Written by Jon Evans for Tech Crunch. Originally published on January 21, 2018.
“Everything’s a battle,” Cindy Gallop sighs, although it’s clear she relishes those battles. What she means is that the entire Internet has long been divided into two separate, walled fiefdoms: one labelled “pornography,” the other marked with those three dread words “no adult content.” The territory between those two worlds, which she is trying to claim, remains a strange no-man’s-land.
We take this partitioning for granted, but it’s pretty weird if you think about it. Whether we like to talk about it or not, sex is a significant and meaningful part of adult lives; the territory defined by “adult content” is far larger than its peninsula “pornography.” Think sexual education, sexual communication, sex toys, etcetera. Think of “Grace” and Aziz Ansari, and the dawning widespread realization that we need a new sexual revolution, one of better sexual behavior, communication, and enthusiastic consent.
This is a very big ask. Sex is still at best an awkward subject for most people. Everyone pretends to be casually cool and sexually sophisticated, but at the same time, for many people sex is still dangerously intimate and revealing, sometimes even a minefield of shame, and always fraught with the rawest of emotions and desires, difficult to talk about and to negotiate.
Anything technology can do to make sexual communication easier ought to be welcomed. But to most Internet providers — payment processors, email providers, hosting companies — anything remotely sexual is automatically relegated to the category of porn, and promptly rejected.
Venture capitalists react in the same way. Gallop, a former advertising executive turned force of nature, has been running her social-sex site Make Love Not Porn on a shoestring for several years now, with no budget for marketing, and only one paid full-time employee (“MadamCurator” Sarah Beall), they’ve attracted nearly half a million members and pulled in close to $1 million of revenue. And yet, even though it’s widely accepted that there’s a glut of VC money out there, “fear of what other people would think” has caused VC after VC to reject her.
Late last year, matters came to a head. An anonymous seed investor, who works (obviously very successfully) in high finance, provided Gallop with a seed investment five years ago; he and she have kept the site running with smaller top-ups since then. Apparently he too has grown frustrated with VCs’ nos, because this anonymous investor — call him the Satoshi Nakamoto of sextech — has just funded her with two million dollars.
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