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© Rocio Lunaire for Xconfessions.com

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© Rocio Lunaire for Xconfessions.com

The first time Erika Lust saw a pornographic movie was during a slumber party, snuck from a friend’s dad’s collection of erotic films. The second time was with her college boyfriend. Both times, she was demoralized, ambivalent, angry. “Arousal felt sweet. Objectification felt bitter,” she says of watching pornography as a woman and as a feminist. Instead of eschewing erotica, casting it off the entire genre as exploitive and harmful, she made her own.

It started in 2004 with The Good Girl, an explicit and beautifully shot thesis project Lust made for a film course. She had a degree in political science and at the time, people who knew her were stunned. Her own mother beseeched her: “What the hell are you doing, Erika?!” For the filmmaker, however, the foray into pornography wasn’t a departure from her scholarly background. It was a natural progression. Her pornography was political.

XConfessions is an ongoing body of work made in collaboration with Lust and everyday fans of her work. The website encourages people—mostly women, though her following is diverse—to submit their personal sexual experiences and fantasies. The most exciting, intriguing, and subversive are turned into expertly executed short films with a strong narrative drive. Her characters aren’t sex objects or automatons; they’re real people who enjoy sex.

Pornography, suggests the filmmaker, isn’t something that can be brushed under the rug or dismissed. The films available online serve to educate the rising generation of adolescents and young adults; this is where they learn what to expect from sexual relationship. Lust takes that power and influence and harnesses it, replacing misogynistic imagery with sex-positive, body-positive, and realistic depictions of what sex can be.

With a focus on female desire, Lust is a part of a revolution in pornography. Soon, she hopes, more and more women will be making and producing these films, which were until recently fell under the territory of heterosexual men with little understanding of female satisfaction.

Although one needs a membership to access the XConfessions films and to submit intimate stories, Lust has made trailers and film stills available to all. These romantic, uniquely framed scenes are revelations, marking a liberation from the shame and guilt that so often shrouds the porn industry. Lust’s life’s work is about sharing the joys of sex free from that gross feeling that comes with contributing gender-based oppression. It’s erotica. It’s activism. It’s cinema.

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