“Porn is a huge part of the culture we’re living in. Women can not just ignore porn, we have to participate and discuss this very influential genre”
Erika Lust didn’t always know that she would become an erotic writer, film director, and producer; she grew into that role. She saw a void for women’s voices in a male-driven mainstream porn industry and set out to show something new – and to change things. Erika was born in 1977 in Stockholm, Sweden – in a country with a strong culture of sexual liberalism, at a time when pornography was beginning to approach the mainstream and feminists were beginning to divide themselves on the issue of pornography. Some denounced it altogether and others embraced it as part of the sexual revolution.
Linda Williams’ 1989 book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible,” offered a graphic analysis of film pornography and made it a part of the contemporary discourse on sexuality. This book was hugely influential for Erika while studying Political Science and Feminism at the University of Lund, and it still is today.
“At the University of Lund, even though I was studying, thinking and reading about porn, I didn’t actually like any of the porn that I saw,” she remembers. “The first time I saw a porn film, I´d 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. The audiovisual quality was awful. I didn’t identify with anything that I saw. Okay – I’d long realized that there are deep issues about women’s sexuality and they way that it’s been represented in our society, but porn really made this clear to me. The women did not look like they were enjoying themselves, and the sexual situations were totally ridiculous. “We’re modern women!” She continues. “It made no sense to me that in porn we were not modern women, we were slutty Sharons, horny teens, sex maniac nannies, desperate housewives, hot nurses, and nymphomaniac hookers, always at the service of mafiosos, pimps, drug dealers, multi-millionaires or African-American sex machines, always looking to please rather than be pleased, always happily surprised to find a mega-sized penis (right where it belongs) behind the zipper. I wanted to know: where was my lifestyle, my values, my sexuality?
“While I’d always thought of myself as sexually liberal and open to porn as an idea, what I saw in practice was just plain offensive,” Erika concludes. Still, she could envision a different kind of porn. In 2000 she moved to Barcelona and began working in production houses, doing odd jobs, picking up actors at the airport, making coffee, and the like. She had already made a few short films in college, but in Barcelona, she took some classes in film directing, and began to take the idea of filmmaking seriously. Piece by piece, these ideas came together. “I’d made a decision to turn my thoughts and ideas into something real,” she says. “But, since I was in a new territory, I wanted to do things my way: I wanted to create a different kind of adult cinema. I wanted to become a director and producer and I set up my own company, Lust Films.”
Erika made her first film, The Good Girl, in 2004. The Good Girl, was distributed for free on the Internet and downloaded 2,000,000 times in the first few months after its release, winning the NINFA prize for the Best Short Film in the 2005 Internacional Erotic Film Festival in Barcelona (FICEB). With such a great response to her first film, she quickly moved on to bigger projects. In 2007, Erika wrote and directed her first feature film, Five Hot Stories for Her, a compilation of five short films created specifically for women and couples. The Good Girl was included in this quintet. Five Hot Stories for Her took away the prize for Best Screenplay at the Barcelona Erotic Cinema Festival (2007), Best Film for Women at Venus Berlin (2007), Honourable Mention at CineKink New York (2008), and Film of the Year at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto (2008).
Next came Barcelona Sex Project, an independent experimental documentary exploring the lives, personalities, and orgasms of six Barcelona residents, which was awarded Best Erotic Documentary at Venus Berlin (2008) and an Honourable Mention at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto (2009); Life Love Lust, the highly anticipated follow up to Five Hot Stories for Her, and the publication of three books: Good Porn, The Erotic Bible to Europe, and Love Me Like You Hate Me. Erika’s latest film, Cabaret Desire, was released in October 2011. An adult film set in Barcelona’s ‘Poetry Brothel,’ she’s fond to call it “my biggest project to date, my best, I think, and my most personal.”
She thinks of porn as a tool for excitement, education, and pleasure. “It’s important that porn for women is female produced and directed,” she says firmly. “We’re holistic creatures – we’re aroused by details, situations, fantasies, hints, scenarios. The casting, the decoration, the clothes, the underwear, the music, the script, the photography – are equally important parts of my films.”
When asked about her role in the mainstream porn industry she maintains that she’s not a part of it, that she’s creating an alternative to it, a new territory of sexual expression. She says, “there’s no doubt that today’s young teenagers, raised on the Internet and the availability of explicit content, are being weaned on ideals of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality for the most part completely interpreted by men. They would like us all to believe that women are only sexually attractive when playing certain roles – roles that are limiting for women today and the girls, my own girls included, growing into the women of the future.”