In 2022, adult sites regularly outperform the likes of Netflix, and sexualised content is omnipresent on social media. So why is talking about it so taboo? Here, an ethical porn director and a clinical sexologist discuss why we need to examine, and educate ourselves on, the impact of porn
"My story is not that different from other young women’s stories. For me, porn was part of trying to figure out who I was. But it brings up mixed feelings. It’s both about watching images and feeling turned on, but at the same time the images, often, are representing scenarios that made me feel uncomfortable.
“Little by little, I realised that my male friends had a very, very easy time with pornography. They use it in their lives, they like it, they enjoy it, and they haven’t really thought much about it – whereas most of my female friends, they had a similar experience to mine.”
I’m speaking to Erica Lust, an award-winning erotic filmmaker whose cinematic films are starkly different to the clips that might first come to mind when you think of ‘porn’. These days, she heads a global business, and works with directors from the United States, the UK, Berlin, Finland, Colombia, Venezuela, Australia – the list goes on. But it all started in 2004 with her first indie erotic film, The Good Girl, a tongue-in-cheek take on the classic pizza boy trope and, she says, an experiment in breaking the mould for erotic stories. Since then, she hasn’t looked back.
If you’ve ever wondered what could qualify someone to direct pornography, consider this. Beyond her cinematic know-how, Erica has a degree in political science and gender studies, and she notes how this first prompted her to deconstruct and analyse the power imbalances that are so often present in pornography. As she sees it, porn is a discourse about sexuality, about masculinity and femininity, and the roles we each play sexually, so understanding who’s directing that discourse is key.
“The more I was thinking and learning about it, I came to understand that it’s all about the creators who are making it,” Erica says. “The stories we have seen in porn repeated time after time, it’s the white, middle-aged, fit, hetero man’s story, and his vision of sexuality and what he finds sexy. You know what that is – that is breasts, and butts, and fancy cars, and cigars. It doesn’t matter if he’s from Los Angeles, Stockholm, Barcelona, Budapest, or Sydney, it’s the same guy.”
In Erica’s films, performers practice safe sex, they communicate, they have conversations about consent, and – crucially – they behave in such a way that the viewer can see they respect one another. But it’s not just about creating an authentic film for the sheer pursuit of realism – many young people, and adults learn about sex from porn. Porn literacy – a framework for breaking down and understanding how, what, and why sexual images affect us – has, therefore, never been more necessary. In 2022, it’s a kind of virtual life jacket for teens and young people, but