Turning the World on with Her Guile
The first thing you should know about Cindy Gallop is that she’s a warrior. Outspoken, often irreverent, and always honest about the industry (advertising) where she’s gained her reputation, she’s a fearless advocate for change.
Gallop’s enviable advertising career began in 1985 and took her around the globe, literally. She ran global accounts for legendary clients like Coca-Cola, Polaroid and Ray-Ban, moving to Singapore in ‘96 to run BBH Asia Pacific. She returned to New York City to head up BBH US in ‘98, and has lived in Manhattan ever since. She was awarded Advertising Woman of the Year in 2003.
She appreciates a well-made martini, is ecstatic about the film Crazy Rich Asians, adores country music, insists sleep is the secret to longevity, and graciously heaps affection and attention on the people and things that really get her going: “I’m inspired by everybody who is changing the world to be the world that we all want to live in. I’m just blown away by people every single day.”
And her favorite quotation of all time is Alan Kay’s “In order to predict the future you have to invent it.”
We met up with the future-thinking Gallop in Manhattan at NeueHouse. Wearing her trademark silver skull ring and competing Facebook- and Instagram-logo necklaces, she has a friendly yet formidable presence — a personal style that’s a bit BDSM meets Far East chic.
Settling in, our conversation began where so many do in the #MeToo era: the issue of sexual harassment of women in advertising. Cindy has keynoted or closed all seven years of the 3% Conference — founded by visionary Kat Gordon to address the inequities around gender and diversity in the industry — and she doesn’t mince words when asked for her insight on the current state of things. After all, in the years since the first 3% Conference, the situation for women and people of color in agencies hasn’t radically changed.
Gallop likes being direct. Her advice at the 2017 conference: “Get the fuck out of where you’re working now and start your own business…start something that gives you agency.”
Physician, Heal Thyself
Somewhere around 2009, Gallop was in Tokyo for a week, working. After a sushi- and sake-fueled dinner, she had her palm read by a Japanese fortune teller. “Part of the charm of this, her English wasn’t very good. And so, she looked at my palm and said to me, ‘You are only half way.’ I was 49 at the time and that was exactly how I felt!”
SMASH CUT to the famous TED Talk where Gallop said, “Actually no, thank you very much, I would much rather you didn’t come on my face.” Thus, becoming the first, and still only, speaker to say the words “come on my face” on the TED stage. That TED Talk soon went viral and launched her new venture, sex-tech company Make Love Not Porn.
Actually, Cindy launched two ventures that day on the TED stage. Her other venture, IfWeRantheWorld.com is described as “a radically simple web-meets-world platform designed to turn good intentions into action, one micro-action at a time.” It’s still currently in beta, so we’ll focus on Make Love Not Porn.
Inventing the Future
“I’m all about inventing the future because too many people think the future is something that happens without us. Rolls us over in its wake. I’m all about deciding what you want the future to be and make it happen. I am making the future I want to happen with Make Love Not Porn.”
So what does she want to make happen? Gallop pulls no punches: “My startup addresses how completely fucked up we all are about sex.”
More on that in a minute. But first, where did the idea come from?
Dating (Much) Younger Men
Gallop dates much younger men. Boom. And Make Love Not Porn is an unintentional result of this cool, cougar mindset.
She explains, “I never consciously, intentionally set out to do anything. It came about through my direct personal experience dating younger men. The men I date tend to be in their twenties. And 11 or 12 years ago, through dating younger men, I was encountering an issue that honestly would never have occurred to me if I had not encountered it so very intimately and personally.”
“I was experiencing what happens when today’s total freedom of access to online porn 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.”
Ten years ago, “I thought, ‘Gosh, if I’m experiencing this, other people must know as well…’ I put up, with no money, this tiny, clunky website Make Love Not Porn dot com as a side venture. In its original iteration, it was just words and designs. Nobody was talking about this. Nobody was writing about this. This was me, in complete isolation going, ‘You know, I want to do something about this.’ ”
CUT back to 2009 and that viral TED Talk, with Cindy, as always, future-thinking. “I saw the opportunity for a big business solution, with this huge untapped global social need —and I use the word ‘big’ advisedly, because even then, back in 2000 at concept stage, I knew 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 at least 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 was thinking big right from the get-go.” Of course she was.
So, what’s Make Love Not Porn all about? Social sex, dear readers. It’s a newer term, radical for some, so let’s get comfortable with it.
In the era of #MeToo and the dialogue around consent, Make Love Not Porn could not be more prescient. “Everybody is talking about consent, everybody is writing about consent. There are lots of thoughtful, nuanced, insightful think pieces about consent out there. Here’s the problem: Nobody knows what consent actually looks like in bed.” Hmmm.
Gallop continues at a mesmerizing British clip, “The only way you educate people on what constitutes great, consensual, communicative sex, good sexual values and good sexual behavior, is to watch 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.”
“And so we call ourselves, at MLNP, the social sex revolution — the revolutionary part is not the sex, it’s the social.”
The Business of Being Pro-Sex
“I always emphasize to people 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…The tagline of Make Love Not Porn is ‘pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference.’ And our mission is one thing only: to help make it easier for every single person in the world to talk openly and honestly about sex.”
“We all get vulnerable when we get naked. Sexual ego is very fragile. People, therefore, find it bizarre to talk about sex with the people they’re actually having it with, while they’re actually having it. Because in that situation, you are terrified that if you say anything at all about what’s going on, if you comment on the action at all, you will potentially hurt the other person’s feelings. You put them off you. You will derail the encounter. You will 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. And so you will seize your cue on how to do that right from anywhere you can.”
And there’s the rub, pun intended, “If the only cues you’ve ever seen are in porn, because your parents didn’t talk to you about sex, because your school didn’t teach you, because your friends aren’t honest, those are the cues you are going to take to not very good effect.”
The Sex-Tech Startup Challenge
Six-and-a-half years ago, Gallop and her tiny team launched the first stage of the mission. “I’ve already predicted the future, but I needed funding to achieve it.” Visionary, but practical.
That’s why the first stage of MLNP TV is entirely a user-generated, crowdsourced, video-sharing platform that celebrates real-world sex. What does this mean for you? Well, anyone from anywhere in the world can submit videos of themselves having real-world sex.
Can Make Love Not Porn’s stars ever become the next influencers? Gallop wants them to — one day as famous as YouTube stars, for the same reasons. She lists, “authenticity, realness, individuality — and I want them to make just as much money.”
Gallop pulls back thoughtfully, “I want to drill a bit more into what I mean by social sex because we are doing something utterly unique.” She continues, “We are building a home category on the internet that has never previously existed. Social sex. So, our competition isn’t porn, it’s Facebook and YouTube.”
Ironically, every barrier that Cindy has encountered in trying to build her business is because of our society’s issues with sex. “I had absolutely no idea when I embarked on building MLNP that I would fight an enormous battle every single day to build this business, essentially because every piece of business infrastructure that any other tech startup just takes for granted, I can’t because the small print always says ‘no adult content’.” Whoa. “So, I can’t get funded. I can’t get a bank. It took me four years to find one bank here in America that would allow me to open a business bank account for MLNP.” And here we thought sex sells.
“If You Can’t Laugh at Yourself in Bed, Where Can You?”
“Social sex is enormously reassuring because we celebrate real-world everything: real-world bodies, real-world hair, real-world penis size, real-world breast size. MLNP’s mantra is ‘everybody is beautiful when they’re having real-world sex’ — and they really are…we celebrate the accidents, the awkwardness, the messiness. If you only learn about sex from porn, porn teaches you that sex is a performance; nothing must go wrong.”
“Social sex videos on MLNP are not about performing for the camera. They’re just about doing what you already do on every social platform. Capturing what goes on in the real world as it happens spontaneously in all its funny, messy, glorious, silly, beautiful, awkward, ridiculous, comical humanness. We curate to make sure of that.”
Transforming Relationships, One Subscriber at a Time
Gallop’s mission to talk about sex means she’s decided to take every dynamic in social media and apply it to this one area where no other social network or platform will ever go. “In order to socialize sex and make real-world sex (and talking about it) socially acceptable and therefore, ultimately, just as socially sharable as anything else we share on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram.” It’s pretty mind-blowing.
Old, young, gay, straight, black, white — you’d find everyone on Make Love Not Porn. Cindy reveals that a vast majority of MLNP stars have never ever filmed themselves doing anything sexual before, ever. “They are doing this for the first time because they believe in our social mission and they want to support what we’re doing…We are all inclusive. We are LGBTQ.” Hell yes!
“[Our MLNP stars] tell us that doing this made them love themselves more. It enhanced their sexual sense of self, their sexual self-esteem. Couples say, ‘We thought we were open, but doing this just took our relationship to a whole new level,’ because when you decide to film yourselves having sex you have to talk about it. When you talk about it, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been together, the conversation goes places it’s never ever gone before.”
So, dear AGEIST readers, Cindy asks, “Please, if you like what I’m doing, join Make Love Not Porn and subscribe to support us. And consider becoming Make Love Not Porn stars.” Wink Wink.
P.S. If you’re interested in watching all of Cindy Gallop’s kickass keynotes from the 3% Conference, you can find them here.