An advertising veteran and activist on her mission to create a safe space for sex
"I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business," you'll find written on Cindy Gallop's social media bio, a fitting caption for her rebellious quest against hardcore pornography and mission to create an honest platform for social sex communications.
With a career that encapsulates excellence and a reputation for expressing views and beliefs that don’t get discussed by mainstream media and public figures, Gallop is prone to creating shockwaves. A decade ago, that's exactly what she did while announcing MakeLoveNotPorn (MLNP) to the world.
Her career in advertising began in 1985. Over the course of three decades, she has worked in London, moved to Singapore to head up Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) Asia Pacific, and later New York to manage their operations. A Manhattan citizen since 1998, Gallop gained global recognition in 2003 when she was awarded Advertising Woman of the Year.
MakeLoveNotPorn was announced to the world in 2009 during a TED Talks where Gallop became the first speaker to say the words “cum on my face” on stage. During her presentation, she discussed how the world, and the internet especially, needed to change from a one-world male view of sex dominated by hardcore porn that enforces negative stereotypes and roles. Her aim was to create a sex revolution by portraying a more humane way of viewing social sex, educating young couples about consent and making meaningful connections.
To mark the ten-year milestone, we talk to Gallop about the current state of the industry, the rise of social media, and what has changed over the course of a decade.
If we roll back time to 2009 and the launch of MakeLoveNotPorn, what have you learned during this time, how has MLNP evolved? Do you think the world has changed or woke up from your initiative?
I’m going to answer those questions in reverse order.
1. The world has shown how badly it needs MakeLoveNotPorn. Our single-minded mission is to make it easier for everyone in the world to talk openly and honestly about sex, to promote better communication, consent, good sexual values, and good sexual behavior.
I believe everything in life (and business) starts with you and your values. I regularly ask people, “What are your sexual values?” No one can ever answer, because we’re not taught to think like that. Our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, a sense of responsibility, accountability; nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed. They should. Because in bed, values like empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, and honesty are as important as they are in every other area of our lives where we’re actively taught to exercise those values.
And so what we’re doing could not be more topical in the era of #MeToo.
#MeToo has surfaced a wide-ranging discussion about consent. Everybody’s talking about consent. Everybody’s writing about consent. There are lots of thoughtful, nuanced, insightful think pieces about consent. Here’s the problem: nobody knows what consent actually looks like in bed. Nothing educates people about great, consensual, communicative sex; about good sexual values and good sexual behavior, like watching people actually having that kind of sex. Every single video on MakeLoveNotPorn is an object lesson in consent, communication, good sexual values, good sexual behavior. We are literally educating through demonstration.
That’s why we call ourselves the ‘Social Sex Revolution.’ The revolutionary part isn’t the sex, but the social.
2. MakeLoveNotPorn has evolved to have a hugely beneficial impact on the lives of so many people, in ways I never imagined when I launched it.
Our members tell us that we’ve saved marriages; rejuvenated relationships; transformed communication; helped healing from erectile dysfunction, post-cancer, sexual assault, abuse, and trauma; sparked a long-wanted pregnancy; expanded sexual repertoires. Our MakeLoveNotPornstars tell us socially sharing their #realworldsex has enhanced their sexual self-esteem; made them love themselves more; improved their relationships, and in general, been as transformative for them as socially sharing everything else has been for the world at large. You can read here just some of the amazing emails we receive daily, that testify to how MakeLoveNotPorn changes people’s lives for the better:
Ten years ago, social media and technology didn’t exist in the same context as it does today. Has this creation enhanced the socialization of sex or made matters worse?
The young white male founders of the tech platforms that dominate our lives today are not the primary targets of harassment, abuse, sexual assault, violence, and rape–so they don’t proactively design for it, and that is why matters have been made worse. Those of us who are at risk every day–women, POC, LGBTQ, disabled–design safe spaces. MakeLoveNotPorn is a female-founded venture with a predominantly female team; we spent literally years conceptualizing and designing MLNP before ever building it because we knew if we were going to invite people to do something they’d never done before–socially share their #realworldsex–we had to create a completely safe and trustworthy space.
Consequently, we operate unlike anybody else in the adult sphere, and quite frankly unlike anyone else online, period. It’s not possible to complete our submissions process unless your video is fully consensual, legal, everyone’s over 18 (we require two forms of visual ID for every participant). I designed MLNP around something no one else does but every tech platform should–human curation. Our curators watch every single video submitted from beginning to end–we don’t publish it unless it’s real. When we accept your video, we begin a personal relationship with you. We’ll communicate via your preferred means (email, Skype, phone, text, etc.), and we communicate with both halves of a couple. It’s fine to be anonymous (wear masks, faces in shadow, pixelated, etc.) if you prefer. Your video is only viewable on our platform, by our members, by those who’ve paid to watch it. We operate a rent and stream model, not a download and own, because the moment anything changes–your relationship/circumstances/life/mind–you just tell us, we take your videos down, they’re nowhere else on the internet. And we also hold regular MakeLoveNotPornstar gatherings offline IRL, for our MLNPstars to meet us and each other. We are socializing sex in a way that no one else is.
What is love to you?
That’s a very big question! I’ll narrow it down to love in the context of MakeLoveNotPorn. Honestly, at a time when there are so many negative things happening online, I feel very lucky to run a platform that is fundamentally all about love, and therefore a really wonderful, happy space. At MakeLoveNotPorn we celebrate real world everything, including real-world love, emotion, intimacy, feelings. One of our members, a man, wrote to two of our MakeLoveNotPornstars, “The sex in that video was incidental–I want what you guys have. I saw the way you looked at each other, the way your eyes met… I hope one day I can meet someone I will have that with.”
This member, also a man, really understood what we’re doing in this incredible email to us, where he thanked us for his first guilt-free sexual experience in too long and said:
“My gratitude goes beyond my personal experience (and beyond anything having to do with sex), for I must say how encouraged and hopeful it makes me feel to see a human (involving all aspects of humanness, from animal to spiritual) and humane (loving, compassionate, egalitarian, healthful, etc.) endeavor operating in the real world with the kind of power that actually might shift the center of gravity—in any domain of activity—toward all that is nourishing about human nature (cooperation, communal ownership) and away from all that is destructive (violence, greed)."
You are an advocate of gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. Has the prevailing narrative of the female body/tech/advertising shifted from the ‘white man’ in recent years or is there an illusion that makes it look like the center of gravity is moving?
I’m going to answer both these questions with one answer.
There is no change.
That’s because at the top of every industry is a closed loop of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys. Those white guys are sitting very pretty. They have big salaries; their huge bonuses; pools of stock options; their lavish expense accounts. Why on earth would they ever want to rock the boat? Oh, they have to talk about diversity. They have to appoint Chief Diversity Officers. They have to have diversity initiatives. They have to say the word ‘diversity’ a lot, in public. Secretly, deep down inside, they don’t want to change a thing–because the system is working just fine for them as it currently is. It’s like the old joke about the lightbulb. ‘How many therapists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one–but the lightbulb has to really want to change.’ And the lightbulb does not really want to change. Don’t talk about diversity. Don’t create compelling inspirational campaigns about diversity. Don’t do stunts about diversity. Just fucking be diverse.
And so I’ve given up trying to change things within the system. We have to change things outside it. I recommend to every woman, a person of color, LGBTQ, disabled–everyone considered ‘other’ that they start their own business. And the way I articulate it is, ‘Start your own industry.’ Because that’s what I mean. Start a business that reinvents your industry to be the industry you, and all of us, want to work in.
What does MakeLoveNotPorn look like to you in another ten years' time?
We’ll have already built several content expansions, along the same lines: user-generated, crowdsourced, human-curated, revenue-share. We’ll have built the ‘Khan Academy of sex education,’ distributing the work of sex educators from all around the world. We’ll also have built MakeLoveNotPornSocial, where you can self-publish what currently gets you kicked off Instagram, blocked on Tumblr, Facebook account shut down–any form of perfectly natural, healthy social sexual self-expression; natural nudity; things as innocuous as breastfeeding. And we’ll have built MakeLoveNotPornErotica, where you can self-publish and sell erotic books, writing, movies, videos, art, photography, and illustration.
We’ll have raised the funding to build ConSensual–the MakeLoveNotPorn unashamedly openly dedicated to sexting, safe social sexting app, which both enables you to sext completely securely and improves your sexual communication in your relationship (I have this all planned out in the pipeline, I just need investors). This will be a standalone business as big as WhatsApp.
And when all of that is working together as the Social Sex Revolution, here’s what will happen: parents will bring their children up openly to have good sexual values and good sexual behavior, in the same way, they currently bring them up to have good values and good behavior in every other area of life. We will, therefore, cease to bring up rapists. Because the only way that we end rape culture, is by inculcating in society, a universally openly talked-about, promoted, understood, operated, and importantly aspired-to, the gold standard of what constitutes good sexual values and good sexual behavior.
When we do that, we also end #MeToo: sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence–all areas where the perpetrators currently rely on the fact that ‘We do not talk about sex’ to ensure victims will never speak up; never go to the authorities; never tell anybody. When we end that, we massively empower women and girls worldwide. When we do that, we create a far happier world for everyone, including men. And when we do that, we are one step closer to world peace. I talk about MakeLoveNotPorn as my attempt to help bring about world peace, and I’m not joking.