Monday, March 28, 2011

No Oxymoron: A Sorta Kinda Review of Good Porn, A Woman's Guide and Interview with Erika Lust

     I write erotica. Or do I write pornography? Does it matter? Lately, it hasn't to me. It's all quite nicely blurred. I do, for whatever reason, tend to think of erotica as printed and porn as visual, just for simplicity's sake. 
     Can porn be good? Can it be good for you? For some reason, in the past six months or so, I've been pondering my relationship (or lack of one in the past) with visual porn. I'll probably be visiting this topic frequently in the near future. This review of Good Porn: A Women's Guide and interview with Erika Lust (yes, she answered some questions I sent her!) is the first of these musings on porn.

When I came of age, and by that I mean became interested in sex, the closest I got to pornographic movies was driving by a certain "adult theater." I'd read the titles on the marquee with a mixture of  attraction and repulsion. This was before the internet, before Beta and VHS and home players, even before we had cable. Yes, that long ago.

But I remember reading about X-rated films; films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones, etc. I remember the fuss about Last Tango in Paris. Now, I can admit to having wanted to see them (though I wasn't old enough then). But I also remember shame for having any interest in dirty movies. I remember being oh-so-impressed when a high school friend mentioned her mother taking her to see Emmanuelle. My mother never would have. I was married before I saw my first cable porn and I was glued to the TV set, though I pretended it was because I was astonished. I was a young mother before I rented my first porn video for a co-worker's bachelorette party (Around the World With Johnny Wadd). While I laughed derisively with everyone in attendance, I found some of it a turn on, even though a lot of it was stupid.

Fast forward mumblemumble years. I get a copy of Good Porn: A Woman's Guide by Erika Lust (translated by X.P. Callahan), published by Seal Press, in the mail, white with a huge Barbie-pink X on the cover. This book was written with us porn novices in mind. While it's been mentioned that the cover image might discourage someone from picking it up in a store, since ordering online is how most folks do their book shopping these days, that probably isn't that big an issue. It's also available in various electronic forms. Note: It's taken me a hell of a long time to get around to writing this review. I received the book last summer, and promptly read it and enjoyed it. I wanted to write a review, but until now, I just couldn't for some reason. I'll probably write a follow-up post to this in an attempt to figure out why.

Erika Lust is an award-winning adult filmmaker, founder of Lust Films of Barcelona, and the author of several books. When she was first introduced to porn, she found that she just couldn't identify with it. In the preface of her book, she says "Obviously, there was something about the images that turned me on, but there were also a lot of things that bothered me." But rather than just let them bother her, she eventually decided to produce and direct porn herself.

Last year she published Good Porn as part of her "mission to open women's eyes to the wide world of x-rated videos, including alternative films that feature confident, sexual women who turn us on instead of turning us away." She even has a Manifesto. For me, the book has definitely helped me get past some of the blocks that kept me from openly acknowledging that I wanted to watch porn.

The book is written in an easy-to-pick-up-and-just-read-a-bit style. There are sections that: compare porn for men with porn for women (somewhat generalizing); talk about what "modern women want in adult films," dispelling the myth that women are not visual, and that we want to see ourselves, not a male fantasy of who and what we are; answer a bunch of FAQs ("Why do the men always ejaculate outside?" & "What's the difference between eroticism and pornography?" are a couple). There's a "Dictionary of Porn" terms, a great "History of Porn," and most importantly, a guide to all sorts of porn films, with good descriptions, and where to find them. 

This is probably not your book if you already know all this stuff. But for someone who's maybe been very curious, but a little (or a lot) hesitant to seriously check it out, and not knowing where to start, this book is definitely good. It's most definitely geared towards women, but if you know a guy who's not afraid of pink, I think it would be worth his while to read too. Good Porn: A Woman's Guide  by Erika Lust can be found at Amazon (both paperback and Kindle) and most booksellers.

Erika Lust answers a few of my questions!

What did you set out to accomplish with this book? Did you? Or are you already thinking of another book?  ;-)

Inform. Show that the world of porn is more than what people assume in the first place. Go beyond prejudices and really show what problems there are with porn, but also that there is a variety of pornographic imagery. Usually when people talk about porn, if in private or if it’s a public discussion, they just lump everything together. Being unable to differentiate in making judgments has a reason, which is not just that people were ignorant or prude, but usually a lack of information, which again is a lack of access. I wanted the book to be easily understood, kind of dealing with it with a relaxed attitude, to make the book easily accessible. Especially not nourish fears. And of course the book is especially dedicated to women, because in production, as well as consumption, it is still a male domain. When it comes to positions where decisions are made, there’s much more men than women in the porn business, but as well for consumers it seems much easier for men to approach porn, to watch it, to talk about it. But there’s no reason for it to be a taboo for women. Freeing from taboos is giving information. But because of all the fears and worries a lot of people seem to have when it comes to porn, especially women, the book needed to be easy going, entertaining, humorous – to be easily accessible for those who have least access. And I think I accomplished it quite well when I see the result, and the feedback I get from readers.

And ‘Yes’, I already published two other books, ‘Erotic Bible to Europe’, which is trying to make erotic places in Europe visible, but talking about those who are not the gloomy and grubby places people might have in mind, but stylish and in a way special places, that are not hidden, but in the city center or some busy street, not full of nooks and crannies, but open and well illuminated. And places with a certain philosophy, like boutiques especially for women, to give an example of something that has driven me many times, and also for the other book I just released, and wrote together with Fetish Artist Venus O’Hara, ‘Love me like you hate me’, which aims at introducing fetish and BDSM to women who don’t have a clear idea of what it is, and might never dared to ask.

While reading it, I realized that even just five years ago, I probably would have been "afraid" to read it (even though I knew I was turned on by visual images). Now I'm much more comfortable (though not entirely) with the concept of porn. Who did you see as your intended audience with this book? Where you hoping to reach women like I was a few years back, or were you more interested in reaching women more like I am today, or was your intended audience those already comfortable with the actuality of porn?

I think it should work for both, don’t you think? I aimed at people who were not really informed about porn or had misconceptions, and not so much whether they felt comfortable with it or not. It was about to show a that porn is not stable, it is what people make of it. So it is an introductory work, but as well a little manifest for ‘good porn’. It was to show what’s out there, and what one could like and what not, what’s there to criticize and what’s worth seeing. It’s not an eulogy on the industry, I wanted to make people comfortable with the idea of sex on film, I didn’t want to make everybody comfortable with the state of the industry. The question is not whether porn is good or bad in general, the question is what’s good or bad in particular. Some is also a question of taste, and therefore of orientation within the genre, which needs information, a point of reference, to know what exists, what one could probably like, and where to find it. It’s about getting to know porn, to be able to approach it open minded, but with a critical attitude.
But of course the book is within the context of feminisms paradigm shift when it comes to porn. So my intended audience is women, and I try to explain that porn and it’s industry may be chauvinist and sexist, but that’s not in the nature of the genre, so let’s think about how we can do better, and get down to it! Let’s start to produce the porn we like, the way we like it, and change not only the ways of the industry, but also the images! Let’s start to confidently watch the porn that serves us! And if it’s one of the independent productions, the better, because that again supports further productions!

The issue of "shame" doesn't really come up in the book. A friend of mine, the sexologist Susana Mayer Ph.D., did her dissertation on the use of explicit sex videos to spark libido in post-menopausal women. Shame was very much a factor in their reactions. In the section in your book "I Believe In Porn," you write: "And porn can be an instrument of education and liberation for women who are still struggling with shame, guilt, and sexual repression." I understand what you're saying, and I do believe it. But the "porn is bad" is so ingrained in so many women, not only those of us that are older, that it's quite likely that many women who could benefit might never even pick up your book or watch any porn. Do you have any ideas on how to break through the shame so that older women would not be as afraid of porn?

You are part of the answer! What helps? To talk about it! To show that there’s more women into it, that it’s not dirty, and not unnatural for a woman to do, to show that watching/ liking porn doesn’t mean supporting your own suppression, but could even be supporting a feminist goal – if it is your choice and something you like, of course. It is to show that you’re not consumer and therefore part of a shabby and shady industry if you watch porn, but that you are audience of a genre of film, which has a certain style and serves a certain taste, and which might be covered in the edition of VOGUE or the Guardian on your coffee table.
What I try to say is that different porn is already out there, and more and more independent pornographers pop up. That means that a bigger variety of tastes can be served. So that women won’t be too ashamed to have a closer look, we need to spread the word that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and to show what might be worth having a look at. And your work is part of this, and I sincerely appreciate that.

I found much of the information in your book very educational. It helped me feel less "stupid" when it came to thinking about, and eventually writing about porn. But one problem I saw, with it being a guide-book of sorts, is that new porn is being produced and so the book becomes more of a history book really. Are there any online resources that you would recommend for providing the information like is in your "A Smorgasbord of Adult Films" for newer films? 

The Internet made a more direct connection from filmmaker to audience possible, so most will have their proper channels, like I do as well. To follow up the newest releases it helps for example to bookmark the websites and blogs ( of your favorite filmmakers, so you won’t miss any news, or add their page on Facebook ( or follow them on Twitter (, to be automatically updated on any upcoming project. If it is about finding out about new people entering the ‘new porn movement’, it helps to follow concerning film festivals, like the Porn Film Festival in Berlin, the CineKink in New York, the Indie Erotic Film Festival in San Francisco, and many many others. If it’s not possible to attend the festival and see the films first hand, just check the website for the program to see which films and filmmakers seam interesting to you. 

~ I'd like to thank Erika Lust for taking the time to answer these questions just as she released her newest short film, Room 33 (watch it for free! there).  Here's a very hot still from it. Um, yeah. Good place to end the words.


Janine Ashbless said...

I want to wave a flag and shout "Yay!" Thank you Erika! And thanks Robin for the interview and links ... and putting another book on my "must buy" list ;-)

Donna said...

Wow, I so must read this book! I identified with so much of what you wrote, Robin, and absolutely agree with Erika that this book and bringing these issues into public discourse is key.

Erobintica said...

Hey, I'm glad you both liked it. Reviewing makes me nervous. But when I read something I like, I want to try and get across what it is I like about something.

Yeah, this topic is on my mind of late.

Alana Noel Voth said...

Thank you. XO

Susana Mayer said...

Facebook has blocked my from posting. I'm pissed and told them so. Great review. Thanks for mentioning my site and including Room 33, wonderful sandwish.

Erobintica said...

Thank you for reading Alana. :)

Susana, hehe, it has the word "Porn" in the title and I do believe that's verboten on FB status posts.