Part 2 of our conversation with Miss Erika Lust!
You have always emphasized the importance of feminist erotica in improving the gender roles and sexuality discourse in society, can you please elaborate on that?
I started my business almost 20 years ago because I wanted to prove that we can represent sex in which women, men, and any other gender identities are treated as equal sexual collaborators and that we can use porn to portray credible stories and characters that don’t follow tired stereotypes and gender based power imbalance. I want to give space to diverse desires, genders, ethnicities, abilities, ages, and ways to have sex without fetishising them. This allows the public to become receptive to the huge range of different sexualities that exist out there and need to be seen.
My cinema has my feminist values behind it and I put female sexuality and pleasure at the forefront. In my films at XConfessions, Lust Cinema, and Else Cinema, women are not represented solely as objects for male pleasure. I make sure that women are behind the camera and making active decisions about how the film is produced and presented. Having women, BIPOC and queer folks behind the cameras allows them to re-write the script about their involvement not only in sex, but also in public life, and to do something really different to the mass produced stereotypical and fetishising porn of the free tube sites. My sets are made up of 80% women and LGBTQ+ people and we have a big crew, which may look very different for a performer coming from mainstream sets. I want the female and queer gaze to be the norm, and not an exception anymore.
However, talking about ‘feminist erotica’ can be limiting. The directors who define themselves as feminists are a part of such a diverse community, and their work is so different from each other. I love the growing ‘feminist porn’ movement but it's also important to focus on the artistic diversity that resides within this group. We are not a collective of people who all have the same artistic views or ideas about sex.
How do you pick your performers? What's your vetting process like?
When I'm making a film with my crew, we do the same work as if we were any other type of independent non-explicit film production. From an idea we develop script and storyboards, we consult our art director, we work on interesting locations.
Once we have a story, we look for the perfect fit for each role. We get to know performers through interviews, we have Zoom calls with them and meet them in person if we can. We always make sure the performers are 18+, have had their own sexual experiences already, are sex-positive and 100% enthusiastic to be part of the project. I don't just ask performers to come on set with their best lingerie on and that's it.
Once we have the cast for a film, we arrange for performers to get to know each other well in advance (if they don’t already know each other). We ask them if and which sex toys or accessories they would like to use, if they want to use condoms, and we make sure with weeks of antecedence they’re tested negative for STIs (and, right now, for Covid-19 as well, which concerns all crew members as well).
Your films place a heavy emphasis on emotions, touch, and mental intimacy: how do you ensure that your performers get into that intimate space?
I don’t like to be pushy in my direction, especially when filming the sex scene. I prefer instead to discuss everything - the mood of the scene, the background of the characters, performers’ sexual boundaries - before we start shooting so that the performers can do what feels most natural to them when the cameras start rolling. My Talent Manager on set looks after them all day to make sure they are okay and have everything they need. I want them to feel comfortable speaking up and stopping the shooting whenever they need to. I don't want them to reproduce the “formula” that the industry has done for so long. I think that as a director, over time, I have created a safe space on set and shown that my films are collaborative projects, with both cast and crew. Everyone's opinion is completely respected, heard, and valid on my set.
I always try to shoot the sex scene early in the day as this is the most important part of my film; my bread and butter! It’s also good for the performers to shoot when they have the most energy. Of course, the sex isn't always smooth sailing. Whether they are professionals or not, it can be just as awkward as any sexual encounter in your everyday life - strange noises, fumbles, laughter, awkward positions... It really doesn't matter to me, I have always wanted to show what sex looks and feels like in real life. I tell them “don’t have sex like a porn star, have sex as a person, as you do in your home”. I don't want to show some sex acrobats that my viewers can't relate to, but people who look and act like people you can meet on the street. I want viewers to feel like they could live out the scenarios – that makes it more satisfying, erotic, and fun. Sex in real life should not imitate porn, but porn should definitely start imitating life!
Of course, shooting an adult film is challenging and we do our best to make sure performers are looked after and feel comfortable throughout, but sometimes mistakes happen. We are not perfect. With my ongoing open call for guest directors, there are more people than ever before making films for our platforms, some of whom have never directed an adult film before. So, to ensure that my ethical production values are maintained across the board, we developed two documents; Performer's Bill of Rights and Guidelines for Guest Directors to shoot with Erika Lust, which are a mandatory compliance for anyone making films for XConfessions and Lust Cinema.
What are your thoughts on the notion that pornography by its very nature inherently oppressive against women?
Porn isn't a monolithic entity, it fantastically mirrors our society, blatantly showing the neglect and misrepresentation of female pleasure and consent. Porn is often used as a scapegoat for violence because it's easy to point fingers on an industry that people don't like to speak about. But actually gender violence comes from a society that has historically always prioritised the male experience over the female. Male entitlement exists everywhere and men have been abusing their positions of power for centuries. Misogyny and sexism are deeply embedded in the fabric of our culture, not just the adult industry.
I believe that porn can be a really powerful tool to help not only women, but people of any gender to explore their sexuality. When we create porn that is realistic enough for people to identify with what they are watching and get inspired by it, it can help them to discover their body, and learn how to give pleasure to themselves and to others!
Porn can open your mind about sexuality and help you to discover new desires and fantasies, as you become more receptive to the huge range of different sexualities out there. For many viewers, alternative adult cinema helps them celebrate their sexuality and encourages them to be empowered by sex in a variety of ways. It can be a tool for women’s sexual expression and for people in general to get rid of taboos.
Your films tend to lean more towards art- Horny Beasts, for example, is a wonderful intersection of contemporary dance and sex. How do you come up with such creative ideas and make them real?
The films I make for XConfessions are adapted from anonymous sexual confessions that I receive from the public. Each month my team and I look through the submissions and choose two that we find particularly inspiring to adapt into short explicit films. Because of this, my work doesn't follow a particular theme or narrative. The confessions that I receive are wonderfully diverse and I know that I will never run out of ideas for films because the public's imagination is non-stop!
There are some recurring kinks and themes in the confessions, like BDSM and threesome/group sex situations, but even though there are recurring themes each fantasy usually has its own twist that is unique to the author. The style, intensity, and context are always so different. For me, I love a confession that evokes a place or a feeling in my mind, where I can really imagine and feel the sensations that the person is describing.
Reading the confessions takes me back to how it all started and it is still one of my favourite parts of the website. Especially seeing them paired with a piece of erotic art from a curated gallery of artists whose work illustrate each confession. The confessions have shown me that sex and sexuality are not limited to a narrow idea and that to me is inspiring.
The views of Miss Lust here immensely resonate the desire to provide the female lens to the much sexual and sexualised adult film industry. Our conversation with her gave a glimpse of an artist in control of their artform. With a careful consideration for not just her material but also the crew and cast who make these films possible, Erica Lust has set an example of outstanding ethics in the realm of erotic film industry.
The work that she has been doing and is in the process of doing, is not just important from a filmmaking point of view but as a societal one as well. We are eagerly looking forward to seeing more stories from her in the coming years. Thank you!