The Future of Intimacy –
An Interview with Erika Lust

Our salon event The Future of Intimacy is taking place today and we couldn’t be more excited. So, what better way is there to kick off this event than to have a chat with erotic film director Erika Lust. Find out what role intimacy plays in porn and what intimacy might look like in the future.

erika lust

Erika Lust shooting XConfessions.

As an erotic film director, what do you consider the essentials of good porn?

Erika Lust: Creativity, cinematography, consent, realism and equality. These are the main ingredients that I inject into every part of my filmmaking. I show sex as fun and full of passion, but I also pay attention to context, details, location, styling – everything that you would pay attention to in a film without explicit sex. To me, that adds to the feeling of eroticism and excitement, if you can answer the question “why are these people having sex?” in a captivating way, it makes the whole thing more fun. And of course real pleasure is very important, not loud faked orgasms on a depressing couch. I have a rule that I don’t direct the sex at all. I let the performers do what feels natural and pleasurable. This makes for the best results on screen!

Which one of your works are you most proud of and why?

Erika Lust: That changes quite regularly because the production output of XConfessions is so heavy, and I find myself feeling “wow, that was the best one ever!” pretty much every shooting week! One of my recent favourites from XConfessions though is The Ultimate Kink, a funny and warm film with a super sexy threesome with Paulita Pappel, Mickey Mod and Silvia Rubi. It has a guinea pig in it too. Only as an extra, mind you! The colours, the chemistry, the sex…everything just clicked and the result blew my mind.

What role does intimacy play in porn?

Erika Lust: That depends on the porn you are watching. In mainstream porn, there is little to no attempt at creating intimacy on screen. They don´t care about it. They just want repetitive gynaecological shots of genitals bashing against each other. But in my erotic films and the ones by a huge number of talented independent film makers, intimacy plays a huge role. It is an essential component to portray sex as realistic and create an atmosphere. For me there has to be a legitimate reason for the characters to be there. They are connected by the narrative in the story, through the direction and camera shots. If there is no intimacy, it feels cold and detached.

Where do you see the line between private intimacy and work intimacy? Is there a difference in the level of intimacy in your work?

Erika Lust: The intimacy I share with my husband at home is completely separate and different from what I share with my crew and performers at work. It’s professional. I would not have a relationship with a performer or crew member. We are intimate in our friendships, in the trust and devotion we share for a craft. We are open with each other so that everyone is comfortable and can work efficiently. This is especially important for the performers. They are my top priority and it’s my responsibility to make sure they aren’t doing anything they don’t want to do. This is their job, so I treat them with respect and professionalism. So yes the level of intimacy isn’t as high at work as it is in the privacy of my own home. Intimacy is an important element to filming sex, which is one of the most intimate things you can do in life.

How do you see the role of porn in our society? How does porn shape our perception of sexuality?

Erika Lust: As much as Western society has tried to shame porn and push it to the back alleys of our brains, it’s a huge part of our society. Porn is everywhere – not just on the online red tubes, but in magazines, advertisements, books, music videos… Sex is one of the most vital parts of life, and as carnal human beings we like it and are curious about it. It’s natural and gives us pleasure. But of course, for too long porn has been in the wrong hands. It’s been perpetuated and regurgitated by the same white middle class male voice, depicting what he wants in bed: Plastic fantasies, where women are always willing to pleasure a man. The male has always been a dominant figure, with the women as their playthings. The problem is that the women portrayed in these films lack sexual agency, they are just a body to be used for the pleasure of a man. This in turn has perpetuated violent sexual behaviour against women in society. Porn is a discourse on our sexuality. I learnt this from reading Linda Williams’ book Hardcore. Porn has the power to make a statement, an idea, expressing ideologies and values, and also opinions about sex and gender. This is why it is so important to offer diversity, to represent all the different parts of society and the people in it so that people can see themselves in those films, to be inspired, to open our minds to the huge range of different sexualities out there. And most importantly so that our children and young adults aren’t just exposed to one version of bad porn that teaches them bad values. The same as they should not only be exposed to bad fast food.

I’m sure you know the movie Don Jon. Is there a whole generation of sexually confused young adults out there which thinks the porn in those fake movies, “plastic fantasies” as you call them, is actually how sex works?

Erika Lust: Any kid can watch porn at any time on its smartphone or tablet, that’s just the reality. People are sexual beings and wanting to watch people having sex is definitely not a bad thing, but the issue lies in what sort of values mainstream porn communicates. Will these college students grow up and develop their sexuality thinking THAT’S how sex should be and what a body should look like? I do think it’s bad that young people have some of their first “sexual experiences” seeing misogynistic porn that objectifies women and places unrealistic expectations on both sexes. There needs to be a public debate and we need to educate young people so that they can become critical viewers of porn. People have to start talking to their kids about it just as we would talk about drugs and alcohol. I recently read this article that I, as a mother of two girls, like very much: How to talk to your kids about porn and by the way, I am about to start a project called The Porn Conversation, you’ll learn more soon!

Can porn help to educate our society into a direction of a healthy relation to sexuality?

Erika Lust: Definitely! The key is to open the conversation, to educate people about porn and the options available, so they can make an informed choice. To be critical of what they watch. Great porn has the power to educate, inspire and arouse.

How will intimacy develop in the future?

Erika Lust: I hope we learn to become more intimate and comfortable in our sexuality. But it looks to be going in the right direction with the younger generation now making so many of their own erotic films that are full of life and creativity. Take Vex Ashley and A Four Chambered Heart in the UK, or A New Level of Pornography in Sweden, they make fantastic films. It shows how open the next generation is and how willing they are to explore their sexuality to inspire others.

Will the use of VR technology alter the perception of intimacy in porn?

Erika Lust: The VR adult films I’ve seen have all been very, very mainstream and poorly made. 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. There is no sense of interaction at all. No touching, no feeling, it’s almost like an alien experience. The gaming world has already been far more creative with their use of VR. I can’t help but feel that mainstream VR porn raises the concern that new technology does have the power to potentially  turn us into porn consuming zombie junkies, oblivious to our surroundings (remember that Zuckerberg pic!) Independent filmmakers could make films with VR that have the ability to teach, and to inspire us to reach out and connect with another human being, exploring their body guided by them, not just using them like a virtual sex doll. We could explore desires, kinks and pleasure in a way that teaches us something. Isn’t that the best part about sex, the intimacy you can experience with another person? I would love to do some VR in 2016, it’s on my list of things to look into seriously as soon as I get the chance this year. When I do I’ll make sure to include my values: creativity, realism, diversity, pleasure and making sure there’s a narrative there.

Photo credits: courtesy of Erika Lust

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About Verena Ehrnberger

Verena works as a data privacy legal expert and studies philosophy at the University of Vienna. Always juggling multiple projects, she is seriously addicted to coffee.

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