The XConfessions: Open Air Erotika event combined live performance with films viewing. Photos by Sara Herrlander, unless otherwise noted. 

Sex-Positive Porn Director Wants Us to Ask, “Who Makes My Porn?”

Feminist porn pioneer Erika Lust strives to empower women with her empowering smut.

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Jul 26 2017, 3:08pm

The XConfessions: Open Air Erotika event combined live performance with films viewing. Photos by Sara Herrlander, unless otherwise noted. 

Mainstream porn is like McDonald's—it's cheap, convenient, and generally unhealthy. It satisfies for a moment but soon after consumption you're left with that feeling in your gut, guilt with a hint of regret. Browse any of the most popular porn tubes and you'll find phrases unbound in their vulgarity. The content of the videos is no less offensive to the women involved.

But it shouldn't be like that, thinks Erika Lust, an erotic film director who's at the forefront of feminist and sex-positive porn movements. Lust has made it her mission to change the way we see porn and change the porn that we see.

Erika Lust makes the type of porn she wants to see: artistic, sex-positive, and empowering.

"Most porn nowadays is mass-produced stuff that's out on the internet and it's actually quite shitty when we're talking about its values, its ethics, and aesthetics," Lust tells Creators. "It's not a very creative, artistic, or interesting genre. For me, porn has so much potential."

Lust recently showcased her work at a couple events in Berlin, Germany. Organized by the Berlin Film Society, the events were part erotic performance and part viewing of Lust's XConfessions series, in which the director solicits her fans for their fantasies, and then turns them into short films. The four-year project has resulted in around 100 short films—usually directed by Lust but occasionally by guests—that are as artistic, empowering, and provocative as they are sexy. In her effort to give porn back to the people, she now releases a new short online every other Thursday.

Can Vampires Smell My Period? interprets a fan's confession which wondered if blood makes vampires hungry or horny. Some Never Awaken turns an Anaïs Nin poem into a woman's sexual awakening in a beautiful and all-but abandoned mansion.

Still image from Can Vampires Smell My Period? Courtesy of Erika Lust Films
Still images from Some Never Awaken. Credit: Erika Lust Films

"Her films are very cinematic," says Jack Howard, founder and director of the Berlin Film Society. "They have a narrative and combine the reality and intimacy of sex with fantasy. Sex is integral to these films, but it's not the only thing going on."

The event was held at Berlin's popular club Sisyphos.

Today's mainstream porn is shot from a masculine perspective that prioritizes his pleasure over hers, and for the past decade has been produced for an undiscerning audience. There are some carefully shot, considerate, progressive films circulating the mainstream, but most are riddled with some mix of misogyny, racism, and rudeness. Not to mention that they're aesthetically uninteresting.

"You can go online and find porn that gets you off but it doesn't do anything else to you," Lust says. "You have to close down your brain to enjoy it. You know it's bad but you tell yourself, 'Just look at it and do what you want to do,' and then you're over with it."

Lead performer and artistic director of the performance, Taylor Rose.

To satisfy her own desires, Lust began making the kinds of films she wanted to see. She and other feminist directors shifted the gaze away from straight men to provide a more inclusive perspective. She prioritized ethics and aesthetics along with the sex, and introduced narratives, characters, and well-considered cinematography.

"I wanted to provide another kind of pornography," Lust says. "Something oriented for me and other women, where they had more main roles as main characters, and where it was about their pleasure."

Erika Lust answers questions from the audience after the viewing.

One of Lust's biggest concerns is the effect that mass-produced porn will have on kids whose introduction to sex is through a screen. What sorts of values do porn tubes establish and who are the people presenting them?

"I want us to start thinking collectively about pornography," Lust says. "We haven't really thought about the consequences, if it's good for us, and what it does to us. I hope we can be responsible consumers, and start asking, 'Who made my porn?'"

But it's not easy to be an artist and advocate. Despite her best efforts, Lust still encounters people who ask why she hasn't gone further. During a Q&A at one of the events in Berlin, Lust fielded questions from audience members wondering why her performers weren't even more diverse. Her answer: "One screening cannot represent neither all my films nor the diverse cast I work with.

"We are getting more and more emails from performers and people from very different parts of the world that want to work with me and who actually have very unique styles," she says. "That is fairly new because when I started we did not receive as many applications and the ones I used to receive were pretty similar in bodies and personalities. Now that this movement is gaining popularity, more people are eager to work in the indie scene." Still, she admits it can be a challenge to find the right performers.

This dialogue between producers, critics, and fans is essential to the process of bringing porn back to the people, and it's events like the ones in Berlin that offer the space for such discourse to be had.

"These events are supposed to start conversations," Howard says. "You're in a room with some hundred people in a communal and collective environment, in contrast to how porn is usually consumed."

Keep up with Erika Lust on her website and her XConfessions series here. Follow the Berlin Film Society on Facebook.

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