A generation ago, pornography was confined to the top shelf. Now, it’s everywhere: on phones, laptops and social media. According to a widely cited study from 2013, 90 per cent of the most-watched porn scenes contain violence or derogatory behaviour against women. Another survey found that half of boys and a third of girls in the UK see porn as a realistic depiction of sex.

Channel 4’s documentary series Mums Make Porn sets out to investigate how much mothers know about what their children are being exposed to online, and then tackle the issue by having them make a porn film of their own. It assembles a group of women who all have varying opinions on pornography: some condemn it entirely or have never watched it before; others watch it regularly and think it can be a positive, healthy form of sexual expression.

In total there are five women with 15 children between them. In the first episode, the mums gather round a laptop at a kitchen table laid out with scones and cups of tea, like a kinky book club, and begin to watch porn from the top-trending search terms. These are videos that anyone can watch for free, with just two clicks of a mouse. “Oh my actual god,” one mother exclaims. All of them look either horrified or disturbed. “If my son ever treated a girl like that, I would kick his arse to kingdom-come,” mum Sarah Louise announces.

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The documentary says that nearly a third of internet traffic in the UK is hardcore porn, which is classed as explicit images of anal, vaginal and oral intercourse. It is not illegal, but showing it to anyone under 18, is. As they carry on watching, the mothers begin talking about the idea of their daughters being in these scenarios, or their sons watching this kind of content.

In order to try and counter the graphic content they’ve seen online, the group endeavours to make their own porn film, enlisting professional adult performers for advice and guidance. It’s disturbing to hear one male actor tell prop stylist Emma that he attributes his work in the porn industry to a diagnosed sex addiction, which he predictably reveals was triggered by porn. Later on, the other mums watch a different couple making their own film. Sarah Louise throws up.

It’s uncertain what exactly the producers of Mums Make Porn are trying to achieve with this documentary. We already know there is horrific content available online that is damaging children and young people with unrealistic and often misogynistic portrayals of sex. By the end of episode one, it has not offered any suggestion of how to address the problems of porn, and the idea that this group of mostly sheltered women can solve it by making their own is unconvincing.

There is also a lack of acknowledgement for the people pioneering what some refer to as “ethical” porn. Erika Lust, an adult filmmaker who producers porn that she says she views as a tool for women’s empowerment, told The Independent in 2015 about the nine steps she follows each time she produces a new film so she can be assured that it is ethical, responsible, safe, and consensual. In 2016, actor and activist Emma Watson called for feminist alternatives to pornography; two years later she revealed she had subscribed to website OMGYes, which is stocked with instructional videos on how to make women orgasm. In the past few years, a number of women have launched feminist porn magazines and websites. 

None of this is covered in Mums Make Porn (at least not in the first episode), and therefore it does nothing to dismantle or question certain taboos of pornography. For all the titillation implied in the title, it’s something of an anti-climax.