“I like to blow shit up,” Cindy Gallop says when we ask her to introduce herself. “I am the Michael Bay of business.” The 63-year-old entrepreneur is certainly no wallflower. And it’s her brazen self-confidence and fierce independence that spurred her to launch MakeLoveNotPorn, a social sextech platform designed to promote positive sexual behavior and values, in 2009.
It’s not easy to tap into her vulnerable side, but even someone as self-assured as Cindy has had moments of self-doubt and vacillation in her life. And it’s that journey of personal growth that has helped her develop a few key life lessons that she hopes to pass onto the world…
We can choose our own path
Growing up, Cindy was surrounded by cultural and societal norms, which suggested that the path to happiness was finding a partner and starting a family. “From an early age, there’s this pressure on women to find ‘the one’,” she recalls. “My father was British, my mother is Malaysian/Chinese. Very entrenched in them is the belief that for a woman to be happy, she must find a partner and have children.”
But in her early 30s, Cindy had an epiphany. She decided to live on her own terms without being bogged down by what others thought or expected of her. “The single best moment in my life was when I realized I don’t give a damn about what anybody else thinks,” she says.
We should all speak more openly about sex
We understand that sex can be awkward to speak about, as it’s seen as an incredibly personal and delicate matter. But having ‘the talk’ with your children could save them a lot of pain in the future. “The absence of open conversations around sexuality creates a space for insecurities,” Cindy says. She discovered a trend where unrestricted access to explicit porn content online is coupled with society’s hesitation to talk about sex. This, she notes, has inadvertently made porn a default source of sex education, often leading to misconceptions and negative feelings about sex. Cindy believes that embracing our sexual identities is crucial. “Understanding and accepting our sexual selves can influence our self-worth, relationships, and overall well-being,” she says. “When we’re comfortable with our sexuality, feelings of guilt and shame diminish.”
We need to promote balanced perspectives
If you were asked what your biggest hope for the world was, you might take a pause to contemplate your answer. Not Cindy. She’s unwavering in her wish for a future where diverse perspectives, regardless of gender, influence our world. “Women need not to give a damn what anybody else thinks of them in the workplace,” she says. “I want women as leaders, women living their lives as they choose to. We live in a patriarchal society, and so we do not have gender equality in this world anywhere. And I can see so clearly in my mind’s eye how different everything would be – in a way that would enormously benefit men, as well as everybody else – when women lead.”
We interviewed Cindy Gallop for Question Your Perception Box, a Big Think interview series created in partnership with Unlikely Collaborators. As a creative non-profit organization, they’re on a mission to help people challenge their perceptions and broaden horizons. Often that growth can start with just a single unlikely question that makes you rethink your convictions and adjust your vantage point. Watch Cindy’s full interview above, and visit Perception Box to see more in this series.
Words: Jamie Carson
CINDY GALLOP: If someone disagrees with you, what are you making it to mean about you? You know, if somebody disagrees with me about gender equality, I know I'm right. Okay. Everybody's free to disagree with me.
I'm Cindy Gallop. I'm the founder and CEO of Make Love, Not Porn. The approach I take in the consultancy and business speaking that I do, I like to blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of Business.
NARRATOR: What's the biggest lie you've ever told yourself?
GALLOP: With the benefit of hindsight. Back as a teenager, a young woman thinking I wanted to get married and have children because that was what everything around me told me I should. My father was English. My mother is Malaysian. Chinese. Very entrenched within them is the belief that for a woman to be happy, she must find a partner.
She must have children. From the moment with born as women. We are told that our entire life is a search for the one. Every social occasion we go to. Will he be there and I speak heteronormativity because I'm straight. And what that means is you care enormously about your appearance. The belief that you are looking for the one forces you to compete with other women.
A dynamic that I deplore. And at the end of the night you schlep on home going, Oh, he wasn't there again tonight, maybe next time. At some point in my early thirties I went, Fuck this, I'm not leaving one anymore. I always say that the single best moment in my life was the moment I realized that I don't give a damn what anybody else thinks.
NARRATOR: Have you ever felt like you were living according to someone else's standards or values? In what way?
GALLOP: You know, everybody is influenced by parental expectations. In my case, unsurprisingly, they manifested in that way. Extremely common in Asian families. My mother was Tiger mother par excellence, and so my childhood was characterized by extreme academic pressure. Come top of the class or don't come home.
From the moment I popped out of the womb, I was told I was going to Oxford. Those expectations were crystal clear. And and I have to say, the day I arrived at Oxford, I was actually so grateful I'd been pushed that hard because my three years at Oxford were a privilege. So I was enormously grateful. But at the time, being pushed was not fun.
NARRATOR: Where in your life have you cared too much and what did that lead to?
GALLOP: I care massively about socializing, normalizing and destigmatizing sex because we don't talk about sex. It is an area of rampant insecurity for every single one of us. No exceptions. I date younger men. They tend to be in their twenties and about 15, 16 years ago now, I began realizing that I was experiencing very personal intimately.
What happens when today's total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society's equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. It's when those two factors converge that porn becomes sex education by default in not a good way. I have seen up close the enormous human misery and unhappiness occasioned by the guilt, shame and embarrassment that we imbue sex with.
We are talking about the single universal area of human experience that we are all most engaged with, most fascinated by, and most fucked up about. We all get vulnerable when we get naked. Sexual egos are very fragile, but at the same time you want to please your partner. And if the only excuse you've ever seen or in porn because your parents never talked about sex because your school didn't teacher because your friends aren't honest, those are the cues you're going to take to not very good effect.
Who we are sexually informs everything about how we feel about ourselves, other people, our relationships, our lives, our happiness. We have the power to change people's sexual attitudes and behavior for the better. Because when we are at ease with ourselves as sexual beings, when we are not feeling shame, embarrassment and guilt, we are not hiding this key part of our humanity off into the shadows that is utterly and completely transformative.
NARRATOR: What is your most consistent and greatest hope?
GALLOP: Women need not to give a damn what anybody else thinks. We do not have gender equality in this world anywhere, and I can see so clearly in my mind's eye how different everything would be in a way that would enormously benefit men as well as everybody else. When women lead. And so my greatest hope is that we can end sexual harassment and rape culture and we can collectively move to a world where we get to experience the benefit of the female lens on everything when it is enabled and support it and championed and funded.
PRODUCER: So I think you're really getting the hang of knocking these capsules open now.
GALLOP: That this is where I now have a real problem. Don't say that. Don't jinx it.