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Make Love Not Porn?

MakeLoveNotPorn.tv will pay people to post videos of themselves having real sex.
 
 
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“Porn is homogenizing sex,” Cindy Gallop proclaimed on a recent rainy Wednesday, her blond bob swinging with emphasis. The result, according to Ms. Gallop: A generation of young men, all too many of whom think the most natural landing place for their ejaculate is a woman’s face, and a generation of young women, all too many of whom think they’re required not just to participate, but wholly enjoy such an act.

This isn’t an academic notion for Ms. Gallop, a veteran advertising executive-turned-social theorist-turned-entrepreneur, or a societal ill stumbled across while perusing The Atlantic.“This is me going, ‘I fuck 22-year-olds,’” she said. “I know how this plays out in the real world. And that’s why I’m very motivated to do something about it.”

To that end, Ms. Gallop is launching—in barest beta form, strictly invite-only—MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, a startup she hopes will reverse the porn problem that she has dubbed the “single biggest impact that technology is having on human behavior today” in a manner befitting the internet: paying people to post videos of themselves having real sex.

Ms. Gallop lives in Chelsea, in a unit she ominously calls “the black apartment,” though the overall effect is more cabinet of curiosities than Amsterdam sex dungeon. A large painting of our hostess vamping in a tremendously low-cut black dress dominates the foyer. Inside, we encounterd low shelves littered with knickknacks including an impressive collection of erotic Japanese carvings and a pair of framed, crystal-encrusted handguns. We conducted our interview over a coffee table adornment of a taxidermied mongoose locked in eternal struggle with a cobra.

Before Ms. Gallop became a crusading sex educator hell-bent on changing the way Gen Y interacts with porn, she spent 27 years in the ad business, working with brands like Axe, Levi’s and Johnnie Walker. (Lately, she’s been consulting for L’Oréal, conceiving new fragrances.)

In 1998, she decamped from London to launch the American office of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. In 2005 she turned 45 and had, she said, “a bit of a midlife crisis.” After 16 years at BBH, she was ready to do something different but wasn’t quite sure what. So she left the agency with one organizing principle: “Let’s open myself up to everything that I possibly can.”

In 2008, she began kicking around the idea for MakeLoveNotPorn.com, a website designed to expose the various myths perpetrated by hard-core pornography. (For example, not all women are interested in facials of the bedroom variety.) The project was launched in 2009 with a brief talk at TED, an opening volley guaranteed to shake up the rarified proceedings at Long Beach’s gathering of ultra-hip eggheads. Ms. Gallop took the stage in black leather pants and pronounced: “I date younger men. And when I date younger men, I have sex with younger men.” (A pause for awkward giggles.) “And when I have sex with younger men, I encounter, very directly and personally, the real ramifications of the creeping ubiquity of hard-core pornography in our culture.” (One loud laugh; much awkward shifting in seats.)

However, the website didn’t quite live up to its grab-the-world-by-the-shoulders introduction. It was bare-bones and, in terms of color palette, font and layout, evoked the sticky-floored sketchiness of an adult DVD store. Ms. Gallop freely admitted that she has put no money and little effort into the project since its initial launch, which is why it looks “so basic, so clunky, so minimal.”

Fixing the world’s impoverished sex education and making a dent in porn’s stranglehold on sexual norms would require something sexier. “If I want to counter the impact of porn as default sex education, I have to create something that has the potential to be, ultimately, as mass, as mainstream and as all-pervasive in our society today as porn currently is,” she said.

“I’m setting myself some very big goals, as you can see.”

Leaning forward and fixing us with a stare, she went on, “I want to help bring the individuality, the creativity and the self-expression back to [sex]. At the same time, I want to explode a lot of the received wisdom that exists out there about porn.” Porn itself, she was careful to emphasize, isn’t the problem. The problem is “the complete lack in our society of the open, healthy dialogue around sex and porn. If you boiled my entire message in Make Love Not Porn down to one thing, it’s pure and simply: Talk about it.”


Would-be stars submit a video of themselves, fill out a couple of forms for compliance purposes (all information is immediately encrypted) and pay a nonrefundable $5 to have their work evaluated by Ms. Gallop and her head of content and community. Those videos that make the cut will be hosted and streamed on the Make Love Not Porn website. A payment of $5 will allow you to rent one of those videos for three weeks, and there’s no cap on the number of times you rewatch the video during that period. Submitters get 50 percent of the take, minus fees for hosting and the like.Here’s how she proposes to turn her clunky myth-debunking site into a self-sustaining business powered by world-altering content: User-generated “real sex” videos. Not “amateur,” mind you—that term, as far as Ms. Gallop is concerned, implies that those of us who aren’t porn stars are clueless. No, these are videos of couples doing what they do, playing only to each other and not to the camera.

A sneak peek of the site revealed a welcoming orange landing page, the platform seeded with 13 videos to set the tone. The first batch of videos is heavy on self-pleasure and “arty” shots, and the quality varies from video to video. One couple gets it on while remaining almost entirely clothed; the intro explains their apartment was cold. Lily Labeau and Danny Wylde, adult industry professionals, have contributed a video prefaced by a giggly introduction.

As for what will qualify going forward, well, Ms. Gallop and her colleagues will know it when they see it. She was quick to point out that the site is not anti-porn, and adamant that the goal is not simply “better pornography.” Nor is the object to provide a steady stream of soft-focus, cheesily romantic “female-friendly” adult content. “This is about simply recording what goes on in the real world,” she explained.

If that sounds a little fuzzy and open-ended, it’s meant to be. “We welcome anything and everything that is real-world, and that embraces a lot of different approaches,” she said.

Indeed, they are not shying away from the uncomfortable. For example, she’d like to see awkwardness-inducing bodily functions like “queefing” and “fanny farts,” she said. “Everyone does it, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.” Also welcome: period sex. “You never see that in porn,” she remarked, brow arched, before elaborating on what that might look like: “blood everywhere, no big deal, take the tampon out with your teeth, whatever turns you on.”

She also wants to see “the sexual equivalent of America’s Funniest Home Videos,” she told us: “If you can’t laugh at yourselves when you are having sex, when can you?” “Real world sex is more creative, more innovative, more surprising, more amazing, more arousing and more hot than porn will ever be.”

One couple, she told the Observer, had added an Instagram-like filter to their submission, a bit of stagecraft she seemed to find delightful.

However, for all her upbeat pitching, Ms. Gallop freely admitted that the site has been rather a bear to build. “Oh my bloody God,” she said, “you would not believe how extraordinarily difficult it has been.”

 

It took her two years to get funding. She finally raised $500,000 from an angel investor who’d prefer not to be named, and then she couldn’t get the cash for another two months, she said, because she couldn’t open a business banking account for a company with the word “porn” in the official name. Pivotal Labs, a San Francisco-based software design firm she’d worked with previously, turned down her request to build it. She’s had to resort to working with European credit card processors, to avoid the higher fees charged by American companies that work with adult businesses. Because PayPal won’t handle adult content, she’s working with online-payments upstart Dwolla to compensate contributors.

Ethan Imboden, the founder of luxe sex-toy maker JimmyJane, sympathizes. Venture capital firms often have limited partners like the California Pension System, which can’t exactly flounce around investing in sex-tech startups. And despite the “real-world” packaging, the site “will absolutely be categorized as pornography,” because, for the world at large, “that is the simplest way to describe what she’s doing.”

“That’s a real hurdle,” he added, “because of one, the morality clauses banks and even VCs often have, and two, the general stigma, which is the result of such a long history of being seedy and often tied to unsavory characters.”

And getting the site up and running isn’t the end of the challenges Ms. Gallop and her team face. They’ve still got to add many of the social elements, like the system of badges for “exploring” and such. They haven’t even begun to build search functionality for the site.

 

The economics of porn aren’t what they used to be. The so-called “Tube Sites”—YouPorn, XTube and their ilk—have placed free pornography within a few mouse-clicks of anyone who wants it.  PornHub gets 15 million unique visitors per day; YouPorn gets 12 million. Both are owned by the blandly named Manwin Entertainment and used to funnel eyeballs toward an extensive network of paid sites.

In short, it’s far from given that anyone will cough up the $5 in cash to rent any kind of video, much less those that lack the production values of the standard San Fernando Valley skin flick.

The needs of discriminating adult content consumer aren’t going entirely unmet. Director and performer Madison Young pointed out that there are already people and production houses pushing back against the standard formula. For example, Tristan Taormino is doing sex ed videos for Vivid, the most mainstream porn company imaginable.

“Fast food pornography is now available online for free, and people don’t want to pay for it,” Ms. Young said, “but people are actually still buying sex-positive porn and feminist porn.”

Ultimately, the key to Ms. Gallop’s success will likely be publicity and momentum, Mr. Imboden said. “If she can get Bethenny Frankel talking about the importance of fantasy, of storytelling around sexuality, of exploration, and she goes to Cindy Gallop’s new site, it will really change the conversation.”

Offering up the example of Fifty Shades of Grey, like Deep Throat and Emmanuelle before it, he added, “It’s become a cultural meme, and I think that for her, there needs to be that same sort of crossover moment.”

Ms. Gallop is confident in her ability to plead her case. “I make a very good front person,” she said. “I’m a very articulate spokesperson, and I have no problem talking about any aspect of this whatsoever.”

Her co-founder, Oonie Chase, put it a little differently: “She has a reality-distortion field around her, like Steve Jobs is said to have had. You enter that field, and absolutely anything is possible. It doesn’t matter if you have no business doing it, it doesn’t matter if you have like no experience doing it—absolutely anything is possible.”

As she escorted the Observer to the door, Ms. Gallop confided that, whatever the fate of Make Love Not Porn, she is already plotting her next venture: an incubator/accelerator for “radically innovative sex-tech startups.” That’s right, she told us with a certain sparkle in her eye—she’d like to found the Y Combinator of porn. And, she promises, a tiny investment would generate returns “beyond Paul Graham’s wildest dreams.”

Now that’s a fantasy even a venture capitalist could get off on.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSSkfaircloth@observer.com

 
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