Sweden’s own Erika Lust is one of the key components of the machine geared and designed to change porn. The fastidiously dedicated director, producer and entrepreneur has set about remoulding the aims, motives, outcomes and aesthetics of modern pornography.
Erika grew up in Stockholm – Sweden’s capital city – at a time when the feminist movement was beginning to splinter into two distinct factions: those who deemed all pornography as a bad element against those who saw it as a vital part of the sexual revolution.
Since moving to Barcelona at the turn of the century, Erika has been a catalyst for change and a force for good in an industry forever in danger of destroying itself and forever attracting the opprobrium of those who know it can be better, fairer and – frankly – more fun as a consequence.
It’s easy for outsiders to think of the porn life as just lounging around naked, spending a bit of time fucking then heading out for dinner and a few post-coital drinks. It’s tough work on camera and even tougher behind the scenes. With porn, you either have the drive and ambition or you won’t be long for the business. Erika’s hard work, dedication and apparent unwillingness to ever stop are somewhat self-evident and her body of works speaks loudly and proudly for itself.
After her debut short – 2004’s The Good Girl – Erika wrote and directed her first feature length film, Five Hot Stories For Her; a compilation of five shorts created specifically for women and couples. Her next project – the documentary Barcelona Sex Project (2008) – visits the lives, personalities and orgasms of six Barcelona residents. This was followed by Life Love Lust (2010), Cabaret Desire (2011), the shorts Handcuffs and Room 33, and the XConfessions project – perhaps the crown jewel of Erika’s empire – where users watch short films based on their own anonymous sexual confessions; the first crowdsourced adult film project in history. The premise is simple enough: every month Erika Lust picks two of her followers’ fantasies and turns them into erotic shorts. The results are intense, thrilling and electrifying.
Oh, of course… that’s not all. Erika is a published author too. She’s penned Let’s Make A Porno, her acclaimed erotic novel La Canción de Nora (Nora’s Song), Good Porn: A Women’s Guide, The Erotic Bible to Europe and Love Me Like You Hate Me. Plus there’s the small matter of a TED Talk that is sparking a revolution. Ain’t life grand? But enough from us, how about we let Erika tell the story in her own words?
You’ve recently been in Toronto for the 2015 edition of the Feminist Porn Awards. How was the event and do the awards accurately reflect the burgeoning, prosperous and inclusive industry of feminist pornography?
The event is great, one of a kind. But they have a struggle, as you can read in their blog. They want to award quality and good film making but the LBGT community around the awards accuse them of being too fancy, and they want more underground/alternative/amateur content to be recognized. It’s a bit confusing.
You picked up awards for Best Website and Best Short Film Series for your wonderful site, XConfessions. Do you see the recognition as vindication for the years of work you have put in?
Most definitely! It’s amazing to be recognized for the amount of work me and my team put into XConfessions. But there are many forms of other recognition that I find more gratifying, such as the compliments I receive from fans or peer recognition. Recently, at a private screening of my XConfessions reel, a woman came up to me and said that she was jealous of the sex the characters where having on screen and wanted to have the sex they were having. This meant so much to me as my aim is to sexually inspire people with my films, make them see sex, characters, context and settings that are relatable and attainable for them. It was huge compliment to the work I have done since the beginning.
Then of course there has been the media attention I have been getting in the last year. Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Dazed and Confused, Playboy… there have been so many journalists who have been so supportive of my work and written wonderful things about me. In turn that has meant sales on XConfessions, Lust Cinema and Lust Store. So all of this is vindication for the huge amount of work and dedication myself and my entire team have put into our projects.
Tell us a little about how you got into the business. At what point did you realize that a life in the adult business as a director and prominent figure was the life for you?
I can’t say I ever expected to be a prominent figure! But I realised I wanted to be a director of erotic film when I was studying Political Sciences at the University of Lund in Sweden. I had always been dissatisfied with the porn I watched. I couldn’t relate to any of the people in them and I was let down by the lack of real pleasure being given off by the women. Of course, growing up in Sweden, a very sexually liberated country, I was well aware of the conflicts between feminism and pornography. But it was when I read Linda Williams’ Hard Core that I realized porn could be a tool for liberation and expression. It’s a platform to inspire and educate on sexuality and gender. So with that and there being a huge lack of authoritative female voices in the industry I decided that needed to change. I moved to Barcelona, started film studies and working for production houses and for my final project I decided to shoot my first film, The Good Girl. A fun twist on the typical pizza guy porn. After I released it for free online it was downloaded millions of times and won an award. That’s when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. So I started my own film company Lust Films. It’s been a crazy ride and right now I couldn’t be happier with my life!
Do you feel being born in a country known for its more relaxed and liberal outlook set the ball rolling for the person you would become?
Sweden is possibly one of the most liberal countries when it comes to sex and it’s one of the best to grow a feminist conscience. So I was always very aware of erotica and had a keen interest. I also studied Political Sciences so I was also very aware of the conflicts between feminism and pornography from very early on. I saw the issues between feminism and pornography with those who saw it as sexually liberating and those who saw it as victimizing. So I naturally had a critical mind towards mainstream pornography. But as I am sex-positive, I always saw sex and sexuality as one of the most important and liberating things that we are given as human beings. So I saw an opportunity to make the porn that I wanted so that sex could be liberating and shown in the most beautiful, realistic and truthful way as possible.
Do you see your work as a reaction against the more violent and misogynistic elements of mainstream porn? Or is it simply a more natural process that leads you to create the work you do?
Initially of course it was. I was dissatisfied with the porn on offer. It was the feeling that I needed to give a voice to women in pornography as an authority, represent them equally to men. Show the kind of sex that I wanted, that I can relate to and be turned on by. Now, with the feeling of a great work under my belt, creating work is far more free and natural. I can do what I want, be creative and have fun with it as I always have.
When we spoke with Cindy Gallop, she espoused her views on how a 50/50 share of the decisions, market, money and product in adult entertainment between men and women would provide the industry with a lot more money, fairness and a more human approach in general. It’s an issue you broached in your TED Talk in 2014 too. Do you believe in a 50/50 split or do you think it’s time for women to slide into the driving seat for a time, at least where porn/sex is concerned?
I’m a feminist, so that means equality of the sexes so a 50/50 share is exactly what we should have. We should all have equal say over issues that affect all of us. But that doesn´t just include men and women, it includes those of every gender status, whether transgender, agender, bigender, androgynous etc. The world´s issues go beyond gender and everything needs representation from all the different groups of people that exist. Everyone deserves their chosen lifestyle to be shown in the way they want, depicting their sexual desires.
What obstacles – particularly from mainstream creditors/banks – have you faced during the length and breadth of your career? Has there ever been a time when you’ve felt close to shutting up shop and doing something else because of it?
I actually wrote about this in a recent post on my blog. I have been attacked by narrow minded and chauvinistic porn directors and producers, who said that there was no need at all for a new take on adult content. I have also been criticized by raging feminist underground directors saying that my work was too commercial, too chic, and that I was not creating the right revolution. Then there was rejection from banks who didn’t like the business I was in, or owners who at first tell me they would be happy to let me shoot on their property and then suddenly back down.
But, for the most part, I took all attacks as signs of me being on the right path. The key to my success is that behind my personal brand there is an amazing team – mostly women – who work not only for the movies to be great, but also in sales, marketing, PR, content management, pre and postproduction. \slong with a growing body of open minded people who are supporting their independent pornographers and are after something more realistic, intelligent and creative, I am very confident in what I’m doing and always find many people in support of what I do.
In the end all these obstacles, from industry moguls and banks/credit lines have pushed me to be more creative, intuitive and independent. Lust Productions will continue to produce and distribute using self-financing. It´s what´s working for us and lets me have the creative freedom I desire.
With your career, your talks and #ChangePorn campaign, you’re something of a de-facto figurehead/leader for a certain movement. Are you comfortable with being the public face of such a campaign?
It’s an honor to have become a figure head for such a movement. It was what set out to do, to be a voice for women in leadership roles in porn to inspire others. To let people know that there is a very bright future for us and that a career path is attainable. We can make porn that we want, love and admire, and of course to continue to inspire others.
Who have been some of your favourite people to work with, both on and off camera?
It would be difficult to name just one! But predominantly, it is working with my almost all-female crew and with some of the greatest performers of the industry. Like Armana Miller, Julia Roca, Luke Hotrod and Mickey Mod to name just a few! In the shooting last week, Roca and Mod were incredible on set with a very very hot performance for an upcoming confessions in Volume 5! But every performer has been a wonder and different experience each time and that’s why I love working with all of them… they represent so many different characters and sexual desires!
But even just day to day in the office, I love working alongside all my colleagues in press, production, e-commerce and every other department as they all bring their own talents and individual personalities to the table and keep Lust Films running as best as it can. They inspire me every day to keep doing what I do.
Who have you yet to work with that you would love to?
When it comes to casting it´s always difficult as I am always trying to portray a wider range of body types and age groups. Typically porn performers are usually in their 20s and have a particular body type. Currently I´m searching for more performers in their 30s or 40s as this is the average age group that confess on XConfessions. So I want to be able to represent them so they can relate to my films more. I would love to cast a Susan Sarandon or George Clooney type performer!
We are sometimes lucky enough to find amateurs who want to be in our films, but it can be difficult to find those who want to and can perform sexually explicit scenes in front of a camera. But as the company grows with more people hearing about us and what we do as well as sex becoming a more open subject, we are finding more and more people open to my ideas and films! So I am very hopeful I will be able to find my desired performers soon.
What’s next for Erika Lust? How can you achieve even more given your storied career?
I’ve just started production for volume 5 of XConfessions so I have lots of new ideas up my sleeve with some incredible performers in the works. There’s also plans for a longer feature film and appearances at Raindance in the UK with more festival appearances in the pipeline for XConfessions on Tour. 2015 celebrates 10 Years of Lust films and the 1st Anniversary of XConfessions so it’s a big year for us here with a lot of new and exciting things to come.