"The Netflix of Porn": Behind the scenes at Erika Lust on how ethical porn is made

Erika in her office

"The Netflix of Porn": Going behind the scenes at ERIKA LUST to see how ethical porn is made

Clara Ruiz

According to a 2021 Ofcom report, half of all UK adults watch porn - an astounding statistic.

But the porn typically consumed is often through 'freemium' sites such as Pornhub, where the platform makes money through advertising, rather than having users pay a fee.

Sites such as these heavily feature pornographic videos and films where actors and production crew work under unfair and potentially traumatic conditions. Not to mention the numerous stories of people finding their sex tapes on the site, which were uploaded without their knowledge.

At the end of 2023, Pornhub's owner Aylo Holdings were fined for "knowingly profiting" from "sex trafficked" videos.

Enter Erika Lust, who in 2005 founded her video production company Lust Films, and has gone on open several more projects such as XConfessions and Lust Cinema. Now, Erika Lust is a successful ethical porn company that has gone on to win various awards included the Feminist Porn Award for Movie of the Year. Her team even refer to their platform as "the Netflix of porn."

Lust believes the central way to make porn ethical is to pay for it. In order to ensure actors, production, and all behind-the-scenes crew get paid for their work, it also allows for production companies to provide safe environments and support for actors.

I was fortunate enough to visit the Erika Lust offices in Barcelona and meet Erika herself, to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes of ethical porn, and how Erika is carving out a new way to produce porn.

"The porn industry has been an industry for many years, but companies were not thinking that much about performers and their needs," Erika shares. "They were not thinking about how to keep their sets as safe as possible."

Erika LustErika speaking in her officeClara Ruiz

"When it comes to performers, many people think they come from poor backgrounds and have been forced into doing pornography. It's viewed as a horrible job," Erika says. "But the reality is pretty different. We believe it's important to communicate, to ensure that when performers are having sex they feel in control, and aren't doing anything they don't want to do."

"Before [shooting] a film we have a meeting with all performers and our intimacy coordinator, where we are going through all the paperwork that [performers] have to fill in, so they have a chance to read through things," Erika explained.

Watching a behind-the-scenes clip from one of Erika Lust's films 'Dirty Martini Sex Party', you can see that Erika and her team put their money where their mouth is. The clip showed performers sharing their preferences. This involved each performer saying what they enjoy and what parts of their body were off limits, as well as talking about what brings them to orgasm. Although it was only a video, you could see how laid-back and comfortable the environment was, and that it was a safe space for performers to vocalise their boundaries and have them respected.

Anarella Martinez-Madrid is an intimacy coordinator for Erika Lust, and works on ensuring that performers feel supported and safe from pre-production all the way through to post-production.

"My role at Erika Lust is to curate a safe space for cast and crew," Martinez-Madrid explained. "Not only because we need to be attentive to our cast, but cast and crew need to be happy and make sure they understand everything we are doing."

"Before any production we talk with every performer. We ask them what are their desires, what are they feeling, what are their boundaries, if [the performers] like each other."

There has been an increase in the UK of people taking up sex work for a variety of reasons: the cost-of-living crisis, the rise of OnlyFans, and effects of the pandemic. Erika explained the process when someone new to the industry is cast in one of her films.

"We need to be extra careful," Erika says outright. "We have to make sure that they really understand this line of work, and how it will affect their life, because it will."

"If you are in a film or an explicit picture online, everybody will find out. So we ask [performers] questions in the beginning, such as 'how's your mum going to feel?' Because we want them to be aware that even if they think that this is a secret they're going to have on the side, it's not going to stay a secret."

"We also have to be aware from a mental health perspective, because having sex obviously can be something wonderful and great, but it can also bring up other memories that you might have in the past of traumas," Erika acknowledges. "[Whilst shooting] you may feel as though everything is fine, but a few days later, things might start coming back to you. Which is why we have a network of psychologists we can connect performers with incase they want extra support."

Erika showing a storyboard for their film 'Dirty Laundry'Erika showing a storyboard for their film 'Dirty Laundry'Clara Ruiz

Hearing someone behind porn production acknowledge these very real circumstances was refreshing. Conversations around sex work often fall into binary conversations either in the context of exploitation or empowerment, when in reality the performers are people who have their own pasts and feelings to deal with. Knowing the support doesn't stop after the film is shot gives insight into how important care for performers truly is.

One look at the Erika Lust website and you can find countless testimonials from previous performers about their experience.

"I think Erika occupies a really special place in the world right now in changing the culture around sexuality and sex work", wrote performer Mona Wales.

Another, this time from Romie Furie reads: "Everyone is treated well... it just feels secure"

Care for performers, as we have seen, is crucial to creating safe environments for all involved within the porn industry. But compensation is just as crucial, after all, working in porn is just like any job: you need to get adequately paid for it. But that can't happen if people aren't paying for the porn.

What shocked me the most during my visit to the Erika Lust offices is how many hurdles stop customers from being able to pay for their porn.

For example, banks use something called a merchant category code (MCC) which helps banks identify the type of goods or service a business offers. So like every business, porn has its own code. The problem is, that when this code appears on a customer's bank account when they purchase a film or a subscription, it runs the risk of being flagged by the bank and having their payment cancelled. This is often because banks assume it is a fraudulent purchase.

Erika says this is a problem because of the social stigma surrounding porn. "If you're trying to buy a pair of shoes, you would call your bank and say 'let me buy these shoes!' But if you're paying for porn, people are often too embarrassed to call."

Even online financial services often don't let porn companies and other adult entertainment business use their services. For example, on financial service Stripe's website, "adult content and services" are under their "Prohibited Businesses" list.

On Stripe's FAQ page they write: "For now, due to various reasons including requirements that apply to Stripe as a payment processor, requirements from our financial partners and the potential risk exposure to Stripe, we can't currently work with businesses that sell or offer adult content or services."

But financial blocks like this mean people are unable to support ethical porn companies such as Erika Lust, often turning to the well-known freemium sites where low-quality porn is available.

Erika Lust relies on its subscriptions to keep producing high-quality porn where all the cast and crew are supported, but if customers can't support the platform financially, we run the risk of losing these companies trying to set a new standard for the industry.

Porn and other adult industries are largely viewed by society as shameful corners of the internet that need to be restrained, but the problem is society and institutions lack the education to be able to differentiate Erika Lust from something like Pornhub. Which is why Erika Lust are committed to educating everyone about not only their company, but about pornography, sex, masturbation and more.

On the Erika Lust website you can find a link to The Porn Conversation - their sex education tool to help young people learn more about sex and porn in a safe and mature way. They also have Lust Zine which goes behind the scenes of certain productions, as well as offering advice, guides, and interviews with performers.

Going behind the scenes of ethical porn, was an eye-opening experience, where I learnt that there was a lot more that went into the process than I once thought. It also taught me that there is porn out there viewers can feel good about consuming, but that change in the industry - and society - as a whole is still needed, with Erika Lust leading the conversation, of course.

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