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4 mins

How Erika Lust Evolved Adult Entertainment by Being True to Herself

Adult films aren’t something that we talk about in public very often, but feminist adult movie director Erika Lust wanted to change that the only way she knew how—by being true to herself.
by Jen Geacone-Cruz | Mar 18 2020

When it comes to the word “porn” the last thing we associate with it is authenticity. In Episode 4 of our newest podcast, State of Mind, ethical porn director Erika Lust talks about how she always felt there was something wrong about the mainstream porn she saw, and how being her authentic self helped her create award-winning feminist porn everyone wants to see.

Erika Lust’s First Time with Porn

Lust remembers her first experiences watching porn as being pretty conventional. She was at university, and her boyfriend brought over a tape. What she got from the experience of watching the tape with him was nothing short of an epiphany: there wasn’t much about what the woman in the film wanted or felt.

“It was very little about her actual sexual experience”

Lust realised that she wasn’t the only one that felt this way. Her feeling that something was missing led her to dive deeper into gender roles and feminist porn. She discovered the female gaze was what she was looking for, and she wanted to do something about it. But what? It turns out that a move to Barcelona provided the start she needed.

From Set Runner to Feminist Porn

For some people, their day job never leads to their passion. This wasn’t the case for Erika Lust. After moving to Barcelona to be with her partner, the political science major found herself making ends meet on the sets of the city’s thriving advertising production industry. She started on the ground floor as a runner and production assistant, and found herself quickly moving up the ladder thanks to her keen eye and natural love for being on-set.

“Of course I had a lot of people laughing at me, thinking it was ridiculous, what I wanted to do”

It was when she got the chance to make her own film that things really took off. By asking herself what was important to her, she discovered that her feelings about women in film, their second-class participation, and the female gaze were something she wanted to explore. And so, her erotic film project The Good Girl (2004) was born.

She Let Her Values Guide Her Decisions

Erika Lust didn’t let other people’s opinions about what she wanted to do stop her from creating something that mattered to her. She had nothing to lose, so it let her work outside the traditional system. She wanted to make an ethical porn film, and meet with performers while casting so she would be working with people who shared her artistic vision. After building a business partnership with her husband, she made her film, and it became a success—but not right away.

Her feelings about the unequal emphasis on gender roles, and the idea that women’s sexuality wasn’t taken seriously were proven right when she started to shop The Good Girl around to some adult film companies. Despite getting positive feedback, the industry was convinced that women didn’t want to spend money on anything to do with sex. Feeling sad and baffled that this was the way the world looked at women and their sexuality, Lust had a turning point.

“There’s no market for this. Women aren’t interested in buying anything that has to do with sex”

Casting a Wider Net, on the ‘Net

That’s when Erika Lust started a blog. She wrote about feminism, sexuality, ethical porn, and even uploaded her film project that embodied all these ideas for her. More and more, people started watching it and her viewers started to reach out to her, asking when she’d make more. She realised that she wasn’t the only who wanted more feminist porn, and that’s how her production company, Erika Lust Films, was born.

“OMG, it’s not only me, there are actually more people out there…”

Erika Lust Films has since produced award-winning films and a documentary, and grown into a large team of people dedicated to producing ethical porn. The company and its productions also went through another shift when the adult film industry began to move from DVD to digital content around 2010. It proved to be a way for her films to find a wider audience looking for ethical porn, but it also posed some new problems. Lust found that her films were being pirated on free porn websites and the way they were presented removed much of her feminist porn context.

What Happens When Porn Becomes Sex Education

What’s more, the new accessibility of porn in the digital age and lack of sex education in schools meant that more and more young people were turning to adult films as a way to learn about sexuality. Lust, a mother of two daughters, was concerned because she felt that most mainstream porn didn’t represent the experiences of the women in it, and simply wasn’t representative of healthy sexuality. As a result, Lust has also expanded to heading up a non-profit project focused on sex education and opening dialogue about ethical porn.

“…Most of the porn that’s out there is showing a depressing vision of human sexuality, and we can do it so much better.”

From the start, Erika Lust set out to do something that was true to herself. Her success came from tenacity, and strong belief in what was important to her. She listened to her gut feelings and decided to go her own way. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s led her to becoming an innovator in ethical porn and sex education.

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