There’s only one way to describe erotic filmmaker Erika Lust’s new project: XConfessions is PostSecret for porn. After directing four erotic films, Lust, a Swedish filmmaker who is now based in Barcelona, stopped to take stock of the many requests that her fans have sent her over the years, asking her to put their own idiosyncratic stories and fantasies on film.
“I realized it would be really practical to open a site where they can submit their confessions,” Lust writes in an e-mail, “so the project is inspired by the passion, the sex, and the fantasies of my fans and followers.”
Subscribers to XConfessions can anonymously submit their sexual fantasies directly to Lust, who then sifts through their confessions, locating diverse, original fantasies that she can feasibly film. Send a postcard to PostSecret and your deepest thoughts could end up on a blog. But if you send a fantasy to Erika Lust, you could find yourself watching an erotic film specifically tailored to your interests—an experience which, in and of itself, is its own kind of fantasy.
So far, Lust has published about three dozen brief erotic films on XConfessions such as “I Fucked My Boss,” “I Pegged My Boyfriend,” and even “I Fucking Love IKEA,” which explores one woman’s unique fantasy of watching her boyfriend assemble Scandinavian furniture. Don’t worry, he makes it all the way step 69 in the end. The text of the subscriber’s original fantasy appears underneath each video, along with some brief comments from Lust herself explaining why she chose to translate their confession to film.
But Lust isn’t producing a random hodgepodge of erotic films harvested from the collective subconscious of the Internet, she’s trying to produce something intentional and innovative: adult entertainment that women might actually want to watch. While Lust films men’s fantasies for XConfessions, she takes particular care to film stories submitted by women. She frames her work as a “totally new genre of adult film” that avoids the tired clichés of mainstream porn while “keeping female pleasure [as] a core focus.” In other words, you probably won’t find any contractors or pizza delivery men on XConfessions—although there is one particularly well-endowed pool boy—but you will find plenty of women acting out fantasies on behalf of other women.
Although the number of women who say they watch porn has been steadily increasing over the past few years, there is still a decided gender gap among porn viewers. It remains difficult to ascertain the precise shape of this gap because so many people lie about watching pornography. In 2013, for instance, only 12 percent of survey respondents told Pew even though website traffic numbers tell a much different story, with hundreds of millions of unique visitors patronizing adult websites each month.
But it’s clear that women either watch less pornography or feel much more shame about their engagement with it. Twenty-five percent of men who watch videos online told Pew they watch adult videos but only 8 percent of women admitted the same. These numbers corroborate earlier data from Nielsen Net Ratings which show that male porn viewers outnumber female porn viewers by about two to one.
Why aren’t women watching more porn? Lust believes that mainstream directors have damaged porn’s reputation among women so much that many don’t even like to hear the word.
“I think that in a lot of cases when women hear the word ‘porn’ they instantly associate [it] with dirty, tacky, abusive, and embarrassing images,” she writes. “Mainstream porn has been the realm of middle-aged, emotionally dysfunctional, money-orientated male directors for so long that it lacks any kind of artistic ambition.”
And she attributes the formulaic and male-centered nature of mainstream porn directly to a lack of diversity among the people who create it: “I’ve learned that mainstream porn is boring, repetitive, predictable, and chauvinistic because the minds behind it are boring, repetitive, predictable, and chauvinistic.”
Lust is one of a small number of female directors who are trying to create erotic films that keep women’s pleasure at the forefront in a male-dominated industry. Starting with directors like Candida Royalle and actors like Annie Sprinkle in the 1980s, the feminist porn movement has been slowly building momentum for the past three decades and is just now emerging as a cohesive scene. The Feminist Porn Awards have been held for 9 years running and the second annual Feminist Porn Conference was held in Toronto earlier this year, led by sex educator and porn director Tristan Taormino.
The underlying ethos of the feminist porn movement is perhaps best expressed by Annie Sprinkle, who once said,” The answer to bad porn isn’t no porn—it’s to try and make better porn!” These women have responded to the lack of porn for women by simply making their own porn which embodies diverse values and emphasizes women’s pleasure. To qualify for a Feminist Porn Award, for example, a film should “depict genuine pleasure, agency and desire for all performers, especially women and traditionally marginalized people.” While Lust collaborates with many women in this growing scene, she prefers to think of herself as an individual working alongside an increasingly diverse group of filmmakers.
“So yes, I’m a part of it,” she writes, “but also at the same time, no, as I’m just Erika trying to make my own mark on the industry and in the feminist movement.”
Lust asserts that her films are “women-centric, focusing on our needs, passions and desires” adding that “women are generally more inclined to using their minds to get excited.” Indeed, many of Lust’s films on XConfessions have an almost literary feel, as if they have just leapt off the pages of an erotic novel. In one film, for example, “I Ama Verry Badx Secvretarty [sic],” a female secretary narrates a sexual encounter with her boss on a word processor as he teases her. And “Take Me Drunk, I’m Home,” which depicts one woman’s fantasy of provoking her husband into sex while she is belligerently intoxicated, opens with a full three minutes of buildup before any genitals even come into the picture.
The performances in these stories, too, feel more natural and unaffected than the stilted ones typically found in mainstream porn. Lust deliberately chooses performers who are “different from the porn stereotype—natural men and women, with aesthetics of their own” who may or may not be professionals in the porn industry.
“Stories in mainstream porn are non-existent,” Lust writes, observing also that “women want to see veracious situations—stories that might be strange or special but told in a way that they can identify with.”
There’s a reason, after all, that 84 percent of people who buy romance books are women, according to the latest Nielsen numbers: women like stories. Mainstream porn, on the other hand, is not exactly a narrative form and a money shot is not exactly a plot point. Lust believes that it is precisely her crowdsourced, PostSecret-style method of production that has allowed her to produce a large number of films with stories that put mainstream porn to shame.
“XConfessions,” she writes, “provides a huge source of stories detailing locations, situations, and characters. They post about every situation you can have sex in with a load of context.”
The anonymous aspect of XConfessions, she notes, draws out stories that do not conform to the conventions of mainstream pornography: “[Secrecy] is liberating for people—like masks at a Venice carnival or Catholics confessing their sins to a priest. Most mainstream porn is rather unimaginative and lacks psychological depth because it uses a formula. We work with something much richer which all comes from the real minds of people all over the world from different walks of life.”
With XConfessions, Lust may have finally found the perfect formula for women’s porn: complex stories submitted largely by women filmed using relatable performers. Women have always harbored sexy secrets. Now someone finally wants to hear about them.