'I date younger men, predominantly men in their 20s." And so Cindy Gallop kicked off her 2009 TED Talk, four incendiary minutes that laid bare how porn had stomped into her own sex life. In frank terms, Gallop, a 53-year-old former advertising executive with Bartle Bogle Hegarty, explained that the young men she prefers are having sex like porn stars – and not in a good way. She spoke of a need for the "re-education, rehabilitation and reorientation" of those parroting every hardcore trope in their real-world interactions. Garnering more than a half-million views to date, Gallop's TED Talk tilted debate around the personal ramifications of porn consumption in our culture.
It also served as a launching pad for MakeLoveNotPorn.com, a website that pits porn myths against the more varied realities of human sexuality. In 2012, Gallop inaugurated MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, a video-sharing site that encourages real-life couples to submit clips of their own romps. (The tagline: "Pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference.") Gallop has received 122 videos so far and only accepts material that is "cliché-free," absolutely consensual and contextualized: One couple, for instance, sets the scene of being snowed in at home on a Saturday morning; like many others here, they've obscured their faces. Gallop will speak at the Montreal business conference C2MTL, kicking off May 27, 2014; she spoke to The Globe last week from New York.
How did you go from top ad exec to porn provocateur at TED?
The answer is by complete accident. I realized that I was encountering an issue that would never have crossed my mind if I'd not encountered it very intimately and personally, which is what happens when today's total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society's equal total reluctance to talk open and honestly about sex. It results in porn becoming by default the sex education of the day because there's nothing else. I went, 'Woah!' I'm encountering a number of sexual behavioural memes here – I know where those are coming from. If I'm experiencing this, other people will be as well and I want to do something about it.
Is that where the videos submitted by average couples come in?
MakeLoveNotPorn.tv is a crowd-sourced, user-generated video-sharing platform, which celebrates real-world sex. This is not about performing for the camera, it's about capturing what goes on in the real world in all its stunning, messy, glorious, silly, beautiful humanness. I and my team curate, we view every video. We have a revenue-sharing business model where you pay to rent the videos and 50 per cent of that income goes to the contributor, the "make-love-not-porn-star."
This is not anti-porn. I'm tackling this complete absence in our society of an open, healthy, honest, truthful conversation around sex in the real world, which if we had it, would mean that people would bring a real world mindset to the viewing of what's essentially artificial entertainment. Our mission is to socialize sex, to create a socially acceptable, socially sharable language of sex that you can use to talk openly about what you might like done in bed.
Have you had to reject people who are too porny?
We want to reject as little as possible but because porn and, particularly, the free tube sites are so ubiquitous these days, people internalize porn tropes without realizing it. One of our criteria is contextualize: Real-life sex has context, backstory and relationships. We ask people to start the camera running as early as possible and leave it running as long as possible. We want to see how you start easing into it and we want to see the aftermath, the talking and the cuddles. But there are three reasons why we reject: The first is overly porny, often unintentionally. If it's really bad quality, it's so dark we can't see a thing, we'll have to bounce that too.
Excessively real, yes, in the dark. The third reason is we ask people not to use copyrighted music but unfortunately some people have the radio on.
Are these people not worried about losing their jobs? A new British reality TV show called Sex Box also features regular husbands and wives getting it on, only in a glass box. Some poor gentleman was promptly disciplined by his employer.
This is only for people who choose to do this, and they're doing it within a members only site. We give people the right to be anonymous if they want to: you can hide your faces, wear masks, do faces in shadow. Some 50 per cent of our community does that and the other 50 are quite happy to show their faces. We also have stars who started off being anonymous and have felt so relaxed and comfortable that they've gone, "What the hell, let's show our faces."
Who's watching? Do you really think it's going to be that 20-year-old hooked on YouPorn?
We're not going up against porn, we are for people who want something else. One of our members is a man in his 40s who has obviously watched a lot of porn in his lifetime. He said to me, "When I've watched your videos, I feel I've never seen people have sex before." We are a fascinating glimpse into the intimate sex lives of real people. Everybody wants to know what everybody else really does in bed, and nobody does, and now we're showing them. Our community is anybody who finds that idea compelling, and we do get young guys. We had a great e-mail from a teenage boy who wrote to us: "I learned all about sex from porn. It's caused real issues in my sex life. I really wish I'd had this when I was younger." Our membership is two-thirds men but a lot of couples watch our videos together so what you'll have is the man signing up and sharing with the wife, the girlfriend.
What do people who watch a lot of porn tend to forget about real sex?
We get people who have read about us and then expect it to work in exactly the same way porn does and it doesn't. Porn assumes that you know exactly what you want and serves it up to you – porn tags and categories cater to that. We operate on the premise that real-world sex is surprising because when you go to bed with someone in the real world, you haven't the faintest idea what you're going to get.
Do your videos qualify as feminist porn?
I'm a rampant feminist but prefer not to use that term for what I do. We designed our site to be gender equal. Women are just as influenced by porn as false sex education as men are. And I don't think 'feminist porn' or 'porn for women' are terms that I want to use for adult content created by women. Because it's a male-dominated industry, porn has not even begun to leverage the female experience of arousal, desire and sex, and men have not even begun to realize how hot they would actually find that.
What do you say to those who believe that watching lots of porn actually has no discernible effect on people's intimate lives? To those who insist that people can very well separate fantasy from their day-to-day relationships?
I have five years worth of e-mails and conversations that absolutely testify to the fact that this is an issue. I am also my own research lab. I date a lot of younger men, I date them casually and recreation-ally. I see firsthand exactly how this plays out in the real world in a way that is quite rare. I don't think analysts, academics and people studying this can say quite the same thing.
How do you re-educate those young men, other than showing them your website?
I'm just a huge believer in communication through demonstration.
This interview has been condensed and edited.