Erika Lust • Director
“Porn can be beautiful”
by Marta Bałaga
- BERLIN 2019: Cineuropa met up with Swedish porn director Erika Lust to discuss the pleasure and pain of today’s pornography
Born in 1977, Swedish director Erika Lust has already made her mark with such sex-positive films as Five Hot Stories for Her, Cabaret Desire and Barcelona Sex Project. Now, she is at the 69th Berlin Film Festival to discuss her career during a Berlinale Talents event called “Reinventing Porn: Erika’s Ethics” and to explain why, also in porn, we finally need to see different points of view.
Cineuropa: You became known for a different approach to porn – one that champions the female perspective, which is not necessarily what we are used to seeing.
Erika Lust: Porn makes up one-third of internet traffic, but what’s out there is tragic. These sites are stealing from content makers and providers, and the biggest problem lies within the kind of sex they are showing and the kind of language they are using. When you see all these tags, it’s shocking – things like: “Asian tiny pussy getting destroyed.” Most people, when they think about porn, think about these trashy images. But porn can be beautiful. It shouldn’t have anything to do with degrading women or shaming people for their bodies. With the movies I’m making, I want to bring back eroticism. It’s not just about how sex looks, but what it actually feels like.
The problem with the internet is that most content is completely anonymous. Do you think that people feel they won’t be judged for the stuff they are uploading, even if it’s badly made or just plain offensive?
Most of the adult industry today has gone completely anonymous. There are no creators, so obviously they are not proud of what they are doing. They are not interested in representing real sex on screen, nor are they interested in representing gender roles. But I want to talk about the ethics of making these films and a very important word: responsibility. This is what I made, it was done with my values, and it shows my vision. It’s important for us, as consumers, to ask ourselves: “Who makes the porn that we are watching?” The world is run by huge companies trying to earn as much money as possible, and with porn, 80% is owned by the same company: MindGeek. First they ruined the industry, and then they bought it. People like us, a small, boutique company [Lust Films], almost don’t exist any more. People are watching porn for free, not really thinking about the impact of what they are doing. But nothing in life is for free: they are paying with their profiles, and this company is using their data in order to sell other products.
It’s a tricky thing, to discover porn as a woman. It’s a fantasy, sure, but every once in a while, you go: “It must have hurt.”
Many times, when I look at these films, I realise they are not making me feel great. I look at these women, and they don’t look like they are having any pleasure. Of course, porn can be a fantasy. We can even put unicorns in there, but I want this connection between two people to feel real. Also, it’s important that the people I am working with share the same values and that they feel comfortable. That usually has to do with the pairing – I ask them with whom they would like to have sex.
People learn so much from the porn they are watching. But lots of men, once you make them understand that there is an alternative, start seeing these signals as well. We are human beings, and we learn. But if nobody talks about it, we don’t even notice. It’s important to understand that porn has a huge impact on the way we see sexuality and gender roles, because young people today find themselves in a very strange position. With my generation, sex was something we had to try ourselves and find out how it was supposed to be done. Today, most young people have watched 100 adult films before they even lose their virginity! Girls try to mimic porn stars, and men think they are supposed to be these penetrative sex machines. They need to hear that porn is a construct and that it’s an illusion, an exaggerated, fictional form of sex.
Would you want women to discover their sexuality through your films?
Absolutely – sexuality is told from a male perspective, and one of my objectives is to change that. I think it’s interesting for women to see other women experiencing pleasure. Because unless you have been in a lesbian relationship, chances are you haven’t seen that! In ordinary porn, it’s just not there – there is hardly any cunnilingus. It’s step one, two, three, and then he comes. I want to show men and women, because men also watch my films, how sex can be different to that. 70% of the female population doesn’t come when penetrated! I want to see women touching themselves, but you don’t; you just see very rough vaginal penetration. In most cases, that’s a fake orgasm. But that’s what men expect from you later on.
You have discussed porn narratives before – this whole “she performs oral sex because someone was kind enough to stop and change her tyre” situation. Is that really how we perceive sexuality?
The world is used to seeing women using sex in order to get something: money, social status or power. But to get pleasure? Not so much. It’s crazy when you think about it. Why do we normally have sex? For pleasure. So why don’t we see that, and why don’t we talk about it with our kids? I had this conversation with my daughters a while ago, actually, when they asked if my husband and I had had sex only twice [laughs]. As a woman, if you touch yourself, you have your mother telling you to stop, so you start controlling yourself. We are used to thinking that a sexual woman is an objectified woman. But a sexual woman is just a woman!
When you first started out, did you immediately know these were the themes you wanted to explore?
I started making porn because of personal reasons. While watching it, I would get turned on, but I didn’t like it. I was a student of Political Sciences, trying to understand the world, so I asked myself: “But if I like it, why don’t I like it?” It started more as a theoretical experiment, but even now, I have so many people coming to me after screenings, saying: “Erika, I love your films, but it’s not really porn.” But it’s explicit sex! What they mean is that porn is nasty and trashy, whereas I have made something beautiful. Of course it’s porn, but it’s porn with values.
This “feminist porn” label, I don’t like it too much. I think it scares some people away. I understand that the press wants to communicate to the audience that what I am doing is different, but I, myself, would put it this way: I am Erika, I am a feminist and I make porn.
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