Hello Erika, for those who might not know you please let us know you are and please describe yourself?

I am a filmmaker, writer, blogger and entrepreneur. I was born in 1977 in Sweden & I studied political sciences, feminism and sexuality at the University of Lund. I did an Erasmus exchange program in Madrid and I moved to Barcelona when I was 23.
I directed my first adult film in 2004 with the indie short film The Good Girl.

I have been directing films with explicit sex since 2004, when I founded Erika Lust Films with my husband Pablo Dobner in order to create an alternative to the mainstream porn industry. My company currently hosts five business centers where I curate and license other directors that share my philosophy for a new adult cinema and I am completely focused on my project XConfessions and my new online cinema EroticFilms.com

What prompted you to join the adult industry?

I grew up in Stockholm where age-appropriate sex education at school tackled everything from petting to consent, respect and emotions. I was taught that sex can be more than physical; it can involve emotions and connection so I always had a very natural approach towards sex. As I was growing up, like many other young adults, there was a moment when I felt I wanted to explore my sexuality more. I felt intrigued by pornography but I had the biggest disappointment when I actually watched some films.

Mainstream porn just did not work for me. It could arouse me but I did not like the degrading behaviour towards women and how their sexuality was so neglected. When I was in college, I read Linda William’s book ‘Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible”‘ and it changed my view on many things. It made me realise porn was not “only porn”, it was also about gender roles. It was a discourse on sexuality. I did not not agree with the statement on sexuality and gender roles which the mainstream was doing and that is how I decided to create an alternative and create an adult cinema that reflect my views.

So you consider yourself an erotic film maker as compared to a pornographer. How would you personally differentiate between the two?

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In all honesty there isn’t a huge difference. But because of the majority of porn depicting negative depictions of sex, it has taken on a meaning of something ugly, violent, chauvinistic or shameful. Whereas erotica has remained as something beautiful and sexy. That is where we need to change. Not all pornography is the same. Porn isn’t a monolith and there is a huge range of very well made, erotic, explicit and hot films out there. There is a new adult cinema that is blurring the lines between porn and erotica. A cinema that portrays sex which is stimulating and inspires a little beyond the traditional exploitation of genitalia offered by mainstream. Take a look at the work of Michelle Flynn, Ovidie and Jennifer Lyon Bell, A Four Chambered Heart in the UK, Nympho Ninjas from the US. It represents people as subjects, it promotes role equality. Male characters are human beings, not machines, and women have their own sexuality and desires and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. Women have a voice on the story and they seek their own desire. There is a mutual exchange of pleasure and respect and consent is always paramount. There is a relatable context, a narrative and a connection between characters that are equal to one another. These elements makes it more realistic and it adds to the eroticism and arousal.

Taking advantage of every aspect and putting a lot of emphasis on the art direction, styling, locations and cinematography is also key. Music for instance, it’s as much of a fundamental part of an erotic film as the sex. It’s crucial in creating a desired mood or atmosphere to highlight the narratives playing out visually on screen. If you can answer the question “why are these people having sex?” in a captivating way, it makes the whole thing more fun. To me, that adds to the feeling of eroticism and excitement.

You are highlighted in the first episode of the Netflix series Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On. How did they approach you about being in this series and why did you ultimately decide to do it? 

I had watched the first film Hot Girls Wanted that showcased some stories of young girls beginning to work in the amateur porn industry in the city of Miami when it came out in 2015. I thought it was a good starting point to discuss sex, porn and how it affects our society publicly and I wrote Rashida, Jill and Ronna to thank them. Rashida had seen my work so we began talking via e-mail. I knew they wanted to broaden the focus and make it more about the ways technology had changed society’s relationship with sex. Since the first doc had presented a small slice of the industry, it seemed that those stories were the norm so they also wanted to show the more professional side of the industry as well as other realities. They were very interested in seeing what women behind and in front the camera were doing in the adult industry to improve it so I invited them to visit me.

In July 2016, the production team arrived in Barcelona and followed my steps during a week.

While your episode is liked by most in the industry, the other episodes are stirring up some controversy. The controversy in question involves their use of personal photos and video and the displaying of performers real names. While I know you didn’t have anything to do with that happening what do you have to say on this?

I have read every article and conversation that I could find when this controversy emerged. When the documentary was released, I was so amazed by the largely positive reviews and the positive reception the first ep. Women On Top got. I have never got so many messages by men and women telling me they did not understand how they had not heard about me before and thanking me for my work. I’m still getting them now.

It was thrilling and it has also entailed an immense amount of work for me and for my company since then. On top of that, I am also in pre-production this month. However during last weekend I read all the comments and information on the media as well as Twitter threads from many sex workers and I also read Jill and Ronna’s statements in Variety and in Decider. I am not in the position to say anything because honestly I was not there. There are allegations, but producers have also dismissed these claims as false or misleading. I honestly don’t know how everything unfolded. The production team that came to Barcelona is not the same production team that worked on the other episodes. I know what happened during those days in Barcelona and I knew about the Hot Girls Wanted producers’ involvement in the series since the beginning. My personal experience with Rashida has been exceptional. She was upfront with me during all the production and post-production process. She was very happy on how Women On Top turned out since she directed it and she wrote me as soon as she knew it was going to premiere on Sundance thanking me for everything.

She was very excited to get people talking about female sexuality and female pleasure being represented in adult cinema, and showing what women are doing in front of and behind the camera. But above all, she showed great hope in getting the US to talk about the taboo of sex openly. You can agree or not on her views on porn and on objectification but in my opinion that does not really matter. This documentary goes beyond that and has tackled a bigger subject than the porn industry or sex work itself. It tells important stories from a non judgemental place: female passion about creating balance in an industry full of ‘punish fucking’, the exploration of totally unchecked racism in porn, the negative impact of tech on real world sexual behavior,  the way content-stealing tubes have disrupted the industry, the way technology is changing our culture, etc. I honestly don’t see enemy outsiders in this story. Just many starting points for change and conversation.

Cindy Gallop said in the Independent some years ago: ‘We all watch porn; we don’t acknowledge it. Porn exists in a parallel universe, a shadowy otherworld. When you force something – anything – into the shadows and underground, it’s a lot harder to stop bad things happening, that will, over time, have far-reaching social effects. And it’s a lot harder to make good things happen’ and I stand by this. If there is something I take from this controversy is that there should be more stories and documentaries on sex work made by sex workers. There is an imperative need to end stigma about sex work, an imperative need to have better practices and better conditions overall and there is great people inside the industry who has a lot to say in that regard. The more perspectives the better. We need to get the conversation going.

One of the websites you have is called Xconfessions.com. What is the concept behind this website and what was the process in developing the site?

XConfessions is a project that I created in 2013. It is a site where users watch short films based on their own anonymous sexual confessions and stories. Every month I pick two of my followers’ fantasies and I turn them into erotic explicit short films. I have already filmed more than 100 short films and I just released XConfessions ninth volume.

When my first movie The Good Girl was downloaded over 2 million views in a few months, I realised I wasn’t the only one that wanted something different. That there was people who don’t think that sex always has to be presented as cheap, tasteless and vulgar. People that wanted to watch sex on screen in a more realistic, sexy and intelligent way.  Some people began writing me to compliment the other 4 films that followed, Five Hot Stories For Her, Barcelona Sex Project, Life Love Lust and Caberet Desire, and they began sending me their fantasies asking me to turn them into films. And that was the beginning! That is how the idea of XConfessions came to life! it was a crowd-sourced project since its origin!

Another one of your sites is EroticFilms.com. This site not only features your films but others as well. What do you look for in a film to put up on EroticFilms.com?

My goal has always been to create an alternative to mainstream porn for those seeking something different and EroticFilms.com is a very easy way to provide the audience with this alternative. I think it is a great platform for those who don’t want commitments nor monthly payments but want to enjoy the finest in sex-positive explicit indie cinema and want to have a positive experience while watching it devoid of nasty pop-ups, banners and ads to “fuck the teen next door”. I license films from a growing movement of directors that is trying to change the industry from within and create films that are artistic and realistic, that positively mirror female sexuality and that help changing gender perceptions. Many creatives from this new wave of directors have proved that erotica can be a form of art, continuing to push boundaries to new extremes, paying attention to every little detail of a production and creating movies that are more stimulating and relatable. With cinematic values and high production values they aim to show another discourse creating an alternative to mainstream porn.

We have a direct relationship with the directors and producers whose content and films we license, and we make sure that these films we done under the same ethical production values we have at Erika Lust Films. That the performers were paid fairly, that the shootings were a safe sex environment, with every performer providing up to date STD checks – and performers choose whether they wish to use a condom or not. That every part of the shoot was discussed and agreed beforehand with all performers.

You’re outspoken on what you refer as ethical adult cinema. What do you consider is involved with ethical adult cinema? 

When I talk about ethical porn or ethical adult film, I’m talking about the alternatives to mainstream porn, both in what I produce and how I produce it. For me, good adult film is about showing good, real sex, real people and real desires. I want the people who see my films to engage with them, to feel a real sense of pleasure and in order to do that it has to start at the very beginning of a production. Performers and their well being and safety is the most important thing for me. Being on camera is being in a very vulnerable position and creating a safe space is key. Our casting process is long and thorough. We always make sure our performers are 21+ and had their own sexual personal experiences, are sex-positive and one hundred percent happy and enthusiastic to be involved. We really get to know them long before we start filming. I try not to direct the sex at all so they have total freedom and are in control the whole time. I let the performers do what feels natural and pleasurable for them. I don’t tell them put your leg here or your arm there or do 5 different positions and show me your butt hole! I am not interested in that.

For me, it is also about the message I am sending out. I want to send out a positive message about sexuality and the culture of consent. You won’t find delusions of male power that are degrading to women, for example, representation of incest or simulations of pederastia (older men and a teenage boy) on XConfessions. Sometimes in the industry people consent to partaking in films things that are meant to look non-consensual – and I definitely don’t want to portray anything like that.

To keep the company at the forefront of ethical adult cinema production we insist on certain principals such as every part of the shoot being discussed and agreed beforehand with all performers. We never ask a performer to do something they have not agreed to or expect. Every shoot includes multiple breaks, food and a welcoming, relaxed atmosphere. My production crew and office team and predominantly female, which means that the whole process happens from the female point of view, allowing women’s desires to be portrayed as well as men’s. In front of the camera, this creates adult films exploring sex, sexuality and fantasies, in a way that’s respectful and relatable. My team knows how to create a comfortable space for everyone. We show our face and we have nothing to hide. Here we are http://erikalust.com/values/.

In your films you work with professional performers and “civilians,” many times in the same film. What do you consider the advantages and disadvantages of using both professionals and non-professionals in the same film?

I try to work with performers that already know each other and are attracted to each other, that have a connection. They talk before and decide what they want to do, this makes for the best results on screen and they have a better time! Working with professionals obviously make things easier on set, but some of them who are performing for the first time, we stop if they need to stop or whenever they don’t feel comfortable. Without the performer’s work there is no film so the most important thing is that they have a positive experience while working. This is the reason why an ethical production process is so crucial and as a feminist company this is our company’s core.

I particularly love to work with real-life couples too since their chemistry is normally out of this world. They are attentive of each other in every way and they bring something very special to the screen.

If money wasn’t an issue, what would be your dream scene or movie to make?

I’d love to shoot a feature film in different locations around the world! Natural light looks beautiful on camera, especially between those magic house or sunrise and sunset. I have shoot on the beach in the Costa Brava at 5.30am for XConfessions Vol.5 for example, watching Bel Bris and Julia Roca frolic around in the ocean produced incredible shots. I recently shot in the snow in a ski resort with all my team. It was technically difficult but so fun it paid off!

Who would you say are the people you really want to work with but haven’t had the chance to as of yet?

There are so many performers that I’d like to work with. Twitter and Instagram allow me to meet performers from around the glove that I find super interesting. I get to talk to them and get to know them so there is so many people to meet and work in the future. It’s exciting!

If you could have a conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would you choose and why?

I love Jill Solloway’s work so I think it would be Jill!

What sort of things do you like to do when you aren’t working? Any hobbies?

I live by the beach, so I love to spend time walking around the neighbourhood with my family and eating good food! I also practice Swedish gym.

Pictures and screenshots from movies provided by Erika Lust