After receiving a degree in psychology from Harvard University, filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell realized that what she really wanted to do was make erotic movies. Feeling shy about her desire to create pornography, she instead began working as a brand strategy consultant. That is, until she took a leap of faith, quit her job, and went back to graduate school to study film theory.
Since then she's been making erotic films for people who like film and started Blue Artichoke Films because she couldn't find movies that actually appealed to straight women. Her latest film, co-created with the artist and lingerie-designer Murielle Scherre, aka La Fille D’O, was shot in nearly real-time and shows the slow sex of a real-life couple. It's called Skin. Like. Sun.
What Jennifer does is add a realness to her work -- it makes you feel like you can be the person in the film.
She creates both fiction films and documentaries that "let you peek at the full range of emotions that you have when you have sex, whether you've known that person for 20 years or 20 minutes."
Whether you know Jennifer for 20 minutes, or 20 years, you quickly learn that she is the type of feminist pornographer that makes movies that will turn you on.
Jennifer's formula? Sexy + interesting = hot -- and with this she creates her own unique blend of erotic cinema verité. By using real couples, and actors who have never had sex on camera before, you see a sensual intimacy that most porn can't capture. "In art films I felt like the sex was either artificially cut off, or terribly clichéd, and in porn films I didn't feel like the characters were realistic, so I didn't much care about them and as a result I couldn't enjoy the sex very much. I ended up coming up with the idea of adding what I call 'emotional realism' so that you can care about the people and have empathy for them because you know what’s at stake, and as a result I think the films are sexier as well as more interesting – at least they are to me!"
I've known Jennifer for over five years now, and have always admired her brains and her talent for making real sex happen on camera. When it comes to her personal life, she's been in a relationship with her partner for 15 years, and a little over a year ago, they had their first daughter. So I asked her how making erotic films affects her personal life. She told me, "Making these films is an essential part of who I am, and it’s not only my creative outlet, but it’s the way I express my feminist sex-positive ideals in the world."
That being said, she openly communicates with her husband about both her professional work and their personal life. "If I ever start to feel jaded or we see that this career is damaging our relationship, I will give it up. Fortunately, I haven’t yet felt even close to that happening." In fact, her professional skills help enhance her personal relationship too. "I feel like my filmmaking gives me lots of energy that I bring back home."
Work, motherhood, sex -- it's a lot to balance, but Lyon Bell is one well-balanced woman. While the conversation about how she'll tell her daughter what she does still seems far off, Jennifer's not worried. "I plan to tailor my explanations to what she already knows and understands. Recently the young daughter of a friend unexpectedly asked me what I do, and so I told her 'I make movies for grownups.' Surprisingly, that was all the explanation she needed."
So, how will she talk with her daughter about sex?
"My own mother explained to my why she had had sex more than twice (for my brother and me!) by saying, 'Remember how you like it when I scratch your back because it feels good? For grownups, sex feels good like that. So sometimes they do it because it feels good and they want to make each other feel happy, and not just to make babies.' My mom is brilliant; what a clever metaphor for good sex! I’ll certainly borrow that one from her."
As with most young mothers, her biggest challenges come in getting her sexy back. And even though she was warned she wouldn't feel like herself for a while, "I was startled by what a giant unfamiliar pale blob I felt like at first. I bought myself some gorgeous nursing lingerie, and, surprisingly, that helped a lot. Not just because I felt prettier -- my new lace-enhanced plus-sized cleavage did look appealing! -- but because I felt more like myself again. Taking the pressure off of sex helps tremendously. The day you manage to grab a catnap, you’ll feel more in the mood."
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Image via Tim Goodwin