Lifestyle

Porn director Erika Lust: 'I felt uncomfortable like all women when they're watching porn'

Article published on May 18, 2012
Article published on May 18, 2012
In her native Stockholm Erika Hallqvist was a politics student who pondered why the porn industry wasn't more feminist. Today the 34-year-old award-winning writer, director, producer and mother-of-two is based in Barcelona and successfully rebelling against gender cliches with her 'new indie adult movies' - making 'love, not porn'

Someone rings the bell. The girl hops out the shower, throws on a towel and hurries to open the door to the pizza guy. It could be the beginning of a traditional porn movie, but it is not. The protagonists of The Good Girl (2004) have personality. Its explicit sex images are the outcome of a coherent storyline. 'Porn is a strong word,' explains Erika Lust. 'Pornography brings violent, chauvinist, macho and almost inhuman images to people's minds. Because of these connotations, porn has become such a dirty expression that I’d like to grab it, throw it in the washing machine and clean it using a really high setting.'

Traditional porn vs feminist porn

Listening to Lust, I feel as if I have been thrown into the centrifuge together with the word porn. The mother of two young daughters aged four and one speaks in such a passionate way about pornography, female and male sexuality and feminism that the air positively vibrates around her. She's an easy-going woman in jeans and red converse shoes, looking more like a researcher at a gender studies department than a porn director. Before coming to Barcelona from Sweden in 2000, Erika was studying political sciences and feminism at the university of Lund. One day her boyfriend surprised her with a porn movie. 'I felt uncomfortable like all women when they’re watching porn,' she says. 'It physically turned me on, but I didn’t like it. That was the first time I asked myself - why does porn have to be like this?'

What is the difference between traditional porn and what Lust does? In response, she dashes from the room and returns with a dvd of her last movie, Cabaret Desire, and a copy of her book Good Porn (2009), handing them over with a big smile: 'Hope you’ll like them.' She takes a big sip from a glass of water - 'I always speak a lot' – and continues to laugh as she fixes her grey cardigan, before continuing. 'Feminist porn is about changing the roles women play in traditional pornography - that is, being the tools of men’s pleasure. Those movies are made by men for men. Their protagonists are always rich and strong men, while women play the role of the prostitute or the dominatrix. In my films girls aren’t accessories but complex personalities like they are in reality. They enjoy their sexuality.'

United Nations to Barcelona

There was a long way to go before Lust's first shooting. Originally, she wanted to work with the united nations, and that’s why she started to study Spanish. While doing a course in Barcelona in 2000 she fell in love with the city and decided to stay and work in the film industry as an assistant. She engaged in an evening class of film direction. The result of her final project was The Good Girl, which won the prize for the best short film at the 2005 international erotic film festival. 'My mother would probably be happier if I was working with some international organisation, but she supports me,' says Lust. 'The most difficult thing must be when she tries to explain to people what her daughter's profession is. We’re living in a radically sexist society. When a woman publicly relates to sexuality she’s exposed to the threat of slutification.'

Since the success of her first movie Erika and her husband Pablo’s production agency Lust Films has produced five films, two books and won many international prizes. Their headquarters is quite the same as a traditional office except for a tantric sex chair they used in Cabaret Desire (2011) and two rooms with hundreds of new porn books and films. One of the shelves is full of sex toys they sell in their online shop. From the lilac streamlined vibrator to the pink handmade bondage rope, all are well-designed, stylish gadgets. Erika’s face shines whilst she guides me through the family enterprise, telling me that she loves what she does. 'I’m a terribly positive person,' she says, as if to reaffirm.

Brave undertaking

Erika is not only positive, but also very brave. Porn is a hard business in which women aren’t welcome, except for when they are actresses or makeup artists. She estimates that only 2% of those working in the porn industry are women, if we don’t count the traditional roles. Her male colleagues don’t like what she does, don’t distribute her works, call her 'feminazi' and some even ask why she isn’t on the other side of the camera.

'If women don’t take part in this discourse it’s like as if they didn’t care'

Despite all this, Lust Films is a rather profitable firm. Erika takes one last sip of water and lies back on her executive leather chair. Sunshine overflows her room. From the windows we see the reddish rooftops of Barcelona. In a shyer tone, she admits that she doesn’t consider herself to be a director at the peak of her career but as a girl who wants to show the world her own perspective. In some days she’ll present her works in the museum of sex in New York and the Toronto feminist porn awards 2012, where she will win movie of the year for the third time. 'It’s something really important to me and what I like to talk about,' finishes Lust. 'Pornography is a topic that cannot not be discussed. It forms part of our culture. If women don’t take part in this discourse it’s like as if they didn’t care. But we do care. We have many things to say. That’s why there’s a need for more women directors than we have now.' There sure will be. Were it to depend on Erika Lust, feminist pornography would be soon an obligatory subject in universities.

Images: ©Mireya de Segarra; erikastube/ youtube, ©Lust Films