Cindy Gallop has degrees in English literature and theater, and began her career as a publicist and marketer in the theater world. She switched to the male-dominated world of advertising and rose through the ranks, heading up accounts like Coca-Cola, RayBan and Polaroid. She’s known for being both “salty” and kind. In 2006 she founded her own brand and business innovation consultancy. As a speaker in the areas of advertising, branding, and business strategy, she has spoken at many conferences including TED and SXSW. She promotes diversity, representation, and conversation in industry. In 2009, she founded Make Love Not Porn, and in 2010 If We Ran the World, which brings together individuals and corporations with good intentions so they can take collective action. She told AdAge, “The idea is to let people say what they want to change, and then give them a network of people, companies, and groups looking for help to affect that change together, with each person contributing what he or she can.”
Barb: The daughter of an English father and a Malaysian Chinese mother, Cindy Gallop grew up in Brunei and studied at Oxford University in the U.K. She started her career in theater, but quickly found her way into advertisement. She enjoyed remarkable success in that field, and in 2003 she was named Advertising Woman of the Year. In 2009, she founded Make Love Not Porn, which she describes as celebrating real-world sex as a counterpoint to porn.
Cindy, welcome to the podcast!
Cindy: Thank you. Delighted to be here.
Barb: Thanks for taking the time to chat today with the audience, which I’m sure will find you interesting in some of the things that you’ve done and accomplished. I’d like to start out by talking about—I’ve heard you speak about getting over other people’s opinions, and you’ve been able to really successfully do that which has probably contributed to your professional success. And I think that place in space where women kind of get stuck at times. I’m just curious about a time when maybe you had cared about what others thought and what you did to get over it.
Cindy: So what you’re talking about is the fact that I regularly speak about the single most paralyzing dynamic in business and in life is the fear of what other people will think. You’ll never earn the future if you care what other people think. And so people ask me, “How did I get to that point.” To be perfectly honest, 59 years of living basically. You know, there wasn’t a single moment that transformed my mindset. It was a gradual realization, that really not caring what people think is really the only way to live your life. I think that’s because, like all of us, I was socially conditioned as a woman when I was growing up to care enormously what other people think. So from the moment we are born, we are made to feel insecure about absolutely everything. The way we look. The way we dress. The way we talk. Nice girls do this. Nice girls don’t do that. Women spend the rest of our lives coming back from that, and some of us never do.
In my teens and 20s, you know, of course I was rampantly insecure as any of us is, at that age, and really cared about what people thought of me. And as I say it was the wonderful glorious process of growing old and leaving all that shit behind that took me out of that.
Barb: And it sounds like you came to that discovery far earlier than most women do. Or as you mentioned, some women never do. So, it’s really awe-inspiring to hear you speak like that.
Cindy: Well, thank you.
Barb: About the time you founded Make Love Not Porn was about the time I launched a website too called MiddlesexMD. I think we are both in a position to try to promote a different dialog around sex. My aspect and what I do would be around sexual health. So tell us about your project Make Love Not Porn and what inspired you.
Cindy: Sure. Make Love Not Porn was a total accident. I did not consciously intend to set out to do anything that I find myself bizarrely doing as I am doing now. I date younger men who tend to be in their 20s and about 11 or 12 years ago, I began realizing, through dating younger men, I was encountering an issue that, honestly, would never have crossed my mind if I had not encountered it so intimately and personally. I realized I was experiencing what happens when two things converge, and I stress the dual convergence because most people think it’s only one thing. I realized I was uncomfortable with what happens when today’s total freedom of access to hard-core porn online meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex.
When those two things converge, porn becomes sex education by default, in not a good way. So I found myself encountering a number of sexual behavioral memes in bed. And I went “Whoa! I know where that behavior is coming from.” I thought, “Gosh, if I’m experiencing this, other people must be as well. I didn’t know that because 11 or 12 years ago, no one was talking about this or writing about it, and I’m a naturally action-oriented person, so I decided I wanted to do something about this. Ten years ago, I put up a little money, a tiny, clunky website to MakeLoveNotPorn.com, that posted the myths of porn, and balancing with reality. The concept was porn world versus real world.
I launched at TED in 2009. I became the only TED speaker to say the words “come on my face” on the TED stage six times. The talk went viral as a result, and it drove this extraordinary response to my tiny website that I had never anticipated. Thousands of people wrote to me from every country in the world, and I realized I had uncovered a huge global social issue.
I saw an opportunity both to take Make Love Not Porn forward in a way that it would make a much more far-reaching, helpful, and effective, but also to do what I believe in which is to do good and make money simultaneously. So I turned Make Love Not Porn into a business. What I did was I always emphasized that Make Love Not Porn is not anti-porn because the issue isn’t porn. The issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. If we did, amongst many other benefits, people would then be able to bring a real-world mindset, the viewing of what is simply artificial entertainment. Our tagline of Make Love Not Porn is Process, Pro-porn, Pro-Knowing-the-Difference, and our mission is one thing only, which is to help make it easier for every single person in the world to talk openly and honestly about sex. To do that in the public domain—by which I mean parents to children, teachers to schools, one to one—but even more importantly, to do that privately in your intimate relationships. And the reason that’s so crucial is, because we don’t talk about sex, it’s an area of rampant insecurity to every single one of us.
We all get vulnerable when we get naked. Sexual ego is very fragile. People, therefore, find it bizarrely difficult to talk about sex with the people they are actually having it with while they are actually having it. Because in that situation you are terrified that if you say anything at all about what’s going on, you’ll potentially hurt the other person’s feelings, put them off you, derail the encounter, potentially derail the entire relationship, but at the same time, you want to please your partner. You want to make them happy. Everybody wants to be “good in bed.” No one knows what exactly what that means, and so you seize your cues on how to do that from any way you can. And if the only cues you ever see are important—because your parents didn’t talk to you about sex, because you school didn’t teach you, because your friends aren’t honest—those are the cues you take to not very good effect. So given this mission to talk about it, I decided to take every dynamic in social media and apply them to this one area no other social platform will go: to socialize sex. And to make real-world sex and talking about it socially acceptable and, therefore, ultimately just as social shareable as anything else we share on Facebook, Tumblr, or Instagram. So six years ago I launched MakeLoveNotPorn.tv which is an entirely user-generated, crowd-sourced video-sharing platform that celebrates real-world sex.
Anyone from anywhere can send to us videos of themselves having real-world sex. But we are very clear what we mean by this. We are not porn. We are not amateur. We are building a whole new category on the internet that never previously existed: social sex. So our competition isn’t porn. It’s Facebook and YouTube—or it would be if Facebook and YouTube allowed you to socially sexually self-express which they sadly don’t. So social sex videos on Make Love Not Porn are not about performing for the camera. They are about doing what you do on every social platform: capturing what goes on in the real world, as it happens spontaneously in all it’s funny, messy, glorious, silly, wonderfully, ridiculous, beautiful, humanness – we curate to make sure of that. I design Make Love Not Porn around human curation, and we have a revenue-sharing business model. Our members pay to rent and stream social sex videos, and half that income goes to our contributors whom we call Make Love Not Porn stars. Because we would like our Make Love Not Porn stars one day to be as famous as YouTube stars for the same reasons—authenticity, realist individuality, and to make just as much money. We want to hit the kind of critical mass where one day your social sex video gets a million rentals at five dollars per rental, and we give you half the income. We only answer to the economy. So yup. That’s what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
Barb: I saw the focus that you mentioned was to promote good sexual values and good sexual behavior. Do you feel like you’ve seen the outcome that you have desired in that way? Or tell me how your understanding how this is changing people or how they are utilizing it.
Cindy: Sure. When I say that Make Love Not Porn’s only mission is to make it easier to talk about sex, because we don’t do that currently, people don’t get how massively profoundly beneficial the impact of that would be. I designed Make Love Not Porn around my own philosophies, one of which is that everything in life starts with you and your values. So I regularly ask people this question: “What are your sexual values?” And nobody can ever answer me because we’ve not been taught to think like that. Our parents bring us up to have good manners, work ethic, sense of responsibility, accountability. Nobody brings up to behave well in bed. But they should because there values like empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty are as important as they are in every other area of our lives where we are actively taught to exercise those values. And it’s important to say also that what Make Love Not Porn is doing could not be more relevant now in the area of Me Too, because everybody’s talking about consent, everybody’s bragging about consent. Here’s the problem. Nobody knows what consent actually looks like in bed. Nothing educates people about great consensual communicative sex, good sexual values, and good sexual behavior like watching people actually having that kind of sex. And Make Love Not Porn is the only place on the internet where you can do that. Every one of our videos is an object lesson in consent, communication, good sexual values, and good sexual behavior. We are literally education through demonstration.
But to answer your question specifically, I need to just contextualize it. The one thing that I did not realize when I embarked on this venture, was that I would fight an enormous battle every single day to build it. Because every piece of business infrastructure other text startups just take for granted. We can’t because the small print always says “no adult content.” And this is all pervasive across every area of the business in ways people outside this sphere didn’t realize. I can’t get funded. I can’t get banked. It took me four years to find one bank here in America that would allow me to open a business bank account for Make Love Not Porn. My biggest operational challenge is payments. Paypal would not allow that content, Stripe can’t, major credit card processors won’t, every tech service I want to use, be it hosting, encoding, and encrypting, the terms of service always say “No adult content.” We had to build our entire video-sharing video stream platform from scratch as proprietary technology because existing stream services will not stream adult content. I tell you that because if I had access to the same levels of funding and the same business services every other tech startup does, then we would have seen the massive impact on society that I and my team are setting out to achieve in Make Love Not Porn. As it is, what I can tell you is that while we have boot-strapped and limped and struggled to keep this business alive, our members write to us every day telling us about the beneficial impact we have had on their lives. We’ve saved marriages. We have rekindled relationships. We have helped couples get pregnant. We have helped couples recover from various impacts of cancer survival. We have educated people. We helped one young man recover from his own sexual assault. So what I can tell you anecdotally and qualitatively is that our community thanks us for what we are doing and tells us how we have transformed their lives every single day. I cannot point to a bigger impact on society as a whole until I have access to the capital and the funding that will allow me to scale on what we are doing in order to ensure that. But, I work doggedly every single day to try and achieve that.
Barb: Why is it that, as you earlier referenced, pornography is so readily available to anyone who wants to access it, but your efforts to contextualize sex and, again, socialize sex has so many obstacles?
Cindy: It’s worth pointing out that the pornography industry faces all the same obstacles that I and my fellow sex tech founders do because we are all lumped together and treated like pariahs. And that is a very bad thing. When you force an entire industry into the shadows and underground, you make it a lot easier for bad things to happen. And you make it much more difficult for good things to happen. So, I’m fighting that battle and I’m fighting it very publicly because the answer to everything that worries people about porn and sex is not to shoot down, sensor, clamp down, block, repress. It is instead to open up. Open up the dialog around all of this in the way that Make Love Not Porn is working to, open up to welcoming, supporting, and funding entrepreneurs like me who want to destruct all of this for the better, and open up a line to do business in the same way that everybody else does. Because when you do that, you completely transform the landscape of what is deemed adult and society’s attitudes towards it.
I like to repurpose in this context Wayne LaPierre’s of the NRA’s infamous gun control quote: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a business is a good guy with a better business.” The enormous irony of the challenge we face is that my biggest obstacle for raising funds for Make Love Not Porn is the social dynamic that I call “fear of what other people will think.” Because it’s never about what the person I’m talking to thinks. When you understand what we are doing and why we are doing it, nobody can argue the business case is clear, it’s always their fear of what they think other people think, which operates around sex, unlike any other area. That is what really crystalized for me; you know, this personal philosophy of do not give a damn what anybody else thinks because you’ll never own the future otherwise.
Barb: What’s next for your site?
Cindy: Staying alive. I mean literally. I know it sounds depressing, but every day is a battle to survive when the entire tech and business world is trying to shut us down every single day. Just staying alive is an achievement and obviously, I’m doing everything I can to grow in scale. I’m trying to find investors and funding all the time. But our survival is, by no means, certain while we face all these barriers.
My latest challenge is in order to grow, we have to promote ourselves. But Facebook wouldn’t take advertising from any venture related to sex. None of the social platforms will. Neither will traditional, conventional media. I and my fellow female sex tech founders want to advertise on the subway here in New York. The MTA will not accept our advertising. Although, interestingly, there are double standards at play because if you do travel in the New York subway, you’ll see that Roman, found by men, for men, is able to advertise all over the subway with posters that scream “erectile dysfunction” because that’s what Roman offers solutions for. So once again male sexual pleasure is welcomed and celebrated and allowed to advertise, and anything related to female sexual pleasure isn’t.
Barb: Yes, I understand your pain. I have experienced some of those same things. It’s so distressing because as a clinician, the impact of pornography on relationships has just been devastating. I have a friend whose son is at the college level interacting with students and he would say, “You can anticipate that every college male student is viewing pornography, probably on a daily basis.”
Cindy: Oh yes, I know they are. And also, by the way, are very large portion of female college students, which is why Make Love Not Porn is entirely gender equal. And by the way, what we also bring to the table is something very important, because Make Love Not Porn celebrates real-world everything; real-world bodies, real-world hair, real-world penis size, real-world breast size. You can talk body positivity all you like and preach self-love, nothing but nothing makes you feel great about your own body like watching people who are no one’s idea of aspirational body types having a bloody amazing time in bed. Getting turned on by each other, desiring each other. Our mantra is everybody is beautiful when they are having real-world sex. And they really are.
And also very importantly, we celebrate real-world emotion, real-world love, intimacy, feelings. One member, a man, wrote to us on our Make Love Not Porn stars. And he said, “The sex in that video was incidental. I want what you guys have. I saw the way they looked at each other. I saw the way their eyes met. I hope one day I’ll meet someone I can have that with.”
I wish society understood the opposite of what it thinks is true. Women enjoy sex just as much as men, and men are just as romantic as women, and neither gender is allowed to openly celebrate that fact.
Barb: Interesting perspective. Yes, I would agree.
So you’ve said you want to redefine how you live your life in a way that defies what an older woman should look like, talk like, think like, work like, be like, and have sex like. Other people I’ve spoken to in podcast interviews talk about being relatively invisible at this stage of life, specifically midlife and beyond. So how do we maintain our visibility? How would you speak into that?
Cindy: Well first of all, I don’t give a damn what anybody else thinks [laughs], because who cares about other people’s view of your visibility? I consider myself a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society which is older women. And the more of us who just go, “I don’t care what anybody thinks of me. I’m going to live my life exactly the way I want to live it.” That is the only way to be. So I encourage all—all women period, not just older women—to just—this is an important exercise—actually look into yourself. Ask yourself, “What do I believe in? What do I value? What do I stand for? What am I all about?” And then live your life according to those values. Do what means you being true to yourself. Because it’s very easy to live a life that slips into oiled grooves of societal expectations.
This is why, for example, I’m deliberately very public about the fact that I have never ever wanted to be married. I have never wanted children, and I’m enormously grateful that I always knew that as opposed to finding out the hard way by having them. I date younger men, casually and recreationally. I don’t want to be in a relationship. I cannot wait to die alone. I’m enormously happy on my own. I’m public about all of that. I’m not suggesting everybody do what I do, but because we don’t have enough role models in society – for both women and for men, by the way – that demonstrate that you can live your life very differently from the way society expects you to, and still be extraordinarily happy. So be visible to yourself and, in doing that, you will absolutely make damn sure you are visible to everyone else.
Barb: You’ve lived all over the world, and you’ve used your voice promoting diversity and representation in advertising media and public life. What trends do you see that make you hopeful about where we are going as a society, and maybe in the Me Too era that we’re now experiencing and living?
Cindy: Ah, now, Barb, you’re asking the wrong question. Let me say what I mean by that. You’ve asked that question in the passive tense. Because everything that we want to see change—change is when you and I and everyone else make it change. And I don’t wait for things to change, I make them change. The trends are what we decide they are going to be. My favorite quote of all time is Alan Kay who said, “In order to predict the future, you have to invent it.” I’m all about inventing the future because to me people think the future is something that happens without us rolls us over in its wake, and I’m all about decide what you want the future to be and make it happen. Every single one of us can because change happens in the bottom up, not the top down. Every single one of us taking micro actions every day—small, tiny, easy-to-do actions that are designed to change what we want to see change cumulatively—those micro actions add up to a scale of enormous impact.
One of the things I love about the world we are living in today is that we as women are totally doing that. And the great thing about technology and social media—there are obviously downsides to it—but the upside is that it enables us to inspire each other, you know mobilize each other, come together absolutely, escalate those micro actions into change on an enormous scale. I love the fact that what I see all around the world is women doing that—anybody and everybody who wants to see a better and different world doing that, and that’s going to make everything we want to see happen, happen.
Barb: Those are words well spoken. Thank you. That’s encouraging and I think aspirational for all of us to think about it in those terms and, as you said, not make it passive but look forward and behave accordingly.
As we conclude our time together, I’d like to ask you where do you find fullness as this stage of your life?
Cindy: I am… fullness… what do you mean by fullness? [laughs]
Barb: [laughs] Happiness, contentment.
Cindy: Oh right! So I have a horrible time every day because building a sex tech startup is no fun at all. But honestly, I am fundamentally one of the happiest people I know. I consider myself a very lucky person in all sorts of ways. And I just feel enormously fortunate to be healthy. I feel enormously fortunate to be on my own—somewhere in a parallel universe are divorce papers are with my name on them; thank God I never lived that life. I feel very very lucky to have a wonderful family, to have wonderful friends. I feel very lucky to be turning what I believe in into a business, and having the chance to do something that if I can make it happen the way I want it to will make enormous difference on the lives and happiness of so many people. I am living and working my values and fundamentally, all of that just makes me feel very happy no matter what shit life throws at me. So, just living the life I’m living really.
Barb: Good. Well, thank you, and thank you for the efforts you are making in trying to, as you said, socialize sex and improve sexual values and sexual behaviors because I think we’ve got a long ways to go, and it sounds like you are in the lead.
Cindy: Well, can I just say to your audience, I would love all of you listening to this to please come to Make Love Not Porn, sign up for subscription, support me. But also, enjoy the site because we celebrate older sexuality and love and intimacy and happiness. We celebrate older bodies. As far as I’m concerned, life just gets better the older you get, so I’d also like to encourage your wonderful listeners to also consider becoming Make Love Not Porn stars! You can totally be anonymous. You can wear masks, faces are shadowed out of frame. We operate a rent-and-stream model so you can put your videos up and if anything changes—you know, relationship, circumstances, mind—you can take them down again instantly, or we can take them down for you. They are nowhere else on the internet. But seriously consider joining our amazing community and the social sex revolution. Because that’s what we call ourselves at Make Love Not Porn, and the revolution part is not about sex, it’s the social.
Barb: Well, thank you. And thank you for that invitation.
Cindy: Absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me on the show!