Behind the Scenes at an Ethical Porn Studio

“We want to create an open world of diversity and different sexualities because we believe that what you think you want is not always what you want,” Erika Lust tells Jezebel. 

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Behind the Scenes at an Ethical Porn Studio
Erika Lust on the set of the movie Female Pleasure Circle in Barcelona. Photo: Monica Figueras

When you think of porn, you probably don’t visualize watching someone brush their teeth. I certainly didn’t—until I found myself sitting on a Zoom call with ethical feminist adult filmmaker Erika Lust and her production team. We were reviewing the erotic fantasies viewers submitted anonymously through Lust’s crowdsourced porn project, XConfessions, to find inspiration for their next movie. The popular platform draws between 20 and 30 submissions a day from people eager to see their fantasies made into a film—and I was invited on a behind-the-scenes look at how Lust uses these ideas as part of her mission to subvert patriarchal norms to create sex-positive pornography from the female gaze. 

They dismissed an idea about an orgy in a mountain cabin (it was too similar to something they recently shot), a submission someone with a penis sent about what it might be like to have a vagina for a day (a potential sequel to one of Lust’s most recent films, If Only I Had a Dick, but tabled for now), and a concept about getting steamy in a cruise ship (rejected due to the impracticalities of shooting on a ship). Any conventional porn concepts that stereotype performers or turn sex into an aggressive act that punishes women were never on the table, to begin with—that’s exactly what Lust is working against with her art.

But one idea about kissing—“a slow, sensual kiss that gets more demanding every second,” per the submission—now that got the team excited. It sparked a nostalgia-inducing conversation about falling in love as a teenager and being able to kiss for hours on end. Rebecca Stewart, producer and director, was reminded of Lisa Taddeo’s bestselling nonfiction book, Three Women, which covers the pleasures and heartbreaks of three women from different backgrounds in the United States.

“In the book, there was a woman who was married for 10 or 20 years, and she ends up having an affair—not for the sex, but just for the fact that she misses being kissed. Her husband will penetrate her, but he never kisses her,” notes Stewart. “She ends up having an affair with a guy who is just such a good kisser.”

Stewart quickly pulls up a reference video she thinks could inspire the cinematography for this kiss-focused porn. In the roughly 90-second film, the camera zooms in close on a woman’s face as a man holds her chin and brushes her teeth, toothpaste sudsing into a bubbly white foam all over her lips. The gentle dominance is sexy and undeniably intimate. 

What it’s not? Objectifying. Something like this could work for Lust, who has spent the last 20 years proving that porn can carry pro-feminist sexual values, shine a spotlight on women’s pleasure, and adhere to a strict code of ethics. But she wants everything she makes to be original—and the toothbrushing idea has already been done in the reference video we just watched. So the team thought more broadly about morning routines. Shaving, brushing hair, getting dressed—could elements of these daily rituals make a sexy series for Lust’s fall debut?

If you asked me several weeks prior, I would have doubted that something this mundane could be enough of a turn-on to make a porn so watchable, viewers would be willing to pay for it (most of Lust’s films are behind a paywall). But things were different once I spent a weekend in Spain with Lust and her team and saw firsthand how she could take the mundane and transform it into a porn that’s profane and profound.


On my second night in Barcelona, I sat on a plush velvet chair inside the theater at  Soho House Barcelona, watching a curated lineup of Lust’s films on the big screen (my first time watching porn with a group of strangers, which turned out to be less awkward than you might think).

Lust’s perpetually growing portfolio includes more than 350 films, so there’s a lot to explore. Some films are sweet and gentle, others have a whimsically vintage vibe (like a 1960s-inspired swinger party), and sometimes even a hefty dose of humor (one of the newest porns has a claymation butt plug).

Rain Goddess, in particular, captivated me. In the film, a chubby British woman with striking red hair arrives home to her cozy flat after yet another rainy day. You’d think her drenched clothes and smeared makeup would have been a passion killer, but she actually feels gorgeous. She seduces her partner with a sexy little dance and it turns an otherwise run-of-the-mill evening into a very steamy night.

Sure, the action was hot, but it was the setting that made it feel real—and that was a bigger turn-on. This wasn’t some claustrophobic San Fernando Valley rental with a rumpled bed pushed against a corner of an awkward space—the flat felt both lived-in and aspirational with its blushing pink couch and fluffy throw pillows strewn about, a table cluttered with knick-knacks and pretty dried flowers, and houseplants accenting the corners. The lighting: soft, low, and moody. The soundtrack: raindrops pelting the windows. Authenticity in setting is a critical component in Lust’s approach to creating alluring pornography.

The Lust HQ in Barcelona on a rainy Friday morning. Photo: Joni Sweet

This is why Lust and her team often spend weeks or more both scouting the ideal locations for their films and working to get permission from the owner. In the case of the daily rituals porn series, location scouting wouldn’t be too difficult—the team said they were interested in using a film studio with a simple set of props (like a bathtub) to set a compelling scene without distractions. Easy enough.

However, accessing real-life locations for a shoot can get tricky. Lust’s team has been turned down by owners of locations that had recently been rented to shoot violent horror movies. Blood and gore were fine—but don’t even think about showing a clit or climax in their space.

“The adult film industry is highly stigmatized. Even hotels, where we all know people have sex, get very nervous when we want to rent one to make a film,” Lust tells me.

Sensual locations aren’t the only way Lust differentiates her work from the porn you’ll find on the “tube sites,” though. She also has a unique approach to casting to help her films appeal to her target audience, mainly women, but also underrepresented individuals and anyone who doesn’t want to see people punished, abused, or violated during sex.

“I look for a combination of interesting people who can transmit energy and sexual pleasure on screen,” Lust says.

She prioritizes diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and body type across the works in her portfolio. It’s part of her mission to increase representation in pornography without objectifying diverse individuals the way mainstream porn often does. Plus, diverse casting ultimately leads to more tantalizing flicks, Lust says.

“We want to create an open world of diversity and different sexualities because we believe that what you think you want is not always what you want,” notes Lust. “Cinema has a great potential of having you, as a viewer, empathize with the people on screen and getting you to understand their erotic desires and erotic yearning, what is happening to them and how they feel. That creates a bigger respect for different ways of living, loving, being, and having sex.”

During my visit, the team just wrapped a shoot that involved Kazumi getting gangbanged by five men—a fantasy of the actress herself, but a concept that initially made Lust wary.

Lust offering a sneak peek of S3x Toy Story, her first animated porn. Photo: Joni Sweet

“When Kazumi and I talked, it became very, very clear that she wanted to do a gangbang, which is something many women feel is a bit predatory,” says Lust. “But when you listen to her arguments, it’s obvious that it can be feminine, it can be your desire, so why should you not have the right to show that or to do that?”

While the concept, setting, and characters of Lust’s films are fictional, the actual sex is anything but. It’s treated more like a documentary with very little advanced storyboarding and much more genuine pleasure from the performers depicted on camera (yes, those are real orgasms you’re seeing!). To foster empowerment and safety on set, Lust insists on working with intimacy coaches and facilitating deeply personal conversations among performers about their turn-ons, boundaries, and requirements about consent ahead of certain acts. I saw a recording of a no-holds-barred conversation among the talent for “Dirty Martini Sex Party”—the actors were clear and direct about where they liked (and didn’t like) to be touched, the positions they were up for, and more.

Clearly, these films hold power in reshaping people’s vision of intimacy and gender roles—and that’s exactly why Lust keeps making them, even though it’s frequently an uphill battle. Convincing people to pay for porn, for example, is a challenge (after all, there’s a lot of free stuff out there). And even accepting money from willing subscribers is difficult. A lot of mainstream payment processors won’t work with any businesses in the adult entertainment industry and banks often flag attempts at paying for porn subscriptions as potential fraud, Lust notes. They’ve found some workarounds (like alternative payment processors that charge a hefty fee), but it hasn’t been easy.

Then, there are conservative political movements—more specifically, the attack on LGBTQ+ rights, efforts to end the right to reproductive choice, and bans on sex-positive education and content—working against Lust and what she stands for. She worries about what the presidential election will mean for her art.

“To be honest, I’m afraid there are going to be more barriers to producing ethical porn in the future,” she admits.

“But there’s also the force of being a mother who wants the world to be a little better for my kids. I want them to be able to find partners in life who they can feel that magic with and who are respecting them,” Lust continues. “I want women to be able to enjoy sex without feeling that they have to build it all around his pleasure.”


Spending a few days with Lust and her team made me rethink pleasure and how its depiction influences my own sexuality. Until now, most of the porn I’ve seen portrayed unrealistic versions of women having sex—overenthusiastic moaning and slamming headboards; being ready for anything without a lick of foreplay; little to no regard for her pleasure. These visuals made me feel like a failure when sex hasn’t panned out in real life the way it does on screen, like my body was fundamentally broken. 

Seeing artful pornographic films that capture energy and sensuality as much as they do eroticism helped turn the beautiful, messy, often giggle-inducing realities of intimacy into a tantalizing fantasy. Everyday moments, like a warm hand against the small of my back or the brush of my partner’s stubbled cheek against mine as he kisses me before heading out the door—now feel like frames of a film, where the exposition is just as arousing as its climax.

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