Lusting for Lust

Chrissy D responds to Erica Lust winning “Movie of the Year” at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto this month.

NB: Only partial nudity is shown in the clips included but they’re probably NSFW.

Erika Lust.jpgI don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that the contemporary porn landscape has somewhat taken the joy out of sex. But here’s my confession: when I first heard the phrase ‘porn for women’, back in the day, I scoffed dismissively. I imagined fluffy faux romance, beefcake men and way too much build up; too many words, not enough action. Because that’s what contemporary mainstream culture tells us heterosexual and bisexual women want. Hell, it even claims it’s what lesbians want sometimes – a man to intervene, the imperative phallus. And it tells men how to pretend to give it to women. I imagined at best, “semipornographic glamour” and at worst a few thrusts and gasps on a malfunctioning washing machine. Like ‘female masturbation‘, ‘porn for women’ conjures up something novel, other than and niche.

But when I see that the woman picking up the award for “Movie of the Year” at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto this month is none other than a Vimeo fave of mine, Erika Lust, I am reminded that there are other voices, even a realistic female gaze, out there prepared to give women something more than what we’re told we should want. Lust describes her goal as, “to show modern women and men enjoying their sexuality with an intelligent and fresh script”. This, at least to my taste, she does achieve.

Cabaret Desire, the award winning movie, is “a journey through intimacy, love, passion and sex” and was made in conjunction with Poetry Brothel in Barcelona. In her blurb on Vimeo, Lust states that, “I don’t like the way sex is portrayed in most porn films (stupid plots, ugly locations, ridiculous characters, bad lighting…) and I also don’t like the way mainstream cinema narrates sex (there’s always guilt, shame, bad karma and the characters’ sexual behavior tend to get them in trouble). I demand a new genre where sex is portrayed positively, where sex is associated with joy and life.”

I have to agree that in my favourite of her short movies, Room 33, Lust does achieve well in her drive to counter the ugliness and guilt of most contemporary porn and replace it with a deep love for lust. In this short piece, a man and woman check into some kind of sex hotel, and (female led) passion ensues. Then another man joins and hereafter follows more bouncy, passionate sex. It’s really rather good. And for me, it reads from the same script as MAYA at Feministing, by giving a positive representation to the play of submission and dominance, and group sex, for both women and men. Handcuffs also does this beautifully. This kind of scenario is something which has been snatched by the male gaze of contemporary porn, made violent and shameful and, most recently, been touched upon in ‘mommy porn’ literature. (Ugh, I detest that phrase, but that’s another piece.)

Lust also addresses the notion that, for women, sex and desire are so often seen as superficial performance, rather than experience and, in turn, that it doesn’t matter whether women experience real pleasure or not. Indeed, porn (unfeminist porn?) feeds into this idea and girls are cultivated to be turned on by simply performing desire, rather than experiencing it. Although the performance of sex isn’t a terrible thing, per se, this is a damaging blanket assumption that has led to the dominance of the male gaze. And the only representation of the female gaze we seem to see is of being fangirls or ‘middle-aged’ housewives, who are ridiculed and deemed the premature or mature horny exception to the norm. Lust insists upon not denying the male gaze, but encouraging an honesty between performance and real life and the importance of both male and female pleasure, albeit a beautifully shot real life with lots of intense orgasms.

Her movies do have, as described, “an innovative mise-en-scène, beautiful sets, and characters we can identify with” but also a creativity, imagination and linger that we can lust for. This seems far from the Mills and Boon/Chippendale representations of female desire of days gone by.

Finally, the porn is feelgood in the sense that you get the impression everyone’s been paid and/or appreciates the artistic vision behind it. Also that no one is pretending to love it through gritted teeth and a bad case of the shakes. Yes, I’m making assumptions. But as far as I’m concerned, as a sex positive feminist, Erika Lust fills a pretty wanting void.

Picture shows Erika Lust casually sitting in a chair and smiling, against a blue background. She is holding what looks like a magazine in her left hand and a pen in her right hand, wearing blue jeans and a vest top with the word “lust” in silver on it. By TV Cultura and shared under a creative commons licence.