I first met Cindy Gallop after watching 40 minutes of sex.
At a recent event at the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, Cindy, with her signature blonde bob and black jumpsuit, took to the stage.
She introduced her company, Make Love Not Porn, and told us we were about to watch real couples having real sex. It was a celebration of the messiness and the awkwardness of real intimacy, she said, as well as a fabulous chance to see what everyone else is really doing in bed. She had also been working on the TV channel for four years and already made $500,000 revenue.
We were going to watch sex together - now? I shifted in my chair and considered walking out. That was when she hit the play button.
We watched - delighted, horrified, aroused - as couples engaged in bedroom activity, including a lesbian couple alternately coughing on a dildo and a man masturbating in a sea cave. Some of the videos came with commentary: "This is for you, John", or, "God, doesn’t he have a nice bum?" In one video, a marmalade cat jumped onto the bed and settled down for a nap while its two owners loudly reached climax. The cat flicked its tail, positively uninterested. Everyone laughed.
After the showreel, Cindy insisted that the motivations and social dynamics of couples filming themselves were no different to couples who post pictures of their romantic weekend on Facebook.
"'We are madly in love and here we are in Paris, kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower, or strolling along the Seine’," she said. "'With Make Love Not Porn, it’s here are, madly in love, and here’s the great sex we had in the hotel room'."
Cindy is a champion and advocate for what she terms the sex tech revolution - any form of technology that disrupts, enhances or improves the human sexual experience. In her ideal world, her 200 MLNP stars would be as big as YouTube celebrities (FYI, she needs more content from gay men and couples of colour) and people would generate and source sharable content to learn about and enjoy sex online - all age appropriate, of course.
But most social media websites shut down users for posting such content, another serious hurdle for Cindy’s business model. She pays the stars 50% of rental proceeds for videos that they film themselves, and which are vetted and curated by MLNP. The videos are protected by very strict privacy settings. If a couple breaks up, the videos are taken down. But the "fear of what other people will think" is a curse on innovation, Cindy said, and the journey has been a long slog.
What is so frustrating for her is that the company could be a multi-million dollar platform.
Make Love Not Porn was born out of massive response to Cindy’s 2009 Ted Talk about her experience of dating younger men.
"I was the first person on Ted Talks to say 'come on my face' six times," she said proudly.
It got 1.8 million views. She realised she had uncovered a massive social issue. The issue, she said, is when "hardcore porn meets a reluctance to talk openly about sex, and porn becomes sex education."
“When you normalise sex, you end sexual abuse; when you talk openly about sex, you don’t bring Brock Turners into this world; you end a situation where perpetrators can rely on their victims’ shame and humiliation to not speak up," she said.
While men and even young boys are increasingly being fed hardcore porn, women grow up with chick-flicks, what Cindy calls a "pink it and shrink it" industry.
"Bollocks to that condescension," she said. "That’s just because white guys are talking to other white guys at the top of the publishing and film industries. Women enjoy sex just as much as men and men are just as romantic as women."
The vision and Cindy’s passion remains the same after nine years, but despite intense media coverage, she is still mostly known as the woman who talked about having sex with younger men.
At her Fifth Avenue penthouse on two sleek grey sofas - again dressed in black leather - she said she decided to take ownership of the word "cougar" and make it into something positive.
"We don’t have enough role models who demonstrate that you can live your life as you choose and still be happy," she said.
Her one criteria for dating younger men on cougar websites? The young man has to be a really nice person. Empathy, loyalty and generosity are all qualities that should be applied in the bedroom - or the bathroom, living room or kitchen - just like in the office or down the pub.
What happens, I asked tentatively, if you fall for one of these men?
"I’m not a relationship person," she replied. "I actively look forward to dying alone."
Like all serious entrepreneurs, her life appears to be dominated by work. After three decades in advertising, she spent the next raising cash for MLNP and travelling the world, speaking about the social sex revolution and convincing people that they want to buy gender diversity-friendly sex videos.
"Oh, God," Cindy said, briefly putting her face in her hands when I bring up the question of fundraising. "I would never have wanted to fundraise again but the reason I have to is that there is often 'no adult content' in the small print and we need funding and resources to overcome that."
But after nine years, she realised something - she had to invest in the infrastructure of the sex tech market.
"If you truly want to change shit up, you have to change the world to make it fit," she said.
That philosophy led to her next plan: to raise $10 million and launch a fund that invests in a small portfolio of sex tech companies. One of the companies will be MLNP. She also mentioned Tina Gong, who invented an app called HappyPlayTime for women to work out how to get themselves off. Also on the list is Dame, which invented a vibrator called Eva for women to use during penetrative sex, and wearable sex toy company Wisp - among its range is a bracelet which emits air onto your skin like a lover’s breath.
Cindy’s vision is for the fund to hit $100 million.
"I’m looking for people who understand what we are about and also those who want to make a shit ton of money," she said.
She plans to expand the MLNP website (it's only 30 per cent finished) to include sexual education. No one, she said, is making money from sexual education, although it’s valuable work. Written erotica is also on the cards. She gets sent screeds of the stuff already.
"I’m so glad people write to us but oh my god it’s awful," she confided. "The vocab is so limited. It’s cliche."
So how long do women and men have to wait for this social sex revolution to become mainstream culture? Even women who post pictures of themselves breast-feeding their children are kicked off social media.
"We are going backwards as a society," she nodded. "But at MLNP, we are a celebration of body positivity and intimacy. Couples and individuals tell us that they love themselves more after filming. Couples say the filming has transformed their relationships, because it forces them to talk to each other."
In an age where everyone is insecure with their bodies and people are desperate for information, MLNP seems like a good place to start adopting Cindy’s philosophy of "sexual education through demonstration”."
Put simply, everyone in her videos is having a bloody good equal time.