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Porn Moms by Mary Beth Koeth

Makayla Cox, and her seven-year-old daughter. © Mary Beth Koeth.

In Mary Beth Koeth’s latest series, women employed in the adult film industry share their experiences of balancing motherhood and work

In 2017, photographer Mary Beth Koeth rented a car and drove from New York City to Edison, New Jersey, for the erotic arts convention Exxxotica Expo. Her goal was to meet mothers working in the adult film industry, to try and answer some of the questions she had about their lives. How do they balance motherhood with their work? How are they treated at school gatherings? 

At the Exxxotica Expo, she met an actress named Emily Mena who had a three-year-old daughter and a son on the way. Koeth shared her vision for Porn Moms. “She loved the idea that someone wanted to tell her story, rather than some fantastical narrative,” says Koeth. Mena, like many of her colleagues, keeps her private life hidden at work. But what is the toll on these women and their families when the majority of society only sees them from one perspecitve?

Through Mena, and by attending other erotica expositions, Koeth gradually found her subjects. She traveled across the US — to Colorado Springs, Dallas, Phoenix, and Las Vegas — and listened to their experiences. “Their lives are just as complicated as the rest of ours,” says Koeth. “I’m grateful to these women for trusting me with a piece of their lives that, professionally, they prefer to keep secret.”

Here, the mothers she met share their stories.

Tiffany Brookes, 31, and her one-year-old son

Dallas, Texas

Tiffany Brookes wasn’t planning on returning to work in the adult entertainment industry after becoming a mother. “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 on a nine-to-five job, and although she admits that 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 is literally my everything. Everything I do is completely thought out around him.” 

Coming back to the film set with a post-pregnancy body was challenging — emotionally and physically: “Everything that you’re self-conscious about is amplified,” says Brookes, who thought that people would be able to tell that she’d had a baby immediately. “I’m constantly concerned about that every time I get undressed in front of a camera,” she says, “I look for people’s reactions.” When her son gets a little older, Brooke wants to find a new career outside of adult entertainment. In the meantime, she says: “The minute the camera is off and I leave set, it’s back to being a mom.” 

© Mary Beth Koeth.

Makayla Cox, 35, and her seven-year-old daughter

Las Vegas, Nevada 

Makayla Cox says her daughter is very popular at school. “She’s everyone’s best friend — she’s full of energy.” Their schedule is full of her daughter’s classmates’ birthday parties. Her connection with the other mothers varies: some do not want to know anything about her work, while others are more open. One person Cox does not want to lie to about her job is her daughter. “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’.” Being a single mother is not easy and her dream is to move to Los Angeles with her daughter and buy a house close to the beach, where they can live like hippies.   

© Mary Beth Koeth.

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Cameron Canela, 24, and her newborn son

Las Vegas, Nevada  

“All my friends and family knew I was adamant about not wanting children,” Cameron Canela recalls. “I didn’t want to be a mom, I actually didn’t like kids at all.” But, when Canela 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, immediately I felt connected.” The birth of her son revealed a new side of Canela that she did not know was there. She believes that the experience of being a mother has made her become more mature and changed her relationship to working in porn. “Before, I definitely embraced who I was in the adult industry and didn’t really care what people thought about it. I was like, ‘This is who I am, this is who I am, this is what I like to do’. Now I like having more of a conservative image. That has been the biggest transition for me, just realising that there’s still a whole other side of me.” 

Canela is unsure about her future career plans. In school and growing up, she 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 is 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.”   

© Mary Beth Koeth.

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Emily Mena, 25, and her four-year-old daughter 

Phoenix, Arizona

“I’m a chauffeur,” says Emily Mena, equating her day-to-day life as a mom with that of a driver. Her daughter’s after-school schedule is filled with soccer, gymnastics, swimming, and sometimes dance. So, when Mena picks her daughter up from school, she sends her  straight to do an activity, rushes to cook dinner, and then helps with homework. “I like to read to her before she goes to bed,” says Mena,“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”. 

Mena beams when she talks about her daughter, describing her as sassy, energetic, outgoing, loving, talkative, and smart. At the time of the photoshoot, Mena was seven months pregnant with her son. Shortly after, her friends and family threw her a baby shower. “My husband and I are really excited,” she says. “And my daughter is excited to be a big sister.” Mena’s dream job would be acting in mainstream film and TV, but she has also considered getting a 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”.

© Mary Beth Koeth.

Nickey Hunstman, 26, and her nine-year-old daughter

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Nickey 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, I’ve given her more space.” 

When Huntsman was a little girl, she was part of the girl scouts, drama club, and participated in talent shows. “I was very active in the arts community,” she says. “My daughter is kind of following in my footsteps in manyof those areas, so that’s pretty cool.” Huntsman’s 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, who found it easy to interpret her daughter’s needs. “When I had her, the mothering skills came automatically,” she says. “Sometimes you just know that you’re made to do something.”

© Mary Beth Koeth.

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