Sarah Louise, a mother of six, is vomiting into the bushes. She is vomiting into the bushes because she has just visited a porn set. And what she witnessed on that porn set has sent Sarah Louise shuffling right out of the shoot to go puke in some shrubbery.
She is flanked by two other moms—one offering up tissues, the other holding back her hair. Once her puking subsides, Sarah Louise tells the camera, “I think it might be the cum bit,” she says. “Bodily—.” Mid-word, she gags again. “Bodily fl—,” she starts, only to retch once more. “Bodily fluids,” she finishes, emphatically, before she leans over a different bush and seems about to produce yet more of her own bodily fluids.
This extremely GIF-able scene is a perfect encapsulation of the first episode of the new British docu-series Mums Make Porn. The premise of the three-part show, which premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Channel 4, is that five capital-M Mums get together to make a porno. Not for themselves, though, mind you. No, no, they are making this porn film for their kids, as an answer to a question posed by show’s narrator: “If you can’t stop the next generation watching porn, what would their parents rather they watch?” (In fact, the UK is about to launch a controversial plan for age-based blocking of adult content.) As the narrator intones, “free, easy-access hardcore porn has taken over the internet” and now teenagers are watching all sorts of crazy stuff on their “mobile phones, tablets, and devices.”
That’s the setup for the joke. The punchline is moms.
“Parents often have no idea what their kids are exposed to, but these five ordinary moms of teens are about to find out,” says the narrator within the first few minutes of the show. Emma, a mother of two daughters who lives in West London, invites the other women over for some tea and scones (not kidding), and to see what this hardcore internet porn is all about. We’re hit with a montage documenting the moms’ deep unfamiliarity with porn. “I haven’t even watched Fifty Shades of Grey, because it just seems really scary to me,” says Jane, the concerned mother of a 19-year-old woman. In an unintentionally hilarious moment, the narrator explains, “Despite having never watched it, Jane has strong feelings about porn.”
There is at least one mom in the group who has actually watched porn herself and liked it. But says the narrator, “Most of these mums have no idea what hardcore porn looks like—until now.” Dun-dun-dun. Not mentioned at all in the premiere episode: fathers and their relationships to porn, or their feelings about kids watching it.
Amid the scones, and a seriously sexy looking spread of butter and jam, these moms open up a laptop and navigate through some tube-site fare. Among the clips are an “interracial” scene, a rough blowjob, “schoolgirl” role-play, double penetration, and a woman eating ejaculate out of another woman’s hand. In the latter case, Sarah Louise exclaims, “OH MY ACTUAL GOD!” It’s unclear whether the moms watch any clips featuring, say, women dominating men, or milder vanilla fare. All we see are glimpses of the censored acts transpiring on that laptop screen and lingering shots of the moms’ horrified expressions.
It’s meta-smut: the horror porn of mums encountering porn. The show shamelessly arouses parental anxiety around technology and teenage sexuality, and then provides the comedic relief of these clueless, overly-scandalized moms. Viewers can be the concerned parent while still feeling superior to these moms who don’t even know what bukkake is. “Sounds like a nice cocktail,” says one. Another ventures: “BOO-CACK-EE? Did I say it right?” For the most part, these women—with the exception of Anita, who wants to make a film featuring an orgy that emphasizes consent—appear all too aware of the laughably, reassuringly naive role they are meant to play here as capital-M Mums, those sexless protectors of children and family.
Emma, who nervously visits a porn shoot by herself, ultimately offers up a fleeting exception. By the end of the shoot, she politely hands a role of paper toweling to a dominatrix so that she can clean up some ejaculate, and earnestly tells the two co-stars, “You’re both brilliant.” It’s a brief moment that registers her as a curious, empathetic human being who has maybe possibly ever had sex herself. Perhaps her motherhood was not by immaculate conception after all.
But when three of the other moms visit a low-key shoot in an apartment, it’s right back to capital-M Mums. Two of them performatively hold each other throughout as though doing Charades of “fearful moms,” while seemingly oblivious to how this might impact the actual performers. After watching some fairly vanilla sex on a couch, Sarah Louise heads out for a puke in the figurative climax of the episode.
As a reporter (and, yes, a mom) who has visited porn sets many times over the last decade, I empathize with the intensity of watching people have sex right in front of you, especially for the first time. Powerful emotions are stirred up—including, possibly, fear and disgust, but also, almost inevitably, intrigue, awe, or arousal. But this docu-series limits these women to being moms, as opposed to complex, fully realized human beings. Here, the Madonna/whore dichotomy is alive and well. There is little room for them to challenge, or even grapple with, the culturally-mandated contradiction of motherhood and, crucially, their own sexuality.
The show seems very concerned (in only the most abstract, uninformed sense) with the exploitation and objectification of those women porn performers on that laptop screen sitting amid the scones and jam, but what about the exploitation and objectification of these women-slash-moms on the television screen? Have they not been reduced to one-dimensional symbols?
None of this is to negate the entirely valid question of what educational teen-friendly pornographic content might look like. (More people! Should consider! That question!) But it is to suggest that this show, and these women, are not the ones to answer it. At one point, Sarah Louise proposes in all seriousness that their groundbreaking pornographic masterpiece, the one intended to be an “alternative to mainstream porn,” feature the scenario of... a mailman... delivering a package... to a housewife.
The show, and its stars, aren’t just clueless about pornographic tropes. The series’ very premise seems to erase the fact that a great many moms, both in front of and behind the camera, already make porn. (Although a preview of the next episode does reveal that Erika Lust, a porn director who also happens to be a mother, will be making an appearance.)
Capital-M Mums can make porn all they want, and they should! More diverse perspectives in porn will make for a better landscape of sexual entertainment options, and might even help to move porn, and porn performers, away from the stigmatized margins. But it won’t necessarily mean that teenagers will watch that porn. One can assume, in fact, that teenagers will want nothing to do with mom-approved porn. It also won’t do anything to dramatically change the landscape of internet porn. So there remains the uncomfortable fact of needing to actually talk with your kids about porn.
What this show does extremely well is highlight just how royally fucked teenagers are if their parents are this clueless, reactionary, and uninformed about the medium, and this incapable of talking about porn—or any range of sexual practices—in a nuanced, level-headed way. Of course, they’re even more screwed if those parents try to actually make porn.