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Erika Lust Headshot

Why I Make Porn With "Real" People

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Have you seen the video of Dove's latest social experiment yet? If you can't remember, then you probably haven't since I've yet to hear of someone experiencing a small or indifferent reaction to it.

In truth, the subject matter is hardly breaking news: women's perceptions of themselves tend to be incredibly warped because of our insecurities. Some of us tear up, wondering what our portrait would've been like had we taken part in the study, relating to these women's crippling self-criticism. A few cry out against dove for using such methods to push their brand of beauty products. Still others question the entire message of the experiment, which ends with the offer "you're more beautiful than you think", as highlighting physical rather than character-based qualities.

When I watched the video, it was with a grim nod of understanding. Regardless of who made the video, or why, the problems surrounding women's self image are real and relevant in society. This idea that we're "not enough" is so pervasive in our lives that it's impossible to pinpoint who came up with, and then fed us, this idea. The media? Advertising? Television? Men? Women? Pornography is a common culprit in this day and age. I think this is because it combines many of the things we are most insecure about: sex, intimacy, nakedness and body image. Though I can say with certainty, and maybe even speak for others within the adult industry, that working here has never done anything to dull, damage or skew my admiration for the human body in ALL its forms.

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On a personal level, I was very fortunate in my upbringing never to come up against insurmountable self-esteem issues. It's only now, while raising my own two daughters, that I can fully appreciate how rare this is, and how difficult to avoid.

I grew up in liberal Sweden, I was an active kid, ate well thanks to my mother, my body always seemed to function fine for my purposes, and I had friends with the same mindset. In short, I was lucky. It wasn't until going on exchange in France that this changed dramatically.

There were two girls belonging to my host family, roughly my same age...and obsessed with dieting. What I found incredible, too, was that my host mother seemed completely unperturbed; even when the girls opted out of dinner for diet coke, slim fast and cigarettes.

On a basic level, and as someone from a Northern country where food is salted and stewed, I would never understand why or how a person could refuse the succulent French cuisine. But at this time, a slowly creeping doubt began to wind itself around my brain: if these two girls, roughly my age and stature, needed to diet so badly, what did that mean for me? It felt like I'd waited my whole adolescence to attain womanly curves, and suddenly they might be my worst enemy.

Luckily those thoughts didn't follow me back to Sweden, which makes me feel like I dodged a bullet during those formative years. I won't lie, when I first moved to Barcelona after college, I felt that twinge of insecurity again during my first summer. Blonde, fair, and curvy, I didn't really look like the perpetually tanned, lithe-as-gymnasts Barcelonés crowding the beach every day. So when I began working on assistant production for bigger mainstream companies, what many would consider a trigger for insecurity actually turned out to give the perspective I needed. Picking up the performers at the airport, hanging out with them, witnessing the prep, and generally understanding the process of filmmaking gives you incredible insight on how different these productions (the key word here) are from reality -- the most important being that adult performers are people, just like you and me.

This is something I want to communicate to those who let this idea -- that actors and performers are somehow super-human -- warp their self-image. Obviously I'm not the only one wishing to dispel this idea, since that's exactly what makeup artist Melissa Murphy has been doing for over a month by publishing photos of her adult-star clientele as themselves when they walk in the door, and as their camera-ready "pornified" selves.

In every single set, the performer goes from the fresh-faced girl next door to a dusky-eyed starlet, and it's a real eye-opener for those who have been comparing themselves to something so idealized -- and, let's face it -- homogeneous. It's also encouraging to read those comments that are so supportive, both of the makeup artist's message, and of the performer's natural looks.

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Though I'm fascinated by this process and applaud those who want to deconstruct this beauty myth, especially within the adult industry, I prefer in my own work to steer clear of it entirely. The alternative, independent adult community as a general rule prides itself on showing people, and the sex people have, in a more authentic light, something amateur porn is also doing in effect.

And I can't tell you how much more I enjoy my, and my contemporaries', films because they not only show that heterogeneous perspective, but really revel in it. In just about every interview, I get asked about how I started making erotic films for women, and I always reply that I first set out only to make a film for myself. And something I would want to see in good erotica is real, interesting, varied people, because I'm a great believer that everyone is sexy in their own way, and can lead a pleasurable and exciting private life.

So I've found my home in the indie erotic film movement because it reflects my own value that anyone and everyone can and should feel sexy. We are all beautiful, just as Dove says, and we are also all sexual -- so why should sexiness be relegated to a single type? I don't buy it, and this is thanks to a great extent to my career in the adult industry.