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No porn: How to make appealing sex films

"Porn has become sex education." Erika Lust (as enthusiastic as her name suggests!) spills the beans about her audience's desires, the importance of being sex-positive and pushing the female perspective.

Nur für Life Links Filmszene aus einem Sexfilm

A film scene from one of Erika Lust's films.

Erika Lust, 38, is a Barcelona-based erotic film director. She strives to make films with sophisticated narratives as an alternative to cheap mainstream porn. Her films set a standard for a titillating aesthetic style for men and women alike.

Can you pinpoint the moment when you knew you would continue making porn?

I didn't plan that this was going to be what I do. My first film was more an experimental project. I was more interested in the gender aspect of pornography than the film work. I just started a #link:http://erikalust.com:blog online# where I was philosophizing about pornography, sexuality and gender. Two weeks after putting the film 'The good girl' online, it had two million downloads. That was the moment where I thought, 'Oh my God, this is crazy!' Obviously, the idea I had of doing something different is something people are interested in. I got so many emails from people asking, 'Hey Erika, when are you doing the next one? I need more.' This was when I knew there is more to be done.

How did the people around you react to that?

Nur für Life Links Regisseurin Erika Lust

Erika Lust in her director's chair.

The most shocking reaction I got was from my mother saying, 'Oh my God, you are throwing away your life, your career, your future, this will be horrible.' That was her first reaction. But when we sat down and talked about my project, she understood why I was doing it. Apart from that I had so much positive feedback. I have two girls - one is five, the other one is eight - and when my older daughter started preschool, I was a little worried about how the reactions would be from other parents when they found out about what I do. One day a mother in my daughter's class asked my partner what we do. He said that we have a production company and we do erotic films, and she said 'Oh, tell me more.' He explained, and she went: 'Oh, like Erika Lust then?' He said: 'She is Erika Lust.' (laughs) It turned out so well.

What were the reactions from the porn industry like?

They felt very threatened by my way of criticizing the mainstream porn industry. But that's a reaction women have come across in all areas of life - even when we stepped in to say, 'hey, now I also want to sit in parliament and become prime minister.' Every time women have taken that step they had reactions at the beginning. The porn industry is still a very chauvinistic industry and very few women do anything about it.

What makes your porn stand out from the rest?

Many times they are women centered, you can see female pleasure. Then there's obviously the cinematic filmmaking, the aesthetics of it. What stands out is the narrative, the characters, the location, what they are like and how they are filmed, how they are edited, color corrected, the graphic design, all the ingredients of good cinema. When I talk about my work I always say I am shooting sex, I'm not doing pornography. When I look at sex, it's not so much about the anatomy, the penetration, the fluids. It's about the feeling and the intimacy, it's about the reaction the other one is having to their partner. Sex is dialogue, one says something, the other one responds. The third thing that's special is the way they are produced. I am an independent director and producer, I finance my own movies so I have the right to shoot with the crew and actors I want to. That way, I can make sure that they want to be in front of the camera, that they don't just do it because they're in a poor situation.

What do you tell someone who wants to act in a porn movie for the first time?

I tell them about the consequences that will have on their life. There's a lot of very young girls out there who just turned 18 and who want to start becoming big porn stars. I always tell them to wait, to explore themselves and their sexuality first for a few years in privacy. I prefer to work with people who are at least 22 or 23. If you then decide to become an erotic performer, that's fine. They have to realize that when they are signing a contract, they don't have the rights to that movie. That means if at one moment in their lives they want it to go away, they don't have the power to do that. People don't realize that. They think they can just change their names - but a lot more people are watching porn than you think. Word gets spread quickly. You need to be prepared for that. Maybe you want to become someone else and then you will always have this past.

Around 90 percent of your film crew are women. Why is that important to you?

It's very important to have a female point of view. Makeup, wardrobe, I find that is very interesting, it changes the atmosphere, it gives women the opportunity to communicate in another way about what they actually want. In life, men take easily a lot of space in that room, they stand up and say what they want all the time. Sometimes women don't get the chance to do that. The way she finds the most beautiful image in the scene is important. Men point the camera to the woman all the time, at the end you don't see the masculine perspective. It's mostly about his penis and her body, but I'm not so interested in that aspect. I'm interested in him, I want to see his face, his hands on her body, his expressions.

What's the deal with your "sex-positive" attitude?

It's important because we are making films about sexual joy, about having fun, and I think these movies and sexual images are very important. I find that a lot of pornography is quite aggressive and violent. We need to create more positive sexual images where people are having sex as equals, where they are are enjoying each other and each other's body. I'm a little fed up with the mainstream porn almost always showing how women are pleasing men without having pleasure themselves. That has an impact on their own sexual life. They learn that they should please men. That's very sad for their own sexuality.

What position does porn have in our society?

Sometimes I think that we forget how important pornography has become. We don't really talk about it that way because we still feel that it's disgusting and we're not interested in it. But when it has that kind of impact we need to talk about it. How are we going to help our children, our younger generation, to assimilate all this knowledge that they learn from porn online? Porn has become sex education. But we don't treat and use it that way. Sex education in schools is a lot about how to protect yourself, how not to get sick or pregnant, it's very practical - but it doesn't talk at all about the need and want to have sex, about the feelings around it.

So does porn ruin us?

I don't think it ruins people. I think most people have the quality to be critical. I don't believe in censoring. But I do believe in strong alternatives. We have to make it better. I don't see anything bad in the idea of pornography: It's watching images that are stimulating to you. As parents and teachers [we should] not [be blocking] out sex, when our children are asking us about it. For many of us it's very embarrassing. 'No, no, no, let's just put on a program to block everything on the internet so you can't see it.' That's not enough! Start a conversation about pornography. What do we like? what do we not like? Both of these questions are very interesting!

What annoys you about mainstream porn?

I live in a bubble where my images are quite beautiful and nice. I sometimes think this is real porn, and then my partner sometimes says 'did you log into youporn lately'? When I do it, I get shocked, this is so ugly that I want to vomit.

How vital is porn for a satisfying sex life?

It depends on the person. [Quality] pornography can help people get over taboos, feeling strange, excluded - feeling that 'maybe what I feel attracted to is not the right thing'. But suddenly you see other people doing it. It's not just you in your own strange little world. You can even learn about sexual positions, stimulations or methods by seeing other people having pleasure, you can learn a lot! My boyfriend at university came home with a DVD one day and said we should watch this to get better. I remember when I watched it, I felt very confused by it. I felt my body react but I didn't like the images. That was one of the first times I had this confusion about pornography and it's shared by many women. Maybe it bothers men less because they actually see their sexuality portrayed, they see men having sex.

Is there something you would never do or show in your films?

There's a lot! Anything that I don't find attractive. I am working with pleasure. I want it to look good and to feel good. I'm not in the genre of violence or in aggression. I feel that in my job it's a lot about awareness, we're so programmed by the images we have already seen. You need to be very aware to do it the way you want to do it. If you don't pay attention suddenly you yourself have fallen down the route you never wanted to.

And finally, when directing a porn movie, what are your actual thoughts? And how do they differ from those of the potentially aroused viewer?

Ha, these are two different people! It's like one is me as a director and one is me as a person. Because when on set, of course, I work with the images all the time, I need to create the pieces of the puzzle. I need to put that movie together. I have a very technical, analytical mind at that moment. I'm very critical with myself and think it's not good enough. It's a lot about being a little to hard on yourself.

But then, sometimes when I go to a festival, sit back as you can't do anything about it anymore, I find myself thinking, 'This was really hot'. Sometimes I connect with that other personality (laughs) and I get surprised by myself.

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