Saying “cum on my face” six times during your TEDTalk is a novel way of launching a business, though apparently a very successful one. Enter Cindy Gallop – the social sex revolutionary. Cindy used to work for the international advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty, though she is better known for her own business venture: MakeLoveNotPorn.
“We are kind of what Facebook would be if [it] allowed you to socially and sexually self-express and identify.”
Cindy calls me from her New York apartment, formerly the backdrop to The Notorious B.I.G’s music video ‘Nasty Girl’.
“We’re celebrating real world sex as a counterpoint. We’re socialising sex and making it easier for everyone in the world to talk about in order to promote consent, good sexual values, and good sexual behaviour.”
“My reason for setting it up is entirely accidental,” she says, now ten years on from when she launched the site.
“It came out of my direct personal experience dating younger men. I realised I was encountering what happened when two things converge: today’s total freedom of access to porn online and our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. This means porn inevitably becomes sex education by default, and not in a good way. I basically en- countered a whole bunch of sexual behavioural memes in bed. I thought, gosh, if I’m experiencing this, other people must be as well.”
I’m not taken aback by these intimate revelations about her own sex life. Everything about Cindy screams outrage from her not-so-coy Twitter bio, “I am the Michael Bay of business. I like to blow shit up”, to her 59th birthday invitation – six topless blokes with “Property of Cindy Gallop” tattooed on their backs. She later tells me the RSVP was in keeping with the theme of the party: come as your ultimate fantasy.
Our interview could not come at a more apt time, as the UK government prepares to introduce its controversial porn ban. The legislation will require users to have to verify their age through new software, in a bid to restrict the access young people have to adult websites.
“Ten years ago, no one was talking about this issue, which is why that talk was gobsmacking. No one had spoken out publicly about the issue of porn.”
She refers to her renowned TEDTalk, in which she launched MakeLoveNotPorn, back then just a clunky website that at- tempted to expose the truths and realities behind the camera.
“Both that TEDTalk, and [the site] were a manifestation of me. They were both totally honest, truthful, straightforward, down-to-earth, utterly non-judgemental, and delivered with a sense of humour. We never get to have conversations about sex in those parameters, and the moment we do the floodgates open. It wasn’t just what I was talking about, but the way I was talking about it.
“I got this avalanche of emails immediately following it. One man wrote to me, in his thirties, saying: ‘a measure of how fucked up we are about sex is that I’m writing all this to a woman I have never met, a complete stranger, simply because she is the only person I’ve heard talk openly and honestly about all of this’.”
As we talk more it becomes apparent that she is not just talking about Britain.
“It’s the same in America, the UK, across Europe, China, India: this issue applies in every single country in the world. You may ostensibly have a more open culture about sex, but when it comes to what actually happens when people are in bed with each other we don’t want to talk about it openly in society. It’s an area of huge insecurity.”
She is quick also to address the myth that young men are the only victims of porn.
“Porn is skewing us just as much in the case of young women as it is men. My site is entirely gender equal. People make the mistake of thinking only boys and men watch porn – fuck that shit. Girls enjoy watching porn just as much as boys do, but they may not enjoy watching porn entirely through the male lens.
“This is the only area of universal human experience where every single thing about it in society is completely fucked up. Yes, upbringing has a lot to do with it, because most people’s parents find themselves totally incapable of talking to children about sex. But also it’s because everything around us socially conditions us to think that sex is an area of guilt, shame, and embarrassment. It lives in the shadows, it must never be talked about in polite society or in polite conversation, it’s not just the way you are brought up in your family – it’s every single thing around you culturally. Obviously, that’s a huge issue today, when the average age of a child when they are first exposed to porn online is eight years old.”
A quick google reveals that this age has actually dropped to six since that first study was released.
“It’s not because eight or six year olds go looking for porn – they don’t. It’s a function of what is inevitable in the visual world we live in today, and it cannot be prevented, no matter how much we would like it to be, they will stumble across it.
It’s the function of what somebody shows their friend on a cell phone in the playground. It’s what happened when your child goes around to a neighbours’ house. It doesn’t matter what parental controls you have at home, your kids go other places. Maybe your child learns a new naughty word and innocently they google it, and then there’s something they never expect to find.
“A mother told me her eight-year-old daughter innocently googled ‘black tights’, and misspelt it ‘tits’ – you can imagine what came up. A father wrote to me and said: ‘Me and my wife have a ten-year-old son, and we decided it was time to have the sex talk, so I sat down with him, and he said to me ‘daddy, why do men wear masks when they’re having sex?’”.
Even with parental controls, Cindy points out the ease with which children can access porn online, something only made worse when coupled with the widespread ignorance of their parents.
“I’m always torn, when I talk to parents, especially the mothers, who often have no fucking idea what their kids are seeing. They are many parents who have good relations with their kids, but will never talk to them about this.”
She quotes another email she received from a supporter: “My daughter just showed me the latest video clip which is doing the rounds, which shows a woman having a glass jar shoved up her anus until it breaks. I’m 51, and I’m terrified about the world my daughter is growing up in. I showed her your TEDTalk and she just felt so empowered by that.”
“Too many parents, often the mothers, because they are not watching porn the same way the fathers are make the mistake when they hear the word ‘porn’, they think it’s just people making love. No it bloody isn’t!
“This is why I’m doing what I’m doing. I want to make parents understand the importance of talking to their kids about sex, and feel comfortable about doing so. The advice I give them is that you cannot begin talking to your children about sex too early. When I say talk about sex, what I mean is the very first time a child asks where babies come from, or touches their own genitals, the most important thing is not what you say. It’s how much you say it.”
“Do not look flustered or visibly embarrassed. Do not shut them up or close the conversation down, don’t leave the room or try to evade the conversation. The most important thing is to answer them openly, honestly, and truthfully. If you do that you open up a channel of communication for them that will always be there in the future and they will really welcome and value it. When you have that conversation about sex, you must simultaneously have one about porn.”
She explains mothers often hesitate when she tells them this.
“I tell them it’s a lot easier than they think, all they have to do is a version of this. They just need to talk to their child about sex and make them aware it’s a great area of pleasure and enjoyment. There is no need to make it all mechanistic: ‘Now, darling. You know how we watch movies and cartoons, where things happen that aren’t real? There are also movies and videos about sex – and they aren’t real either. They can be confusing, so we would rather you didn’t watch them…if you come across them, on your phone or on the iPad, come to talk to us about it, and we can explain it.’
“By doing that you’ve set up a channel of communication and encouraged them to actively come to you and talk about it. All a parent wants is for their child to be happy, this area will impact your child’s happiness more than anything growing up, so it’s really important.”
Cindy’s attitude towards porn surprises me. From the off I expected her to be completely against it. However, a different attitude is revealed by her website’s tagline: “Pro sex. Pro porn. Pro knowing the difference”.
“The issue isn’t porn; the issue is we don’t talk about sex in the real world. I set out to solve that issue. I knew if I wanted to combat ‘porn as default sex’, I was going to have to do it in a way that was going to have the potential to be just as mass, just as mainstream, and just as pervasive as porn is in our society. That’s why I had to put something out there that can be as integrated in our lives as porn is today.”
I can’t help but feel a bit shocked by the size of the task she has set herself. With the major porn sites hosting more monthly global traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined, I question the boldness of Cindy’s claims.
She tells me she aimed to pioneer a new category of online sexual content that has not previously existed: social sex. She admits her vision has not been without hiccups.
“Setting out to build the world’s first social sex platform is a fucking enormous battle every single day. That’s why no one else has ever done it.”
This brings us onto her student viewership. I ask her whether she thinks her model can really compete with the amount of porn students watch, especially given the subscription fee.
“Our core target audience is you, it’s millennials everywhere in the world. The reason for that is because first of all, you get us. You’re the generation that’s grown up with porn, and you know you need us. Secondly, you’re the most digitally savvy generation; you get what older people don’t understand. We aren’t just something you watch, we’re a community.
“We would love to have the money to put in place a campus programme for everywhere in the world, to be able to have stu- dent street teams, ambassadors, to go into campuses, Oxford included, but we just don’t have the funds. Investors aren’t falling over to fund us like they are for other forms of social network.”
She admits that she has high ambitions and her commitment to her project is unwavering.
“I had to design a business model that enabled us to make money to keep us going. I’ve poured all my savings into this. I designed MakeLoveNotPorn around my value that everyone should make money off something they create. My background is theatre and advertising, two areas where ideas are undervalued, even by the creators themselves. I believe when you create something that gives other people pleasure, you should see a return on it.
“If we were completely free it would be very easy to think ‘ew, not very good amateur porn’, and then leave. When you pay to rent our videos, you watch them beginning to end, because you want to get the value of what you paid for and that is how you experience how different social sex is from anything else out there.”
As for the fee, even she can’t resist a light-hearted pop at millennials:
“The price of a monthly subscription is the same as a couple of lattes from Starbucks.”
MakeLoveNotPorn appears more than just a means for Cindy to make a quick buck off some randy middle-class couples looking to spice up their sex life. She seems genuinely keen to change our attitudes towards sex, both inside and outside the bedroom:
“Everything in life starts with values. So I regularly ask people: ‘What are your sexual values?’, and no one can ever answer me, because we are not taught to think like that. Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, a
sense of responsibility and accountability, but no one bring us up to behave well in bed. They should, because their empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty, are as important as they are in every other area of our lives and work, where we are actively taught to exercise those values.
“We could not be more timely in the era of #MeToo, which has surfaced on college campuses around the world because of the dialogue around consent. So everyone is talking and writing about consent. But here’s the problem, no one knows what consent actually looks like in bed. The only way that you educate people about great, consensual, and communicative sex, and about what constitutes good sexual values and behaviour in bed, is by watching people have that kind of sex. MakeLoveNotPorn is the only place on the internet where you can do that.”