“I talk about Make Love Not Porn as my attempt to bring about world peace, and I’m not joking"
Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of makelovenotporn.com talks to Michael Matias about how to change perceptions of consent by showing people what it looks like
Tell me how you started a pro-sex knowledge website, Make Love Not Porn.
The answer is by complete accident. I never set out to do what I now find myself doing. It came about through my direct personal experience dating younger men and realizing that I was experiencing what happens when today’s total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society’s totally equal reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. Porn becomes sex education by default. Eleven years ago, I put up a no-money, tiny, clunky website at makelovenotporn.com, that in its original iteration was just words. I launched at TED, and the talk went viral. I felt I had a responsibility to make Make Love Not Porn much more far reaching, helpful, and effective. Our tagline says we are pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference. I turned Make Love Not Porn into the world’s first and only user-generated, human curated, social sex video sharing platform. We want to socialize and normalize sex in the real world, make it easier for everyone to talk about.
There’s no right or wrong way to have sex; it’s about the communication and whether you’re enjoying your partner and your partner is enjoying you, right?
Exactly, but being good in bed starts further back than that. Our mission is a very simple thing: make it easier to talk about sex. Because we don’t do that currently, people don’t get how massively, profoundly society-transformative that would be. I readily ask people: What are your sexual values? Nobody can ever answer me because we’re not taught to think like that. Our parents bring us up to have good manners, work ethic, sense of responsibility. Nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed, but they should because in bed, values like empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty, respect are as important as those values are in every other area of our lives. Here’s what the world will be like when we achieve our mission at scale: Parents will bring their children up openly to have good sexual values and behavior. We will therefore cease to bring up rapists because the only way that you end rape culture is by embedding in society an openly talked about, promoted and, very importantly, aspired to gold standard of what constitutes good sexual values and behavior. When we do that, we also end #MeToo. When we do that, we create a far happier world for everybody. When we do that, we are one step closer to world peace. I talk about Make Love Not Porn as my attempt to bring about world peace, and I’m not joking.
It started from sex education to actually talking about rape and harassment. How are these things connected and are we moving toward that?
It’s very simple because I designed Make Love Not Porn to be education through demonstration. Right now in the era of #MeToo, quite rightly, everybody is talking about consent. Nobody knows what consent actually looks like in bed. The only way you educate people about what is great consenual, communicative sex is by watching people actually having that kind of sex. Make Love Not Porn is the only place on the internet you can do that. I created it to be the global go-to hub for how-to videos on anything and everything to do with real world sex. We are that crucial source of sex education that nobody else is providing.
How do we get our society to actually go toward the path you are talking about?
It’s not about society. Ever since I launched Make Love Not Porn 11 years ago, I’ve had nothing but a universal positive response from every country. Here’s the issue: I had no idea when I embarked on this venture that we would fight an enormous battle every single day to build it. Every piece of business infrastructure any other tech startup takes for granted, we can’t: the small print always says no adult content. It took me four years to find one bank here in America that would allow me to open a business bank account. We had to build our entire video sharing platform from scratch as proprietary technology because existing streaming services will not stream adult content. Enough funding totally overcomes these barriers. My biggest obstacle finding investors is the social dynamic that I call fear of what other people will think. When you understand what we are doing and why we are doing it, nobody can argue with it. It’s always their fear of what they think other people will think. I know my investors are out there. They’re impossible to find by the usual means because sex is the one area where you cannot tell from the outside what anybody thinks on the inside. Your willingness to fund Make Love Not Porn is entirely a function of your personal sexual journey.
How do you actually go about that? It’s so different from the process for a normal startup.
Any other founder looking for investors can at least do their research and target. Nobody is out there going, “Bring me sex tech.” I have to rely on my messaging reaching people who go, “Wow, I want to hear more about this.” That does, in fact, work. The pandemic has been very good for our business. We’ve been seeing 10% a month growth, our video submissions rate has tripled, and I have been getting more and more investors reaching out. What I’ve had to do the past eight years is two things: building my startup and changing the cultural context around it because when you have a truly world-changing startup, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around. I don’t wait for things to change; I make them change. I am seeing that change happening, which is very gratifying.
How do you encourage people to share their intimate life, which is so scary, so taboo, on a social media platform?
People are dying to become Make Love Not Porn stars. When we were building the platform, my curator and I spent an entire year asking our full networks and complete strangers, “Will you film yourselves having real-world sex for us?” I discovered that 99.9% of the time, the answer is yes. The desire to do this lies a lot closer to the surface of many more people than you ever would have thought, and given a reason, given a social mission and social values, people jump at the chance.
That is very surprising. Does that mean that I can be optimistic going forward that we will be in a world where sharing our sex life is normal and encouraged?
Our Make Love Not Porn stars tell us that socially sharing their real-world sex has been transformative for them and their relationships. They’re doing it because they believe in our social mission. We have many solo videos. They tell us that doing it made them love themselves more. Couples tell us doing this transformed their relationship because when you decide to film yourselves having sex, you have to talk about it, and the conversation goes places it’s never ever gone before. We have a revenue sharing business model. Our members pay to subscribe, rent, and stream social sex videos. Half of that income goes to our contributors. Our Make Love Not Porn stars tell us that our monthly payouts are helping them survive the pandemic.
What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
I would say, “Ask other people.” I don’t define myself; I believe in being judged by my actions, so whenever anybody asks me how I describe myself, I say ask other people because their judgment and observation is what matters.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, while working as a software engineer at Hippo Insurance and as a Senior Associate at J-Ventures. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Amanda Katz