Why is a startup legitimising sex not able to raise money?

Shrabonti Bagchi March 31, 2017 6 min

Story Highlights

  • Sex-tech is the next trillion-dollar disruption, says Cindy Gallop, the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.tv
  • Although Gallop says she’s not “anti-porn”, her startup identifies an internet platform that defines itself as ‘not porn’
  • Investors are ignoring MLNP and other sex-tech startups — maybe because they see it as the domain of mainstream porn and don’t want to touch it

“Sex-tech is the next trillion-dollar disruption,” Cindy Gallop, the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, tells me, calmly sipping a fresh lime soda in the cool, dark interiors of the Leela Palace Hotel’s coffee shop on a blistering hot summer afternoon in Bengaluru.

Fifty-seven-year-old Gallop, a popular speaker who visits India often on speaking engagements and lecture tours, is on a different kind of mission this time. She is looking for an intrepid investor who will take a chance on a bootstrapped startup that promises to revolutionise the multi-billion dollar global porn industry — all the while claiming that what it does is not porn.

In fact, it isn’t. Although Gallop says she’s not “anti-porn”, her startup is quick to define itself as an internet platform that defines its identity as ‘not porn’ but ‘social sex’.

Although Cindy Gallop says she’s not “anti-porn”, her startup is quite quick to define itself as an internet platform that defines its identity as ‘not porn’ but ‘social sex’  

MakeLoveNotPorn (MLNP) hosts videos of real people having real sex. These videos, available for streaming upon payment, are submitted by the participants themselves, and are “curated by humans” — Gallop is very insistent on this point — who make sure that the videos are completely consensual and both (or all) partners are okay with the videos being made public. The revenues generated are divided equally between MLNP and the creators.

Sex-tech will legitimise sex

Before it took on this avatar, however, MLNP started life as a somewhat clunky website that shared sex advice. In 2009, Gallop, launched MakeLoveNotPorn.com at TED. The video of her presentation quickly became popular, and was the sixth most popular TED Talk of that year. MLNP.com made the point that real sex is often very different from commercial pornography, which has released quite a few myths about sex into the world. In fact, such is the power of these myths that they are in danger of being passed off as facts by people whose first exposure to sex is through pornography.

Gallop’s TED Talk:

Despite the fact that its messaging was primarily limited to illustrations that showed the divide between real-life sex and hardcore porn, it became quite popular through word-of-mouth reviews (her TED video also contributed). The questions and feedback that she received led to the launch of MakeLoveNotPorn.tv.

“We are pro-sex, pro-porn, and pro-knowing the difference,” says Gallop, who used to be a top British advertising executive who worked on accounts like Coca Cola and Ray-Ban, and continues to be an advertising consultant. She clearly knows the power of a pithy phrase. “The mainstream porn industry today is all about white guys talking to white guys about white guys. It’s getting stale. And this has led to the explosive growth of violent porn — because you have to keep dialling up the shock value.”

“We are pro-sex, pro-porn, and pro-knowing the difference” — Gallop  

Gallop says she’s quite serious about bringing MLNP to India. “We regularly get traffic from India. And we have people from India writing in. Some of these emails are quite poignant — a 17-year-old boy wrote to say ‘please tell me what sex is’. We also get the usual ‘I want to see Indian videos, please do the needful’ kind of emails,” says Gallop. “Indian millennials are ready for this,” she adds.

No investor love

But MLNP has received very little love from investors, and continues to be bootstrapped. For the time being, everyone seems to be ignoring it and other sex-tech startups — maybe because they see it as the domain of the mainstream porn industry and therefore something they won’t touch because “it’s not something we want to be associated with.”

While they talk of disrupting this and disrupting that, they are not interested in disrupting pornography — one of the biggest money-spinners online — which Gallop believes needs disrupting badly. Learning about sex only from porn, she says, is making sex furtive and shameful and violent. “The issue isn’t porn, but that we don’t talk about sex in the real world, and porn ends up acting as default sex education. The problem isn’t porn, but society.”

A screenshot of the makelovenotporn.tv wesbsite

While they talk of disrupting this and disrupting that, they are not interested in disrupting pornography — one of the biggest money-spinners online  

“Empathy, generosity, kindness — these are the values we want to see in bed. When we own our sexuality, we make it easier for everyone to have a conversation about sex. Parents will inculcate good sexual values in their children. We will end sexual harassment, which is all about shame. When there is no shame associated with sex, no one will be harassed,” says Gallop, referring to revenge porn and India’s infamous ‘MMS scandals’.

The single piece of advice she has for sex tech startups is “take yourself out of the shadows.” “My approach towards startups is not collaborative competition, which is the standard model where everyone competes for the same amount of funding, revenue etc etc. I believe the future is going to be about competitive collaboration. A rising tide floats all boats,” says Gallop.

She wants MLNP to be a “Khan Academy for sex,” opening up the website to sex educators and categorising the content by age, and making it all paid. She also sees MLNP one day creating and popularising apps for sexting — minus the shame.

Gallop at a wedding she attended on her recent visit to India. Picture: Twitter @cindygallop

“Empathy, generosity, kindness — these are the values we want to see in porn. When we own our sexuality, we make it easier for everyone to have a conversation about sex” — Gallop  

“It’s a huge irony that WhatsApp and Snapchat, which became unicorns primarily because of sexting, today want to shed the sexting image. The ephemeral nature of sexting on Snapchat is again a throwback to the culture of shame. The MLNP sexting app will be secure and one-on-one, and each partner will have full control over it,” she says. “If the relationship is over, any partner can at any time delete everything.” There are also plans for a social network based on body positivity, and an erotica section.

But to take MLNP there, Gallop needs investment, but the going is tough — even Kickstarter, where you can get the most bizarre products listed and crowdfunded, has rules about funding campaigns for “adult” products. There is a ray of hope in ifundwomen.com, a crowdfunding platform for female entrepreneurs, and Gallop is hopeful she will be able to scale up somewhat, till some brave VC somewhere decides that sex-tech is kosher enough. And then, she says, there won’t be any stopping sex-tech. “They just have to capture the zeitgeist,” says Gallop, optimistically.


Lead visual: Rajesh Subramanian Updates on March 31, 4:55 pm: Gallop felt this was not the meaning she was trying to convey: "Among its most egregious errors, she says, is making sex furtive and shameful and violent." This line has now been changed to read: "Learning about sex only from porn is making sex furtive and shameful and violent. The issue isn't porn, but that we don't talk about sex in the real world, and porn ends up acting as default sex education."

The line "Empathy, generosity, kindness - there are the values we want to see in porn" has been changed to "Empathy, generosity, kindness - there are the values we want to encourage in bed."

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