There’s a Problem With the Way We Talk About Sex

There’s a Problem With the Way We Talk About Sex
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Warning: This article deals with the topic of sexual assault and may be triggering for some. If you or someone you love is in need of support please contact 1800 RESPECT or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

When I first hop on the phone with Cindy Gallop, she levels with me. Her goal is a lofty one, but she’s full of confidence when she clues me in on it. Her intention is to end rape culture. 

How do you do that, you might ask? 

“By doing something very simple,” she explained. 

“Which is, we show you how wonderful great consensual, communicative sex is in the real world. We role model good sexual values and behaviour, and we make that aspirational.”

In Gallop’s estimation, every issue surrounding intimacy, consent and respect comes down to the fact that we as a society struggle to talk about sex. (Something the recent ‘Milkshake consent video’ clearly demonstrated.)

If I were to ask you what your sexual values were, would you be able to answer? Maybe not. And that’s not uncommon, Gallop shared, “because we’re not taught to think like that.” 

Nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed. But they should. Because in bed, values like empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty, [and] respect are as important as those values are in every other area of our lives, she said. 

The theory Gallop shared with me was that if we shift the way we look at sex – by having children brought up to understand and respect sexual values – we will slowly kill off rape culture. And it’s hard not to believe her when she says it. 

It started with a sexual encounter

Thirteen years ago, Gallop noticed a trend in the bedroom. The men she was sleeping with were regularly attempting to act out what she calls “sexual behavioural memes,” with little awareness of whether or not these moves proved effective in real life. 

She explained that over time, she realised that she was “experiencing what happens when today’s total freedom of access to hardcore porn online rules our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. When those two things collide, porn becomes sex education by default, in not a good way.” 

Our current inability to discuss sex and what Gallop refers to as “good sexual behaviour” is the root cause of a series of problems (this much we can all agree on, I think). But more than just a breeding ground for misinformation and shame, society’s problem with sex, Gallop stressed, is innately dangerous.

Violent “perpetrators currently rely on the fact that we do not talk about sex,” she said. They rely on the likelihood that “victims will never speak up; never go to the authorities.” 

When we end that, we massively empower women and girls worldwide. When we do that, we create a far happier world for everybody, including men.

So, how do we change the social norm? 

With a website. 

Twelve years ago, Gallop launched a website titled Make Love, Not Porn and its birth was met with an “extraordinary global response.” 

In its first iteration, Make Love, Not Porn was a simple service designed to compare what happens in the world of porn and what happens in real life sex, as a means of drawing a distinction between the two. 

The website was launched at TED in 2009, and Gallop’s NSFW talk went viral. Presently, the video has more than 2.35 million views on the TED website.

People wrote to me from every country in the world, including Australia, by the way. Young and old men and female, straight and gay; pouring their hearts out. I realised I’d uncovered a huge global social issue. And so I felt I had a personal responsibility, you know. I had to take Make Love, Not Porn forward in a way that would make it much more far-reaching, helpful and effective.

Twelve years on, the website still has the same mission: “Make it easier to talk about sex,” but it has grown into a user-generated social platform solely dedicated to celebrating real-world sex.

Make Love, Not Porn is a sexual social media platform, allowing folks to submit videos of themselves in any kind of (safe, consensual) sexual setting. The creators of these videos are paid through a revenue-sharing business model, and subscribers pay to rent and stream content. 

But this isn’t porn, Gallop stressed. And here’s the difference. 

When you compare Make Love, Not Porn (MLNP) to traditional porn, amateur sexual entertainment or even Only Fans subscriptions, the notable contrast sits in the reality that social sex videos on MLNP are not performative. 

While porn certainly has its place, Gallop feels there needs to be more of an honest discussion about the nature of the entertainment form. Performative sex is a world away from real-world sex, “as it happens spontaneously, with all its funny, messy, glorious, comical, awkward, hilarious, wonderful humaneness.” 

How to do the sex

Every video submitted to MLNP is reviewed by a team of curators “from beginning to end” to ensure it not only meets safety standards but to guarantee the content is authentic and natural. The videos are “not about performing for the camera,” Gallop shared. 

This is important not just in the journey of differentiating real sex from porn, but because it has the power to shift our social interpretations of both real-world bodies and real-world relationships. 

“You can talk body positivity all you like. You can preach self-love until you’re blue in the face,” Gallop said. 

At the end of the day, nothing makes people feel great about their own bodies like seeing people who aren’t nobody’s idea of aspirational body types, getting turned on by each other.

In this way, MLNP acts as a comfort. Because in celebrating “real-world bodies, real-world penis size, real-world breast size,” it sends the message that all people of all kinds are sexually desirable. 

It also showcases precisely how intimate (and sexy!) it can be to talk consent. The way Gallop put it is that seeing regular people talk about what they do and don’t want without discomfort or shame acts kind of like a ‘how to guide’ for safe and open sexual communication. 

The content is proof that telling your bedroom buddy “actually, I’m not into this” will not derail your night. It will just take your romp down a more satisfying road, for the both of you. 

“We are literally education through demonstration,” Gallop said. 

Getting comfortable with sex talk is a powerful thing

One of the most profound parts of creating MLNP has been the response from its subscribers, Gallop told me. 

Over the course of our chat, she referenced the list of people who have reached out to share how the service has changed their lives. A couple credited it with saving their marriage, one woman said it showed her how to make love to a woman, and a young man shared that it taught him the value of speaking openly about how he feels. 

The truth of it is that a more accepting attitude towards sex talk does more than help people to get off. It breaks down harmful stereotypes around gender, it creates safe environments where expression is encouraged, and it helps us to build deeper connections. Having that trickle-down generation by generation has the potential to completely transform our behaviour as a society. 

As Gallop put it: “We call ourselves the social sex revolution. The revolution part isn’t the sex, it’s the social.”

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