By Jake Hall
We live in an age of infinite accessibility. Within seconds we can see our friends’ lives laid bare on social media, and we can reciprocate by sharing snippets of our own days in the hopes of feeling that surge of validation attached to likes, retweets and followers. The internet is society’s largest, most accessible stage, and plenty of us act both as audience members and performers.
The most popular platforms like to insist they give users complete control, but don’t be fooled—there are rules, strict rules. Just a scan of Facebook’s Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity includes lingo like, “We restrict the display of nudity and sexual activity because some audiences within our global community may be sensitive to this type of content—particularly because of their cultural background or age.” Then again, if you don’t like to follow rules (we know we don’t), there are other, more sexually free social media platforms.
While previous decades may have been dominated by professional erotica, now plenty of us take to live cam sites, subscription services and amateur porn to get us off. One sort of X-rated site is MakeLoveNotPorn, an online destination made up of curated ‘real world sex’ contributed by users. “It isn’t porn,” explains innovative creator Cindy Gallop, “and it isn’t ‘amateur’”. Think about all those Facebook posts that scream, ‘We’re madly in love! Here we are kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower!’ Well, on MLNP, it’s: ‘We’re madly in love! Here’s the phenomenal sex we just had in our hotel room in Paris.”
The concept may seem radical, but for Gallop it’s simply a way to bring sharing our sex lives in line with the way we share, well, just about everything else. Users are given the chance to send in clips of their real world sex, all of which are then filtered through by curator—‘Madam Curator’ is her rather fabulous official title–Sarah Beall, who ultimately decides which videos get uploaded to the site. The creators whose videos are chosen then earn the revered label of ‘MakeLoveNotPorn star’—not only does this mean their intimate flicks are available to seen on the site, it means they also earn cash whenever they’re watched.
This model is genius, especially given the widespread tales—both inside and outside of porn—of sex worker exploitation. According to Beall, a combination of advanced technology and video-sharing sites have “definitely allowed sex workers and porn makers more autonomy; there’s more control over when and how you do your work, as well as how you promote and distribute it.
On the other hand, the advancement of technology has also sparked an inexcusable rise in ‘revenge porn’. At the time of writing, Blac Chyna is once again embroiled in a scandal; eight months after fiancé Rob Kardashian shared explicit images of her on his Instagram account without her permission, another ex has leaked a sex tape which Chyna never consented to sharing. Taking to Twitter, lawyer Lisa Bloom–who represented the star in her case against Kardashian—issued a sobering statement: “[Revenge porn] is a way to try and slut-shame women for being sexual. Girls have killed themselves over revenge porn. It’s not a joke.” It’s amazing to be sex-positive, but we also need to ensure our most explicit selfies are in safe hands.
Again, this is where sites like MakeLoveNotPorn come in: trust and consent are the company’s ideological cornerstones, whereas the paywall, curatorial element and ease of communication between Gallop, Beall and the MLNP stars all ensure users can share their sex lives in safety.
There is another benefit to sharing ‘real’ sex. Gallop founded the company after dating a series of younger men and discovering first-hand “what happens when total freedom of access to hardcore, online porn meets society’s total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. Porn becomes the default sex education of today—and not in a good way.” It’s not hard to stumble upon scenes of face-fucking, fisting and rough sex online, and nor should it be. As long as these acts are consensual, the internet should house some of the wildest, filthiest sex we can imagine. But what happens when teenagers shielded from sex in schools watch these scenes without context and consequently pick up habits which might not translate so well to reality?
This is the question posed by Love Matters, a global network of digital communities offering uncensored sex-ed from a “pleasure-positive” perspective. The organization primarily works with 18-24 year olds in conservative countries worldwide. Its rationale is simple—kids use porn as sex education anyway, so instead of ignoring it, why not acknowledge it?
“We counsel our visitors that there’s a difference between porn and the real world,” explains Head of Health and Sexual Rights, Michele Ernsting. “In the real world, sex needs to be consensual, and good sex is an equal exchange.” Perhaps the replacement of scripted sex with social sex could transform explicit videos from dirty secrets to educational tools: “Social media does offer an easy, accessible way to get information on sex and sexuality, and to learn what others are doing,” continues Ernsting. “The problem is that the speed of social media is such that people might not always think before they post. That can lead to problems, miscommunication and, ultimately, regrets.”
Sex expert Dr. Logan Levkoff agrees that the combination of sex and social media could yield progressive results: “There’s always an opportunity for industries to join forces and initiate important discourse, in this case about sexuality,” she explains. “As long as we’re honest about what porn can and can’t do–i.e. represent all sexual experiences/sexual health–it’s important to use every opportunity to create meaningful conversations.” Levkoff also points to a growing wave of progressive pornography communicating more honest messages on sexuality than their increasingly outdated predecessors. “Feminist pornographers are doing great work and showing that sex can be hot, protected, consensual and inclusive of all bodies, ethnicities and genders.”
This last point is incredibly important: The last few years have seen social media act as an incubator for all manner of progressive movements; from body-positivity and trans visibility to mental health advocacy and #blacklivesmatter, these platforms give users the chance to make a statement and have it heard. “Just to be able to see someone with a body that looks like yours–which might not be perfect, or equipped with gigantic breasts or an XL penis, or which might jiggle a little–or a lot–during sex, that makes people feel more comfortable within their own bodies,” explains Beall.
Gallop concurs, pointing out that MLNP is more than just masturbation material. “Although we’re extremely happy to be that,” she jokes. “We’re also reassuring. We celebrate the messiness, the accidents, the things that go wrong. When you learn about sex from you think it has to be a performance, and that any small misstep can be a disaster. We say that’s just the real world, and if you can’t laugh at yourselves when you’re having sex, then when can you?!” Not only do these real videos create an alternative to the unrealistic beauty standards and excessive–honestly, sometimes cringeworthy–performativity of professional porn (cue pizza boy cliché), they offer a glimmer of hope which could point towards a new, more progressive attitude to sex.
Ultimately, this shift towards authenticity in online sex seems undeniably positive. We know that there are dangers of sharing explicit imagery online—the rise of ‘revenge porn’ truly can’t be ignored–but these platforms at least offer an element of autonomy historically–and notoriously–lacking in the mainstream porn industry. Not only do sex workers, MLNP stars, cam models and anyone else looking to profit from their sexuality have more control than ever, the viewing audience gets a glimpse at a reality which can be far more engaging than the scripted sex we’re used to.
There is still the issue of money—Gallop points out that sites like these are often shut out of tech startup funds due to their small-print stipulations of no adult content–but the $2 million investment just landed by MLNP looks set to put this business model on the map. Still, the money was eventually contributed by the site’s seed investor after growing frustration at corporate reluctance to plough money into sex-tech–a fact which proves there’s still work to be done. But Gallop is determined to change the way we consume online sex. “My funding might not have come out of great sex-tech ideas finally being recognized and rewarded,” she explains with an air of steely determination. “But I’m sure as hell going to use that money to turn MLNP into a billion-dollar unicorn that makes damn sure they are in the future.”