The way of Lust. Could her feminist porn equalise urban sexualities?

The way of Lust. Could her feminist porn equalise urban sexualities?

The filmmaker based in Barcelona, Erika Lust, advocates for equal pleasure, a desire that could create more sexually healthy cities if it finds its way into the public space.

Urban studies have been particularly shy about sexual matters; this pandemic of deprived eros, which sacrifices pleasure for safety doesn’t help either. However, urban sexualities have shaped cities and remarkably have granted rights for sexual orientations. But it is also how the city sounds, smells, tastes and feels that defines its capacity to ignite sexual desires – challenging those limits of sexual freedom. One can’t think of Barcelona and sex without thinking of Erika Lust. This Swedish filmmaker turned her progressive vision of feminist porn into reality thanks to the energy of a city, where she felt liberated.

“I will always be Swedish but Barcelona has my heart!” she confessed. Her production company Erika Lust Films and its offices are based in the midst of the city in the Eixample neighbourhood, sparking much curiosity among potential local performers, crew members, and fans who feel excited about the idea of being so physically close to what they do. Local media often cover their work, helping them normalise the debate about adult filmmaking.

On a normal day Lust gets up early and says a quick goodbye to her partner and two kids before travelling to a location in or around the city for filming. “I’ve shot in all types of places; huge mansions, beaches, on the street, at a laundrette, in a food truck, a bakery, an Olympic swimming pool, a dungeon – you name it!” Her way of spreading the joy of sex-positive feminism swings over a city, erotised long ago by the pleasure of sex around its Mediterranean port.

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Finn and Femme_XConfessions / Photo credit Adriana Eskenazi

In one of her first films called Barcelona Sex Project she chose regular residents instead of actresses and actors for an experimental sex documentary and showed their real pleasure stories to step out of the storylines that free online porn usually conveys. We all know that sex is a highly sensitive aspect of society, often marginalized socially and legally, but Lust managed to get the public closer to the medium of porn in a real context.

There is no upbeat discussion to be had on how sexual consumption is visible in the city. But neither is there a way to avoid discussing the subject, particularly the issue of how it relentlessly responds to a straight male-dominated gaze. Sex shops or clubs with blacked-out windows discourages many female consumers, and are rather seen as male preserves, which also contributes to accentuate gender inequality in the public space. 

“From the hotspots of commercial sex through to the suburbia of twitching curtains, urban life and sexualities appear inseparable’, states Phil Hubbard, Professor of Urban Studies at the King’s College London, in his book Cities and sexualities. “Cities are the source of our most familiar images of sexual practice, and are the space where new understandings of sexuality take shape.”

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Photo credit Klugzy Wugzy / Unsplash

Lust tiptoed around the feminist thinking of pornography while studying political science at Lund University in Sweden and realized that mainstream pornography offers a model of sexuality produced by mostly men. It was the book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and “The Frenzy of the Visible” by Linda Williams, which gave her the lightbulb moment about pornography. The author argues that porn is a way of communicating specific ideas about gender and sex, while it doesn’t reflect any truth about sex. So, for example, being aware that free online porn is a fantasy that has little to do with the reality of healthy sex and human relationships says a lot about one’s values and ability to engage in respectful relationships with others. 

In most free online porn, explains Lust, female performers are portrayed as sexually subservient women, while male sexual desire is reduced to a drive to conquer and possess.

Sex is usually depicted as a performance-based activity for unrealistic body standards rather than a pleasure experience involving all the senses.

Lust makes and produces explicit films where the pleasure of people of all genders is represented as equally important, with communication and affirmative consent at the core of sex. “I want to inspire viewers to be aware of their erotic power and boundaries. Sex is a natural and positive part of our life worth exploring healthily and celebrating in our own right.”

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Romance Bullshit_XConfessions / Photo credit Chio Lunaire

But the offline sphere of cities is often promiscuous and full of contradictions, and does not always promote the most ethical rituals of intimacy and healthy urban sexualities. At night the urban space becomes highly sexualised and doesn’t count on women’s pleasures.

“Much-maligned sites like sex shops and lap-dancing clubs are becoming more accepted as the acknowledged demand for commercial sex draws consumers and tourists towards cities”, states Phil Hubbard. He concludes in his book that the venues most often at the hearts of cities are those based on a narrow, but profitable model of heteronormative (male) fantasy. In Barcelona rampant tourism sparked the opening of new striptease clubs which reinforce stereotypes of women. Urban dwellers’ unconsciousness is shaped by sexist messages of sex consumption on the public space.

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In 2016 the La Manada gang rape case in Spain made global headlines and was a big wake-up call for social change in sexual behaviour. Across Spanish cities feminist organizations have been raising awareness against sexual violence. And in 2018 the Grammy-awarded singer Rosalía, whose particular urban and flamenco music style was born in Barcelona, debuted with experimental songs, filmed in the suburbs of the city revolving around sexist abuse inflicted within a toxic relationship.

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Safe Word_Lust Cinema / Photo credit Monica Figueras

“We live in a predominantly sex negative culture where female sexuality, in particular, is still seen as a threat rather than something to worship and take care of” argues Lust. “The adult industry as a whole is heavily stigmatised and carries a lot of negative connotations in society. In people’s minds, anything related to our industry is automatically linked to something ugly, violent, shameful, and just not “reputable”. When people hear the word ‘porn’, they instantly think of the often extreme and violent scenes that are available in abundance on the free tube sites.”

In contrast when people watch how to interact respectfully, there are good chances that pornography might offer a more democratic knowledge of sexuality and change unhealthy attitudes towards sex, explains Lust.

Her focus on female pleasure has helped challenge the traditional notion of pornography as a male domain where women are also active sexual consumers for their own purposes. From the feedback I receive from women, Lust described, I can tell you that what really excites and empowers them is to have a voice in the story, both on-screen and in real life. Women want to see other women enjoying and freely living their sexuality, and it’s a huge reward to receive messages from them every day thanking me for what I do.

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Behind the scenes of The Intern_Lust Cinema / Photo credit Adriana Eskenazi

“For years women were told that porn was degrading and that we wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, be turned on by it, but I think there has been a reduction of stigma towards women enjoying watching porn and masturbating. Recently, there has been a cultural shift with regards to women feeling empowered to come forward and embrace their sexuality.”

So far most of Lust’s work is online but she keeps interacting with the public to keep up with real pleasure. For the production of her best-known series XConfessions, she selects for filming some of her viewers’s sex fantasies submitted through her website. These fantasies are often a mirror of the state of intimacy in our society. She has noticed a slight change in the type of fantasies that people submit since the pandemic, although there are still some recurring patterns. “I get stories of polyamorous people suddenly caught up in monogamy, or separated couples exploring how to keep their relationships alive through the screen.”

At the end of the interview I asked Lust what she would do if she would have the permission for a project in the public space, which could sexualize the city in her way, equally for women and men. To my surprise, she confessed that they are working right now on a fun initiative to bring to the streets of Barcelona. “But I can’t disclose anything just yet! Stay tuned if you’re around in the city.”

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