The XConfessions app lets users swipe left or right on sex acts they’re willing or not willing to try
Erika Lust is currently making five films at once – no small undertaking, especially as her erotic films are cinematically beautiful; often feature-length, with professional crews who work on styling, location, cinematography, and everything else to make it visually arresting.
But that’s just a small part of the filmmaker’s mission to promote and create feminist pornography that centres women’s experiences and desires. Lust believes the most important thing with sex is communication and consent; clear rules that many people seem to skim over. She’s serious about promoting those values, too – she is determined to maintain an ethical work environment where all actors are comfortable, which she tells me goes from “feeding everyone on set” to “performers being able to stop shooting anytime they feel uncomfortable”.
Lust’s series XConfessions, which saw her win a Feminist Porn Award in both 2014 and 2015, is based on crowd-sourced erotic stories and fantasies from confessions that viewers can leave on her website. Now, she’s released the XConfessions app, an app which presents users (either playing alone or in a couple) with kinks: each person swipes left or right depending on whether they’re willing to try it. It’s billed as an inclusive app, taking into account all genders, sexualities, and types of relationships.
The XConfessions app takes the most awkward and complicated part of kink – the fear that your partner mightn’t want to try what you do; the fear of exposing yourself only to be embarrassed – and makes it disappear. We speak to Lust about the app, her work, and the ever-evolving porn industry.
I think the best thing about XConfessions is that – with trying new things sexually – there’s always the fear that your partner won’t want the same thing and it’ll get awkward. Was that your primary motivation?
Erika Lust: It was designed for exactly that – to open up conversation and take away some of the pressure of broaching the topic of fantasy with your partner. I think the fear of embarrassment is really common. It can be very difficult to open up about your fantasies, even to someone you've been with for a long time, but these conversations can potentially take your sex life to the next level and intensify your bond and relationship with your partner. It’s really important in a relationship to have strong, open communication and I believe that this is part of it. Sexual fantasies are perfectly healthy and normal, and sharing them can be a really fun experience.
Where do you think that embarrassment comes from?
Erika Lust: I think a lot of it stems from the shame tied up with sexuality. Unfortunately shame is cultivated in the society we live in and the sex education (or lack of) we receive growing up. We’re also taught to view sex in a very narrowly defined heteronormative way, which makes it seem that anything outside of this is deviant or weird. Women especially have to confront shame within their sexuality because they're fed the message from a young age that they shouldn't enjoy it too much.
“Consent and communication are not one-time conversations” – Erika Lust
Do you think that’s the most important thing in both kink and sex – communication?
Erika Lust: I think there are two equally important things, communication and consent. When we don’t communicate about sex, our wants and our needs aren’t met. A lack of communication means that we don’t try things that interest us and we will go along with things that we may not necessarily want to. We must always be aware of consent when having sex – ongoing conversation or clear non-verbal cues.
It baffles me that the kink community has a bad reputation in ‘mainstream’ circles when they have such a strong model of what it means to obtain consent and speak about what they're comfortable doing. It’s the norm in kink situations to speak about what sexual activities you want to do. I’m not saying that the kink community is perfect or that boundary violations don’t exist, but I think there is a lot we can learn. I think it’s also important to remember that consent and communication are not one-time conversations.
The app takes away something that can be common in kink – a perceived pressure to comply. If your partner says ‘I want this’ and you say ‘well, I don’t’, you can feel ‘boring’ or like you’re depriving them of something they want. This makes the conversation more positive and takes away that fear, while prioritising pleasure.
Erika Lust: I wanted to make the app in a way that users can play individually, as well as with their partner. In part, to take away some of the pressure to comply, specially when fantasies are spoken about during sex, there can be a pressure to say yes to avoid making things uncomfortable.
I think it’s a good idea to first have the conversation of fantasy with your clothes still on with a fun app. This is where the app works well, by going through the cards individually, and thinking about them alone you can decide if the fantasy is something that interests you. This also allows you to develop your sexuality and fantasies independent from your partner.
What is it like for you looking back on your career?
Erika Lust: I often tell people about the book that influenced me which was Linda Williams’ Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’. It gave me my lightbulb moment and I realised that pornography was a genre, a specific cinematic trend with its own history. It wasn't just ‘porn’ to me anymore, it was part of a discourse on sexuality making a statement and expressing ideologies and values on sex and gender.
I shot The Good Girl when I moved to Barcelona, which was a humorous take on the classic pizza delivery boy porn trope. To be honest I can't really watch it now without cringing but it was a start and it changed my life! That’s when I realised there were other people out there looking for alternatives to mainstream pornography, and I decided to start making adult films that reflected my own ideas.
What drives you to make these films?
Erika Lust: My mission was, and always will be, to show that women’s pleasure matters. I want to show that women have their own sex drive and desires, and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. XConfessions is adult cinema that is smart, sex positive and respectful to women. It offers a representation of women’s pleasure and sex on screen that challenges the unchecked misogynistic attitudes, racist categorisations, and degrading narratives of mass-produced porn. Gagging, slapping, vomiting... some women may like it. But it is not a niche, it has become mainstream. That is extremely problematic. Studios produce it as it is the alpha and the omega of sex while it is content made with a very misogynist male-centric standard. It seems it is not arousing unless it is degrading to women. In my cinema, I show women enjoying themselves while receiving and giving pleasure in relatable scenarios. Women have their own sexual agency and take ownership of their bodies.
I also want to fight the fetishising and categorising that the mainstream industry does. Performers are categorised by their race, age or body type. I am really concerned with such ‘othering’.
“It baffles me that the kink community has a bad reputation in ‘mainstream’ circles when they have such a strong model of what it means to obtain consent and speak about what they're comfortable doing” – Erika Lust
What else are you doing to change the industry?
Erika Lust: With my ongoing guest directors open call I also have that community of new filmmakers. There are more female filmmakers in the industry who have loud voices and who stand by their work, and it’s great to be able to get more depictions of sex and sexuality, and more people doing something different to a lot of the mass produced stereotypical porn on the free tube sites.
What sets your work apart?
Erika Lust: I think working with a female team really shapes my films. From the moment I created Erika Lust Films I knew I wanted to get more women in positions of power in all aspects of the business. I have a mostly female crew when I'm working on set, it can vary slightly but it’s usually 80 per cent women, with women working as camera people, producers, editors, runners. The female viewpoint is vital for me and to really get that I need to have a predominantly female team. With tube sites and the vast majority of studios, you don’t know who made those films. We should be asking ourselves who is making the porn that we watch.
You can download the XConfessions app and find out more about it here