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Cindy Gallop: From CEO to Sex Revolutionary

After leading a mega ad agency, this firebrand set out to rethink how we approach human sexuality. Fasten your seatbelt.

We call them The Pushers—women who are pushing themselves in new directions and toward new passions. We hope that through their inspiration in this regular feature, they’ll push you to take a leap of your own—or maybe just a small first step.

“I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business”: That’s the kick-off to Cindy Gallop’s professional profile on LinkedIn, and with it, you get her vibe—fearless, energetic, and determinedly provocative.  After a storied career in advertising and brand-building that had her ascending to the role of US president and chairman at the Bartle Bogle Hegarty agency and being named Advertising Woman of the Year, Gallop quit the biz in 2005 and struck out on her own. Among other ventures (including groundbreaking work supporting women in the workplace), she’s now renowned for founding MakeLoveNotPorn, wherein she pioneers what she calls the “socialization of sex.” Here’s what we learned from our chat with her:

Whose hands would you rather place your future in: Someone who has to do what the company demands, or someone who always has your best interests at heart—you?

Tell us why you walked away from your amazing career in advertising.

I was at midlife, literally, in 2005. I was 45 and thought, If I’m lucky I’ll live to be 90. I took stock and thought I had spent 16 years in the same industry. It was time for a change, but I didn’t have the faintest idea what I wanted to do! So I very publicly left and put myself on the market—and it was the best bloody thing I ever did. At a job, you are at the complete mercy of industry dynamics, politics, so many forces. But working for myself—I love it! Whose hands would you rather place your future in: Someone who has to do what the company demands, or someone who always has your best interests at heart—you? The answer was obvious!

But how did you go from leaving an ad agency to founding a business that’s all about sex

It was a complete accident, like everything in my life and career. I’ve never been an intentional planner. But I have always known I didn’t want marriage or children; I’m not a relationship person. And I’ve very deliberately been public about this. We don’t have enough role models that show you can be a casual dater and be an extremely happy person.

I found that for a certain generation of men, porn has become their default sex education.

As it happened, about a dozen years ago, I was dating younger men, and I encountered an issue that I never would have known about had I not experienced it personally. And what I found was that for this generation of men, porn had become their default sex education. There has been a convergence of the fact that there is now total access to hardcore porn online and our society is reluctant to talk openly and honestly about sex.

I wanted to do something about this, so I came up with MakeLoveNotPorn, the idea of showing real people having sex in all its funny, messy, intimate honesty. It really launched when I did a TEDTalk about it—the only TEDTalk to use the words “come on my face.” The response to that talk and the concept was tremendous. I had uncovered a huge global social issue, and it seemed irresponsible not to try to take it forwards. I wanted to do something mass and mainstream; something that would do good and make money simultaneously. I gave myself a big task!

So what exactly is MakeLoveNotPorn about?

Our tagline is that we’re pro sex, pro porn, and pro knowing the difference. Sex is a huge area of vulnerability for us—we all want to be good in bed, but we are left to seize cues any way we can about what that means, and they often come from porn. I took a very social-media dynamic to make sex socially acceptable and shareable—to have user-generated, verified real-world sex be available instead of just the performing-for-the-camera sex we’re used to. So the concept is the real people—the MakeLoveNotPornStars, as we call them—create the content, and others pay to rent and screen it. The MLNPStars get half the revenue. The content should be as real as what you see today on Facebook and Youtube capturing other life moments.

How difficult was it to start the business? What strengths did you need to summon or develop to succeed?

Being a woman and entering a business that involved sex—I didn’t realize that I’d be fighting an enormous battle every day. When building a business, the small print always says “no adult content”—for funding, for opening a business bank account, for coding, for hosting, for encrypting. We had to build everything ourselves. What kept me going and bootstrapping for five years was that we were growing and taking in revenue from the start. There was a need for this. It was just me, not drawing a salary, and one other person. But the more I was told no by everyone, that they wouldn’t do business with us, the more inspired I was: “I’m going to fucking well show you! You can’t tell me what I can and can’t do!”

The more I was told no by everyone, the more inspired I was: ‘I’m going to fucking well show you!’

Where does the business stand now?

We battled for three years and finally have our $2 million in funding to truly build MakeLoveNotPorn. I have to say, this could not be more needed than right now. So much of life is built around values. Everything starts with your values. But we are not taught to think about our sexual values—we don’t talk about it. We may be lucky to be taught good manners and a good work ethic by our parents, but no one is brought up to behave well in bed—to have empathy, honesty, kindness. If we can properly socialize sex, parents will be able to bring up children with openness about sexual activity. We will cease to bring up rapists. We will end the issues we are now grappling with. We will end #metoo because women will be massively empowered. It will be a far happier world for all of us. You’ve heard about the sexual revolution—our goal is bring on the social sex revolution.

What would your advice be to women at midlife or later life who are thinking they need a change, or want to pursue a new calling?

I say to shout your age from the rooftops, as often and as loudly as you can. It is an enormous asset.

Thank you for asking me that, because I have important advice. I’m 58 and tell people my age as often as possible. I say to shout your age from the rooftops, as often and as loudly as you can. It is an enormous asset. I will never forget when I was 49 years old, a colleague had trained a bit in palm-reading—she looked at my hand and said, “You are only halfway.” That stuck with me—it was exactly how I felt. You have so much life ahead of you—it is never too late to do what you want. I never expected to be running a sex-tech startup at age 58! Consider the other viewpoint, too: You have half a lifetime of amazing experience, which is exactly why you should start a new venture. There is no substitute for your wisdom. You know how to deal with crises that would make a younger person panic. You have judgment and confidence.

Also, the great thing about starting your own business is that you make it work the way you want it to, not the old corporate structure built for white men who had housewives at home. We need to start our own businesses, and the corporate world will learn from us. Be unashamed about setting out to make a goddamn shit ton of money, because when we all do, we can then fund, support, and donate to other women. We will build our own financial ecosystem. It’s time.

Further Reading:

Sex, the Final Fronteir: Cindy Gallop Raises $2M from Mysterious Investor for Social Sex Tech

Surprising Facts About Porn for Women

11 Differences Between Porn Actresses and Real Women

By Janet Siroto


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