Erika Lust on putting female pleasure on top

A film set with a director sitting behind a tv screen.

Erika Lust isn’t here to reinvent porn, just make it inclusive and equal – like it should have been all along

By Mikael Jack   Tuesday 11 February, 2020

Soho House Barcelona member and award-winning filmmaker Erika Lust makes films with equality and cinematic integrity – and lots of sex. Her journey with porn saw her go from feeling dirty and guilty about watching it to creating the adult cinema she actually wanted to see. A Swedish political science and gender studies graduate, Lust saw an opportunity to produce erotic films that held the pleasure and satisfaction of female actors in equal regard to their male counterparts. Her career started with a successful indie debut, The Good Girl, in 2004, and since then, her Barcelona-based studio has been dedicated to putting female pleasure front and centre in an industry that still largely portrays women as objects to fulfil men’s pleasures.

But beyond getting off, her motivations are multi-faceted. ‘Most teenagers see porn online before they have sex; it’s today’s sex education,’ Lust explains. ‘Adult content has the power to arouse, of course, but it also has the power to educate. The sex can still be dirty, but the values have to be clean. It’s time for porn to change.’ 

We caught up with Lust ahead of her Valentine’s Day screening at Soho House Barcelona to talk about change, the bonds in the industry, and why showing porn in our screening rooms should feel perfectly normal.

Have you noticed a positive influence in the industry as a whole since you’ve challenged the norm?
‘The industry has changed a lot over the past years, but I haven’t changed it single-handedly. Some amazing women came before me and gave me the motivation to start. Candida Royalle continues to be a huge influence; she was the first to acknowledge that women were a legitimate audience of porn, and to challenge the misogynistic predictability of male-driven porn. Now, I work alongside a number of filmmakers creating more female-inclusive work such as Shine Louise Houston, Madison Young, Bree Mills and Jacky St. James.’

‘With the societal shift of women feeling empowered to embrace their sexuality and watch porn, free streaming sites such as Pornhub started ‘porn for women’ categories. It sounded like progress, but our small category is still a joke among pages and pages of male pleasure focused and male-dominant sex. Women, as half of the population – and with such different interests and desires – can’t be pigeonholed into one type of porn. There is not a one-size-fits-all porn for our gender, and that's what myself and other female filmmakers are showing.’
woman directing another woman in a bra
close shot of man and woman embracing
Is there a sense of family among you?
‘I feel the strongest familial bond with other directors and performers who are working in the indie adult industry, capturing the female gaze and showing alternative types of porn that prioritise equal pleasure and cinematic value. I started my guest directors open-call to try and get more women behind the camera, showing the different facets of sex and sexuality. Now it feels like a big community doing something different.’

Do you have guidelines for the team and actors you work with?
‘We all want to show that porn can be beautiful and cinematic. We've lost the “golden age” – when films were feature-length, released in theatres and reviewed by respected media – to low costs and low quality. On XConfessions, our short films adapted from anonymous confessions sent in by the public, we invest around €17,000 in each film. A professional crew works on styling, location, art direction, cinematography and post-production. There’s even an art team taking care of graphics that accompany the films.’

Are you surprised by male reactions?
‘Female pleasure is at the forefront of my films but that doesn't mean I only target female viewers. A lot of men want to see women who have sexual agency, who are experiencing pleasure and expressing their desires too. It's also important that men aren't being shown unrealistic expectations of what it means to be masculine. The films we make are for anyone seeking more depth, authenticity, creativity and pleasure in their pornography. My audiences are from all over the world; different ages, genders, sexualities, races... That's what I love about the community the most – its sheer variety.’

On Valentine’s Day, you take over the screening room at Soho House Barcelona. What can members expect?
‘We have put together a little romantic compilation from XConfessions to get you in the mood. Screenings are very exciting for me and I want to show that adult films can be enjoyed and appreciated as a genre of cinema. You don't need to watch porn secretly in your bedroom, volume down, before clearing your history as soon as you’re “done”. The experience at a screening is very different to this: the initial awkwardness dissolves very quickly and then you can appreciate it like you would any other film.’
 

Images courtesy of Erika Lust