Sex & Relationships

How to Make Porn for Women

Money shots, bad acting, and fake orgasms might pique some men's erotic interests. But we also need porn that satisfies women's needs.

Erika Lust is something of a film connoisseur -- and her genre of choice is porn. An award-winning director and co-founder of Lust Films in Barcelona, Erika knows the (ahem!) ins and outs of the adult film biz, but she isn’t pleased with a lot of what she sees. While big tits, money shots, bad acting, and fake orgasms might pique men’s erotic interests, Lust believes films that satisfy women’s needs require something different.

Her book Good Porn: A Women’s Guide (Seal Press) walks novices though a pornographic landscape that has traditionally been pretty unsavory for women, and leads them to a more desirable place where female perspectives and power abound.

As someone who co-founded a company that produces adult films, and has directed such films yourself, what part do you see yourself playing in the porn industry?

I do not consider myself to be a part of the so-called adult business. The porn industry does not like me, and I don’t feel comfortable [with] them either. The [stereotype of the] average producer and director in the mainstream porn industry is a single, chauvinist male in his 60s who is a womanizer or even a pimp. He drinks, he smokes, and he has very little style or emotional intelligence. I’m a 33-year-old, married mother of two girls and an innovative entrepreneur with degrees in political science and feminism. Mainstream porn directors and I belong to different worlds, and we have different ideas about what kinds of films we want to make. Other new directors and I are industry outsiders who fight for an alternative approach to adult cinema.

Is that why you decided to write Good Porn?

People, especially women, are skeptical about the idea that good porn is possible. I wrote the book because of the many times I was questioned about my approach to making adult films. I don’t want to change the face of porn; I just want some diversity. I have no problem with movies like Fuck Sascha Grey, Cum Spewing Holes, Cougar Mammoth Cock Hunt, or Gangbang Junkies. If people want to buy those films, good for them! I just want some of the porn out there to be made for women. Imagine if you could only watch Terminator movies in the cinema, and you prefer to watch a movie by Sofia Coppola. Is that too much to ask?

Good Porn is a sort of Porn Industry 101 that is aimed at women who are inexperienced with porn, mainstream or otherwise. What can readers expect to take away from the book?

I want to guide women who have little or no knowledge of porn through the complex world of adult movies. If you want to find good movies in general, you have to know about cinema as a whole. The same goes for porn; if you want to find good porn, you have to know what it’s all about first.

A standard feminist critique of porn is that it exploits women. What do you say to women who are uncomfortable with this aspect of the adult film industry?

Women are, and have been, exploited all over the world throughout history. Porn exploits women. The fashion industry exploits women. The music industry exploits women. Actresses are being abused by producers and agents everyday in the cinema business. We only blame porn because it’s an obvious and direct exploitation, but the subtle ways women are exploited in other areas of life are sometimes worse. So, yes, it’s true that some women are exploited in porn. Some men are exploited too. But actors and actresses are taking control of their careers, and some are becoming their own producers and directors. It’s an evolving industry, and I believe that having more women in powerful positions will help to improve this situation.

Can porn be made by and for women and still be anti-feminist?

Anti-feminist porn could be made by anyone in the same way that a gay person can be homophobic or and an African American can be racist. It’s all about your values. The myths about porn -- that it is male-centered, aggressive, violent, ugly, and anti-erotic -- are all based in the reality of an industry that cares very little to please and sell to women. Companies like Hustler, Evil Angel, White Ghetto Films, and Club Seventeen don’t care about what women like or enjoy. If women want a change in adult movies, we have to do it ourselves.

How can women transform porn?

Porn isn’t just porn. It’s a way of talking about sex and understanding masculinity and femininity. Right now, this discourse, and the theory behind it is almost entirely male, and often sexist as well. There are almost no women’s voices in this discourse, just as there was a time when there were no women’s voices in the worlds of politics and big business. I believe that women have the right to enjoy adult films, and we have to do so by demanding our share of discourse as screenwriters, producers, and directors. It’s not that I want to impose some kind of feminist censorship on the world of adult-oriented entertainment. The men who create that world will always have their point of view, and I accept and respect that. I just don’t want their point of view to be the only one.

I recently became a mother, and when my daughter sees her first adult film, I want her to take away positive messages about sexuality. So, I don’t want Rocco Siffredi, Nacho Vidal, or Marc Dorcel to be the ones explaining the world of sex to her through their explicit films.

So, what pornographers do you like?

I like the approach of Violet Blue, Tristan Taormino, Candida Royalle, Jennifer Lyon-Bell, and Zoe Cassavetes. They are producing, directing, distributing, and promoting a new kind of adult cinema that is not offensive for women. There’s a revolution going on right now, and we need more female voices to make our new approach more visible.

You use essentialist language throughout Good Porn, yet there are some -- particularly women, queers, and trans people -- who argue that desire cannot and should not be confined to a male vs. female dichotomy. How do you reconcile that?

Women are different from men. We have a different body and a different mind, so it’s pretty logical that our desires would be different. We are all individuals first, of course. But a big majority of women like similar stuff and share certain interests. Women should be able to enjoy adult films where we can listen to the female voice and focus on her pleasure. I don’t think that desire should be confined to a male vs. female dichotomy. Many men enjoy my films, and many men read feminine magazines -- and they are more than welcome to.

There are several explicit photos, film stills, and illustrations in the book. Were you afraid some readers might find them offensive?

I wanted to make a colorful and funny book with a great design, so I chose to include illustrations and pictures. I can’t think of one image in my book that is offensive. Maybe the illustration of a woman with cum on her face that exemplifies mainstream porn. Anyway, I’m Swedish. I may have more tolerance for sexual images than the average American woman.

Popular culture has become increasingly “pornified” through reality TV shows like Girls Gone Wild and American Apparel ads. How do you think the pornification of pop culture is impacting the porn industry?

I would guess they are happy. The porn industry wins when Jenna Jameson and Rocco Siffredi become celebrities. Like it or not, we live in a porn-saturated society; there’s porn all over the Internet, and there’s porn in the media. In this environment, it’s very important for women to take a critical approach to porn, constantly analyzing and challenging the values it transmits. We can’t just turn our backs on porn and think it doesn’t matter because men are the only ones looking at it. I mean, what men are seeing and learning also affects us since a lot of men understand and interpret female sexuality through what they see in porn. We have to remember that if porn is no longer in the closet, we must take it more seriously.

As a grassroots organizer, Mandy Van Deven has worked on a range of social justice issues -- from women's issues to education to queer rights -- with organizations in New York and Atlanta. She was an Associate Publisher of Clamor magazine before founding the Feminist Review blog, and her writing has appeared in VenusZine, Feministing, and Make/Shift.