and there is so much disassociation from it. Most people don’t know where it’s coming from. 

Erika: It’s a question that we need to ask ourselves because any product in society that is free, normally comes with a bad part, somehow. Look at what is happening with the Facebook scandal. Facebook is a service that went online. Everybody said, “Wow! This is great—I can connect with my friends. I can find people I used to know in kindergarten, this is wonderful.” We all take it for granted, but obviously, they got stuff out of our information that we were not one hundred percent aware of.

Pablo: In the case of the tubes, who is paying for that? Um, a lot of poor people with low culture. Because the business of the tubes is traffic. If you take your time and click on the ads: “grow your penis,” “date a slut in your neighborhood or a granny or a teenager.” It’s basically two businesses: fake growing your dick and fake dating apps. Those are the people paying for your porn; sad, lonely people. People will do it, people with their credit card. So that’s how they’re getting information.

Erika: They look for information, what kind of categories you’re watching and then they use that to drive more traffic. Their business is not porn; it’s traffic. Pornhub is the most famous one, but they are not production companies.

Pablo: Well they have been acquired, so some, but most of it is selling.

Erika: They claim that users upload the content; that’s why they have so many videos on their site. But the problem is that users are uploading my content, and they don’t have rights to upload my content. Many of us suspect that they are not really users, that it’s the company really uploading pirated content from a lot of small producers

Pablo: We still haven’t seen any big research on these guys, whether written or via television. Because whoever tries to do the research will face the same bullshit that you’d face if you tried to look into the shady aspects of Monsanto or Big Pharma.

Erika: You see what happens with the food industry. They get very defensive when there is a whole movement out there starting to become aware of the methods being used.

Pablo: These are not cool people. We’ve been to some big companies, whose name I cannot disclose, a big production company in LA and they sued one of the biggest conglomerates of foreign tubes. Then they were approached by some anonymous guy and were told that they need to retire the lawsuit, otherwise they and their kids would be in physical trouble.

Erika: There’s a lot of money in this game—and the tube sites are basically just moving around money and traffic.

Just to clarify—how is traffic commodified?

Pablo: Two ways: scam advertising and subscriptions.

Erika: When you navigate around these porn sites, it’s very difficult to find information about who they really are.  They have no ownership, no names, no address, no pictures, nothing.

Not to mention, what values they hold. 

Erika: Exactly! For me, that is one of the biggest problems. When I buy something, I would like to know who’s behind it, you know, especially if it’s such a delicate product as porn. I want to know that I can trust those people.

Pablo: Over the last year we’ve been noticing that because porn isn’t transparent, it’s been made possible that these huge companies, fund smaller production companies to get the performers to work for them for really low rates. They don’t disclose that behind them is a huge company that could pay 10x what they offer.

Erika: To make this a better world everybody needs to cooperate. Production companies need to start stating who they are. They need to start showing the audience their values and the ways in which they are working. They need to be transparent and open. Performers need to start asking who they are working for, because they should have that information. There are so many performers out there working for companies, and they have absolutely no clue who owns those companies. Consumers need to start checking facts. They need to start paying for it. Seriously, because it costs money to make, it costs money to make it well, to make it into conditions that it should be made. If you will value it, it will be better.

I feel like this conversation can just be applied to any business at all. 

Erika: Of course! It should be applied to every business. I mean, it’s exactly the same. If you’re making tea, you should check who’s that company making the tea. In what country? How did do they do it? Is it ecological?

Pablo: It’s more work for everyone.

Erika: Yeah, but also as consumers, we have a lot of power. We complain so many times that we don’t have any power. We can decide where we want to put our money,

Of course, and we used tea as an example, but things like the porn industry, have a serious societal impact. It’s super important that we actually start paying attention to it because it has a lot of consequences. 

Erika: And also when it comes to two women, we are talking about it a lot lately because of #MeToo and #TimesUp, et Cetera. But we need to get women into power in a lot of companies. I talked to someone yesterday about Amazon Prime. They have a creative board of 17 people, and only one of them is a woman. 75 percent of their users are women. That’s not OK. We need to get out there, and we need to start looking at this fact because if people like you start writing about it, people like us start talking about, then suddenly it will become a thing, and they won’t be able to continue that way. Amazon will have to revise the people on the board. You know, the film festivals will have to start inviting women to sit in on the panel to decide who’s going to win the big prize. The companies will have to enter new women in your boards. It’s super important. Really. So I also think that for women as consumers, we must backup other women. If you’re tired of the patriarchy, if you’re tired of the way women are being treated—buy from companies who have the women represented in the leadership.

After your event, I didn’t feel like I was just like sitting through a screening of pornos. I feel like that was largely in part to the idea that it was actually like a film.

Erika: Exactly—I’m a filmmaker. I make films, and I make films about sexuality.

So a lot of it was obviously due to the artistic aspects of it: the set design and the casting, but I think that there were a couple of other things that kind of contributed to that feeling—for example, a lack of misogyny. There’s an effort to show multiple body types and different types of people. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? 

Erika: Well, it’s crucial. We have seen too many images of the particularly beautiful, white, slim, young woman for example, but it’s time to start representing the diversity of humanity. I struggle a lot to find different kinds of people for my movies because it’s not that easy, but it’s something that people totally appreciate. I think there are a lot of executives in the film industry who think that people want to see this idealistic type of beauty. Of course, some people do, but there’s a whole bunch of people who want to see themselves.

In what ways do you try to make your characters relatable? 

Erika: Well, I try to create characters that we can identify with; that we can feel with; that are not the typical, male penetrative sex machines and female blow-up dolls. I just want to show real people and how they relate to each other and how they respond to each other and how they actually communicate sexually. When I write the script, for example, I try to do a gender analysis, thinking what would happen if I would change their roles? I try to show men and women as human beings. It’s as easy, somehow, as that. It’s sad, that it’s so complicated for so many people.

Is there a favorite film that you’ve made?

Erika: All of the films that I showed the other night are favorite films of mine, totally. I mean, in the film “HORNGRY” for example, I love the way the three girls are just laughing and kidding around and being so positive and so natural about just having sex.  But it’s difficult with my films because, you know, it’s like all of them are mine and I loved them all in different ways. And also the whole idea with the project XConfessions is to be somehow a laboratory and try different styles and different situations and work on my skill also as a filmmaker. That is for me, very, very interesting to see what can I do. Next, I’m going to shoot my first VR project. I’m really excited about it because it’s a medium that I don’t know so well.

Different mediums and genres! Some of your films are funny; some are more sensual. 

Erika: As sex is in real life.

That’s so true. Someone actually asked you this during the panel, and it was such a great question—how do you talk to your daughters about sex?

Erika: I try to do it as natural as possible. I try to talk about sex the same way as I talk about anything else, the same way as I about gender roles, about racism, about food, about, you know, body size and photoshopping. The idea is that I want them to grow up feeling secure about themselves, their own sexuality, and their bodies. So the first thing is for them to know information. And then when it comes to the whole porn part in it—I mean, I think for them, they do know what I do. They do know that I’m filmmaker, that I make films where people have sex, where people are naked, where people kiss a lot, but they find that disgusting because of their age. They find it disgusting when Pablo and I kiss, you know, because a 10-year-old doesn’t like that.  It’s not the natural instinct. It hasn’t come to that point yet. But then I hope to be able to keep talking about it in a natural way when it progresses.

Pablo: We get the question a lot, “How are you going to tell them what you do?” and we try to remind other parents in our community that that’s not our problem, it’s every father and mother in the western world, because not only are our girls going to have access to porn because we make it, but all kids in the world will have access to porn between nine and 11. So it’s not our sole matter, it’s a whole social situation. We started with thepornconversation.org, that’s one of the few projects I also participate in. It’s for that. It’s for educators.

So you’re currently based in Barcelona, but you’re from Sweden, and you’ve worked with people all around the world. What are some of the main cultural differences you’ve noticed? 

Erika: I actually feel that we are quite alike, because of this global world we live in. I see Netflix; I listen to the same music, you know, we probably buy clothes from the same companies; the world has become so global, that it’s difficult to talk about differences. I mean here in America for example, there may be a little more hypocrisy, and you have a feeling that people are very scared of nakedness and sexuality—even like showing a nipple. In Europe, it’s just more like, you know, there are topless people on the beach, and we are not so afraid to talk about sex. It’s part of our life kind of.

One last thing—you’ve been bringing up the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement. In what ways do you think that your work can kind of be joined together with those two movements and to create a better outcome for where we are right now?

Erika: I think that women need a sexual outlet. Women need a place where they can feel free and safe and can just watch something and pleasure themselves if they want or find inspiration if that’s what they’re looking for. And I think that is very important for our liberation. When people ask me how can feminism and porn go together? For me, it’s very simple. I think they need to go together. At the beginning the #MeToo movement excluded a lot of sex workers, which meant they had to speak up and say, “Hey, don’t forget about us.” And now the movement is opening up to include them. And I think it has to be that way. It’s a profession that a lot of women have and it’s a profession which is particularly susceptible to aggressive behavior and power abuse. So if they can’t be included, we’re missing out on a huge part of humanity.

Is there anything that you’d like to add?

Erika: I can’t do this revolution alone, we women need to come together. I want to do as much as I can, and at this point in my life I can finance other women’s projects. Our company is doing well and we are growing and we have an audience who wants to watch this kind of new adult cinema. I always want to tell people that if you are a filmmaker and feel that this could be something for you, contact us. Go to Erikalust.com/opencall and apply and see if we can help you to make your film. Because I think that film by film, we can change visions.

Can they be from anywhere in the world?

Erika: Yes! They should be from anywhere in the world. Exactly the point, because we need so many diverse voices and we need people from diverse ethnicities. We need people with different sexualities. Join the revolution!

Images courtesy of Erika Lust

Stay tuned to Milk for more feminism.

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