The future of female-led porn

Feminist filmmaker Erika Lust takes us into her NSFW world of erotica where women – and you – call the shots

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XConfessions Vol 4
"XConfessions Vol 4", 2015Courtesy of Rocio Lunaire

Imagine your deepest, darkest fantasies played out for all to see. Eyeballed by strangers in a sensual, euphoric experience made for the monitor screen. XConfessions by Erika Lust is exploring that rapturous world of sex and erotica via everyday people. Courtesy of anonymous confessions submitted online, which are picked and re-enacted in short erotic films, directed by the Swedish native herself.

Lust’s career has been a subversive exploration of porn, with special focus on changing the perception of female sexuality – a task that she first encountered with her film debut The Good Girl in 2004. “I used to struggle to find women who created porn, but it has definitely improved within the past five to ten years,” she tells us over Skype. Lust’s interest in changing the world of pornography stemmed from her own experiences, as she explored her sexuality and discovered who she was. “When I would watch porn I felt like I didn’t like or enjoy it, so I didn’t understand why my body connected with these sexual images.” The questions raised from her own personal experiences sparked a career change for the political science graduate into the world of female erotica, a change which has seen Lust pick up numerous accolades at the Feminist Porn Awards, and, most recently, deliver a powerful TED talk highlighting the importance of changing the conversation between gender and porn.

Ahead of the tenth anniversary of the Feminist Porn Awards tonight – which will celebrate Lust’s achievements with a special talk and Q&A – we caught up with the feminist pornographer to discuss female sexuality and the importance of cinematography, and to float the question: Do you find my feet suckable?

Where did your desire to change the landscape of porn begin?

Erika Lust: It began at university. I remember watching a porn DVD with my boyfriend, and feeling that I didn’t like these sexual images, but still my body reacted to what I was looking at. I didn’t understand the discrepancy between my body and my brain, and that was the starting point where I realised something didn’t work for me but worked for him. I also found this book by Berkeley professor Linda Williams, which analysed pornography. This book made me realise that porn was not only about my personal feelings, but was a discourse speaking about sexuality, and was about how we interact with each other – men and women – in those circumstances. I started to realise that something wasn’t right, as the only people that were behind this discourse of sexuality were men.

“I like the concept of shooting beautiful, aesthetic, cinematographic pieces, and still allowing them to be explicit” – Erika Lust

Was there a significant moment in time which sparked your career change, from a political science and gender studies graduate to a feminist adult filmmaker?

Erika Lust: It was the release of my first film. At that time, I was still (working) on an experimental basis, trying to answer questions. When I saw the huge success it had, it was amazing to me how I could reach so many people with something that I made. I had so many people writing to me, telling me that they share my conviction, and that they wanted more. That was the moment where I realised I was ready to take this step, and dared to do something that I thought I would never do.

My main interest here is in female sexuality. We are in huge need of seeing female sexuality portrayed in a different way, and to see ourselves as protagonists of the stories, not only as vehicles that men use to get their sexuality out of it. We are tired of being portrayed as beautiful objects, as sex heroines, and want to show that we can be whoever we want to be, and also have sexual lives.

What was it about XConfessions and the concept of fulfilling the audience’s most secret desires that appealed to you?

Erika Lust: It was the idea of sharing, as I’ve had so much feedback from my audience wanting diversity of sexual images and sexual stories. I think a lot of people are tired of the concept that the porn industry has brought to us year after year, with the same kind of people doing the same kind of stories. We have started to see more diversity within the last five to ten years, but that’s because people from different backgrounds are daring to get into this business. It’s really important for young people especially who use pornography to learn about sexuality, that they’re able to watch material with different ideas, different body types, different races, different ages, and different kinds of sexualities. That’s one of the main ideas behind XConfessions, hearing the stories, fantasies and adventures by people and sharing them.

Which of the films, made through XConfessions, has been your favourite?

Erika Lust: I have one called Do you find my feet suckable? which is a beautiful story. It really uses the cinematography to tell the story, and I like that. I like the concept of shooting beautiful, aesthetic, cinematographic pieces, and still allowing them to be explicit. It’s a very interesting combination.

In your TED talk, you mentioned that we need more women behind the scenes in porn. Have you found that the growth in feminist porn has led to an increase in women working in the industry?

Erika Lust: Ten years ago there was almost nothing out there. Today, there is a feminist community behind the scenes, interested in developing pornography beyond what it has been. The Feminist Porn Awards is a great example of a wonderful community, getting stronger every year, with more women, and even some men, expressing their feelings on sexuality. We are getting to a better place, and I’m convinced that things will change.

Are there certain stereotypes within porn that you still struggle to break today?

Erika Lust: The sex heroines, the sex heroes, and the sex machines. It’s not only female roles, men are portrayed terribly too. There’s a responsibility to show different characters here, and to acknowledge that normal people – all of us – we have sex, we come from sex, we enjoy sex, and sex is the source of life. Not only the super-silicone Barbies and the muscular men. When we begin to see more common people in porn, we’ll be more relaxed and feel less ashamed. We’ll be able feel that we are not so different, and that our darkest fantasies are shared by other people.

Where do you see female-led erotica in ten years?

Erika Lust: I think the younger generation growing up now will be more sure about themselves, and that female led-erotica will be stronger. When I see a television series like Girls by Lena Dunham, I feel great, I feel empowered, and feel they’re not so afraid of showing who they are and what they think. They are fearless about being judged by other people, and I think when we stop caring about what other people – women and men – think of us, we will get to a place where we have a lot more power to get our ideas out the way we want. To focus on something else other than appearances.

Lust will be talking about XConfessions at the Feminist Porn Awards tonight. Click here for event information, or visit www.erikalust.com

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