My name is Erika Lust and I’m an indie adult filmmaker based in Barcelona whose goal is to create realistic, equal, and positive representations of sex and pleasure on screen, and offering a more cinematic alternative to the mass-produced mainstream porn. With my crowd-sourced project XConfessions I turn the public’s anonymous fantasies into explicit short films while my Lust Cinema studio produces plot-driven, original series and feature films for lovers of cinema and sex. Else Cinema is the Erika Lust Soft Edition for those looking for a softer erotic experience, and The Store by Erika Lust offers a wide catalog of adult films made by me and other filmmakers around the world with no need of subscription. The Porn Conversation is the non-profit organization that I started together with my husband Pablo with the aim of giving other parents and educators the tools to help open up the topic of porn and sex to the younger generation. Finally, given the current hectic times, you may want to try my XConfessions App to connect with a partner even if apart from one another and swipe through hundreds of fantasies to try together!
How did you get into directing? How long have you been in the industry? How and why did you decide to get into it?
I have always been a cinephile and I had fallen in love with Spain in my Erasmus year, so after I finished my graduate degree in Sweden (I was studying Political Science and Gender Studies at university in Sweden), I moved to Barcelona at 23 to study filmmaking and I immediately felt that the city was much more receptive to my vision. When I first moved here I felt so liberated, I felt like I could be or do whatever I wanted! Barcelona gave me the creative freedom to start making adult films. On the whole, it seems to me that the people here are generally very open-minded and sex-positive.
Back in 2000, I started working in a well-known advertisement company making quick steps forward – from runner to producer – and soon I realized that I loved the atmosphere of a film set. At some point, I felt the need to do my own thing, and what I wanted to do was to shoot an explicit film! I wanted to create something totally different within the genre, a porn film according to my own taste, expressing my values, and showing the importance of female pleasure.
Watching my first porn film when I was a teenager, I was feeling a conflict in myself. Those videos got me aroused somehow, but at the same time, it wasn’t really pleasurable as I felt that something was wrong with them both ethically and regarding the content. I knew that there was so much more to sexuality than what was depicted in those films. I understood that it was made with the sole purpose to arouse, but I didn’t understand why we can’t experience the same visual pleasures we seek in any other type of movie even when watching porn? Why can’t we make porn with beautiful images, interesting locations, and captivating storylines that actually immerse you into a whole context of sensuality and passion?
I didn’t want to keep on criticizing online free porn without trying to create an alternative, so I told myself I would try and make a porn film that I would enjoy in the first place as a viewer. I shot my first erotic film, ‘The Good Girl’, back in 2014. It was a humorous take on the classic pizza delivery boy porn trope. I wanted to go off the beaten path and create my own vision of sex representation on screen. I wanted to represent sex that felt real, focusing on intimacy, passion, and a little bit of irony.
To be honest I can’t really watch it now without cringing at my lack of experience but it was a start and it changed my life! I uploaded it to the internet and made it available for free download. The next thing I know, it had over 2 million downloads in less than two months! That’s when I realized there were other people out there looking for alternatives to mainstream porn. That’s when I decided to start making adult films that reflected my taste and values on sex and gender. That’s when Erika Lust was born!
I started my business almost 20 years ago because I wanted porn to change. I wanted to create porn where people can see themselves in those films, to see the sex they have and feel inspired, and to become receptive to the huge range of different sexualities out there. I believe that we need women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ people to make that change. We need as many different voices as possible making films that showcase their own perception of sex, sexuality, gender, and desire. We need them in leading roles behind the camera, informing decisions on how to portray sex and how to produce the films. I believe in the importance of the female and queer gaze in the male-dominated porn industry. I want the female and queer gaze to be a norm, and not the exception anymore.
A huge part of my mission is to show that porn films can have cinematic qualities. Most of the typical mainstream porn on the free tube sites is devoid of cinematic beauty. We’ve lost the Golden Age of pornography in the 70s when films were feature-length, released in theatres, and reviewed by respected media. Now we have low costs and low-grade quality. On XConfessions, for example, we invest around €17,000 in every short film. We pay a professional crew to work in styling, location, art direction, cinematography and we also invest in post-production, sound, color correction, and take equal care of the arts and graphics that accompany the films.
I also want to confront pornography that categorize (and treat differently) performers based on their race, age, body type, or gender identity. I am really concerned with the “othering” involved in using these criteria. I just want to focus on the potential and eroticism of human sexuality and relationships, and to do so, I strive to display as much diversity as possible in my films to allow as many people as possible to feel represented when watching them.
What is the best part of your work? What do you love the most about it?
My job is a celebration of safe sex, and the best part of it is that there are more and more people in the world willing to join me in my mission, whether as guest directors, performers, artists, or just viewers. I think porn can be a really powerful tool to help people to explore their sexuality. Porn can open your mind about sexuality and help you to discover new desires and fantasies. For many viewers, alternative adult cinema helps them celebrate their sexuality and encourages them to be empowered by sex in a variety of ways.
During the last 20 years, I’ve gotten to know amazing people. We look to work with performers who share our philosophy and want to make cinema to ensure the best experience for everyone involved. The performers on XConfessions and Lust Cinema are a myriad of unique personalities from all over the world! The people I work with are fantastic, well-rounded individuals who have made conscious decisions to perform in adult cinema and take the risk to show themselves as they are; complex beings with many sides to their personalities, with many hobbies and interests.
I love to be surrounded by the amazing, badass women who work together with me on my films, and I love how surprised I get each time I see how performers have sex on set! Sex is such an infinite, fascinating world; how can we keep on believing it is just that narrow idea that mainstream porn offers about it? Sex is just one aspect of our lives, but it’s a big one. That’s why I believe in the importance of creating sex scenarios that are relatable and inspiring to as many people as possible out there, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or ethnicity.
What keeps on surprising me is that making adult films doesn’t necessarily mean that at some point it will get repetitive. If there is something that I’ve been learning during all these years is that, as long as you represent diversity and not just the typical porn archetype by taking inspiration from real life, there are actually countless stories you can tell when making adult movies! Also, many guest directors that have been collaborating with me for XConfessions and Lust Cinema are bringing their visions and styles to my platforms, helping me to create a whole community of daring adult directors.
What has been one of the best or funniest moments in your work?
360° of Lust, my first VR porn film – what a crazy experience! The workflow and process were completely different to what I’m used to. When filming in immersive 360º, everything that appears on set is in the shot. It’s impossible to hide anything from the camera or delete it in post-production, so we organized the location’s space in order to shoot 180º at a time, and then replicated the first 180º to make the final 360º piece. We also divided the space into “wedges” around the camera and then we replicated each wedge and layered them on top of each other to get the desired number of scenes. In doing that, we were able to place the performers in different scenes around the camera and give the viewer the experience of seeing the same performers in different scenes at the same time in the final piece. It was a new experience and we didn’t have any previous references of 360° 3D adult cinema to work with, so we had to experiment a lot with distances and distribution of the actors in order to create the desired effect. This was challenging and definitely something I’d like to improve on next time.
What inspires you?
I often tell people about the book that influenced me when I was studying Political Science and Gender Studies at university in Sweden, which was Linda Williams ‘Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible”‘. It gave me my lightbulb moment and I realized that pornography was part of a discourse on sexuality that expresses specific ideologies and values on sex and gender. Williams explains that porn seems to be about sex but on closer inspection, it’s always about gender.
Regarding cinema, ‘L’amant’ by Jean Jacques Annaud had a huge impact on my filmmaking style. The first time I watched it, it was a revelation: the protagonist becomes an adult through sex and an unconventional love story, and this is completely shown from her point of view.
John Cameron Mitchell was also a big inspiration as he’s one of the few who dared to portray real sex with real actors in a film for commercial theatres like ‘Shortbus’. Finally, Jill Soloway is a huge inspiration for me, as they strive to push the boundaries of gender and to represent diverse sexualities in their works, such as ‘I Love Dick’ and ‘Transparent’. Their production process is incredibly inspiring to me and something that I’ve implemented in my own work.
Today, I look with so much admiration at Michaela Coel’s series ‘I May Destroy You’ – I think it’s such a brilliant and powerful reflection on the rape culture that’s still dramatically rooted in our society and the spinous yet crucial topic of consent. Consent is still a misunderstood concept, yet it is key for having respectful sexual relationships, and I’m glad Coel offered such a lucid and realistic depiction of it within mainstream TV.
What is your process to creating an erotic film?
When I’m making a film with my crew, we do the same work as if we were any other type of independent non-adult film production. From an idea we develop script and storyboards, we consult our art director, we look for interesting locations, and we look for the perfect fit for each role. My kind of porn takes time. Making a film to me is about every small decision, every single detail… the entire concept is different.
When we have a story, we look for the perfect fit for that specific role. We get to know performers through interviews, we have Skype calls with them and meet them in person if we can. We always make sure the performers are 18+, have had their own sexual experiences already, and are sex-positive and 100% enthusiastic to be part of the project. I don’t just ask performers to come on set with their best lingerie on and that’s it. When we’re on set I talk to them before shooting sex and they talk to each other about their boundaries and concerns – it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re ok with the scene they’re about to perform. Then, I just let them go with their own flow, without being pushy in my direction. I have someone from my production team on set to make sure the performers are being taken care of. We ensure that healthy food and water are provided on set by a local catering service, and good accommodation and flights are paid for if necessary.
We are pledged to safeguard performers’ rights and dignity by ensuring a safe sex environment for all and to fairly pay everyone who is involved in making a film. This means that there’s an understanding of consent between everyone on set, including the crew, and everyone gets paid upfront so there’s no cash incentive for performers to do anything they don’t want to do. In essence, I make sure that both talent and crew are feeling safe and respected during the whole shooting time.
What’s your definition of being sex-positive?
Being sex-positive is about feeling good about your erotic self and proudly habit your body, with no shame of being openly sexual, “too suggestive” or “indecent”. It’s hard to be a sex-positive influencer on social media for example, as monopolistic private tech companies keep censoring female bodies just because they show themselves as they are. You will have noticed that the same thing doesn’t happen with male bodies. I aim to smash the stigma that is attached to the female body. I think it’s one of the most subtly effective forms of oppression that denies us the ability to confidently talk about our own bodies.
What’s your favorite XConfession you’ve filmed so far?
Soulsex with John & Annie has been a very special project for me, not only because they are two of the most inspiring people I have ever met, but mostly because I got to shoot my first ever movie about sex in later-life! They sent me this confession talking about a new way to have sex – they call it “soul sex”, which means taking everything slowly to deeply connect with yourself and with your partner: by focusing on your own sensations, combined pleasure with your partner will increase. The sex scene was so beautiful and different from many others I have shot in my career. It felt like we were witnessing something very intimate and personal – it was very slow, tender, and communicative. I have this project in my heart because Annie & John allowed me to show that also older bodies are beautiful and still have their own desires and sexual urges. We have been fed the message through advertising, television, and films that only young bodies are attractive, but I honestly think we should normalize senior sex instead.
Can you tell us a little more about Lust Cinema?
I created Lust Cinema because I wanted to give space and bigger budgets to female directors in the US who want to create movies and series that are outside of the adult industry standards. Amazing directors such as Dana Vespoli, Madison Young, Kay Brandt, and more recently Casey Calvert, are creating original feature films and series in which they’re able to explore their own vision of sex and sexuality through developing characters and plot on a much deeper level. My long term vision for Lust Cinema is to challenge the porn industry standards by promoting the cinematic possibilities of the medium, high quality storytelling, and a realistic representation of human sexuality and sex. We select and distribute 6 films each month, whose kind of storytelling and production process are working as much as possible towards this goal.
What do you think are the main challenges in the adult film industry?
I remember when I was pitching my first film The Good Girl to adult content productions back in 2004, they used to reply saying it was an interesting project but, unfortunately, there was no market for women… Women are not interested in buying anything that has to do with sex. You pay women for sex but you don’t do films for them! That made me angry but also motivated me to keep pushing even harder. And still today there are people who don’t understand what’s behind my work, what’s the mission I’m carrying out, or keep trying to censor my content on social media. Changing the rules of porn is no easy task, especially if you’re a woman in a field that is so overwhelmingly dominated by white cisgender men. On the other hand, I’m glad that there’s a growing community of people out there craving for more realistic, inclusive, and original adult cinema, who support me and my team to always do more and better.
I am still surprised by the stigma attached to people working in the industry, but especially for women. It’s a never ending battle just to exist online and promote our businesses. Social media censorship is a huge problem at the moment. Myself and other women in the industry continuously have non-explicit photos removed, accounts deleted or shadow-banned, hashtags removed… It surprises none of us that this censorship is heavily gendered. When a woman takes ownership of her own body and presents herself and her sexuality in the way she wants, she is censored. However, the Dan Bilzerians of the world are free to keep sending their misogynistic message that women are only accessories to their lavish lifestyle. When Dan posts a picture on Instagram using a naked woman as a table to rest his trophy on, he is not censored. But when an adult performer such as Ana Foxxx posts her own non-nude, non-explicit photos on Instagram she continuously has them removed.
What is the plan for the future? What next?
I can’t wait to show to the public my next original 5-episodes series ‘Three’ directed by me for Lust Cinema coming January 2021! I wanted to tell the story of a throuple from a long time and amazing performers Gia Green, Sylvan, and Bonnie Bennett have been great in helping me to represent all the emotions, the authenticity, and the risk of loving two people at the same time. Don’t miss it!
As a mother of two, the need to emphasize the need for more informative and open sex education for our children happens to be quite a sensitive topic for me, and that’s why I’m happy to relaunch my non-profit platform The Porn Conversation in the new year coming! It will feature new ambassadors who work in the field of sexual health and sex education who will participate in the program by providing sex literacy for parents/guardians, educators, and students to lead healthy sex lives in a variety of ways!
In general, my plan will be to keep on making films with clean values, diversity, and showing a wider and wider spectrum of bodies and ways of having sex.
Anything else you would like to say to our readers?
… Stay healthy and sexy!