Make Love Not Porn’s Cindy Gallop on why “sex tech” is the final frontier of tech investing and moving away from a world where sexual norms are dictated by shame and pornography
The secret to good sex is making love, not porn— and Cindy Gallop has found money to back that up.
The 57-year-old is founder of Make Love Not Porn, an online “social sex” platform where users can share videos of them in intimate moments. Gallop, who created the website in 2012 after having sex with younger men, only to find that most of them seemed to have learnt how to fornicate from watching pornography. She hopes that by opening people’s eyes to a wider variety of sex, sexual norms will change.
“If you’ve only learnt about sex from porn, you’re taught that it’s a performance and nothing must go wrong,” Gallop tells Moneyish. “We celebrate the awkwardness and messiness of real world sex, in all its mess, glorious, ridiculous humanness. She adds that the difference between “social sex” and homemade pornography lies that the latter is made for an audience. “Porn is simply masturbatory material. We’re happy to be that but are many things on top of that.”
In one video for instance, a cat suddenly jumps on the bed of a couple making love. On another, a woman’s mother calls when she’s having sex and she decides to answer the call, before getting right back into it. There’s certainly an audience for such material: Make Love Not Porn has almost 400,000 global “members” who pay for each of the roughly 2000 videos they watch. The platform splits receipts with 200 “MakeLoveNotPornstars,” a model different from that of the porn industry where performers are compensated per scene. One popular couple that’s been with the website for almost 5 years has made $20,000. (Most of the users are identified by usernames they choose, though adult entertainer friends of Gallop’s like Lily LaBeau go by their stage names.)
So far the platform has just one backer, an anonymous friend of Gallop’s working in the financial industry who put up $500,000 in seed funding. More recently, he’s pledged a further $2 million to help Make Love Not Porn scale. She intends to use the funding to improve the user experience, offer more regular payment cycles and hire more staff for what’s currently two-(wo)man outfit.
Gallop’s also raising a multimillion dollar fund to support initiatives that change sex “from shameful to social.” One of her pet projects is a messaging app deliberately designed for sexting, especially given Snap Inc.’s fervent efforts to disassociate itself from that term. The project, which is in development, will allow people to livestream sex calls upon mutual consent and images sent won’t disappear in just 30 seconds. “The implication then is that it’s filthy and must disappear,” she says. While the media will be stored, any party can delete all of it without the other’s consent.
If Gallop has had little trouble finding her tribe, she’s encountered more difficulty scaling and raising money. For one, online businesses from payment processors to website hosts often refuse to work with any service that deals with adult content. Gallup was able to eventually find suppliers, but typically only after a laborious process. Venture capital has largely stayed away. “I only wish I could get into the room to have a conversation,” she says. “Any other founder looking for an investor can target [VCs] who’ve said they want to invest in say, clean tech. Nobody currently says bring me sex tech.”
The challenges Gallop faces— in spite of her larger-than-life profile beloved by VCs— is testimony to how hard it is to operate in the sex tech space. Born in Borneo and educated at Oxford University, the New York-based Gallop later became a top executive in the advertising industry. A 2009 TED Talk she gave illustrating the concept of Make Love Not Porn has been watched over 2.1 million times. Her former apartment, designed like a Shanghai boudoir during the Jazz Age, has also served as the set for a pimp’s apartment in “Law and Order: SVU”.
The entrepreneur sees sex tech as a top disruptive opportunity in line with legal cannabis and blockchain, but the reticence of VCs is because paid porn— an associate of Gallop’s site if not quite a peer— is seen as a sunset industry by most. Big names like Girls Gone Wild and FriendFinder Networks, which owns Penthouse magazine, have declared bankruptcy.
Gallop says that VCs have told her they fear being mocked or ostracized by partners if they bring her proposals to them. And despite a slow increase in the number of female VCs who might presumably be kinder to adult entertainment not geared to the male gaze, Gallop says that they too have been reluctant.
Still, she’s optimistic. “The one good thing about this climate around us is that we live in a world where grabbing women by the pussy is presidentially endorsed,” she says. “We cannot go on operating like the way we previously have and that’s very good for my business.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved