Interviews

In Convo with Erika Lust: the Woman at the Forefront of the Ethical Porn Movement

March 23, 2018

Erika Lust, the Swedish pornographer who has become the face of the feminist porn movement, is making her L.A. debut this weekend with a screening of erotic short films. Here, Lust discusses porn archetypes in a post #MeToo era, and what #TimesUp means for sex workers. By Alexandra Pereira.

Plus: a Slutever exclusive sneak peek from a new film by guest director, artist Apollonia Saintclair! Scroll down :)

Having attended a couple of Erika Lust’s events in Berlin (aka the world capital of sex-positivity) – where nude dancing and unruly parties are often the screening’s digestif – it’s fun to think about how an LA audience will handle public pornography. Talking about sex and porn consumption is one thing, but watching porn IRL with your friends over some snacks as the sun sets — that’s something else entirely. Luckily, porn has entered a new Golden Age – one working to strip away the blush factor. But of course, Lust knows that the problems surrounding porn go far deeper than a mere blush.

Porn has always been controversial, but the most interesting contemporary conversations about the industry focus less on whether or not porn should exist, and more on how to make porn safer, more representative and more socially responsible. Porn director and producer Erika Lust, with her company Lust Films, is creating a new world of indie adult cinema, which aims to combat harassment and shame and expand inclusivity and social responsibility—while turning you on in the process, obviously. Lust’s short films are crowd-sourced fantasies cum-to-life and are mostly directed by herself, or plentiful guest female directors. And there’s one big thing about Lust’s films that’s hard to overlook: they feature plots that aren’t reductive or abusive, they explore consent in a nuanced way, and they have realistic (yet still super hot) depictions of human beings. A novelty!

With her growing Barcelona-based production house and an ever-expanding global presence, Lust is treading ground where no pornographer has been before. Not only is she a sex-positive feminist erotic filmmaker, she’s making an effort to do it ethically. It all begins with taking porn-watching back to the live arena – something US audiences haven’t really enjoyed since the 1970s Golden Age of porno.

Images via Erika Lust Media

Alexandra Pereira: You’re showing a selection of XConfession Erotic Short Films this weekend in LA. How do you think US live audiences will respond to your work? Having been at a number of your Berlin events where the first few scenes still beget a few nervous giggles from the viewers, I can’t imagine how a Los Angeles crowd will react.

Erika Lust: Screenings are always slightly tense at the start, because the audience isn’t used to watching porn with such a large group of people. They might feel embarrassed, or be thinking, “Does my face look normal? What if someone gets an erection? How long is this sex scene going to last?!” It’s normal to feel embarrassed at first, but people soon become comfortable. This is why I love to incorporate humor into my films—laughter always helps to break the ice. Sex is supposed to be fun!

I really love screenings because sex and arousal are the most natural things in life, and we should be able to come together and celebrate them. I don’t know when it was decided that we weren’t allowed to talk about sexuality in public places.

Now seems like the perfect (if long-awaited) time for a responsible feminist advocate of safe sexual expression to be introducing Hollywood to her projects. How have recent movements affected your work and the conversations surrounding it?

We’re living in interesting times. But this isn’t a new trend. Haven’t women been denouncing [nonconsensual sexually violent] behavior for years, for decades? Doesn’t it happen in every single industry and field outside of Hollywood? This is not about one man or several; it’s about a whole system. Last year we saw Tarana Burke’s #metoo movement – started many years ago for young girls of color – turn into a social media phenomenon based mostly on wealthy white women in Hollywood. But so far the voices of sex workers and other marginalized communities have been largely excluded from the conversation. As in any other male-dominated field, power imbalance and harassment is huge in the porn industry.  But there is a long-held, very problematic fallacy in society that sex workers can’t be assaulted due to the nature of their job, and as a result they have been excluded from public discussion on sexualized and gender-based violence. This is despite the fact that sex workers are a criminalized group, and as such are particularly vulnerable to sexual assault and other forms of oppression – so their exclusion from these conversations just doesn’t make sense.

“There is a long-held, very problematic fallacy in society that sex workers can’t be assaulted due to the nature of their job, and as a result they have been excluded from public discussion on sexualized and gender-based violence.” – Erika Lust

When it comes to my own work, movements such as #metoo have given me more strength to improve all that I want for a better adult cinema. Unfortunately, porn is still a topic of conversation that a large portion of society does not want to broach, and we are still missing a meaningful analysis of the way women are represented in pornography as a whole. It’s time to move away from the conversation of whether porn is “good” or “bad” so that we can tackle the heftier discourse surrounding content and production process. More often than not, porn fantastically mirrors our society, blatantly showing the neglect and misrepresentation of female pleasure and consent.

I encourage an ethical production process both in what we produce and how we produce it. The fight for gender equality falls in front of and behind the camera, and in the adult industry especially it’s imperative to have more women behind the scenes. I can’t stress this enough: put more women in positions of power. That’s the only way to really combat the male porn gaze and create an industry where women can feel sexually empowered and safe. I am continuing to create a space for new, diverse voices and visions to offer an alternative to the adult content being produced. In 2017 I financed 22 short films guest-directed by women.

Before technology allowed for more private perversion (home TVs, videotapes, DVDs, internet etc.), porn was traditionally screened in a public arena. I always imagine old erotic cinemas to have been dark, red velveted places where mostly men scurried in and out. Do you ever watch old stuff?

The 70s were the Golden Age of porn. We truly witnessed an acceptance of the industry, but it was a short rise and a very quick fall.

In the 70s, cinemas showing erotic films were not these dark places we imagine, they were average American movie theaters. Pornography reached a theatrical audience in urban cities and Americans celebrated the early adult films as a form of sexual expression. I have watched a lot of the old films from that time and it’s always interesting to see how the directors brought together an interesting plot, character development, sex and cinematic values. Films were feature-length instead of short scenes, and they were released in theaters and reviewed by respected media. After the success of Deep Throat [a film about a woman with a clitoris in the back of her throat], the New York Times reported that the film had “become a premier topic of cocktail‐party and dinner‐table conversation in Manhattan drawing rooms, Long Island beach cottages and skicountry A‐frames.”

This era saw a major cultural shift that initiated conversations around art and obscenity, and challenged traditional perspectives on love, sex, and the ongoing debate of education vs censorship. Hollywood directors were inspired by the adult filmmakers’ frank depiction of sexuality and even began to borrow from them. But then Reagan’s administration and his attempt to “clean up” the US, combined with a sudden shift in American values in the 80s, put an end to that golden era. From there the industry was forced to find new methods of distribution that could make up for the financial setbacks created by dwindling numbers of theaters. The first solution involved the Home Video System and the rest is the history we are witnessing now: Less costs, no filmmaking prowess and low-grade quality. The films changed and so did the porn theaters. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to nights of high quality cinematic films with beautiful and honest depictions of sexuality in theaters?

“I can’t stress this enough: put more women in positions of power. That’s the only way to really combat the male porn gaze and create an industry where women can feel sexually empowered and safe.” – Erika Lust

How does American production and consumption of pornography compare to its European counterpart, do you think?

America has dominated the mainstream porn industry ever since the Golden Age of adult cinema. However, the popularity of European softcore and sex education films was what enabled adult films (then part of the underground subculture) to make the jump into theaters. During the VHS transition in the 1990s, “mainstream porn” became associated with the US because of the sheer volume being produced in America. Countries worldwide were seeing a white, blonde, slim American porn archetype and this became known as the mainstream.

When it comes to indie pornography, Europe has generally lead the way. Personally, however, I notice less of a difference between my American and European viewers’ respective consumption habits. They are all using my sites because they are looking for alternative adult cinema that is ethical, beautiful, realistic and sex-positive. Instead of seeing my US and European viewers as two separate audiences, I tend to see them as a global subculture united by their dismissal of porn that is cheap, tasteless and vulgar.

Erika Lust has kindly given Slutever readers an exclusive clip from one of your upcoming releases, Ink Is In My Blood, guest-directed by artist Apollonia Saintclair. Enjoy :) 

If you’re in LA this weekend, Saturday March 24th, go see a selection of Erika’s erotic films! Info and Tickets HERE :)

Alexandra Pereira is a British-born Copenhagen-living writer, and an editor at Pariah Press.

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