On Social Sex and Reshaping Culture: an Interview with Cindy Gallop
Becky Brinkerhoff is the social media manager for 3% and a copywriter at Arnold Worldwide in Boston. She’s a diversity and inclusivity activist in all things and hasn’t been “chill” a single day in her life.
What can be said about Cindy Gallop that hasn’t already been said? A lot, apparently.
The ad world knows Cindy Gallop as…well…it depends on who you are. She’s a beacon of light for “difficult” women, a source of fear for powerful men, a call to action for leaders. But, she’s larger than the ad world. Since 2009, she’s been taking the sex tech world on with the same vigor she took our industry.
Cindy is the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, the world's first user-generated, human-curated social sex video-sharing platform that celebrates #realworldsex as a counterpoint to porn. The main goal is to socialize sex - make it easier for everyone to talk about, in order to promote good sexual values and good sexual behavior.
This V-day, we want to bring our audience the side of Cindy that isn’t usually featured on our stage: the social sex revolutionary.
You’ve said that the idea for MLNP came from having sex with younger guys. How did those experiences translate into a business model?
MakeLoveNotPorn was an accident - the result of my realizing 11 or 12 years ago through dating younger men, that I was experiencing very directly and personally what happens when two things converge. When today's total freedom of access to porn online meets our society's equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex, porn becomes sex education by default. Not in a good way.
10 years ago I launched MLNP as a clunky little 'Porn World vs Real World' site with this talk at TED and the entire world responded in a way I'd never anticipated. Thousands of people wrote to me from every country in the world - young and old, male and female, straight and gay - pouring their hearts out, telling me things about their sex lives and their porn watching habits they'd never told anyone else before. I realized I'd uncovered a huge global social issue, and I felt a personal responsibility to take MLNP forward in a way that would make it much more far-reaching, helpful and effective.
I believe strongly that the future of business is doing good and making money simultaneously, and so I also saw an opportunity for a big business solution to this untapped global social need. I use the word 'big' advisedly, because even then back in 2009 at concept stage, I knew that if I wanted to counter the global impact of porn as default sex ed, I was going to have to come up with something that had the potential, one day, to be just as mass, just as mainstream, and just as all-pervasive in our society as porn currently is.
So I turned MLNP into a business.
The issue isn't porn; it's that we don't talk about sex in the real world. MLNP's single-minded mission is to make it easier for every single person in the world to talk openly and honestly about sex.
Today, MLNP is the world's first and only entirely user-generated social sex video-sharing platform, celebrating #realworldsex as a counterpoint to porn - we're 'Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference.' We're what Facebook would be if it allowed you to socially, sexually self-express and self-identify - we're socializing sex to make it easier to talk about, in order to promote good sexual values and behavior. We operate a revenue-sharing business model - our members pay to subscribe, rent and stream social sex videos, and half that income goes to our contributors, whom we call MakeLoveNotPornstars. We're the Social Sex Revolution: the revolutionary part isn't the sex, but the social.
Has it been a struggle juggling (or integrating) multiple worlds—ad world, tech world, porn world—over the years?
Important re your question: 'porn world' doesn't apply, in the sense that MLNP is not porn, but pioneering a whole new category on the internet that has never previously existed - social sex. So I operate in the sex-tech world. For me personally, integrating those various worlds hasn't been a struggle at all. Everything I do cross-references because I am living and working my own values. I designed MLNP around my own personal and business beliefs and philosophies, which I operate equally in my consulting and speaking work. The only two things that have been challenging are:
A) my team and I fight a huge battle daily to build MLNP, essentially because every piece of business infrastructure any other tech startup takes for granted, we can't, because the small print always says 'No adult content'.
This is all-pervasive across every single aspect of the business in ways people outside this sphere don't realize. I can't get funded. I can't get banked. Our biggest operational challenge is payments (PayPal won't work with adult content, and neither will mainstream credit card processors); every tech service I need to use says in their Terms of Service 'No adult content'. We had to build our video sharing and streaming platform from scratch ourselves as proprietary technology because existing streaming services won't stream adult content. It was even a struggle to find an email partner (Mailchimp won't work with adult content).
B) I support myself through paid public speaking, but often I don't get the high-paying corporate gigs I see white men boring the shit out of audiences at, because my speaking agent tells me the booker freaked out about MLNP. Which is ironic because I am regularly voted the best speaker at the conferences I speak at, and I know from business conversations generally everyone is fascinated about MLNP and thinks it's a very good thing.
Are you seeing any overlap in the challenges you faced in the ad world and the challenges you’re facing with MLNP?
That's a great question because with MLNP I am doing exactly what we do in the ad world: battling every day to execute strategically and creatively on a really big global idea that has the potential to do what our industry is so good at - reshape culture around a crucial area of universal human experience that badly needs it while also making money.
But the challenge is even greater with a sex-related venture. My biggest obstacle building MLNP is the social dynamic I call 'Fear of what other people will think', which operates around sex unlike any other area. Fear of what other people will think is the single most paralyzing dynamic in business, and in life. You will never own the future if you care what other people think.
What would you like the avid followers of your advertising career to know about MLNP?
I've been battling to build MLNP for the past ten years, but it could not be more timely now. As I mentioned earlier, I designed MLNP around my own philosophies, one of which is that everything in life - and business - starts with you and your values. So I regularly ask people this question: "What are your sexual values?" And no one can ever answer me, 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. But they should - because there, empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty are as important, as they are in every other area of our lives.
In the era of #metoo, everyone's talking about consent, everyone's writing about consent, but here's the problem: nobody knows what consent actually looks like in bed. Nothing educates people about what great consensual communicative sex is, good sexual values and good sexual behavior, like watching people actually having that kind of sex. Every single video on MLNP from our amazing MakeLoveNotPornstars is consensual, good sexual values and behavior in action. This is per another of my philosophies: communication through demonstration.
And beyond that - MLNP delivers so many more benefits, as we regularly hear in feedback from our wonderful members. Our videos don't just turn you on, they inspire (one man said to us, "I realized I could be having a whole lot more fun masturbating!" after watching some of our solo MLNPstar videos); give you new ideas for your own sex life; expand your sexual repertoire; improve technique (per our #lickjob videos, so named because I wanted a term for the female version that was as quick, easy and simple to say as 'blowjob', to make lickjobs as accepted and common); spark revelatory conversations between partners; save marriages by re-igniting sexual desire; and have even helped our members conceive! You can read about how transformative we are in the #realworldinbox section of our blog here.
How can we support MLNP’s mission?
I would love love love everybody reading this to do two things, the second one of which this audience is especially qualified to do:
1. Please go to https://makelovenotporn.tv/ and sign up for a monthly subscription. Subscriptions start at just $10/month, and if every single member of the 3% community signed up for one (or a higher monthly subscription if you're feeling generous!), it would make a huge difference for us. If you appreciate the work I do in our industry, this is the best possible way in which you can support me.
2. This year, we want to advertise MLNP. But, virtually every single advertising channel, traditional and non-traditional, is unfriendly to sex-related advertisers. Please, if any members of the 3% community who work with or know of or can persuade any at-scale advertising platform to promote MLNP - I'd love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You tend to wear a lot of leather and our team (read: the woman writing these interview questions) is curious if that’s indicative of an interest in BDSM.
Heh heh. It's actually not. I got into wearing leather back when I started up BBH New York. Tom Ford was designing for Gucci at the time, and his clothes spoke to me (also, back then I could afford them ☺ ) because they were my battle armor. I was building a new agency in the toughest advertising marketplace in the world, Madison Avenue, and every day when I put my leather outfits on, I was arming myself for battle. They gave me the confidence to go out there and fight.
Also, as I said to my BBH NY team at the time, when you are one of fifteen agencies pitching and every presentation is blurring before the clients' eyes, it's no bad thing to be 'the agency where the CEO was dressed head to toe in black leather' - and that did indeed prove to be a differentiating factor in our favor.
Anything else you'd like our community to know?
We've put together a special one-time Valentine's Day offer for the 3% community! It's the perfect gift for you and your loved one to share, or for you to enjoy on your own - $10 for 10 #realworldsex videos, which you can binge in one go or watch any time. Just use this link to celebrate Valentine's Day with us.
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