TheJournal.ie uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Click here to find out more »
Dublin: 20 °C Saturday 26 July, 2014

Column: Embarrassed to talk about sex and porn? Ireland, this is your wake-up call

Today’s young women and men are being educated about sex by watching hardcore porn online for years before they ever have their own first romantic or sexual experience. For their sake, it’s time to open up about real sex, writes Cindy Gallop.

Cindy Gallop

I DATE YOUNGER MEN – usually in their twenties. Which is how I began encountering, five years ago, an issue that would never have crossed my mind if I had not encountered it very directly and intimately: what happens when total freedom of access to hardcore porn online, meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex, and results in porn becoming, by default, the sex education of today. In not a good way.

Recent studies show the average age today at which a child first views hardcore porn online is 11, with some studies putting that number as low as eight. This is not because eight year olds go looking for porn. It’s a function of what they’re shown on someone’s cellphone in the playground; what happens when they go round to a neighbour’s house – because it doesn’t matter what parental controls you have in place at home, your kids live their lives in other places; or, because this is the most wired generation ever, an eight-year-old does something cute and innocent – they learn a new naughty word, they Google it – and one or two clicks away is something they never expected to find.

Watching hardcore porn before their first romantic or sexual experience

This is why the New York Times, last year, ran this article on ‘What To Do When Children See Internet Pornography”. And that’s why, as I discovered for myself in my own dating life, young men and women who grow up today watching hardcore porn online for years before they ever have their own first romantic or sexual experience, assume that is what sex is and that is how you do it for real.

When I realised what I was encountering, I decided to do something about it. Four years ago I launched MakeLoveNotPorn.com, which posts the myths of hardcore porn and balances them with reality – ‘Porn World’ versus ‘Real World’ –  in a straightforward, non-judgemental, humorous way.

Importantly, MakeLoveNotPorn is not anti-porn. Our tagline is ‘Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference.’ The issue I’m tackling isn’t porn, but instead, the complete lack in our society of an open, healthy, honest dialogue around sex in the real world, which would then, amongst many other benefits, enable people to bring a real-world mindset to the viewing of porn as artificial entertainment. Our message is simply ‘Talk about sex’ – openly and publicly, and privately and intimately with your partner. Great sex is born out of great communication – all round.

Extraordinary response

I launched MakeLoveNotPorn at TED 2009 and the response was extraordinary. It resonated with huge numbers of people globally – young and old, male and female, straight and gay, from every country in the world (including Ireland). They wrote and poured their hearts out to me. They told me things about their sex lives and their porn-watching habits they had never told anyone else. Receiving those emails, day after day, made me feel I had a personal responsibility to take MakeLoveNotPorn forwards, in a way that would make it more far-reaching, helpful and effective.

I decided to pursue our mission of ‘Talk about it’ by deploying the dynamics of social media to socialise sex; to build a platform to act as sexual social currency, with the aim of making  discussion around real-world sex more socially acceptable and socially shareable.

Six months ago, after three very long hard years working to make it happen, I and co-founders Oonie Chase and Corey Innis launched MakeLoveNotPorn.tv, which is MakeLoveNotPorn.com brought to life – a user-generated, crowdsourced site where anyone can submit videos of themselves having real-world sex, subjection to curation by me and my team, with a revenue-sharing business model that gives our contributors, or MakeLoveNotPornstars, half the rental income their videos make.

MakeLoveNotPorn.tv is not porn. It’s not ‘amateur’. It’s real-world sex. But I would like it to be something that could help change  the porn industry – for the better.

Porn is big business – and it suffers from ‘collaborative competition’

Much that people find deplorable about porn is actually driven by its business problems as an industry. Porn has become so big it’s become conventional, with its own norms and rules – the reason so much of it is so commodified and repetitive. It suffers from ‘collaborative competition’ – when everyone in a sector competes with everyone else in the sector by doing exactly the same thing everyone else in the sector is doing. And it’s tanking. Its old world order business model has been destroyed by the advent of free porn online, and it hasn’t invented a new one.

Everything I’ve just cited is also true of music, television, publishing, journalism, advertising, and every other industry sector you can name. But in porn, those dynamics manifest in ways that are much more controversial. The rise in violent porn is not the result of evil, malignant, twisted forces at work in the porn industry. Nor is it the result of an ever more corrupted user base demanding it. It’s the result of a bunch of business people doing what business people in every sector terrified about losing money are doing – playing it safe. Doing what everybody else does. Especially when it’s cheap and quick to churn out. Collaborative competition.

Ignoring reality makes it harder to stop bad things happening

We all watch porn; we don’t acknowledge it. Porn exists in a parallel universe, a shadowy otherworld. When you force something – anything – into the shadows and underground, it’s a lot harder to stop bad things happening, that will, over time, have far-reaching societal effects. And it’s a lot harder to make good things happen. This is the industry where there are not enough champions working on behalf of the people in it, shining bright lights into dark corners to drive better working conditions, better talent treatment, better business practices. There is not enough encouragement to disrupt and innovate, nor to design and operate new business models; not enough people to mentor, coach, advise and finance individual creative visions that could drive a different and better future for porn.

It’s been extremely difficult making MakeLoveNotPorn.tv happen. It took me two years to find funding; no bank anywhere in the world will let us open a business bank account;  payment processors refuse to work with us because we are ‘adult content’. I believe you can change the world through sex. I would like to help make sex better for all of us.  The business world is doing everything it possibly can to stop me.

The internet has changed everything: we can’t go on operating the way we have been about sex

Given everything I’ve talked about here; given the impact on young women and men of being educated about sex by porn, which I go into in detail in my TED e-book Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact On Human Behaviour; given the email I received from a young woman a few weeks ago, thanking me for MakeLoveNotPorn, which contained the line ‘When I was 8 years old watching my first porn gangbang’ – this is the most wrongheaded reaction anyone can have.

The answer to all of this is not to shut down, censor, block, control, repress. The answer is to open up.

Open up to realising that we are at a moment in time where we can no longer go on operating the way we have been around sex. Open up a healthy, honest conversation around sex in the real world. Open up to educating children and young people not only about sex but also about porn, and the difference between how wonderful sex can be in the real world versus what is created artificially for entertainment. Open up the opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to disrupt, innovate, change and improve the world of sex and porn, to do business on the same basis and terms as everyone else. Open up to understanding that when we take the shame and embarrassment out of sex, we defuse many things that have the potential to make human lives very unhappy. For the sake of your children, and the young people of Ireland, please – open up.

Cindy Gallop graduated from Somerville College, Oxford and has a background in advertising. She started up the New York office of ad agency BBH and in 2003 was voted US Advertising Woman of the Year. She is the founder of IfIRanTheWorld.com and MakeLoveNotPorn.com. She speaks at conferences around the world and consults, describing her consulting approach as ‘I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.’ Follow her on Twitter @cindygallop.

Headshot photograph by Irish photographer Kevin Abosch www.kevinabosch.com

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

Read next:

Comments (126 Comments)

Add New Comment