These Photographs Take You Inside The Private Lives Of Porn Moms

Photographed by Mary Beth Koeth.
American photographer Mary Beth Koeth has a little pink notebook filled with plans and inspiration for her work. In it, some years ago, she wrote an idea that came to her: "photograph mothers who work in porn."
She was interested to know what their worlds were like – were they different from the one she grew up in? – and how they viewed life now. She wanted to ask them how they balanced motherhood with work, and how other mothers who didn't work in porn treated them at social gatherings like PTA meetings.
For a long time, though, she felt nervous to approach the topic. "I was scared because I didn't know how I would find subjects or if these women would even be open to sharing their stories," she explains. For the next two years she let the idea linger, and pursued other personal projects instead. She shot off-season Santas enjoying their summer holidays, the Indonesian Senior Club of Queens, New York, and the retired men of Miami who she met through her travels.
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Finally, in late 2017, she circled back round to the idea she’d written down and one brisk November morning, after a bit of research, she hired a rental car and set off for Edison, New Jersey. Destination: the Exxxotica Expo, an erotic arts convention. She spoke to several women that day and her project Porn Moms was born.
Koeth grew up in a big Catholic family, the youngest of five. Her parents met when they were both in their mid 30s and raised the children in Cleveland, Ohio before moving to Dallas, Texas when Koeth was just 1 year old. Consequently, she sees herself as a Texan through and through. She went to Catholic school for much of her childhood and describes her family unit as warm, loving and sheltered. "While my parents are pretty conservative when it comes to their view on family life, they’re also super open and liberal in other areas," she explains. "I’m definitely a product of that environment. I’ve always been open and curious natured."
At that first expo she attended, Koeth met a young woman called Emily Mena. She worked in the adult industry, had a 3-year-old daughter and was pregnant with a son. The two of them talked about the idea for the project, and Emily was immediately enthusiastic. Like most of the women around her who do what she does, she is used to being incredibly private about her life away from work in order to protect herself and her children, but there’s also an emotional cost to society seeing her in only one light and she wanted to talk about that, too. Emily and her daughter were the first people Koeth photographed and it was through her, as well as attending further expos, that Koeth met her other subjects.
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Koeth has journeyed to different parts of the US to photograph these women in their homes, from Colorado Springs to Las Vegas, and spent time getting to know each of them intimately. Her images are sensitive, humanistic representations. They feel almost like film stills, steeped in rich, cinematic light. They celebrate moments of love and laughter between the women and their children. The kids jump on beds, play with toys and nap as their mothers watch on. Koeth collaborated with writer Laura Lee Huttenbach, who wrote small stories for each image based on each woman’s words. On the day of each shoot, Koeth would arrive and set up for a video interview. "I love doing this, because it allows me to just sit with a person and have a conversation, one on one, without having to look down and take notes." Not breaking that natural flow is crucial. The idea for each picture often came from women describing what their day-to-day looks like. Each of them wore what they would normally wear at home. "I like to photograph people as they are. It’s way more interesting than trying to make up a story that wasn’t there in the first place."
When asked how the adult film world responds to pregnancy, and if there are support networks within those communities, Koeth says it’s complicated but she got a sense that it wasn’t highly looked upon. "One of the women told me that her agent didn’t even call to congratulate her after her children were born, and another talked a lot about being self-conscious on set after she went back to work. She would look around to see if anyone noticed her body looked different," she says. "Another one of the mothers told me that there’s actually a genre for [women who have given birth]. 'There’s a genre for everything,' she said."
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Of all the families she photographed, Koeth says most of the children are probably still a bit too young to have a true sense of the work their mothers do. She considers what awareness they have and how that might change as they grow. "The two women with older girls – Makayla and Nickey – think that 'mommy models'. I asked when they will have that conversation. Makayla said that she doesn’t think she needs to have it and that she’s really open with her daughter. Nickey is super nervous about it. She said she would probably have to approach it in a year or two before someone else shares it with her." Each situation is different and complex and will have to be navigated as time goes on.
Koeth has always gravitated towards light stories which have a little humour or playfulness. This story felt different, and the emotional attachment she felt towards it has certainly had an impact on the way she’s thought about making pictures since. From her time photographing these women, Koeth has learned the true weight of having to deal with intense and continuous judgement from both families and strangers, on and offline. "For most of these women, this isn’t their forever plan, but all of them were excited to share their personal stories with me and not have the focus be on their lives on screen." What Koeth wants more than anything is to offer them the respect that society often doesn’t afford them, and to normalise their experiences as much as possible. "Motherhood is challenging regardless of your age or your circumstance. I was moved by how open and candid these women were with me. I'm so grateful for that. It was a true collaboration and I think everyone was happy with the outcome." Below, Koeth shares the images and the personal stories of each of the women pictured.
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Makayla Cox, 35, Las Vegas, Nevada, 7-year-old daughter

Photographed by Mary Beth Koeth.
Cox says her daughter is very popular at school. "She’s everyone’s best friend," Cox observes. "She’s full of energy." Their schedule is filled with birthday parties for her daughter’s classmates. With the other mothers, she finds her connection with them depends on the person. Some women don’t want to know anything about her work, while others are more open. Cox doesn’t want to lie to her daughter about her job. "She’s going to grow up knowing," she says. "It’s going to be common knowledge, [like] 'Oh, okay, mommy does porn for a living'." But she finds nothing easy about being a single mom. Her dream is to move with her daughter to Los Angeles and buy a house close to the beach, where they can live like hippies.

Tiffany Brookes, 31, Dallas, Texas, 1-year-old son

Photographed by Mary Beth Koeth.
Brookes wasn’t planning on returning to work in the adult entertainment industry after becoming a mum. "But you do what you gotta do," she says. "After having my son [I realised], I’m a single mom and oh shit, what can I do that’s going to bring in income now?" She hated the idea of putting her son in daycare to take a nine-to-five job. Though she admits working in porn can be difficult and pays less than it used to, the schedule allows her to spend more time at home with her son. "It enables me to be a hands-on, stay-at-home mom," she says. "He literally is my everything. Everything you do is completely thought out around them." Coming back to the film set with a postpartum body was challenging emotionally and physically. "Everything that you’re self-conscious about is amplified," Brookes says. She thought people would be able to tell right away that she’d had a baby. "I’m constantly concerned about every time I get undressed in front of a camera. I look for people’s reactions." When her son gets a little older, she hopes to find a new career outside adult entertainment. In the meantime, she says: "The minute the camera is off and I’m off set, it’s back to being a mom."
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Cameron Canela, 24, Las Vegas, Nevada, newborn son

Photographed by Mary Beth Koeth.
"All my friends and family knew I was adamant about not wanting children," Canela recalls. "I didn’t want to be a mom. I actually didn’t like kids at all." But when she found out she was pregnant, her initial reaction surprised her. "I thought it was going to be like, 'What is this leech in my body? I don’t want it.' But I immediately felt connected." The birth of her son coaxed out a new version of Canela. "I just felt like I became a whole new person in the coolest way. As cliché as it sounds, your heart just grows immediately." She feels the experience of being a mother has matured her and changed her relationship to working in porn. "Before, I definitely embraced who I was in the adult industry and didn’t really care how people thought about it. I was like, 'This is what I am, this is who I am, this is what I like to do.' Now I like having more of a conservative image and being a mom. That’s been the biggest transition for me, just realising that there’s still a whole other side of me." She’s unsure about her future career plans. In school, growing up, Canela was always good with numbers and wanted to be an accountant. She laughs when she thinks about an accountant’s image as being boring, because she believes there’s real potential for the work to be exciting. "Even a therapist only knows what you tell them," she says. "But your accountant knows where you spend all your money. They know all your deep, dark secrets."
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Emily Mena, 25, Phoenix, Arizona, 4-year-old daughter and son on the way

Photographed by Mary Beth Koeth.
"I’m a chauffeur," says Mena, when asked to describe her day-to-day life as a mom. Her daughter’s after-school schedule is filled with football, gymnastics, swimming and sometimes dance. When Mena picks her daughter up from school, it’s straight to an activity, then home to cook dinner, then help with homework. "And I like to read to her before she goes to bed," Mena says. "My life revolves around her. It’s a lot but I love it. It’s expensive but I look at it as a long-term investment. Keep your kids active doing something so they’re involved in their community or school or whatever, versus the streets." She beams when she talks about her daughter, describing her as sassy, energetic, outgoing, loving, talkative and smart. "And," Mena adds, "she has a sweet tooth." At the time of the photoshoot, Mena was seven months pregnant with her son; friends and family had recently thrown her a baby shower. "My husband and I are really excited," she says. "And my daughter’s excited to be a big sister." Mena’s dream job would be acting in mainstream film and TV but she’s also considering getting her nursing degree. "Being in the adult industry kind of hurts you a little bit, so who knows," she says. "I don’t care what people say about me. I just don’t want it to affect my children. That’s all I care about." Her hope for her children is that "they’re genuinely happy, successful, healthy, and that they know the world is theirs. They can do anything they set their minds to. And that they’re safe. There’s so much bad stuff out there."
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Nickey Huntsman, 26, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 9-year-old daughter

Photographed by Mary Beth Koeth.
Huntsman’s daughter came into the world early and stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit for her first weeks of life. When they were discharged, her daughter went home with an oxygen tank, which she used for another month. "I was very clingy and protective of her for the longest time when she was itty bitty," recalls Huntsman. "Now that she’s older, she has more space." When Huntsman was a little girl, she participated in Girl Scouts, drama club and talent shows. "I was very active in the arts community," she says. "My daughter is kind of following in my footsteps in a lot of those areas, so that’s pretty cool." Her daughter loves to draw and paint and recently started taking karate lessons. Personally, Huntsman took up mixed martial arts fighting last year. "I’m not a pro or anything but I can protect myself, which is the important thing," she says. Becoming a mother came naturally to Huntsman. She found it easy to interpret the needs of her daughter. "When I had her, it came automatically with mothering skills," she says. "Sometimes you just know that you’re made to do something."

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