MakeLoveNotPorn: How Cindy Gallop turned what’s NSFW into a business with a social mission
These days, the internet is all about sharing information – but do you remember the early days when you could hardly go ‘surfing’ on the ‘information superhighway’ without coming across some form of porn? These terms may have fallen out of use, but online porn certainly hasn’t. Cindy Gallop has personally seen the direct effect that the abundance of hardcore pornography on the internet can have on society, and she thinks she can change things. How? By making real-world sex socially shareable online.
First came MakeLoveNotPorn.com, a very basic website that presents the myths of porn versus the truths of real-world sex. If you don’t see why a site like this is needed, you probably don’t sleep with 20-something men. Cindy Gallop does.
“I didn’t find MakeLoveNotPorn, it found me,” she declares. “MakeLoveNotPorn derived from me encountering an issue that would never have crossed my mind if I hadn’t encountered it very directly and personally through dating younger men – which was the impact of porn as default sex education.”
MakeLoveNotPorn.com was launched at TED 2009 but, with another start-up IfWeRanTheWorld taking up much of Gallop’s time, money and resources, not much was left to dedicate to cultivating the site. But that didn’t stop it.
“On zero proactive promotion from me, MakeLoveNotPorn.com got and continues to get extraordinary levels of traffic from all around the world,” says Gallop, who still receives emails on a daily basis thanking her for putting such a site out there. “People are blown away by the fact that [...] I’m doing something about what everybody knows and no one ever speaks about.”
Experimental sex education
But MakeLoveNotPorn.com was just the beginning. “I began feeling this huge personal responsibility to take MakeLoveNotPorn forwards in a way that would make it much more far-reaching, helpful and effective,” says Gallop.
Gallop knew she would have to embed what she was doing in popular culture, making it so entertaining, engaging and compelling that people wouldn’t notice that they were being educated. Her venture would also need to be scalable and have the potential to be as all-pervasive in society as porn.
“I want to break down these societal barriers which are actively impeding our ability to live happier, healthier, more open sex lives,” says Gallop. “Ireland is a case in point: nobody talks about sex; nobody talks about porn – but everybody’s watching porn. That is absolutely how the young people in Ireland today are learning about sex because nobody talks about it.”
Which brings us to MakeLoveNotPorn.tv: a social media experiment that will go where no network or platform has ever dared to go.
Image of Cindy Gallop by EvaBlue via Wikimedia Commons
“I want to socialise sex,” says Gallop. “I want to make real-world sex socially acceptable and, therefore, socially shareable in a way that, to be honest, nobody else has ever achieved to date – I like a big goal,” she smiles. “I would like to do with MakeLoveNotPorn in the 21st century effectively what Hugh Hefner actually managed with Playboy in the 20th, which is to bring sex out into the open. To legitimise it. To create a public platform for public discussion in the public domain. And, in doing so, I would like to help redefine exactly what people think of as porn and I would like to be part of the future of porn.”
MakeLoveNotPorn.tv is a site where users can view and submit videos depicting real-world sex, which incorporates a high-incentive business model. It’s not porn, and any videos following the usual porn tropes will be rejected. Gallop and her team curate the content, publishing only what they deem to be true depictions of real-world sex.
The key differences between the content on MakeLoveNotPorn.tv and sites like YouPorn, Pornhub or XTube, Gallop explains, is that real-world sex is completely different from what goes on in porn. “Porn is homogenising real-world sex, and I want to help bring the creativity, individuality and self-expression back to it,” she says.
First of all, real-world sex is funny. “If you can’t laugh at yourself when you’re having sex, when can you?” Gallop asks. “Porn has parodies, but the sex in them is in deadly earnest.” MakeLoveNotPorn.tv wants user-generated content that’s the sex equivalent of You’ve Been Framed.
Real-world sex is also messy. “It always amuses me when people talk about porn being dirty, because porn actually sanitises sex,” Gallop comments. “In porn, nobody has hair. You never see anybody use lube, even though there’s gallons of it on-set. You never see any of those nice, normal messy things that happen in real-world sex.” For this reason, Gallop’s site welcomes the warts-and-all version of sex – period sex included, nay, encouraged.
Finally, real-world sex is responsible. In porn, you rarely see condoms and, in a world where people are learning about sex through porn, this presents a huge issue – one that MakeLoveNotPorn.tv intends to tackle. “We’re inviting the hottest, most arousing real-world sex content that actually competes to eroticise condom usage,” explains Gallop. “We want to make a social-cultural meme out of this term we’ve coined which is ‘condom-hot’. Make Condom-Hot Love Not Porn.”
This is how all videos on MakeLoveNotPorn.tv will be categorised: Make Teasing Love Not Porn, Make Saucy Love Not Porn, Make Silly Love Not Porn, Make Ow Ow Ow Hey Now Love Not Porn.
The Etsy of sexy
You can’t change the world without making some money first, and MakLoveNotPorn.tv is not a free service. Users are charged a US$5 curation fee for all submissions, which is non-refundable whether their video is published or not. This charge acts as a form of quality control, weeding out any trolls or spammers. For viewers, MakeLoveNotPorn.tv operates a rental model where a first-time view costs US$5 but any views of the same video after that are free for a three-week period.
But it’s not just the site that will make money if successful, as MakeLoveNotPorn.tv wants to be, in Gallop’s words, “the Etsy of sexy”. Those that submit videos are entitled to 50pc of revenue that their video makes. Should the site reach YouTube-type viewing figures, there’s a lot of money to be made in allowing sex to become just another thing that we share online. “We live in a time now where social media has lowered the barriers of shame and embarrassment everywhere,” says Gallop. “The time is right to do what I want to do now in a way that couldn’t have been done a few years ago.”
Image via MakeLoveNotPorn.tv's Tumblr
And Gallop has no shortage of volunteers who want to be the first MakeLoveNotPornstars. “I’m discovering that the desire to do this lies a lot closer to the surface within many more people than you would ever have thought. And, given a reason, given social values and a social mission, people jump at the chance – the most surprising people,” she says.
So far, in its beta form, access to the site is invitation-only. When I spoke to Gallop, there were about 14,000 people on the waiting list, and about 2,500 invites sent out. People are signing up for MakeLoveNotPorn.tv and they are paying to use it. The site has been making money since day one, with users viewing videos up to three or four times each, on average.
UPDATE: The latest user figures from MakeLoveNotPorn.tv (tweet sent at 5:14pm on 18 September)
Gallop’s target market is not people who want more of the same porn that’s already out there, it’s people who want something innovative and different – like the man who discovered MakeLoveNotPorn.com by Googling ‘porn that isn’t porn’. Negative online commenters ask why anyone would want to watch flabby middle-aged people have sex under bad lighting (which, Gallop assures me, is not the case), but Gallop responds with a question asked by the site’s user experience designer Oonie Chase: “When did porn become the gold standard and what all of us do in the real world becomes squalid?”
Even so-called ‘amateur’ porn gives creators guidelines on how the video should look, be shot and how the people in it should act. “I’ve a huge issue with the term ‘amateur’. It implies the only people doing it right are the professionals, and the rest of us are bumbling idiots,” says Gallop. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The Y Combinator of porn
That said, Gallop is not out to bring down the mainstream porn industry, but she’s not averse to helping out fellow entrepreneurial spirits who want to shake things up. “Further down the line – if one day MakeLoveNotPorn.tv does what I want it to do, which is do a lot of good and make a lot of money – I would really love to be in a position, absolutely, to be able to be an incubator and accelerator for radically innovative start-ups around the whole area of sex and sexuality and porn, both within the porn industry and beyond it,” she says.
Gallop claims that all the trials and tribulations of a tech start-up are magnified three-fold when dealing with sex. “It took me two years to get MakeLoveNotPorn.tv funded, which is very ironic,” she recaps. “I should be every VC and angel investor’s wet dream, literally. I have an idea enabled by technology designed to disrupt a sector worth billions of dollars in a way that is both socially beneficial and potentially very lucrative. But because that sector is porn and the social benefit is sexuality, no VC would come near me.”
Cindy Gallop (left) and the MakeLoveNotPorn.tv team. Image via MakeLoveNotPorn.tv's Tumblr
When Gallop eventually found an angel investor, she couldn’t open a business bank account with a company that had ‘porn’ in the title, developers wouldn’t work with her, and payments platforms would not deal with a site selling ‘adult content’. “Every obstacle I encountered is why I’m doing what I’m doing: to break down the Puritanism and hypocrisy and ridiculousness that exists around this whole area,” says Gallop.
“I would like to be the Y Combinator of porn because, quite frankly, a tiny injection of financing into radically innovative start-ups around the areas of sex and porn will produce returns way beyond what most tech sectors can dream of,” she claims.
Gallop is full of ideas on how to grow MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, from Facebook and Twitter integration, to selling products with a MakeLoveNotPorn seal of approval, to creating a new revenue stream with the data accrued by the site. “This has the potential to be the Kinsey of today. Real-world, real-time, real-life human sexual behaviour aggregated in a way that nobody else is doing currently,” she explains.
The site is designed so as to be welcoming to users, so that it looks cool, compelling and completely normalised – meaning there’s no need for slamming-the-laptop-shut-when-someone-walks-in-the-room moments.
Because, though it’s wrapped up in an entertaining package, at its heart MakeLoveNotPorn.tv is an educational resource. “No matter who you are and no matter how controversial, offensive and sensitive you find porn and the whole idea of sex – nobody can argue with what I am doing,” Gallop says. “I take the high moral ground in this whole arena, given my social mission and what we’re trying to accomplish.”
MakeLoveNotPorn.tv follows the reaction to MakeLoveNotPorn.com, which Gallop hopes she can someday revisit and revamp. The potential for the concept is huge, and she and her team are just getting started. “Real-world sex is more innovative, more creative, more surprising, more amazing, more hot and more arousing than porn will ever be – and we are only about to start finding out what it is,” she says.
Cindy Gallop returns to Ireland this October to speak at the Dublin Web Summit.