Porn or Erotic films are often considered to be taboo in our society. They are treated as a degrading art form and are not given any spotlight in the mainstream media. Seeing the problematic treatment given to the erotic stories in the media, Erika Lust undertakes the task to produce a range of genre bending films, which are aimed to not just destigmatize the content but even educate and inform the viewers in the process.
Since her first production in 2004, ‘The Good Girl’. The Swedish director has been a pioneer in the industry and has gone on to transform it through various platforms such as Else Cinema, XConfessions, etc. She has been a leading figure in the Feminist Pornography Movement, and has been a recipient of several awards too.
In this wide ranging conversation with our team at Vex-Ed, Miss Lust opened up about her views on pornography catering to female perspectives, her process of vetting her crew, her hopes for the industry and many more important topics.
What in your view can we as a society do to reach a level of understanding in our educational institutions where they may think of using erotic cinema and literature as useful sex-ed tools?
The problem we have right now is that good, useful sex education is lacking, pretty much everywhere. We know that a huge percentage of schools are not providing adequate sex education. At no point in a child's education does anyone teach them about consent, which seems pretty important, no? Our kids aren’t oblivious to sex! They hear about it from the society around them and go straight to Google to find answers. And unfortunately, pretty much every time you type something sex related into a search engine, you’ll be greeted by something like PornHub where you'll be bombarded with a lot of degrading, disrespectful sex or kink which doesn’t always appear to be consensual.
We can't stop kids from finding these sites so instead of ignoring it, let's educate them. By acknowledging porn, it immediately becomes less shameful and opens up a dialogue, which leads to healthy, active learning!
Having daughters has increased my urge to address the problem of sex education. They are why I started The Porn Conversation with my husband Pablo. We have been working to provide parents and educators with the tools they need to talk to teenagers about pornography and will relaunch the non-profit project in January 2022 with the precious help of our new Community Relations & Education Manager and clinical sexologist Avril Louise Clarke.
The website is full of practical, useful guides to encourage parents to talk to their kids about what they are going to see online. To tell them that it’s normal to be curious, but what they are going to see is a performance of sex and not what real sex is actually like. That a lot of the people they see in those videos are not representative of the average body and that you shouldn’t treat women and young girls the way that they are treated in a lot of the porn on the free tube sites. The new The Porn Conversation will also include a hub for teens where they can anonymously ask questions about sex, sexuality, and puberty.
We have been seeing an increasing need of female gaze in cinema of all forms, do you think the erotic film industry can see more works which focus on female perspective and pleasure in the coming years?
This is something that is important to me and has been since the time I began working in this industry. With my films I aim to smash the stigma that is attached to the female body and to show that female pleasure matters; we have our own sex drive, desires, and sexual agency. Our bodies in society are hyper-sexualised while at the same time we’ve been told that we should be ashamed of being openly sexual and owning our sexuality without a man. In my films, I want to portray women that are aware of both their power and their boundaries, that are smart and sex-positive and are in touch with their erotic self without any shame.
The porn industry’s highest positions of power are still overwhelmingly dominated by white cisgender men. In order for porn to change, we need more women, queer, BIPOC, Asian people behind the cameras. We need them in positions of power in all aspects of the business - as producers, directors, and scriptwriters to bring their perspectives into the films. This allows them to re-write the script about their involvement (not only in sex but also in public life) and to do something different to the mass-produced stereotypical porn of the free tube sites.
I have a mostly female and queer crew when I'm working on set and my offices are mostly female. The female gaze is so important to challenge the porn status quo, and to capture it, I need to have a predominantly female team. Since I started in this industry almost 20 years ago I have seen more women behind the camera and creating porn and have worked with more female directors so to answer your question, yes, I think there are more of these types of films coming.
Erotic cinema has its own award show culture, awards like Cinekink, Feminist Porn Award etc. In your opinion would new erotic category in mainstream awards like Oscars or Emmys boost up the legitimacy of the genre and encourage safer practices around it?
Absolutely, I would love to see an erotic film category in the mainstream film/tv awards shows. I want to bring both cinematic and human values back to porn. We've lost the Golden Age of pornography in the 70s when films were feature-length, released in theatres, and reviewed by respected media. Now we have low costs and low-grade quality.
Every film I create demonstrates a commitment to aesthetics and high production value. Most of the typical mainstream porn on the free tube sites is devoid of cinematic beauty; a huge part of my mission is to show that porn films can have cinematic qualities.
I want to excite both people’s minds and bodies and inspire them to realise and pursue their own pleasures. In order to do this, I think it's important to create films with interesting scripts that humanise the characters. I see my films as erotic cinema with beautiful images and realistic, hot sex. I want the camera to focus on the touches, the breaths, how human bodies react to pleasure, and how people involved in sex communicate their desires and needs to each other, whether the film is romantic, kinky, or anything in between.
For each and every original film we produce for XConfessions and Lust Cinema we follow the same workflow of any other non-explicit film production. We pay a professional crew to work in styling, location, art direction, cinematography. We invest in post-production, sound, colour correction, and take equal care of the arts and graphics that accompany the films. Perhaps if there was an erotic film category it would be an incentive for more erotic film production companies to pay closer attention to the cinematic quality of their films as well.
You have credited John Cameron Mitchell and Joey Soloway as your inspirations, how have their respective works shaped your own sensibilities as a filmmaker?
John Cameron Mitchell was a big inspiration as he’s one of the few who dared to portray real sex with real actors in a film for commercial theatres. His film ‘Shortbus’ shows sex as a crucial communication tool between people, whether there’s a conventional relationship behind it or not.
Joey Soloway has been and continues to be, a huge inspiration for me. I devoured ‘I Love Dick’ and ‘Transparent’ when they were released, both of which push boundaries not often seen in television. Joey is always striving to represent more sexualities and genders in their work, both in front of and behind the camera, and ensuring that people have a voice to take part in a story that concerns them. Their production process is incredibly inspiring to me and something that I've implemented in my own work.
Being ardent believers in the fact that we are shaped by the media we consume, we, here at Vex Ed, had so much to learn from this conversation. As sexual educators, we hope that our audience seeks knowledge and guidance that isn’t overly sexualised with an obvious bias to male pleasure. Please find the second part of this conversation on our blog!