Can Technology Change the Dialogue Around Sexual Content?

June 16, 2015

2:00 pm

In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan announced that it was a “new morning in America.” It was also a new dawn for conservatism, dramatically shutting down the free love and sexual expression of the 1960s and 1970s. This, in turn meant that, through Web 1.0 and 2.0 in the 1990s and 2000s, sexual content has been repressed and stuck in a dark-age limbo. The content is less pixelated than in the early days but still does not reflect what real, loving sex looks like, nor is sex content or sexual education exposed to those – particularly youths and at-risk populations – who need it most. So, the question is: can a new breed of technology and media startups changing how sex is portrayed also change the dialogue, delivery, and exposure of more benign forms of sexual content?

Sexual content – even the very utterance of the subject – remains taboo today. Whereas porn has, since the dawn of the internet, primarily objectified sexual activity and made teens – many of whom now lack basic sexual education in their school health classes – think that group sex, brutalization, marginalization of the female role, and simulated rape are all semi-normal forms of sexual activity by making them the centerpiece of so many websites and videos, sexual content depicting loving, normal sexual relationships between couples has been almost nowhere to be seen on the internet. But this may be changing: it’s still nascent but new media companies may have the potential to drive a ‘digital sexual revolution‘.

Tumblr, in particular, appears to be a huge driver of impact in the sexual sphere. From its first launch, Tumblr allowed sexual content that has long been forbidden on You Tube, Facebook, and their copycats: allowing users to create pages with sexual content that nonetheless used the content in a novel way to depict real couples in positive, loving relationships: ‘amateur’ content if the word ‘amateur’ had not been coopted by the porn industry to simply describe poorer quality pornography.  As one example, the tag, #CouplesinLove, leads to a myriad of photos and videos of loving couples together in varying ways.

Other new media companies, such as Make Love Not Porn, are taking an even more radical approach. Make Love Not Porn syndicates with user channels – just like You Tube – to allow creators to make content that depicts sexual activity – but in a authentic, loving fashion that, the company says, provides the right mix of good content and beneficial sexual expression.

“Cindy is really on the cutting edge of how we try to locate ourselves to porn and to understand the difference between porn sex and real sex, so we can understand how real people make love,” said Ian Kerner, a nationally recognized sex and relationship expert.

The company also plans to have an entire self-curated sex education section to get teens the sex education they lack in a far more engaging way. Critics suggest that this just represents a new genre of porn – call it “loving amateur” – but founder and CEO Cindy Gallop sees it differently.

“The issue isn’t porn, but the lack of open healthy discussion of real world sex. At a time when technology often seems to be isolating us further into individual virtual worlds, MLNP uses technology to bring people closer together, via a platform that combines entertainment, education, community and engagement, to provide real world sexual education and understanding, improve sexual self-esteem, inspire more open communication, and enhance relationships and intimacy in the real world,” Cindy Gallop said.

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I am an entrepreneur, angel investor, and early-stage VC living and working in New York City.

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