MakeLoveNotPorn: the difference between porn and real sex?

Chrissy D argues that Cindy Gallop’s sex education venture is well intentioned but doesn’t really make a dent in the issue it seeks to address.

Distant shot of Cindy Gallop speaking on a large black stage with a purple, pink and white projection (top) and TED in large red letters (underneath) behind her. The projection is a screenshot from the MakeLoveNotPorn website. 'Have an idea of your own? Send it to us!' is written in white at the top. Left: 'Porn world: Men love coming on women's faces, and women love having men come on their faces.' Middle: a pink stick person with outstretched arms. Right: 'Real world: Some women like this, and some women don't. Some guys like to do this, some guys don't. Entirely up to personal choice. Bottom: 'Post a comment'

Noam Chomsky, talking about his accidental interview with Hustler magazine, called porn “the humiliation and degradation of women”. Simple. He went on, “if (some people) get enjoyment out of the humiliation of women, they have a problem”, a perspective so shared and experienced by Cindy Gallop that she has, through, launched the most mainstream-media friendly challenge to the hardcore porn industry to date.

Gallop, whose porn-critical (though not anti-porn) venture began in 2009, wants more people to talk about sex more often. As Erika Lust recently suggested on her Facebook page, there’s nothing more erotic than a good conversation so that’s at least one thing that makes writing about talking about sex seem worthwhile.

Gallop first caught my eye when she drew the attention of sdgeek’s at TED in 2009, her four minute talk being the first time either of us had ever heard a woman in her fifties talk about hardcore porn. She was at the conference launching her post-advertising-career venture,, constructed to highlight the myths created and sustained by porn-sex vs the reality of real-sex, as well as generally making the world a less pornified place through depictions of actual sexual encounters.

From the interface of MLNP, it’s clear just how hard it is to make sex education anything more than extremely patronising. Despite using all Cindy Gallop’s advertising-genius-type knowhow to attempt to make the venture not like a sex ed lesson in prep school, it inevitably comes across like one. In her media relations, Gallop also takes the angle that real life sex is more complex than hardcore-porn sex and I’m not sure this does her cause many favours, since hardcore-porn sex is really little but a repeated formula with the same outcome, sold as fantasy and erotica.

Another reason why I find it hard to endorse MLNP is that I sympathise with Cindy Gallop. I am more than endeared by her actions, taking a step in demystifiying online representations of sex for the younger generation, but the reality is that for every hit on MLNP, a hardcore porn site will welcome thousands. The only solution I can see to this is an overhaul of the regulations that allow abuse of women to be documented, posted and searched for in the first place.

It also seems dangerous to me to set up a polarity between porn sex and sex proper. The heteronormativity of the MLNP site is problematic (though Gallop does address this in her book) and harks of the rhetoric employed by the virginity/abstinence movement in the US (i.e. ‘this is how sex should be, however much you may be inclined otherwise’). I’m certain this is not what Gallop envisioned.

And the launch platform needs to be bigger than TED.

Albert K Cohen, a functionalist whose theoretical angle I absolutely don’t buy, would tell us that pornography (and prostitution) acts in a society’s favour, by providing a safety valve that serves to control the level of sex crime. How this plays out in real life is pretty impossible to measure. For a start, statistics reveal nothing about the teenage boy or girl so desensitised to the images they are assailed with in the hardcore porn they will almost certainly have consumed by the time they hit puberty that a precisely-marketed sex-education website will seem alien to them. It’s also almost impossible to measure sex crimes within existing relationships.

But leaving aside the soft-focus porn with which I assume Cohen is concerned, Gallop is referring to hardcore porn, which can be a particularly unpalatable thing to stumble on; as she describes, “something resembling open-heart surgery”. It’s reminiscent of all the PETA videos I can’t bear to watch. And for those familiar with PETA campaigns, the irony in that analogy is deliberate. Gallop wants her site to facilitate a “healthy, open conversation around sex” but how can this even begin to happen when the audience for such a site is so niche?

Nevertheless, Gallop’s address fills me with the same warm and hopeful sensation that seeped from pages to fingers to big sigh of relief as when I picked up The Purity Myth. Liking sex doesn’t make a girl or woman immoral or worthy of abuse. We know this, whether or not mainstream society does, but we also know women don’t all like it in the same way. I am left feeling slightly uncomfortable, partly by the magnitude of the task taken on by MLNP, but also because it takes more than the colour-scheme of the tampon aisle to change the physical and mental abuse of women in the porn industry. And abuse is what this is really all about.

Gallop’s work could be helpful to the anti-porn movement in showing how it may depart from affiliations with religion and academia (as much as I dig Chomsky’s endorsement of my views), before it can even begin to work on the hardcore porn generation. But the directive to ‘Make Love Not Porn’ simply isn’t enough.

Picture of Cindy gallop speaking at TED 2009 by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE, shared under a creative commons licence. See details embedded in picture by right-clicking it and selecting “View Image Info” for full description.

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