Saying ‘Boy, Bye’ To Phallocentric Porn

By | April 21, 2016

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Warning: This post contains nudity, erotic fiction and other forms of adult content. 

XConfessions

A still from the erotic short film “Eat With … Me.”

“I had a crush on him from the moment I first saw him on television,” the anonymous Foodie1 writes in her short work of erotic fiction “Eat With … Me.” “I just couldn’t get enough of his arms, steadily chopping or softly kneading. I was jealous of the way he held a knife. I wanted to become the bread dough under his hands.”

Now imagine: A camera zooms in on a dimly lit dining room somewhere in Barcelona, where a woman in a red dress sits at an elaborately set table illuminated by candlelight. The chef, a bearded man in an apron, greets her in Spanish and proceeds to serve up a bounty of gourmet dishes ― roasted chicken, oysters and decadent puffs of an unidentified cream. She eats, slowly and luxuriously, using her hands when a fork won’t do. The chef assists, feeding her eagerly, letting his hand linger in her mouth. And then, to make a short story shorter, they have sex ― hungrily and playfully, like how you might make love to a gifted cook who had just tenderly prepared you a delectable, multi-course meal. 

Foodie1’s fantasy was brought to life thanks to XConfessions, a crowdsourced erotic project founded by the Barcelona-based feminist adult filmmaker known as Erika Lust. Foodie1 was one of many internet users from around the world to submit a sexual fantasy scenario to the website. All of the submissions are published on XConfessions’ website, and every month, Lust selects two written confessions from the bunch to make into cinematic shorts. The resulting films are more “adult cinema” than “adult entertainment,” skimping neither on artistic integrity nor sex appeal.

XConfessions

Another still from “Eat With … Me.”

Lust is determined to overhaul the landscape of adult film. She created XConfessions, she told The Huffington Post, to build a space for “real films with real sex” that offer viewers porn that’s original, artistic and hot without trite and tacky tropes like cheesy music, bad sofas and laughable moans.

Since starting the project in 2013, Lust has ushered the most private of pipe dreams onto the most public of platforms ― the internet. She oversees the entire selection and film production process, with the help of a 90-percent-female staff.

Born in 1977 as Erika Hallqvist, Lust grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, a city fabled to be what she described as a “feminist utopia.” Though sex wasn’t a topic discussed at home, Lust had an overwhelmingly productive sex education program at school where, separated by gender, students’ unbridled curiosity was met with openness and maturity.

“I learned everything at school,” she recalled. “Age-appropriate sex education at school tackled everything from petting to consent, respect and emotions. I was taught that sex can be more than physical; it can involve emotions and connection.”

To this day, that sex-positive sentiment inspires much of Lust’s vision ― the idea that sex is also a visceral exploration of bodily sensations. 

Erika Lust

Feminist adult filmmaker Erika Lust pictured with an actress.

Lust has a hazy memory of buying her first dirty mag at a supermarket as a teenager seeking beer. Her first significant encounter with erotic content was seeing Jean-Jacques Annaud’s coming-of-age film “L’amant,” an adaptation of Marguerite Duras’ autobiography.

“It was really a revelation,” Lust recalled. “The protagonist becomes an adult through sex and an unconventional love story, and this is completely shown from her point of view. This girl is intelligent and adventurous, and she is not ashamed of her blossoming sexuality.”

It wasn’t just the complexity of the protagonist that intrigued Lust, but also the way cinematic artistry enhanced the sense of passion. This realization would go on to influence her own films, both those created through XConfessions and those not. Whether the parties include vampires, vikings, cheerleaders or aliens from alternate dimensions, Lust depicts their lovemaking with a careful eye for aesthetics.

XConfessions

A still from “Meanwhile in a Parallel Universe.”

One XConfessions short called “Parallel Dimensions” takes place in a pristine, otherworldly habitat, accentuated by candy-colored shapes to resemble some sort of erotic jungle gym in a sci-fi universe. In the short, two women eat Play-Doh sushi rolls off the body of a naked man who rests rigid as furniture. His crotch is covered by a frilly vagina-like overlay reminiscent of a Judy Chicago sculpture. The women proceed, together, to have sex with the human table, who clearly derives his pleasure from theirs. It’s inspired by fan fiction from an XConfessions user who goes by lovertoy. 

“Lately I’ve been having this recurring fantasy, imagining that I was a piece of furniture … Something about the idea of being an object, used by my sexy owner, turns me on a lot … Secretly, she knows I can feel her, but she doesn’t care about my satisfaction. For her I am just there to serve, to please, in whichever way she desires … In a parallel universe, I would exist only as her table.”

Visually, the short is innovative and intoxicating. The sugary palette and fantastical environment are as sensually stimulating as the nude bodies on view, all of which comes together for a hedonistic experience that hits hard at the senses.

XConfessions

A still from “Meanwhile in a Parallel Universe.”

Adult cinema can and should employ cinematic values just as much as any other film; that is one of the foundational beliefs of Lust’s work.

The sentiment mirrors something filmmaker Anna Biller, director of “The Love Witch,” expressed in a recent interview with HuffPost. Discussing the importance of lush aesthetics to a pleasurable cinematic viewing experience ― pleasurable, of course, being the operative word ― Biller said that “film itself is kind of a sexual fantasy.”

“Cinema is a spell that is being cast over the audience. You want to keep them in a trance,” she continued. She argued that, especially for women, visual stimulation isn’t just sparked by breasts and butts, but by soft fabrics, sexy lingerie, a tasty snack and, sure, a good ass. 

Another one of Lust’s missions is to prioritize female pleasure in front of the camera. But her attention to artistic detail ensures maximal gratification for the female viewer, as well ― a viewer who would likely not be compelled to climax on a busted couch in an otherwise empty room.

Biller goes on to describe “the female gaze” as a narcissistic gaze involving, in her words, “looking at other women in films and wanting to emulate those women.” But while that notion intrigues her, Lust’s preferred definition of the female gaze is more in line with that of “Transparent” creator Jill Soloway.

As Lust reiterated: “’What is the male gaze? It’s pretty much everything. Everything you have ever seen. It’s most TV shows; it’s all movies…’ On the contrary, then, the female gaze is simply everything you never saw before!”

XConfessions

A still from “His Was First in My Ass.”

What haven’t we seen before? Or, at least, what haven’t we seen enough?

The answer is a diverse range of bodies represented on-screen ― diverse in ethnicity, body type, age and gender. Sex that looks, well, like sex, with all the awkward fumbling, meandering foreplay and accidental body noises. Also, naturally, imagination and eccentricity ― the qualities that remind us why our sexual aspirations are called “fantasies,” after all. 

In other words, mainstream porn needs more multiplicity. It’s this privileging of more-ness, of weirdness, of difference, that pries porn from its phallocentric rut. This was more or less the idea communicated by film theorist Linda Williams in her book Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible,” one of the texts that first inspired Lust to pursue adult film. 

“Hardcore pornography is not phallic because it shows penises,” Williams writes. ‘It is phallic because in its exhibition of penises it presumes to know, to possess an adequate expression of the truth of ‘sex’ ― as if sex were as unitary as the phallus presumes itself to be. While the physiology of sex is not likely to change, its gendered meanings can. In attacking the penis rather than the phallus, anti-pornography feminism evades the real sources of masculine power.”

However, porn isn’t, and has never been, just one thing. To imagine it is would be to treat the field of pornography as monolithically ― or phallocentrically ― as a bad porno. As porn professor Constance Penley previously told HuffPost: “I never talk about ‘Pornography,’ capital P. It’s always lowercase ‘pornographies.’ What I’ve come to understand as even ‘mainstream pornography’ is so complex and contradictory and rich and varied.” 

XConfessions

A still from “I Wish I Was a Lesbian.”

For Lust, the quality of pornography took a turn for the worse with the advent of VHS tapes in the 1980s. Suddenly anyone with a camcorder could produce their very own porno. However, like with many manufactured goods, when pornography was industrialized and commercialized, quality suffered as a result.

“Thousands of men began shooting porn at the lowest price, seeing it as a business,” Lust said.

Fast forward a little to the advent of the internet, which disrupted the ways we made, dispersed and digested porn. While the VHS, Lust argues, resulted in a largely retrograde shift in cinematic quality, the internet had the reverse effect. The digital sphere provided less-seen couples, bodies and fantasies a place to call home.  

“A big part of the porn industry is still making billions out of sexist, degrading and racist representations of ‘sex,’” Lust said. “However, there are new creators that are showing another discourse in new platforms. They don’t seek money exclusively, but aim to create adult cinema that has the power to liberate.” 

Lust is doing her part to push the trajectory of porn toward this more radically experimental direction. What better way to amplify the pornographic topography by taking advantage of the internet’s expansiveness and crowdsourcing erotic fantasies, ensuring no two are alike?

XConfessions

A still from “Sadistic Trainer.”

Aside from her work on XConfessions, Lust recently released a callout for women filmmakers interested in stepping into erotic territory. She is offering a total budget of approximately $260,000 to produce 10 short films from the eyes and minds of women, preferably those with experience in film, though not in porn. She’d like to see more women in leading roles.

“My goal is [to support] more women in leading roles as directors, producers and scriptwriters in adult cinema,” Lust said. “I really think true control over pleasure in porn comes from getting to make active decisions about how it’s produced and presented. We need to make explicit films that are sex-positive, so young people and the coming generations can see sex in a light that is realistic and pleasurable and aren’t only exposed to one version of the story.”

Through her work on XConfessions and beyond, Lust is doing her part to bid a fond farewell to dull, tired and phallocentric porn.

“It is imperative that women tell their own story and show their perspective and views on sex and sexuality,” she said. “We are half of the world’s population. The female gaze is necessary for an equal society ― for the benefit of all genders and sexualities.”

XConfessions

A still from “Pansexuals.”

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