Mums Make Porn is more than just reality-show ridiculousness

Appalled by the “angry, slappy” misogynist porn available to their children, five mothers make their own ethical adult film.

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Gentle reader, are you a user of the indigestion remedy Gaviscon? If so, please look away now. Watching Mums Make Porn (10pm, 20 March) – we’ll come back to the ghastly title of Channel 4’s new three-part documentary series shortly – has been something of a learning curve for me, and among the many new bits of information I’ve picked up is that Gaviscon, in its liquid form, can come in useful on adult film sets when the money shot is proving to be, well, you know… elusive. Yes, it’s a touch more expensive than your average flour and water mix. But then again, its minty taste is a boon for all involved. (I did warn you.)

If this sounds weirdly prosaic – the opposite of sexy, in fact – that’s because it is. Porn belongs to the realm of fantasy, and if it’s the sight of three men dressed as pterodactyls having sex with a young woman in full-on prehistoric fashion that turns you on, such a thing is certainly available to you online right now. Backstage, however, reality bites – or at any rate, nibbles. These days, the majority of porn films are little more than home movies, shot in airless new-build flats, the performers (there’s always at least one called Roxie) usually making full and liberal use of the shiny DFS sofa they bought in the sale. Gaviscon, then, is all of a piece with the other stuff involved in such artistry: wet wipes, air freshener, a fluffy robe for afterwards.

The premise of the series is outwardly simple. Channel 4 has brought together five mothers. Appalled by the “angry, slappy” misogynist porn available to their children at a single click, they will make their own adult film, one that is both ethical and appealing to women. The suggestion here, of course, is that only mothers have a stake in caring about the more brutal effects of porn, an implication that is both dumb and entirely wrong (how one tires of the moral superiority some parents exude, something they believe they have simply by dint of the fact they’ve managed to reproduce).

But for now I’m going to put my outrage on this score aside, because this series, in spite of its reality-show ridiculousness, does have real value. I hesitate to use the word brave; as Channel 4 knows perfectly well, sex sells. Nevertheless, a certain investigative spirit is undeniably abroad here. The films are, for instance, punctuated with clips of teenagers talking to camera about what they know of porn, which is almost everything – including the pterodactyls (you didn’t think I made that up, did you?) – and while these young people are funny and wise, there is a terrible sadness in their acknowledgement that, say, pubic hair is considered by their generation to be completely repellent.

But what of these mothers? Jane, a devout Christian, exits early, her desire for the film to feature “tickling” (not a euphemism) between “old friends” having been vetoed by the others. Sarah-Louise, a mother of six who owns a beauty salon, vomits outside the flat of a Roxie-type they visit for research. “Bodily fluids,” she groans, hurling her lunch into a nearby flower-bed. But in a later episode, when the group go on set with the feminist adult film-maker Erika Lust, she gets with the programme, having become somewhat turned on by a “freestyle” sex scene in a launderette (maybe it was the smell of Comfort).

Emma, a props designer, is impressed by a couple of fetishists she watches making a naughty little video. “You’re both brilliant!” she says when they’re done, dashing helpfully for the kitchen roll. Sarah, a photographer, and cries a lot, but her anger is an engine, pushing her ever forwards towards “beauty”, “tastefulness” and large penises. Last of all, there is Anita. Unlike the others, she uses – or is willing to admit to using – porn, and so can’t understand why they come over all pass-the-smelling-salts every time she says “lube”. What this lot will deliver in the end is anyone’s guess but, my God, it’s oddly cheering watching them have a go. None of them are young, and yet, here they all are, on television, talking about their innermost desires as if this was perfectly normal – which, of course, out in the real world, it is. 

Mums Make Porn
Channel 4

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 22 March 2019 issue of the New Statesman, State of emergency