Written by Alice Bonasio for Fast Company. Originally published on November 13th, 2016.
Cindy Gallop had just purchased a sex toy.
“I opened this box, looked at this beautiful object, and found myself thinking, ‘How the fuck do you use this thing?’” she recalls. “So I think to myself, ‘There’ll be instructions inside,’ but all I find is this one-pager that tells you how to charge it. Nothing about what goes where.”
Officially, anyway, Gallop has been in the business of showing people “what goes where” since launching Make Love Not Porn, a user-generated adult video platform, in August 2012. But many people first heard about the venture in 2009, when Gallop gave a popular TED Talk challenging what she still sees as the porn industry’s warped and often misogynistic ideas about sex and sexuality.
Since then, however, Gallop has had trouble attracting investors, and she isn’t alone. The “sex tech” sector may in fact hold enormous untapped potential, but investors—mostly white straight male investors—appear to be keeping their distance.
In a world where over 36% of internet content is pornography and where people collectively watch 4 billion hours of porn every year, our sex obsession is matched only by our inability to talk about it openly, Gallop argues.
After unboxing her new sex toy and finding no instructions, she recalls turning to YouTube, where she eventually stumbled on one explanatory video featuring a woman holding the device and demurely telling her how to use it. “I’m listening to her and going, ‘What?’” Gallop says. “‘So you put that inside and then the guy puts in his cock as well? How the fuck does that work?’” She adds, “You simply can’t overestimate how our unwillingness to talk about sex impacts the ability of every manufacturer out there to shift their product.”
Still, sex does sell. In the U.S. alone, adult sites generate over $3 billion in revenue a year, according to the research firm IBISWorld. Reliable figures aren’t easy to come by, but the global sex toy industry has been estimated at some $15 billion and is growing at more than 30% a year, potentially outpacing high-growth tech sectors like drone manufacturing, which is expected to hit $12 billion by 2021. Amazon currently stocks over 60,000 items classed as “adult.”
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