My Weekend at a Porn Festival

Words and photos by Vera Papisova /

This isn’t a Vegas convention center filled with fake tits and Mr. Clean lookalikes handing out complimentary butt plugs. Contrary to what you might expect from a porn fest, the NYC Porn Film Festival takes place in an experimental art gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The vibe is somewhere between your favorite dive bar and a Fassbinder film. The event staff looks like a group of Bard graduates. Miley, you would’ve thrived.

Friday is the first day of screenings, and tickets for the public are sold out by the time I pick up my press pass. There were 12 cops outside in anticipation of protestors that didn’t show up until the next day (more on that later). The first screening features MySpace star Tila Tequila in a performance that won an AVN award for Best Celebrity Sex Tape. “My dick sees the light,” Tila Tequila’s faceless paramour muses, “it wants to go in your butt.” The crowd roars with laughter. This was my first taste of something bigger—yes, my wide-eyed children, something bigger than Tila Tequila. 


Watching porn in a room full of people is empowering. It reminds you that sex and porn are nothing to be ashamed of, that we’re here to celebrate sexuality in all of its forms. I realized very quickly that the crowd at the NYCPFF is the best you can ask for: incredibly friendly, supportive and genuine. There is a palpable kinship, which is arguably the direct result of socializing porn. This is something festival organizer Simon Leahy should be proud of, especially considering the main goal of the weekend is to facilitate a comfortable environment that encourages a greater discourse around pornography. But enough about Tila Tequila.

The next hour features a serious discussion about the future of porn led by MakeLoveNotPorn.TV’s founder and total badass, Cindy Gallop. She talks about how the porn industry functions on broken business models, after which we’re prepped to watch a compilation of Make Love Not Porn #realworldsex videos—something they claim is a completely separate category from porn and amateur content. This is something entirely new to the internet – real people, having real sex. (E.g. no screaming, fake orgasms here.)

The video compilation begins. There’s a 70-year-old couple using a sex swing (#GOALS), a cheeky lesbian couple explaining “how to f- butts without hurting people,” and a hipster couple so natural and in love that you’d never guess they were porn stars IRL. The compilation received some of the best, if not the best, audience reception at the festival. After the presentation, I overhear Gallop saying MakeLoveNotPorn is the only place on the Internet where current or former porn stars submit videos of themselves having #realworldsex with their partners. (I’m in!)


I spend some time talking to festival goers, most of whom are Brooklyn transplants in their 20s who are very excited to watch porn with their friends. “I didn’t know porn had a sense of humor,” said an NYU student to her friend. This is a popular reaction all weekend.

I miss the majority of the Yaoi screening. Yaoi is Japanese manga porn featuring men banging, and—plot twist!—the authors and viewers are mostly women. I entertain the idea of cartoon sex, but only because I long to be Sailor Moon.  Next, the opening night party starts up with a screening from CockyBoys that, among other things, features artist Colby Keller. Keller’s work is a standout, and not just because it’s a big gay acid trip. I try to stick around for the clothing optional party, but it takes too long to get started.


The following day, anti-patriarchy protestors show up right before James Franco’s screening. I ask them if they’re protesting Pornhub as a sponsor, which would make sense given the countless degrading and misogynistic titles in their database. But nay, they’re protesting porn in general. Sigh, anti-porn feminists. When I ask one protestor how feminists feel comfortable telling women what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies, she gets flustered and hands me a pamphlet as wildly misinformed as she is. I decide against asking how protesting gay porn is fighting patriarchy, or if they bothered reading the content in the festival program, which is consciously feminist. I politely tell them that the point of the festival is to get people talking about porn, so their protest is actually helping the cause.

But back to James Franco: Interior. Leather Bar is not porn as much as it is straight actors having emotional breakdowns about filming gay scenes. My boredom is on a level that can only be compared to the time I had to read Watership Down in 7th grade.

At this point, I get hungry and go buy a cupcake with a vagina on it. It’s delicious.

Sunday is filled with more art porn, BDSM, and horrorporn. Yup, horrorporn is a thing. Paralyzed by content overload, I spend the majority of the day getting drunk with drag queens at a porn festival. In Bushwick.

When people experience adult content as a group rather than in secret, it influences a public reaction – a discourse. Without a doubt, the NYC Porn Film Festival achieved what it set out to do: I found beauty in all different kinds of sex. I felt a connection to other gender identities and sexual orientations on a deeper level than I had before. In porn we trust.


Vera Papisova is a freelance writer and sometimes standup comedian who’s written for publications like Yahoo Style, Complex and Teen Vogue.

Cindy Gallop: The Santa Claus of Good Sex

I recently interviewed the amazing Cindy Gallop who founded Make Love Not Porn! This originally appeared in Dazed mag. <3

Cindy Gallop wants you to have good sex, like, for real. In 2009 the New York City-based advertising executive gave a four-minute talk at a TED conference that became one of the event’s most talked about presentations. “I date younger men, predominantly men in their 20s,” was her opening line, and she went on to discuss the obvious influence of hardcore porn on the sex techniques of her young lovers. According to Gallop, internet porn has created a generation of young people who think that “what you see in hardcore pornography is the way that you have sex.” Basically, in the absence of proper sex-ed, porn has become the default sex-educator.

Gallop used her TED talk to unveil, a witty, non-judgmental website that compares sex in the “porn world” to that in the “real world”. For example: “Porn World: Women come all the time in positions where nothing is going anywhere near the clit. Real World: There has to be some sort of rhythmic pressure on the clit in just the right way to make a woman come. Can be pubic bone, tongue, fingers, something else entirely. But it has to be there.” Oh, how true Cindy!

The site became a worldwide phenomenon, leading Gallop to publish the book Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior. Four years later, she’s now preparing to launch, a video-based social-media site that aims to revolutionize sexual entertainment by offering videos of real people having real sex. Say goodbye to smoke and mirrors and anal bleaching –this is the real deal!

The best thing about is that it’s funny. It’s so much less awkward to talk about sex when there’s humour involved.
Cindy Gallop: Exactly. I wrote all the copy myself, and I deliberately made it lighthearted to defuse the embarrassment that exists around talking about sex. Also, when I was creating the site I said to my designer, ‘I don’t want the slightest whiff of education or public service about it,’ because that’s the kiss of death where kids are concerned. I said, ‘I want you to take your design cues from the world of hardcore porn.’

And were you surprised by the response?
The response has been so extraordinary. I’ve been receiving emails about the site literally every day for the past four years. They tend to go something like this: ‘I came across your TED talk, I went to your website, I shared them both with my girlfriend/boyfriend/lover, and off the back of that we had a great conversation, and now our sex life is so much better.’ Essentially, the site is working as an objective, outside platform that helps people have the conversations they need to have.

You’re like the Santa Claus of good sex! So can you explain your new venture,
Well, the sheer amount of emails I received made me feel that I had a personal responsibility to take Make Love Not Porn forward, in a way that would make it more far-reaching and effective. One of my philosophies – born of my advertising background – is ‘communication through demonstration’. So I decided to take every dynamic that currently exists in social media, and apply them to the one area no other social platform has gone or will ever dare to go: sex. I want to socialise sex, and to make real-world sex socially acceptable, and therefore just as socially shareable as anything else we share on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. So is a user-generated, crowdsourced platform on which anybody from anywhere in the world can submit videos of themselves having real-world sex.

And how do you define real-world sex?
Real-world sex is not performing for the camera; it’s funny, messy, human, and ridiculous. It’s the shit that really happens. For example, the total nightmare of putting the condom on. Guys are supposed to be able to do this like magic, but as we all know it often doesn’t happen like that, and sometimes things go soft, juices go dry and libidos get derailed. Or fanny farts – everyone does it, nothing to be ashamed of. Also, I find it so amusing when people talk about porn being “dirty”, because porn actually sanitises sex. In porn nobody has hair, you never actually see anybody using lube, or having sex on their period, when actually that’s when girls are the horniest! So we want categories like ‘period sex’ – bring it on, blood everywhere – no big deal, take the tampon out with your teeth.

So your site will show actual orgasms, not the fake, overdramatic screamed orgasms common in mainstream porn?
Totally. For example, our very first submission was from a young straight couple, and as I was watching it, no matter how hot what they were doing to each other was, I just could not stop looking at the girl’s face. And the reason was because she was loving it. She was so aroused that it became adorable. You never see faces like that in porn.

Will there be a fee for users?
We charge $5 per video for a three-week streaming rental. We also charge $5 to submit a video to the site, which is a curation fee, as my team and I will review all submissions. But then we revenue share – we give you, the contributor, 50% of the revenue that your makelovenotporn.TV video generates.

Whoa, so one can potentially make a lot of money.
Absolutely! In theory, your video could hit the YouTube holy grail of a million rentals, and at $5 a rental, the revenue is a nice amount of cash. That’s why we like to call ourselves ‘the Etsy of Sexy’.

Does have a primary ambition?
The message is pure and simple: talk about it. The issue I’m tackling is not porn, I’m tackling our society’s lack of an open, healthy dialogue around sex and porn. Because people find it bizarrely difficult to talk about sex with the people they’re actually having it with, because they’re terrified of hurting the other person’s feelings, or putting them off, or derailing the entire relationship. But at the same time, people really want to please their partners and make them happy, so they take cues on how to please from anywhere they can, and if the only cues people have are from porn, then those are the ones they take, to not very good effect.

And is it only men who are being misled by this sex-ed-through-porn trend?
Not at all. I talk to young men who say, ‘My girlfriend is putting on a performance in bed and it’s getting in the way of a real connection.’ One guy said, ‘I’ve been getting a lot of pornified blowjobs lately. I don’t know whether she’s really into me or if it’s what she thinks she should be doing.’ So it cuts both ways.

That makes sense.
And porn does a massive disservice for men, because it makes them think that sex is entirely dick-centric – it’s all about how big it is and how hard it is. For example, the other night I was with a 25-year-old, and for whatever reason he was having some trouble getting it up. I didn’t mind, but obviously he cared massively, and so as unfortunately often happens in these situations, the entire session became about his need to get it up and cum. And I was thinking, well, there’s actually a whole different way to approach us being in bed together, and it doesn’t have to be all about addressing your penis. Great sex is about the whole body. I deliberately spend time telling the men I sleep with how beautiful they are, and praising various parts of their bodies that aren’t their dick, and they’re stunned when I do this, because that’s not something they’ve even conceptualised. So for a lot of men, porn is causing unnecessary neuroses and insecurity.

Do you think people truly have difficulty understanding that porn is not an accurate representation of real sex? That it’s sensationalised for entertainment, just like regular films?
I had this conversation with some students in Oxford recently, because they were saying, ‘Come on, how could anybody think that porn is real? It’s like disaster movies or police chases.’ But here’s the difference: you can watch The Fast and the Furious, but everybody knows and talks about how to drive in real life. But with sex there’s no counterpoint, because we don’t talk about how sex operates in the real world. That’s why our tagline is ‘Pro-Sex, Pro-Porn, and Pro-Knowing-the-Difference’.

You have said you think could actually benefit the mainstream porn industry. How so?
Porn is a male-dominated industry. Now, the best of all possible worlds, in every sector, is one that is designed by men and women equally. I explain to guys that us girls like porn too – who doesn’t like to watch other people fucking?! – but often we have to watch porn that’s made for men. So I’m watching porn and trying to get off, but I can’t avoid processing it through the lens of female experience. I can’t help but think, ‘I know that hurts – if she keeps her leg up one more moment she’s going to get a cramp, I know she’s not actually coming,’ etc. But I want to see real-life sex, because I’m much more in tune emotionally with something I can relate to. The world of porn hasn’t even begun to experience what women can bring to the table. Make Love Not Porn is a venture founded by a woman, conceived by a woman, and built by a tech team that is more female than male. So that’s part of how we want to help the porn industry – by demonstrating that it’s possible to create a disruptive, innovative new business model, and to leverage human sexuality entertainment in a whole different way.