"Women like sex just as dirty as men"

Feminist filmmaker Erika Lust on her new crowdsourced project, XConfessions, and what it means to make ethical porn

Published May 10, 2015 12:00AM (EDT)

India Summer and Ryan Driller in "Marriage 2.0"      (Adam & Eve Pictures)
India Summer and Ryan Driller in "Marriage 2.0" (Adam & Eve Pictures)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetBecause Erika Lust is a feminist and erotic filmmaker, her work is often called “feminist porn.” Which, for a two-word phrase, carries a hell of a lot of baggage.

But Lust's films toss the two together and they get along quite nicely, actually, managing to serve both the feminism and the porn. At her production company Lust Films, feminist porn doesn't mean slo-mo footage of women receiving equal pay for equal work (although that might be kinda hot), but is about making “good porn.” “The values behind my films are equality, consent, creativity, realism, and above all, sex that is being enjoyed,” she says.

And, you know, hot.

“Just because I am making female-led porn with a feminist mindset doesn't mean that all the sex has to be white satin sheets and roses. Women like the sex just as dirty as men,” says Lust, a Swede based in Barcelona.

Her credo—"the sex can stay dirty but the values have to be clean"—is all over her latest project, XConfessions, crowd-sourced porn featuring two new erotic short films a month based on reader-submitted sexual confessions and/or fantasies. Her latest offerings include a gamut of sexual scenarios in #SkypeSexSpectrophilia and Can't Stop This Affaire (with that extra “e” classing it up).

Her first short The Good Girl (2004), was downloaded over 2 million times in a few months, and her subsequent films have continued to strike a chord, or whatever we're calling the groin today, in both men and women, racking up all kinds of awards. Her movies are characterized by high-production values, gorgeous locales and a cheeky sense of fun. Lust's camera lingers on small details, like a woman's tennis shoes rocking back and forth on the floor as she gives her man head, or the crinkle of the familiar blue IKEA shopping bag-turned-makeshift pillow in I Fucking Love IKEA. Performers laugh and smile and seem engaged with each other and the beautifully filmed sex they're having.

But make no mistake, this is still porn. There are plenty of closeups of body parts being sucked, licked, rubbed, entered and otherwise ravished and Lust's camera gets right on in there. So how, exactly, is this different from mainstream porn?

“Mainstream porn lacks creativity and a narrative,” says Lust. “They only care about sets of genitals banging together until they get their money shot, the man coming all over the woman's face, enjoying his orgasm with no thought to the woman's pleasure. It's bad sex that's given porn a bad name.”

Bad porn got Lust thinking about what good porn might look like.

“The first time I saw a porn film, I had the same reaction that many women have; while I was aroused by some of the images, for the most part I found it unsatisfying. I didn’t identify with anything that I saw,” she said in her TEDx talk “It's Time For Porn to Change.” “The women did not look like they were enjoying themselves, and the sexual situations were totally ridiculous. We’re modern women! Not slutty Sharons, horny teens, desperate housewives, hot nurses, and nymphomaniac hookers, always looking to service pimps, multi-millionaires or macho sex machines. I’ve always considered myself free and open-minded towards pornography, but what I saw in practice was just offensive. I imagined that another porn was possible.”

She envisioned an ethical porn that would represent her own sexuality. “Good porn is realistic, relatable, creative, intelligent, embodies equality and places importance on the sex and pleasure of everyone,” says Lust, whose production team is 95% female. “The films give context to the characters, locales, story and above all, the sex. The sex is real and you can see the pleasure, the sweat, the touching and hear the sounds. That's what makes it more satisfying, erotic and fun!”

Lust's idea that feminist porn didn't need to be an oxymoron was spurred by her Swedish background with its liberal sexual attitudes and strong support of feminism, and finding Linda Williams' book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible while studying political science and feminism at the University of Lund.

“Hard Core taught me that porn is a discourse on our sexuality about masculinity and femininity, about the roles we play,” she says. “I realized that the only ones participating in the discourse of pornography were men. Chauvinistic men. Narrow-minded men. Men with little sexual intelligence.”

Hard Core convinced her that woman needed to be part of the discourse, not as on-camera male playthings, but behind the camera in leadership roles, helping to shape the discussion. She rebels against the usual hard body/big boob tropes of mainstream porn by including a wide range of body types. There are all manner of breast shapes and sizes, circumcised and uncircumcised penises, lumpy bits and hairy men (very popular, according to the fan mail). “The performers are natural, individual and attractive in their own unique way.” They look like real people, albeit in the “TV Ugly” way. That is, they may have crooked teeth or something, but are charming nonetheless. As, really, we all are.

At XConfessions, Lust has a unique vantage point into what women find sexy, and is both shaping and being shaped by these ideas. The most popular themes are infidelity, group sex and "the third person," where a partner invites others to enjoy their significant other. “But it can change depending on the confessions I release,” reports Lust. “When Pansexual was released we had a huge flood of confessions about group sex and bisexuality.”

XConfessions has a bit of everything, from "Mad Men" porn and sex with the boss, to bondage scenarios and foot fetish fantasies. Lust will take anything on, looking for the confessions that are “the most unique and truthful.” “If I am drawn into the situation instantly, picturing every part in my mind, turning meon, then I am instantly inspired and want to see it on screen myself!” If something is not erotic to Lust personally, she consults her diverse and open-minded team to figure out how to make a "sex-positive" film that will appeal to aficionados of that particular kink, and she hopes, a wider audience.

Even though feminism and porn make lovely bedfellows in Lust's world, she still faces pushback from men and women. “My male counterparts in the industry used to tell me that I was wasting my time as they were already making porn for women,” she says. “And there are other feminists who will always see porn as abusive and violent and never liberating for women.”

Lust's response is to call for more women to get into porn, taking leadership roles and expanding ideas of what porn can be.

“Mainstream porn has given porn a bad reputation as abusive, cheap and badly made, so it can be hard for people to associate the word with something positive and inspiring. But there is a growing body of open-minded people who are after something more realistic, intelligent and creative,” she says. “I think it won't be long before people start to change their minds.”

By Jill Hamilton

Jill Hamilton writes In Bed With Married Women.

MORE FROM Jill Hamilton

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Alternet Erika Lust Feminism Filmmaking Porn Sex