Erika Lust’s Guide to Making Feminist Porn

The pioneering Swedish filmmaker gives us a lesson in artful erotica

After centuries of being almost entirely represented by men across art, culture and entertainment, the ’70s saw women begin to reclaim ownership of their sexuality. In the decades since, the female gaze has continued to gain momentum as more and more female-identifying innovators make their mark upon the creative industries. Young artists like Petra Collins and Arvida Bystrom are asking pertinent questions about what female bodies mean now, while, slowly but surely, women filmmakers are shaking up the notoriously all-male environs of the movie industry — as evidenced by Greta Gerwig’s Best Director nomination for “Ladybird” at this year’s Oscars (the fifth time a woman has ever been nominated for the award). For many years however, there was one entertainment industry in which female authorship was virtually non-existent: the world of porn.

That was until Swedish erotic filmmaker Erika Lust came along. Since she entered the porn scene over a decade ago, the 41 year-old has been blazing a distinctly feminist trail, making films that offer an artful alternative to the aggressively male gaze norm. Titillating cinematography and the conveyance of emotion on screen are as vital to Lust’s films as the sex is — and the burgeoning demand for her work, from viewers of all genders, ages and races, shows just how overdue such offerings are in an industry dominated by dirt-cheap production and gratuitous ‘amateur’ creations.

Lust is also a vital champion of diversity in porn, something she pursues with her ongoing project “XConfessions“. Conceived in 2013, “XConfessions” was inspired by the vast influx of fan mail that Lust began to receive after her first few films were released. In many of these emails, viewers would share their various fantasies and ask the director to bring them to life. Excited to harness this global response to her work, Lust decided she would handpick and recreate the sexual desires of two lucky followers each month. To date, “XConfessions” comprises over 100 short films, spanning everything from a bisexual foursome to a science-fiction dystopia, all captured through Lust’s sophisticated, sensual lens. And soon — thanks to the filmmaker’s recent, worldwide open call for guest directors — its output will be upped to one new blue movie release per week.

On top of that, Lust is gearing up for her first venture into virtual reality porn, due to start shooting in May. Here, inspired by her ongoing devotion to bringing artistry to porn, and her frequent encouragement of other alternative filmmakers to enter the industry and help reshape it, we sit down with Lust to discover the whats, whys and hows of making feminist erotica. 

1.Be the change you wish to see

“I come from Sweden, a country that is no stranger to speaking openly about feminism and sex. When I was growing up, the feminist movement was starting to divide into two camps: those who opposed pornography and those who viewed it as part of the sexual revolution. I never had a plan to become a writer, director and producer of erotic films; it was while studying Political Science that I realised female voices were almost non-existent in the adult industry, and I wanted to be involved in changing the situation.”

2. Take ownership of your own sexuality

“Since their inception, pornographic films have catered to the hetero male gaze. The first adult film is reported to be the 7-minute short ‘Le Coucher de la Mariee‘ in 1896, featuring a bathroom striptease. Historically, teases were guided by male desire and the female was the object of his gaze. And if we fast-forward to today, in the mainstream industry, most porn is still being made by men and for men. The films are shot to cater to the hetero man’s sexuality. The female body is inherently subjugated and passive to male sexual desire and pleasure, no matter the story or context. The focus is anatomy, genitalia and body parts bashing against each other. It’s time for porn to change. By putting more women behind the camera we can show the female gaze, celebrate female sexuality and present more realistic expectations about sex for all genders. There is a huge demand for adult cinema that is smart, sex positive and respectful to women. We need to create and consume the kind of erotic content that we want to see ourselves and take ownership of our sexuality.”

3. Keep it intersectional

“I make a conscious effort to ensure my films are intersectional and diverse. I’m aware of my position as a white, straight woman but I would like to think I am always learning, growing, making mistakes and working to understand intersectionality and feminism in a more inclusive, understanding and empathetic way. I want my viewers to be able to see themselves in my films — in all different body types, genders, races and orientations. At the same time, I will never define the performers by their race or primal features, which is something often done in mainstream porn. For example, there is no such thing as ‘interracial sex’ in my films, they are just two people having sex.”

4. Avoid the term “woman friendly”…

“I find this label problematic. Sexuality and desire is not specific to your gender. Of course many women are frustrated with what the mainstream porn industry offers us, because it’s not made for us, but I don’t want porn for women to be reduced to a stereotype. Porn for women can be many things — it can be gay, rough, multiple, vulgar, strange, romantic, modern, or all at once, as long as it is done with a female perspective. If you’re a woman who loves rougher sex, getting choked, etc., you’re completely normal. Just because we don’t call that ‘porn for women’, it doesn’t mean it’s not porn for women. Just because I am making female-led porn with a feminist mind-set, it doesn’t mean that all the sex has to be white satin sheets and roses. Women like sex just as dirty as men.”

5. And embrace all genders, ages and orientations

“Our desires shouldn’t be lumped together based on these categories. For ‘XConfessions‘, members of the public send me their fantasies and I get to see how diverse everyone’s sexual desires are! And as a result I’ve been able to film a huge range of fantasies from pegging to period sex to foot fetish. Porn also has the capacity to introduce viewers to perspectives outside of what they’re used to. Explicit films can be used as a tool for sexual liberation and education. It can also be useful for young people growing up with desires not shared by the people around them, as it can show them that they are not alone and their desires aren’t abnormal.”

6. Encourage an ethical approach in your viewers

“We are in a time where feminism and gender issues are in the media more than ever but still, mainstream porn production companies keep creating the same boring stuff and are managed by the same kind of narrow-minded men. Porn has always had a dearth of women in charge. Because of porn’s various venues and forums the industry’s diversity is harder to track. The adult industry is very male-dominated and as a woman it’s hard to speak up, because men tend to take so much space. Since the tech takeover of porn and the subsequent rise of the free tube sites pirating material, the industry is not as profitable as it once was. Free porn is everywhere, which obviously means more and more people do not feel that they should pay for their porn. The free tube sites such as Pornhub have decimated the industry, bankrupted companies, and put many people out of jobs (in front of and behind the camera). If we want more voices in the alternative adult industry, we need more people to become ethical, conscious consumers and start paying for their porn. Viewers need to think that if they’re not paying for it, someone else is.”

7. Don’t be afraid to explore uncharted territory

“I’m very excited to film my first virtual reality erotic short film this May. With VR, I want to combine representation, as I have done until now, with full immersion. I want to use the films to teach, and to inspire us to explore new desires and pleasures with another human; discovering their body as guided by them, not just using them like a virtual sex doll. Just as VR has helped people overcome their fears such as flying or heights, VR porn could be used to help people learn how to have fulfilling, intimate sex with their partner. Isn’t that the best part about sex, the intimacy you can experience with another person?”

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