My Sex Positive Story: Cindy Gallop

In this fifth instalment of our sex positive series we hear from MakeLoveNotPorn founder, Cindy Gallop.

Cindy Gallop of Make Love Not Porn

Cindy Gallop is the woman who defined sex tech. Siobhan Fitzgerald talks to the founder of social sex video sharing platform MakeLoveNotPorn about her idea of utopia and the role our industry can play in bringing it about.

SF: First up, how do you identify? 

CG: I’m the founding CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn. I’m straight and my pronouns are she and her.

SF: Great. And can you tell me about what you do?

CG: At MakeLoveNotPorn we are pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference. We are the world’s first and only user-generated, human-curated social sex video sharing platform. We are kind of what Facebook would be if Facebook allowed you to socially sexually self-express. We are socializing and normalizing sex in the real world to make it easier to talk about, to promote consent, communication, good sexual values, and good sexual behavior.

We call ourselves the social sex revolution. The revolution part is not the sex. It’s the social.

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SF: You are basically the queen of sex tech. Can you talk to me about how the industry has changed since you first launched MakeLoveNotPorn?

CG: Sure. So, the entertaining thing is that the sex tech industry didn’t really exist, as an industry, until I began defining it. Obviously, there’s been a whole bunch of sex tech ventures over the years, but the legitimisation of sex tech really came about through my own necessity. I set out six years ago to raise a round of funding to make MakeLoveNotPorn and I knew it was going to be enormously challenging, but basically my biggest obstacle raising funding was the social dynamic.

I call it “fear of what other people will think”, which operates around sex like any other area.

I realised that I would have to do what I tell other entrepreneurs to do, which is that when you have a truly world-changing startup, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around. And so I like to say that this was the point to which I got into the “Steve-Jobs-business-reality-distortion” because if reality tells me that I cannot grow MakeLoveNotPorn the way I want to, I’m going to change reality.

And what I mean by that is I therefore deliberately six years ago began defining, pioneering and championing my own category of sex tech.

I literally wrote the definition of sex tech. If you Google sex tech I’m result one on page one. I coined the hashtag #sextech. I didn’t invent the term, but I’m directly responsible for propagating the hashtag as widely as it’s used today.

I began speaking at tech conferences all around the world on why the next big thing in tech is disrupting sex. Because I thought, at base level, if I just say this loudly enough, often enough, in enough places, people start believing it.

I’m not thrilled about the fact that I had to basically parallel two things over the past eight years since I launched I’ve had to build my own start-up while actively working alongside it to change the cultural context around it in order to enable it to thrive. The really gratifying thing today is that, to date, sex tech is recognised as a legitimate category.

SF: Your own personality has been absolutely crucial as a professional woman of high standing in legitimising the industry. What has that journey been like for you on a personal level?

CG: On a personal level that journey per se is not what’s been challenging. What’s been challenging is the battle I fight, every single day, because every piece of business infrastructure any other tech startup gets to take for granted, I can’t, because the small print always says ‘no adult content’.

And this is the same battle every other woman of sex tech has, but that is enormously frustrating. I am angry every single day. I’m angry at the needless barriers placed in my path that mean I cannot scale my startup to the billion dollar venture I know it can be without raising a tonne of funding, which I’m about to set out to try to do, yet again.

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SF: Have you seen progress? Are things changing?

CG: Even within sex tech, there is a hierarchy of acceptability. So, now, sex toys are a known category, there’s a familiarity there. There is a burgeoning category of audio erotica and porn, which is increasingly much more acceptable to investors because you don’t have to see anything. You only listen. You don’t have to see any of that nasty stuff happening.

MakeLoveNotPorn operates right out on the extreme end of that hierarchy. Oh my god, people having sex on video! So, my venture is more challenging, I would say, than almost any other sex tech venture trying to raise funding from investors.

SF: It sounds like things are still super frustrating for you. Is there anything you’re excited about at the moment in the world of sex tech? 

CG: Oh, well, I mean, I’m excited by just the amazingly innovative ventures that are being launched all the time. Especially by founders who are other: women, non-binary, you know, disabled. One of the things that are really exciting to me at the moment is, I’m blown away by what Heather Morrison in Australia and her brother Andrew Gurza are doing with Handi, which is the first line of sex toys for disabled people. And I’m blown away by what they’re doing because I’ve been saying for years, anything focused on accessibility makes the world better for all of us. I love the incredibly innovative designs and thinking there.

Then, I’m obviously biased because I’m a board advisor, but I’m only a board advisor to ventures I really believe in. So there’s Frances Tang of Awkward Essentials and (their sex clean-up tool) The Dripstick.

I’m excited about all of the amazing innovations readily coming onto the scene.

SF: When you launched, would you say your TED Talk really sort of set everything moving?

CG: Yes. That changed the course of my life, absolutely. Before that, this was just a little side venture. I realised I’d uncovered a huge global social need. I mean, I was the very first person 11 years ago to stand up on stage and publicly identify the issue of porn as default sex education, when nobody was talking about it and nobody was writing about it.

SF: What does your utopian sex positive future looks like? 

CG: Well, so this is my vision for the world. You can design the most cutting-edge sex toy in the entire universe but if a couple cannot bring themselves to talk to each other about their sex life, they will never buy and use it. So, MakeLoveNotPorn is designed to completely change the context around sex, in socialising it, to make everything more open so that people are able to buy into what everyone else is doing.

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I designed MakeLoveNotPorn around my own beliefs and philosophies, one of which is that everything in life starts with you and your values. So, I readily ask people this question, “What are your sexual values?” And 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, accountability. Nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed.

They should. Because in bed, values like empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honestly, respect, they’re important. In every other area of our lives we’re actively taught to exercise those values.

So this is my vision for the world in which MakeLoveNotPorn achieves our mission at scale. Parents will bring their children up openly to have good sexual values and good sexual behaviour, the same way that they currently bring kids up to have good values and behaviour in every other area of life.

We will therefore cease to bring up rapists. The only way that you end rape culture is by inculcating in society and openly, talked about, promoted, operated and very importantly, aspired to, gold standard of what constitutes good sexual values and behavior. When we do that, we also end Me Too.

We end sexual harassment, abuse, violence, all areas where the perpetrators currently rely on the fact that we do not talk about sex to ensure victims 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 everybody, including men. And when we do that, we are one step closer to world peace.

I talk about Make LoveNotPorn as being about world peace and I’m not joking. So that’s my utopia.

SF: What you just said is what keeps me going. It’s important for our daughters.

CB: Also, the single most important piece of advice I have to give to any sex tech founder all the time, is take yourself out of the shadows. What I mean by that is, often people working in this area unconsciously internalize, without even realising they’re doing it by the way, society’s disapproval of what they’re doing in a way that then negatively impacts your ability to do business and do the kind of business you want to do.

So the example I always give is years ago, a young woman came to me with a sex tech start-up. She wanted to redesign sex toys, make them cool, sell them online. So she’s telling me about this start-up and she goes, “and the thing is, Cindy people are embarrassed to be seen buying sex toys. So we’re going to package them up very discreetly, and we’re going to…”

And I said, “Hold it right there. You need to go right back to the beginning and re-concept your start-up from the ground up. Because you need not to say to me, ‘people are embarrassed to be seen buying sex toys’.

You need to say to me, ‘we’re going to make people not embarrassed to be seen buying sex toys’.” When you concept and design a venture around existing societal bias and prejudice, all you do is reinforce it. 

Many years ago, I was booked to interview Larry Flint, the founder of Hustler, as the opening session of an entertainment conference in LA.

I was in the green room with him beforehand, running through my list of questions. And one of my questions was going to be, “Larry you pioneered in an industry where nobody has ever encouraged a pioneer,” and I was going to go on and say, “What would you say to entrepreneurs today to encourage them to do the same thing,” but he stopped me, interrupted me.

And he said, “You know, I never thought of myself as a pioneer because I just didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.” That’s the key. Operate as if you’re not doing anything wrong.

You can follow Cindy Gallop on Twitter and we recommend you check out MakeLoveNotPorn.

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