There Are No Royalties in Porn: An Interview with Cindy Gallop, CEO of Make Love Not Porn




PORNOGRAPHY has always been somewhat of a polarizing issue within the feminist movement. In retaliation to the momentum of free love echoing from the 1970s, the Reagan Revolution attempted to stuff female sexual emancipation back into the box. If the 1970s was the image of the barefoot she-hippie, the ’80s was Phyllis Schlafly with her STOP ERA button. Bodies were suddenly covered up in shoulder-padded power suits. In 1983, Gloria Steinem published Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, and in a chapter entitled, “Erotica vs. Pornography,” wrote: “all pornography is an imitation of the male-female, conqueror-victim paradigm, and almost all of it actually portrays or implies enslaved woman and masterful male.” On the other hand, she claims, erotica has the power to “rescue sexual pleasure.”

Today, sex-positive feminism is having its renaissance. Thirty percent of all data transferred across the internet is porn, and in his proposed federal budget for 2017, President Obama has removed all funding for abstinence-only sexual education. Yet there is a lingering muddiness around the topic of pornography. A friend of mine recently confided in me that she felt like a “bad feminist” for watching porn. Is the difference between porn and erotica really as simple as Steinem describes — that pornography inherently replicates gender inequality, what Laura Mulvey coined as the “male gaze,” whereas erotica maintains some kind of higher moral standing ground?

Enter Cindy Gallop, sex-positive, porn-positive activist and CEO of Make Love Not Porn. Make Love Not Porn was born in 2009 at the TED Talks, where Gallop, whose background is in advertising, launched it as a campaign dedicated to highlighting the differences between porn sex and real world sex. Shortly after that, she created MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, a website in which couples may upload, after being approved, videos of themselves having sex. For five dollars, you can rent and stream — not download or own — a video. Half of your purchase goes to the couple, who Gallop fondly refers to as her “Make Love Not Porn stars.” The result? A platform to celebrate sex that is neither performative, generic, nor misogynistic. At a time when pornography is supplementing — or constituting — sexual education, Gallop has stepped in to create a site that is dedicated to showcasing everyday sex of real couples, singles, threesomes, you name it. In doing so, Gallop hopes to socialize sex, with the aim of fostering real conversations about it.

Several months ago, I attended the second annual NYC Porn Film Festival. What could have been a potentially awkward experience sitting in a warehouse viewing porn with 50 other strangers became something else entirely: communal, loving, funny, sweet. That a group of strangers could come together to participate in a typically solitary activity was astonishing. It almost felt innocent. Gallop was there to present some of her films, and a few weeks later I sat down with her and the head curator of MLNP, Sarah Beall, to gain some more insight into how Make Love Not Porn is fronting the digital sex revolution.

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SOPHIE BROWNER: Make Love Not Porn’s tagline, “Pro-sex, Pro-porn, Pro- knowing the difference,” really opens up the conversation about what differentiates porn sex from real world sex.

CINDY GALLOP: The tagline does communicate immediately what we’re all about. The pro-porn part of that is very important. I remember when we first put our tagline out there, [pornographic actress] Stoya, who is actually now a friend but at the time we hadn’t met, tweeted at me and said, “that’s a great mission,” which I really appreciated, coming from a porn star. We are very specific about what we describe as real world sex — porn sex is real sex, because people are having sex for real. But we’re differentiating between porn-world sex, which is performative entertainment, with camera angles in mind, versus real world sex, which is the sex that we all have in our daily lives: funny, messy, beautiful, ridiculous, glorious. The reason we are showcasing it is precisely because there is no real world sex counterpoint to porn for anybody to look at, engage with, and understand.

We are the only online platform in the world doing this. People often say, “but what about amateur porn?” But 99.9 percent of all amateur porn isn’t; it’s being made by professional production companies masked as amateur, and even when you have true amateurs, they replicate what the porn stars do because they think that’s what people want to see.

The reason amateur is the most popular sector of porn has nothing to do with the porn itself. It has everything to do with the fact that everybody wants to know what everybody else is really doing in bed. That’s what we’re showing them, in a way that nobody else is. For us, real world sex is everything and anything that happens between fully consenting people in the real world. It’s all-inclusive. It’s so many things. We celebrate real world everything: real world bodies, real world hair, real world penis size, real world breast size, real world messiness, real world accidents. The same shit happens to all of us. It’s wonderful seeing that other people have sex just like you do with all the ridiculousness, with all the joyousness, with all the wonderfulness of real world bodies.

By the way, our philosophy is everybody is beautiful when they’re having real world sex. It’s just terrific to look at what are not “aspirational” body types and see them turning each other on and being madly loved and desired. It’s enormously moving because we celebrate real world love, real world intimacy, real world feelings, real world emotions.

What struck me watching some of your videos is that you see the body being treated as a complete whole. You’re so used to seeing, in pornography, these very tight shots, which can seem almost dehumanizing.

The ubiquity of porn is having all sorts of impacts on all of us that we still absolutely do not understand. I am fascinated by the phenomena of the dick pic. Porn encourages men to think that we are just gagging for the D, because it’s a gift. I adore a good dick pic when I like what’s attached to it, when I like you. You are what makes your dick interesting to me. And yet porn, which, like every other industry, is male-dominated, perpetuates that myth.

I know the genesis of MLNP came out of your experiences dating younger men. Was it a case of realizing that your sexual experiences with these men were performative in some way?

It was a very gradual realization. It was: “I’ve seen these facial expressions before, I’ve heard that soundtrack before, I’ve seen these moves before.”

From that discovery, how did you go on to create MLNP?

Bear in mind, this was nine or 10 years ago. No one was picking up on this as an issue at all yet. There was a real isolation of any dialogue about it. I’m a naturally very action-oriented person and I thought: I want to do something about this. I felt the world needed a sort of public announcement. I bought the URL MakeLoveNotPorn.com — I thought I needed something punchy, sound-bitey, memorable. I wrote all the copy myself, got a friend who was a designer, paid him a small amount, and put the site up on virtually no money and had the opportunity to launch at TED. It received this extraordinary global response that I had honestly never anticipated. I realized I had uncovered a huge global, social issue that no one else was talking about.

When you first did your TED Talk you did not yet have videos on the site.

No, MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, as a concept, came out of that extraordinary response. We launched it, and the talk went viral. The most extraordinary thing was not just the instantly huge traffic to the site from every country in the world, but that every single day for the past eight years we have received thousands of emails. They come from everybody: young and old, male and female, straight and gay, every single country. Because I talked about something no one every speaks about, people feel like they can tell me anything. It was the sheer human impact of all those emails arriving day after day that made me go: Bloody hell, I now feel that I have a personal responsibility.

We are not anti-porn, because the issue isn’t porn. The issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. Because if we did, among many other benefits, it would enable people to bring a real world mindset when viewing what is simply artificial entertainment. So our entire mission is one thing only: talk about it. Everything we do is purely to make it easier to talk openly and honestly about sex in a public domain.

So the videos, in a way, are really just a means to an end.

Exactly. Our core target is millennial. I mean, we are for everybody, but millennials particularly get it. They get that they need us, because they’ve grown up with porn. They also get that we’re not just something you watch, we’re something you engage with. We are a communications vehicle. We’re an engagement platform. We spark conversations, we help couples explore their sexualities, have better communication. We give people ideas for their own sex lives. We are not just something you just watch.

You share your profits with your Make Love Not Porn stars. It’s interesting that even though people often pay for porn, they don’t know where exactly that money is going.

Precisely. I designed MLNP around one of my very strongly held beliefs, which is that everyone should realize the financial value of what they create. My background is in theater and advertising, two industries where ideas and creativity are massively undervalued even by the creatives themselves. I believe that when you create something that gives other people pleasure, you should see a financial return on it. And the more people you give more pleasure to, the greater that financial return should be. So our business model is deliberately the exact opposite of the porn industry, because in porn, whether you are one of the world’s most famous porn stars or a relative newbie, you are only ever paid by the scene. The bottom end is a few hundred dollars and the max is about $2,000 tops per scene. That scene will then to go on be viewed (and I use this numeric advisably) trillions of times on Brazzers, PornHub, Naughty America, whatever it is. The porn stars will never see a cent from any of those views. There are no royalties in porn. If there were, by the way, it would be a very different kind of business. So with our model, the more people who appreciate what you do and view it, the more money you stand to make. Some of our more prolific MLNPorn stars make four figures at each payout. This is enabling people to do things like pay off student loans, take vacations, buy new washing machines — things they couldn’t otherwise do. And we think that’s wonderful.

Is it possible to be engaged in MLNP and watch these videos and then also watch pornography?

Of course! Absolutely. We are not an “instead of,” we are a complement to. In the same way that people enjoy watching Hollywood movies and documentaries. People enjoy watching fantasy and reportage shows. It’s absolutely fine to enjoy porn and also engage with and appreciate real world sex as something completely different.

When I watched your reel at the New York City Porn Film Festival, I was struck by how much humor was in the videos. You don’t see that so much in porn.

[Curator Sarah Beall] gets to watch people’s sex lives unfold over time! This happens nowhere else online. There’s no other place where you’re able to watch in real time real world sex life, real world relationships that the partners are willing to share in the same way that we share other things socially. It’s absolutely wonderful.

Sarah, as curator, could you talk a little bit about the criteria you refer to when going through video submissions?

SARAH BEALL: The must-haves are consent and context. It must be consensual, both in terms of the sex and the filming as well as uploading. Contextualized, meaning: Real world sex doesn’t start from the minute you’re naked and then boom somebody — in particular, the man — has come. So we ask people to shoot before and after, to leave in everything they feel comfortable with. My ideal video has no editing at all. I want to see people running across the room to grab the lube and the sex toys. We ask people to contextualize by writing a backstory which is less of a play-by-play and more of a, “this is my favorite part, this is the kind of day it was us.” We also ask people, if they feel comfortable, to do intro videos — especially if they’re brand new, where they introduce themselves and talk about why they’ve decided to get involved in MLNP. I find the intro videos incredibly powerful, and in terms of the real world sex that comes after, it completely affects how I’m viewing or experiencing it as a whole.

Context is one of my favorite things, in the sense that is really what distinguishes this from pornography. You get zero context in heterosexual pornography — it almost always seems to end with the man having an orgasm and then it’s over. And I love those in-between moments in your real world sex videos, with the cat jumping on the bed, or something knocking over. It’s endearing and it’s real. Those moments in pornography are edited out, but here they’re celebrated.

CINDY GALLOP: We had a woman write in to us and say: “This is going to sound really weird but I really love seeing the insides of other people’s houses.” And I love to see that, too! I love seeing other people’s bedrooms and kitchens, and it’s all part of the fascination of this is real. This is how people really live and this is how people have sex. And it’s wonderful.

The real issue is not with pornography itself, but the inability to recognize that what we’re watching is fantasy.

That’s the core issue, but to be perfectly frank, there are other issues surrounding that. This is an industry that is dominated at the top by a host of white guys talking to white guys about other white guys, which means porn is through the male lens. People who are growing up being educated by porn are internalizing that the entire goal of sex is to get the man off. I’m 56, so I’m old enough to remember that back in the day it was enormously important to the men I slept with that I came. That I came first. That I came at least once, if not several times. If I did not come, the entire sex session was a failure. Nobody was going anywhere until I came. I remember those days very fondly.

These days if I don’t come, it’s not even noticed or remarked upon. By the way, I only date utterly lovely younger men — I’m very selective about who I date. And this is what they have unconsciously inculcated. I see them in bed, modeling the body language that says, “My dick is the center of the universe.” And it’s entirely unconscious. Do you see what I mean?

I know exactly what you mean.

Because we don’t talk about sex in the real world, we have no socially acceptable vocabulary with which to do so. The language of porn is rushing to fill that gap, which is not good for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is, as you would expect in a male-dominated industry, the language of porn is male-generated. The person who coined the term “finger blasting” didn’t have a vagina. Because if you have a vagina and you hear that term, you cross your legs! The person who coined the term, “getting her ass railed” never got his ass railed. Pounding, banging, slamming, wrecking, destroying — are all terms created by the people who do not possess the soft internal tissue to which those things are being done.

So at MLNP, we are building a whole new language for real world sex. We tag our videos completely differently to the usual porn drop-down menu, with words like juicy, succulent. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never wanted my pussy wrecked or destroyed or hammered, right? I’m very nonjudgmental about porn but I do find a number of things around the language extremely upsetting in terms of the way they talk about the women in the videos. Ten-year-old boys are looking online and seeing that sex is women are cum dumpster sluts. Language matters. Language really matters.

What are things that you’re not doing right now that you would like to explore at MLNP?

Oh my god, so many things! We want to take every other dynamic that occurs on every other social platform and apply it to ours. This is not us going we think the world wants this; this is us going, the world is crying out for this. Everybody wants to be better informed, better educated, better able to communicate, and better able to have better sex. Everyone wants to be good in bed, but nobody knows what that means. And we’re helping them find out.

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You can help crowdfund MakeLoveNotPorn on iFundWomen: https://ifundwomen.com/projects/makelovenotporn

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Sophie Browner is a New York–born writer living in Los Angeles.


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