Review: Mums Make Porn Episodes 2 & 3

I’m going to start by begrudgingly acknowledging that episodes 2 and 3 of Channel 4’s three-episode docuseries, Mums Make Porn, did address some of the criticisms I leveled at it in my review of the first episode. To my overwhelming relief, they discovered the work of Erika Lust (whose name the subtitles just could not spell correctly, much to my chagrin as a freelance captioner) about halfway through episode 2. They visited a set of hers and waxed lyrical about how much “better” her porn was than the stuff they’d seen thus far – “better”, in this context, meaning “more closely aligned with their own values” and also “produced with a bigger budget”. This is not to say that I don’t love and respect Erika Lust’s work – I really fucking do – but it was always placed at odds with mainstream porn, and was described more than once as more “intelligent”. I’m not sure what, exactly, they mean by that, but as a developmentally-disabled person who enjoys a bit of plotless, carnal, seemingly “unintelligent” porn, I didn’t love it as a piece of terminology.

What I did love was the fact that Anita, mum-of-four and my sole source of solace throughout this series, finally spoke up during a roundtable discussion and articulated what I’d been thinking throughout all of episode 1 – that the other mums’ continued assertion that what mainstream porn depicts isn’t “normal” is insulting to the people who do do those things. Unfortunately, after apologising, mums Sarah and Sarah-Louise continued to use a lot of the “normal” and “real” rhetoric that I criticised last time, but Emma (another fave of mine) didn’t bring those words into play again. Like the aforementioned discovery of Erika Lust, this came as a huge relief to me, a kinky weirdo who literally has “unintelligent” porn sex for funsies all the time.

Another relief was Jane’s departure from Mums Make Porn. That sounds unkind, but I wasn’t relieved because I disliked her – I was relieved because she was obviously so viscerally uncomfortable with the whole thing that watching her suffer through it would have been painful and joyless. She sought advice from her reverend, who said some unfortunate things about “dysfunctional sex” and the fact that fucking “is not a spectator sport” (I beg to differ), but who ultimately seemed to give her the validation she needed to walk away from something that she just couldn’t participate in enthusiastically. Consent is important in non-sexual settings too, and I just couldn’t imagine that Jane was actively, mindfully consenting to see some of the things she’d had to see during the research phase of the project. Her values might be wildly different from mine, but she seems like a nice lady and I was glad to see her walk away from what must have been a truly horrible experience.

Episode 2 continues with the mums interviewing prospective cast members, and I cringed the whole way through. I would be mortified to turn up to a job interview as under-educated as some of the mums were on sex, porn and kink terminology, let alone to host an interview whilst so under-prepared. Nonetheless, the interviews proceed, the interviewees patiently explain terms like “shibari” to the mums, and they finally settle on… the candidate who would be the most mainstream in any other field. I’m sure Daisy is perfectly nice, but the fact that they picked an eloquent, educated, middle-class, able-bodied white cis girl whose pornographic filmography didn’t feature any of the things they personally disapproved of struck me as a bit impotent. They spend the whole series talking about challenging the industry, but all their performers are cis, able-bodied and what they term to be “intelligent”. I will give them props for hiring a plus-size lady and two actors of colour, but they could have gone further with the “diversity” they kept promising us and they did not.

Episode 3, for the most part, managed not to elicit any new criticisms from me in terms of rhetoric and so on, but it did further showcase their lack of education and preparedness in two distinct ways. The first: whilst shooting their first scene, with girl/girl couple Heidi and Katana, they have the actors for their second scene, Romeo and Daisy, just… waiting around. For ages. In dressing gowns. I appreciate that maybe they only had their filming space booked for one day, but could they not have scheduled it a little bit better so that Romeo and Daisy could have made better use of their mornings?

The other, more irksome thing I noticed was that they kept talking about portraying safe sex, but that only seemed to appear in the form of condoms and lube. And I’ll admit, I haven’t seen the full film, but there was nary a dental dam nor glove in sight (except the gloves that Emma wore to clean the dildos) and no discussion of whether they should be included at all. The toys didn’t seem to be condom’d either, and I spotted at least one utensil of the jelly variety. The inclusion of condoms and lube in porn isn’t quite as radical as they seem to think it is, especially not when paired with those oversights, but I suppose it’s cool that they thought of it at all.

(It’s also cool that they thought about showcasing consent, but less cool that there was a whole uncomfortable scene in which a delivery man arrives at Sarah-Louise’s house and she makes a few jokes about his “package”. I really hope this was scripted, but since the bloke’s face was blurred and he didn’t joke along with her, I imagine it wasn’t.)

The theme of the whole series seems to be criticising mainstream pornography and then not quite following through on the promise to deliver the opposite. I think this can be adequately summed up by the fact that all the mums talk about wanting to portray diverse bodies (but not disabled or trans ones!) in a positive light, but Sarah-Louise ends up making a statement about wanting to see porn where “the bits don’t look quite right”. I think what she means is that she wants to see more genitals that are hairy, asymmetrical, coloured differently to the rest of the performers’ skin, featuring more prominent labia minora and so on… but it comes across as judgey.

And on the topic of coming across as judgey, one key aspect of the series I neglected to mention last time is the clips of various teenagers, some alone and some with a pal, sitting in front of some exposed brick wall and being asked leading questions to produce soundbites about mainstream pornography. I didn’t mention this in my previous review because I thought it’d be unfair to criticise kids who (presumably) haven’t engaged with much feminist or sex-positive discourse and who are (definitely) being asked pointed questions about material they don’t even look old enough to legally explore and critically reflect on. I think that, as with recruiting Jane for this project in spite of her obvious discomfort around sex and porn in order to generate conflict, Channel 4 acted irresponsibly in enlisting these teenagers to feed their narrative that mainstream porn is bad and damages children, and their desire to create good TV seems to have overwhelmed their desire to behave ethically or do any real research.

Did I hate Mums Make Porn? Sometimes. Sometimes it exasperated me so thoroughly that I mashed barely-comprehensible notes into a Google doc, such as, “Weeeird reaction to trans porn – trans people fuck!!!” and, “sarah-louise.. No”. But it did feature a few redeeming moments like Anita being brave enough to tell the other mums they made her feel judged, Emma cleaning dildos in her nice mumsy jumper, Erika Lust being her delightful self and the mums’ daughters expressing genuine excitement and pride at the final screening of Fourplay. 

Should you watch it? Maybe, if you like yelling at your TV a lot. Should I go and knit until I calm down about the whole self-contradictory, poorly-researched and self-serving goddamn series?

Fucking definitely.

Mums Make Porn, Episode 1: Review

I really, really wanted to like Mums Make Porn.

The premise is promising: five mums, all with different backgrounds, band together to create a porn film that reflects their own values, showcases consent and depicts sex in a light that they’d be happy for their children to absorb. I was tentatively excited about it.

Now, I tentatively hate it.

At the time of writing, only the first episode has been aired, so it’s the only one I’ve watched. In this first episode, mums Emma, Anita, Jane, Sarah and Sarah-Louise meet for the first time, watch some cliché PornHub slush, start to brainstorm their ideas for their own pornographic production, visit a couple of porn sets and say a lot of things that made me so angry I felt nauseous. You know, standard documentary fare.

From the outset, porn is depicted as an evil and abusive monolith. There is no mention of the porn that already exists which does exactly what these mums hope to do: depict consent, communication, intimacy and women actually, genuinely enjoying themselves. I began to feel a bit insulted on behalf of all the feminist porn producers and stars out there, but I resigned myself to this being the “angle” of the show and pressed on. One of the porn sets they visit, wherein a Domme named Zara films a scene with a nice-looking boy named Sam, does actually seem to feature a woman enjoying herself and some communication regarding consent, and to be fair, the mum who’s watching, Emma, responds quite positively to the whole affair. (There was even a very sweet little moment where Emma helps Zara with her lingerie.) Unfortunately, this seems to be the absolute peak of positivity regarding porn, and does not set the tone for the rest of the episode.

Three of the other mums visit a set where a clip creator (and “mum of two” – we’ll come back to that) is filming a scene for the cheating girlfriend genre with her real-life boyfriend. They fuck, they talk dirty about her fictional boyfriend, they stop when his cock goes soft, they continue, you can fill in the blanks. And then the three mums go outside because Sarah-Louise needs to puke into a bush.

I don’t want to be unkind. People are squicked by what they’re squicked by, and she is apparently viscerally disgusted by the sight of the male performer’s cum. However, this woman has had six children. How did they get into her womb? I’m reluctant to suggest that the vomiting is theatrical, but there’s clearly some kind of separation in Sarah-Louise’s mind between nice, private cum and dirty evil porn cum.

It’s also Sarah-Louise who says that porn “does not represent normal women.” I assume that she means it doesn’t represent statistically average women, or all women, but indirectly calling the women who appear in porn abnormal is, um, not my favourite thing. The word “normal” gets thrown around a lot, and never in a way that I appreciate. One of the mums (I forget which) mentions that porn is causing young people to think “threesomes, foursomes, fivesomes are normal.” In my world, they are! When I was in a triad, I had threesomes so often I once forgot the term “partnered sex” and accidentally called it “1v1 sex” instead. I think by “normal”, they mean “common”, “frequent” or “easy to organise”, but still, I was unimpressed.

Another thing which mystified me throughout the entire episode was the mums’ assertion that what’s happening in porn “isn’t real”. I understand what they mean – that porn is performative, that there are tricks and clever editing involved in making it look the way it does, that the kind of sex represented in porn isn’t as common outside of it and that there’s usually some conversation beforehand – but the fact of the matter is that people do have sex like that. People do get double penetrated, they do get bukkake’d, they do get the shit beaten out of them, and all sorts more besides. And again – and I feel I cannot stress this enough – if they’re looking for representations of sex that they deem “real”, that looks more like the sex they have, that literally already exists.

You know what else already exists? Mums who make porn! The voiceover literally introduces the clip creator whose set the mums visit as “Roxy, mum of two”. Mums direct, produce and feature in porn all the time. (Has anyone told them what the M in MILF stands for?) I wonder how much of the choice to title the series Mums Make Porn was to make it as eye-catching as possible, and how much of it was influenced by the fact that these mums, and the documentary, seem not to understand that a lot of the women involved in porn are there on purpose, and that they actively contribute to the making of the porn. The only way I can comprehend perceiving mums making porn as a novel concept is if we assume that the women (including mums) who are in porn have no agency, and are just there as objects – which is not a terribly feminist assumption to make.

There was also, throughout the whole thing, an emphasis on the ease with which people (especially young people) can access hardcore porn. Now, I understand that porn is not an educational resource and that mainstream porn in particular portrays a very narrow, very misogynistic view of what sex can look like, but I truly don’t believe that making it harder to access will help anyone. What will help is conversations with kids from an early-ish age about consent, being kind to other people, the fact that different things make different people feel good, the fact that porn is performative and is not, statistically speaking, representative of every sex-haver on the planet, and the fact that there exists a much wider range of it than whatever you stumbled onto on the front page of PornHub.

The other problem with emphasising how easy it is to access hardcore porn is that it sort of kind of implies that if you’re into some weird shit (as I am, and as I assume some of my readers may be too) then you should have to work hard to view it, or else not view it at all. I fucking hate TikTok, but the fact that it’s advertised to me and is only ever two clicks away is not the problem – it’s how the internet works. It’s also great for people who enjoy TikTok! People can enjoy things! And, since the legal viewing age for porn is 18, it shouldn’t matter whether the weird, kinky and even the misogynistic stuff is easier to access than the nice, loving, intimate stuff – if you’re following the letter of the law, you shouldn’t be allowing your resident young person to view any kind of porn at all. And if you are allowing them to view porn, you should be talking to them about it, regardless of its contents, because it is just always going to look different to how one navigates sex in the real world. It’s usually better lit, for one thing.

There were some bright spots throughout episode 1 – primarily in the form of Anita, who talks openly about enjoying porn from many genres and who doesn’t express any disgust when watching consenting adults fucking. And I suppose it has opened up a dialogue between some of these mums and their teenagers, although it’s not my favourite thing when Sarah responds to her 16-year-old daughter having accidentally seen some pornographic adverts by saying, “There’s a lot of vile stuff out there. Vile.” rather than asking her any questions about it, and then goes on to repeat the insistence that porn is “not real”.

There’s no neat takeaway here because there’s just so much cultural bullshit to unpack and we’re only on episode 1. I am, I guess, glad that this is facilitating conversations about porn and our cultural perceptions of it, both between these mums and their kids and in the wider world, but I wish that we could have these conversations without dismissing the agency of women who do porn, subtly shaming people with weird kinks and ignoring the vast body of feminist, queer, and otherwise loving, intimate and consent-driven porn that people are working so fucking hard to produce.

Shall I review episode 2? (Update: I did!)

A (Conditional) Defense of One Penis Policies

Stock image of a single banana on a square white plate, with a knife and fork to the plate's left and an empty drinking glass to its right. The table on which the plate lies is a warm brown colour and the banana itself is ripe, but not speckled. It is supposed to represent a penis.

The One Penis Policy is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a rule within a non-monogamous relationship that (usually) dictates that the vagina-owning party can only be sexually and/or romantically involved with one penis-owner. Usually, this happens in relationships with cis people, where the vagina-owning lady partner is bi, and usually it’s brutally criticised by other non-monogamous people for being phallocentric (that is, for putting the penis on a pedestal) and for diminishing the validity of vagina-on-vagina or otherwise sapphic relationships by virtue of deeming them less threatening, less jealousy-inducing and/or less “real” than penis-on-vagina or otherwise heterosexual relationships.

And I totally understand those criticisms. I do. “It doesn’t count if it’s with a girl” is an icky sentiment which manages to be misogynistic (in that it positions women and their relationships as less important than men) and manages to dismiss female sexuality (in that it suggests non-phallocentric sex acts are less important than phallocentric ones) in one fell swoop. Your penis-owning partner deeming your relationship(s) with women less important than your relationships with him (because he’s usually cis, let’s be real) can really hurt, so a lot of people avoid One Penis Policies in their relationships. And that’s their boundary and their right, and I respect that.

But.

We can’t wash societal bullshit out of our brains. (This is why I still have an eating disorder, Impostor Syndrome about my depression, and freshly-shaven armpits.) Even if we know it’s societal bullshit, even if we’ve read all the books and blog posts and hot takes and we’re logically aware that our feelings are being influenced by external structures, we still have the emotional responses that society has wired our brains to have. So even if a dude desperately wants to discard society’s phallocentric bullshit, he’ll still feel hurt and threatened and the rest of it when his partner interacts with another penis. It would take a lifetime to undo that societal programming.

Phallocentrism also means that an alarming amount of a dude’s identity is connected to his dick. In much the same way as my identity is tied to being a blue-haired autistic sex nerd with big boobs and lots of facial piercings, a lot of dudes’ identity is tied to their dicks – so in the same way I’d be hurt and insecure if my partner started seeing another person with blue hair and big boobs and so on, dudes are hurt and insecure about other penises entering your life. It’s much easier to draw comparison when there are similar traits to compare, and living in a phallocentric patriarchy means that the first place a guy is going to look to draw comparison is genitally. Again, he might be fully aware of how bullshit that is, but that won’t stop him from feeling anxious about you replacing his penis (the part of him that society deems most important) with another, “better” penis.

As for the diminishing of female or sapphic sexuality, that depends on the person. It can be hard to untangle phallocentric bullshit and the bullshit that suggests vagina-related sexuality is less valid, but frankly, if you’re dating someone homophobic enough to state or suggest that “it doesn’t count if it’s with a girl”, the absence or presence of a One Penis Policy is not going to save your relationship and you should run for the hills. If your partner, phallocentric bullshit aside, respects and values your relationships with women, it should show, regardless of whether or not he feels threatened by them. His behaviour as a metamour, the things he says to you in private and how readily he objectifies you, your girl partner(s) and your sapphic experiences are all things to take into account, but that’s a conversation for another day. Simply put, if your partner is homophobic, you’ll know, regardless of penis policies.

So do you have to instate and abide by a One Penis Policy because your partner can’t shake off society’s phallocentrism and misogyny? Of course not. I personally weighed up the hurt and insecurity my partner might feel about other penises against the desire I had to interact with other penises and decided, in the kindest way possible, that my encountering new dicks wouldn’t be worth the emotional labour for either of us. My partner didn’t explicitly veto other penises; he told me that he’d have a lot of difficult feelings about them, and I decided I’d rather spare him those feelings and leave other penises alone. That might change in the future, but it might not, and I’m truly happy with that: I feel like I can ask my partner for contact with his dick, or for penetration, or for any other unique experience that penises offer, and he’ll provide it at my earliest convenience, so there’s very little I’m missing out on in abiding by an unofficial One Penis Policy. And that’s the ideal setup.

All 800-odd words of this was to say: if multiple penises are important to you, you have every right to only enter/maintain relationships that are absent of a One Penis Policy. But if you have a partner whose feelings might be shielded by a One Penis Policy and multiple penises aren’t that important to you, there’s no shame in sticking to an OPP. There’s no right way to do non-monogamy, you and your dude needn’t feel bad for being susceptible to millennia of patriarchal brainwashing, and your boundaries are always, always allowed. Regardless of what they are, I hope you enjoy the genitals you interact with, or that you enjoy non-genital-related activities, to the fullest extent possible, and I hope to see y’all next week for another blog post.