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Well done, Billie Eilish. Well done for speaking up candidly about your sex life, and for opening up this badly needed conversation.
“I think porn is a disgrace,” the singer said in a radio interview this week. “I used to watch a lot of porn, to be honest. I started watching porn when I was, like, 11 ... I think it really destroyed my brain and I feel incredibly devastated that I was exposed to so much porn.
“The first few times I had sex, I was not saying no to things that were not good. It was because I thought that’s what I was supposed to be attracted to. I’m so angry that porn is so loved, and I’m so angry at myself for thinking that it was OK.”
But Billie, there are two things I’d encourage you, and everyone else, to consider. The first is that “porn” isn’t one big homogenous mass. That’s like using the word “literature” to describe all writing. The landscape of pornography is like the landscape of literature; it is as rich and infinitely varied.
The porn Billie refers to is the male-lens, male-centric mainstream sort that is found quickly and easily on tube sites, such as Pornhub. But there are, in fact, many brilliant female, non-binary, and queer pornographers out there, making innovative, creative porn that’s very different. Sadly, however, the industry stranglehold of Mindgeek (the company that owns Pornhub and virtually every other tube site) means they don’t get the awareness, traffic and revenue they deserve.
The second is that the issue isn’t porn. The issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. Many things are laid at porn’s door that should instead be laid at society’s. It’s not porn’s role to educate; it’s ours.
I date younger men. As someone who has never wanted to be married, never wanted children, adores being single and cannot wait to die alone, this is my preferred dating model. Fourteen years ago, sleeping with younger men led me to realise that when we don’t talk openly and honestly about sex, porn becomes sex education by default – and not in a good way. I decided to do something about this.
In 2009, with this TED Talk, I launched MakeLoveNotPorn (MLNP) as a clunky little “Porn World vs Real World” public-service site. My talk went viral, and drove a huge response I’d never anticipated. Thousands of people wrote to me from around the world. I realised I’d uncovered a global social issue, which led me to turn MakeLoveNotPorn into what it is today: the world’s first user-generated, human-curated #realworldsex videosharing platform. We are: “Pro-sex. Pro-porn. Pro-knowing the difference”.
We’re pioneering a new category that’s never existed before on the internet: social sex. We’re what Facebook would be if it allowed you to socially sexually self-express in an open, healthy way. If porn is the Hollywood movie, MLNP is the documentary – a unique window onto how we all have funny, messy, wonderful, loving sex in the real world.
Importantly, I designed MLNP around human curation. There is no self-publishing of anything. Our curators watch every video submitted from beginning to end, review every profile post, every comment on every video, before we approve (or reject) and publish, which is why MLNP is the safest place on the internet.
We’re solving what Billie Eilish talks about. We show you how wonderful consensual, communicative sex is in the real world; our social sex videos promote good sexual values and behaviour; and we make all of that aspirational, as opposed to what you see in mainstream porn and popular culture. It works. We hear every day from members telling us how we changed their sexual attitudes and behaviour for the better.
But obviously, MLNP is for 18+ teenagers and adults. What about the kids who are Billie Eilish’s age when she first started watching porn – 11? What about kids who are even younger?
Parents have been writing to me ever since MLNP launched, and I encourage them to do two things. First, start talking to your child about sex as early as possible. I don’t mean deliver “the talk”, but the first time they ask where babies come from, or play with their genitals, the most important thing isn’t even what you say, as much as how you say it. Never get flustered or visibly embarrassed; don’t change the topic. Instead, answer them calmly, straightforwardly and honestly, and you’ll open up a channel of communication with them that will always be there as they get older.
Secondly, nowadays, when you talk to your child about sex, you must also talk to them about porn. This is a lot easier than you think. Just say some version of the following (dialled up or down depending on the age of the child): “So, darling, we’ve just talked about sex. You know how we watch movies, videos and cartoons together, where things happen that aren’t real? Well, there are also movies and videos about sex, and they’re not real either. Because of that, they can be quite confusing, and so I’d rather you didn’t watch them till you’re older. But if anybody shows you anything like that, or you stumble across it, come and talk to me about it, and I can explain it.”
Just by saying that, you’ve done two key things. You’ve told them porn isn’t real, and you’ve told them they can talk to you about it. You’ll want them to do that, because as with Billie Eilish, when they stumble across porn – and they will – what they see can be traumatising.
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But there’s a reason Billie Eilish doesn’t know MLNP exists, and why I haven’t been able to help more people. I and my team fight a battle every day to grow MLNP, because every piece of business infrastructure other tech startups take for granted, we can’t – the small print always says “no adult content”. We’re banned from advertising on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – who also censor and block healthy sex educational content – as well as on traditional media.
We need everybody to encourage more openness around sex in the real world, and to break down the barriers that inhibit that, which also obstruct businesses like mine that are trying to change this for all of us. Socialise and normalise talking about sex; bring it out into the sunlight; educate about what a wonderful, pleasurable thing it can be; make it easier for everyone to communicate about sex both in and out of bed; and save millions of young people from going through what Billie Eilish describes.
If there’s one thing I would ask everybody reading this to do, it’s simply this. Do what Billie’s done: talk about sex, frankly and straightforwardly. That’s what we call at MLNP the Social Sex Revolution: the revolutionary part isn’t the sex, but the social.
Cindy Gallop is a brand and business innovator, consultant, coach and keynote speaker. She is the founder of MakeLoveNotPorn