Last year, "porn for women" searches on Pornhub increased by 359 percent. That's... well, a lot. Women are craving more adult content that veers away from the typical "Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma'am!" and centers on relatable narratives that do more than just feed male pleasure.
In response, there is a small, but vocal, group of female pornographers creating a new kind of content: realistic sex that puts women first. Sweden's Erika Lust is among those at the helm, hoping her output will fuel the discourse on female sexuality, as well as take porn out of the hands of every tits and ass-obsessed industry bro dominating today's conversation.
"I wanted to make an alternative to the degrading mainstream porn gaze," Lust explains, "something that would express my ideas and my values." Now, with her production company XConfessions, Lust's emphasis on ethics and sensuality is making for what might soon become the most popular movies on the market — returning pornography to its cinematic roots and mainstream embrace à la the '70s "porn chic" era.
PAPER caught up with the famed filmmaker to chat all things sexy and subverting the male gaze.
What do you think mainstream porn is missing?
Our society is trying to be more inclusive and diverse every day, however the mainstream porn industry isn't keeping up. It is still churning out the same extreme beauty standards, and sexist and racist values. Mainstream porn fantastically mirrors our society, blatantly showing the neglect and misrepresentation of female pleasure and consent. Open one porn tube site, coercion is everywhere! Step brothers black-mailing their sisters for sex, secretaries being fucked by their boss... there's even "Teeny sluts braces cummed."
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Male pleasure is the ultimate goal, the scene typically unfolds through the male gaze. There is no foreplay, no caressing and performing oral sex on a women is practically non-existent. They are only focused on anatomy, genitalia and body parts bashing against each other. Women need to be shown having sexual agency and taking ownership of their sexuality and their bodies, showing that women have their own sex drive and desires and are not passive objects exclusively focused on pleasuring the men. It doesn't matter if the film is kinky, romantic or anything in between; what empowers women is to have a voice in the story and to seek their own desire.
An ethical production process ensures the creation of a safe environment for performers where there is no sexual coercion. Situations like what happened to Leigh Raven [porn star who recently alleged sexual abuse] happens all the time. It is key that every part of the shoot has been discussed and agreed beforehand and performers know that they can stop a shoot at any moment. In order to create this safe environment I believe the solution is putting women behind the camera in leading roles.
You're often given the title of "director of porn for women." How does that make you feel?
I love being a "director of porn for women," but I also think it's a misleading title. Of course I am making female-led films with a feminist mindset and I present female pleasure as just as important as men's. But this doesn't mean my films are made just for women. In fact roughly half of my viewers are male, because the mainstream industry isn't good for men either.
The other concern I have with the title is, what exactly is "porn for women"? Sexuality and desire is not specific to your gender and people often presume that porn for women is all silk sheets and rose petals. But actually it can be many things, it can be rough, multiple, vulgar, strange, romantic, modern, or all at once. Sexual preferences are as varied as personalities and women like the sex just as dirty as the men. There is a huge demand for adult cinema that is smart, sex positive and respectful to women. So if I could choose my title, I'd rather have "indie adult filmmaker" or "ethical adult filmmaker."
How do we encourage those in the porn industry becoming more conscious about the messages in their content?
I think the industry will only change when it sees that consumers are choosing alternatives. In our failure to properly analyse the industry, the mass majority of people are accepting a definition of porn that has been handed to us by the dominant players in the market. Viewers must become more conscious consumers and seek out ethically made pornography. They must start paying for their porn and stop visiting the free tube sites. Until the consumers change, the mainstream industry will not. I do think performers also have a responsibility though. A change must be done by all the players: producers, performers and consumers.
Paying for porn is the most direct way to ensure the film was made under ethical production values. If you are visiting tube sites, you really don't know how that scene was done and if the performer consented and you're basically making it harder for companies that want to support performers with good wages to do that. By paying for your porn, you're helping to ensure that smaller companies that are committed to some of these labour practices are able to continue making the porn that they want to make and bringing real diversity to the market.
Only then, will the industry become more conscious about the films they are making and the messages that are delivering.
"Sexual preferences are as varied as personalities and women like the sex just as dirty as the men."
What's the process behind conceptualizing your films? How do ensure it fits your ethics?
All of my films for XConfessions are based on my viewers fantasies and confessions. Each month we read all of the user submitted confessions to make sure they're legal, and then I choose the ones that inspire me the most, the ones I think are crazy or great or wonderful. I sit down to think about a script and a short film you could make out of that story. Sometimes they're similar to the confessions or sometimes they're inspiration and my fantasy gets going from that.
Then the whole process from start to finish is always in keeping with my ethics for a new adult cinema. This means that consent has been given for every part of the film and from all parties involved. Consent regarding the sexual acts that will be performed but also the rate of pay that people will be getting. Personal boundaries and limits are respected, everything is done under a safe sex environment, good working and safety conditions, and basic labour rights for performers and crew.
My work does not contribute to wider social inequalities through categorization of performers or scenes based on age, ethnicity or body type. So there is never any reduction of the performer to their primal feature. Interracial porn is not a thing for us for instance, it's just people having sex. There is never any simulation of coercion, paedophilia or fantasies of abuse. There is no use of "exploitative language" such as misogynistic or racial slurs, or any language that shows authority figures taking advantage of those too young to legally consent, or not in a position of power to say no. It doesn't matter how kinky or rough the scene we're shooting is, it will always be made under an ethical practice.
Are you seeing the stigma shift regarding women watching porn?
Recently, there has been a cultural shift with regards to women feeling empowered to come forward and embrace their sexuality. And at the same time there are more adult filmmakers out there making films that care about female pleasure. As women feel more confident about their sexuality and more free, they are more open to the idea of having fun watching porn. There is a female audience for porn and it is bigger than has been assumed so far, and it is continuing to increase as our society overcomes gendered stereotypes in general.
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There's also been significant moral panic about the realism of VR porn among other things, what's your take on the future of adult entertainment?
Immersing the viewer into the closest possible thing to an actual sex act sounds appealing, however, the VR adult films I've seen so far are just an extension of what they have been doing for decades — the same old silicone fantasy that has been the hallmark of the porn genre for years and years. Mechanical sex and fake orgasms, no passion, no context, and of course no intimacy. It's always shot from the male perspective. I think there is a reason for a moral panic with new technologies in general. Look at what has been happening with AI-Generated Fake Porn these past months. It is the epitome of rape and lack of consent culture. It is horrifying to say the least.
This May I will be shooting our first virtual reality erotic short film. It will be nothing like you have seen the mainstream porn companies do so far, I promise you! With VR I want to combine representation as I have done until now with full immersion.
Is there ever cause for concern about the disintegration of actual human connection?
I think it's important to bear in mind that erotic films are not supposed to replace sex or human relationships but to spice them up. Porn as a medium can be used in a positive or negative way as everything else. It can be a tool for women's sexual expression and for people in general to get rid of taboos.
Photos Courtesy of Erika Lust