Cindy Gallop

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The rather marvelously-named Cindy Gallop and her opium-den-bohemian space represent something of a departure for the HOUSE column this week because although we’re happy to talk about sex with any of our interviewees, sex was pretty much the entire subject of this interview. That’s because former high-powered advertising executive, relentlessly-on-message Ms. Gallop is on a mission to change the way we watch other people having sex—porn to you and me.

She is half-British, half-Chinese and was brought up in Brunei and continued her further education at Oxford. Deciding in her thirties that marriage wasn’t for her, she dates younger men, and, as she explained in her TED talk, she discovered that many of them seem to think that in bed they ought to behave like porn stars because that’s where they’ve learned about sex. If she has her druthers, she’s going to change that, and eventually, she hopes, the porn industry, by launching her website: where curated “real world” sex videos showing playfulness, tenderness and passion can be viewed for a fee. Send your sons and daughters! Come one, come all.

One of the things I wanted to start off talking about was that a while back there was this somewhat depressing article in New York magazine about how many younger men these days apparently prefer porn to real sex—I wondered what you made of that?

I think it’s like a lot of things in our lives today. Undoubtedly if you’re somebody who is not getting laid on a regular basis, then porn is a great retreat … and that’s true for men andwomen by the way. Again, it’s like Facebook—it can give you the illusion of connecting with your friends. [This] is one of the things I’m very keen to address. People can very easily lose sight of the things that really make a difference in relationships, [things] that really have a profound effect on you when you have a sort of simulated version of it online.

Cindy purchased the pair of stags’ heads for fifty dollars from a junk shop in the UK.
A Chanel AK 47 sculpture is by California artist Peter Gronquist.
Peep Show from a New York gallery leans against a mirror with photos and invitations stuffed into the frame.

You’ve chosen a rather prudish country to live in for your enterprise …

I love America. I adore New York. Fundamentally you’re right but to be perfectly frank the issues that I highlight with are true everywhere in the world … maybe not Scandinavia. But there are many other wonderful, wonderful things about living here … I’m never going back to London.

Isn’t it essentially sex ed, this website?

I really hate being called a sex educator and I’m not a qualified sex educator. What I’m doing is I’m using my background, 27 years of working in brand building, marketing and advertising to create and embed something in popular culture in a way that will make it so entertaining that people won’t really at heart know what it is fundamentally doing, which is a form of educating. Teachers write to me all the time and tell me that they use in sex ed classes.

A large-scale portrait of Cindy in her London apartment by Paul Richard hangs opposite a self-portrait of the artist Paul Richard falling.
A close-up of one of the stag’s heads.
Gerbil Pope II, 2001 is by American artist, Paul Richard.

In your attempts not to be judgmental about porn, especially hardcore porn, what is the danger of avoiding just saying outright that most of it is awful? It’s nearly all based on some kind of degradation of women. And somehow it manages to be boring at the same time.

Many of the things that people find deplorable about porn are entirely driven by its business model. It’s gotten so big, it’s gotten conventional. Porn now has norms and rules and conventions, which, by the way, is why so much of it is repetitive and boring. I would like to show the porn industry that it’s possible to invent a new, disruptive business model.

The porn industry hasn’t even begun to see what the world of porn equally informed by women as well as men looks like. I don’t want to be abused, wrecked and destroyed and neither does my pussy. Anyone with a vagina, cannot help but wince at the term finger-blasting. We [at] are creating a new language. I want to make real world sex socially acceptable and socially share-able so that you don’t have to slam your laptop shut if someone finds you watching it.

A view of the front entrance way (left) and the colorfully-lit master bath (right).
Cindy’s wall of portraits lines a wall in the front entryway.
A portrait of Cindy with her former boyfriend is by artist Paul Richard.

Well let me tell you a story. I was on the subway quite late one night last week and three young people, a man and two women, got on. The man started watching hardcore porn on his phone while the women casually looked on. Was I being prudish or are they living in a different universe now, where it’s okay to watch porn on the subway? They didn’t seem to find anything strange about it.

I happen to think that is not appropriate but this is a generation that has grown up sharing everything … once upon a time your marriage proposal used to be very intimate, private moment. You never dreamed of putting it on Facebook, let alone constructing an entire flash mob event around it, putting it on YouTube and hoping for millions of views. Video sharing is now a natural part of life … we live in a world where these lines are being blurred.

I don’t know … I think I am prudish. I find porn depressing and I find its endless availability for younger and younger people depressing.

This is also one of the unfortunate things about the kind of porn young people are looking at because there is absolutely, particularly on the male side, ritual male bonding where you circulate the most extreme versions of video.

A bar filled with crystal and silver stands behind an antique Chinese daybed covered in bright orange and black pillows.
Two paintings depicting fantasy art galleries by British artist David Piddock hang above Cindy’s shoe display.
Shelves running across the entire length of the front wall are filled with sculpture art and objects. A gold alligator, the ‘Guccigator,’ by Peter Gronquist keeps watch over Cindy’s posh shoe collection. The gold fabric curtain and the overall design of Cindy’s loft was done by Stefan Boublil, Creative Director of The Apartment Creative Agency.
They also house Cindy’s massive shoe collection.

Sex scenes in movies are bad too—formulaic and too perfect.

Yes, everything’s really smooth and easy and it takes place on lovely white sheets. But I loved that movie, Friends with Benefits. It has two brilliant, hysterically funny scenes of oral sex—both ways, boy to girl and girl to boy.

So in all of this, what have you learned about male sexuality?

I’ve learned that male sexuality needs to get a damn sight more attentive to female sexuality. And that sexual egos are very fragile. People are bizarrely afraid to talk about sex and what they want while they are actually having it. You’re terrified of hurting their feelings and you want to please them. And if the only cues you’ve ever had are from porn, because you’ve never had any others, then those are the ones you take to not very good effect.

So with these young men you date—you don’t have anything permanent do you?

Oh, no no. Nothing permanent. Still dating.

Cindy’s fascination with taxidermy is displayed all over her loft. Stuffed two-headed ducklings stand near an armadillo found at the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena, Ca.
Antique Chinese erotic figurines are from Shanghai.
L to R.: Jade sculptures depicting different sex positions from the Shanghai flea market stand atop the window ledge.; A close up of the jade figurines.
Leopard skins cover a pair of planter chairs in the seating area.
A painting of a fantasy art gallery by David Piddock hangs above a sculpture of two pistols by Peter Granquist.
A view of the main living space. Cindy had the opening stanza of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘ The Ballad of East and West’ screen printed on the pink silk fabric covering the daybed.

You’re not up for permanence … but maybe continuity?

Nope, not permanence. But I’m totally up for continuity. Ironically my casual relationships last a lot longer than other people’s so called committed ones.

Where does all this confidence come from to date younger men?

A lifetime. I’m 52.

When you were younger were this confidence. How were you when you were younger?

Oh, as rampantly insecure as any other twenty-something.

A black and gold bar displays crystal glasses and silver barware.
Ceiling lights by Tom Dixon hang above the dining table. The French style chairs are copies of the Dior chair designed by Christian Dior.

A ceramic pistol vase displays bright flowers made out of silk.

And what do you talk to these men about—how do you avoid being a slightly maternal advice-giver?

Oh good God, that doesn’t come into at all. I actually gave a talk at TED called “The Toy Boy Manifesto: Why the older woman plus younger man is the relationship model of the future.” It was jam-packed. I started out saying, “Let me get one thing out of the way right up front: Yes, the sex is fantastic. You combine somebody at his sexual peak, lots of stamina, very short recovery period with somebody at her sexual peak, lots of confidence, experience, who knows what she wants, then yes, that’s a great combination.”

But that’s only one dimension out of a whole bunch as to why I find these relationships so rewarding. When I date younger men, I’m not in a competitive scenario. Men my own age or older can quite often have an issue with a strong, powerful woman who earns more than they do. Younger men can’t be competitive [with me] because we’re at different stages of life. My life experience can be very useful in talking to them about whatever they’re doing. Because of what I do, I live a life that has to be at the cutting edge of popular culture in a sense of knowing trends, up to the minute on music, fashion, film, the Internet etc. Lifestyle wise … I’m more attuned to younger men.

Books are stacked atop Cindy’s coffee table.
A concrete teddy from the Affordable Art Fair frequently fools the eye for the real thing.
A stuffed mongoose being strangled by a cobra was purchased at a Penang street market for twenty dollars. Nearby a stone dildo was found at a Shanghai antiques market.
A daybed is covered in faux leopard.

If I was a younger man talking to you, I would find the perfect paragraphs in which you speak, completely bewildering … I have a 22-old son—he would be befuddled by you.

That’s fine. I’m extremely selective about whom I date. I meet them on cougar dating sites. I’m a huge ambassador for online dating and I believe everyone should do it. It enables you to meet somebody who wants the same thing you do …

You’re so efficient about it!

But it is efficient. The great thing about online is that it is absolutely efficient about enabling you to do things in the real world that are the things you really want to do. And by the way, even I, who champions this relationship model, am gobsmacked by the number of younger men out there who want to meet older women.


In our society, older man-younger woman, no one bats an eyelid but older woman-younger man is socially unacceptable. And even the term “cougar” implies that that model only works one way: it’s predatory, desperate, hungry women going after innocent younger men. [It’s] completely the opposite. I respond to maybe one percent of all the responses I get. I’ve never hit on a younger man. I don’t have to.

A coffee table covered in cowhide throw is Cindy’s homage to designer Tom Ford. It includes a signed photo of Cindy with Tom Ford and another photo of Cindy in hamster fur pants designed by Tom Ford. The photo was inspired by a concept suggested by Richard Avedon when he heard about Cindy’s hamster fur pants, ‘She should be photographed in them walking with a herd of hamsters on leashes down the street.’
A flat screen TV and a wall filled with books fills the library area of the loft. The bearskin is from a Minneapolis antique store.

More art and objects are scattered among the library bookshelves.
More bookcases are in the works. In the meantime, piles do just fine.

What are you looking for?

I’m about to tell you, actually. I have one very fundamental criterion—they have to be a very, very nice person. I have a fantastic radar for very nice people. And as a result I only date utterly lovely younger men. One of the reasons I’m very public [about this] is that I believe that everybody should be free to design the relationship model that works for them as opposed to the very limited number society says it’s okay for us to operate.

You’re a modern-day Wife of Bath.

[Laughs] Someone else said that to me the other day!

Are you romantic? I read that you said that at night, you wanted your apartment to look like an old Shanghai bar, which seemed a romantic thing to say.

In the broad sense, absolutely I’m romantic, yeah. It’s interesting you’re asking that because all too often in life we default to stereotypes and very simplistic typologies. People jump to conclusions about me very quickly. We’re frightened of women’s sexuality. The best of all possible futures is one that men and women build together equally.

Looking across Cindy’s homage to former Gucci designer Tom Ford. A Gucci motorcycle hat is placed next to Tom Ford’s anatomically correct black leather bustier for YSL.
Looking toward the front wall of the loft filled with David Piddock’s paintings of fantasy art galleries and jade figurines.
An antique Chinese wedding bed dominates the library area of the loft.
A bathroom ledge displays an orchid and Gucci candles.

If men can be invited into a woman’s vision of how the world could be—how liberating for them it would be too.

I have a three-pronged approach to feminism …

That sounds a bit painful … [she doesn’t laugh]

Prong Number One is: female solidarity, women helping women. As per Madeleine Albright’s quote “There is a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t help other women.”

Prong Number Two is: we change nothing for ourselves until we get to men. Talking to ourselves is useless, we’re preaching to the converted … men still run everything.

Prong Number Three is: we have to surface these issues in a way that is funny, intriguing, mysterious, witty, entertaining—anything that cannot be dismissed as “Oh! Another a bunch of feminist harridans banging on again about how unfair life is.”

A painting by David Piddock hangs above Cindy’s bed, out-fitted in black Gucci sheets. Paul Richard’s self-portrait, Tutu, hangs between the windows.

L to R.: An ‘Iron Maiden’ sculpture by a Brazilian artist hangs in Cindy’s dressing area.; A dozen silk roses are flanked by gilt fabric-covered bedroom windows.

Do you often get likened to Samantha in Sex and The City? I don’t like that character and I don’t know why. She’s such a caricature.

I regard it as a compliment because it’s about a strong confident woman taking control of her life and her sex life.

So you only fancy younger men, is that it?

I’m very straightforward about the fact that I’m not looking for a relationship …

Why aren’t you?

Let me explain, if you don’t mind … I never wanted to be married and I’ve always known I wasn’t a mother … love other people’s children. And when you don’t want children there is less of a mental imperative to get married or find a man. I’ve spent most of my life being single. And I think that is a very good thing. Every single boyfriend I had at university dumped me. Hallefuckinglujah! Okay. I was totally brought up like all women regardless of culture, believing that our entire life has to be a quest for “the one”.

And so all through your teens and twenties, you’re looking for “the one”.

The dressing area. The mirror and dressing table were a birthday present from designer Jeremy Scott.
Looking across Cindy’s bed toward the open bath.
A favorite neon and Lucite YSL sculpture by Sylvie Fleurie illuminates a corner of the master bath.
In the rear of the master bath Cindy’s Gucci bike stands in front of two YSL neon installations by Sylvie Fleurie.

And it hasn’t changed that much …

No, every social event you go to: will he be there? What that means is that you spend hours glamming yourself up, worrying about your looks. You go to that event and you compete with other women, a dynamic I deplore and he’s not there … and you go … “Oh, he wasn’t there again.” At some point in my thirties, I went, “Screw this for a game of soldiers. I’m not looking for ‘the one’ anymore.” Oh my God—liberation!

Do you feel under pressure to have plastic surgery or anything?

Oh God no! Absolutely not! Bloody hell no! I consider myself a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society, which is older women. I would like to help redefine what older women should look like, talk like, work like, be like, dress like and fuck like.

I have a number of societal agendas with which will take a very long time to play out. I date quite a lot of younger men and I can have all the bulging biceps, chiseled cheekbones, six-pack abs that I want. Actually the guys that I’m particularly fond of are the ones I call “hidden gems”, okay? I’ll give you an example of a guy from several years ago who was an NYU law student, 27, lovely guy. You didn’t realize until he took his glasses off, how good looking he was; you didn’t realize until he shed the baggy flannel shirt and the baggy jeans, what a good body he had and you certainly didn’t realize how well-endowed he was and you also did not know he was the oral sex genius of all time, okay? I want to showcase in real world sex to flip the social equation of what we are taught to find hot, desirable and date-able because that really hot guy or girl in the bar is often the worst in bed because they’ve never had to try.

A view into the neon lit open bath from the main living space.
Looking towards the front ‘portrait wall’.

A nude by Paul Richard hangs on a wall near the library. The painting is flanked by an installation of handmade postcards crafted and sent through the post by two Danish artists.
An English daybed that belonged to Cindy’s parents stands beneath a painting by Paul Richard.

When did you start wearing all this leather clothing you’re photographed in? Where do you buy it?

Oh, a very long time ago. Back in my previous existence as a high-flying, highly-paid ad exec, as opposed to now, impoverished start-up entrepreneur, I moved here in ’98 to start [the advertising agency] BBH New York, just when Tom Ford was coming into his heyday at Gucci. It was a very good thing that I left advertising just as he left Gucci—temptation removed because I couldn’t afford it anymore. His clothes became my battle armor. Every time I put my Tom Ford Gucci leather biker pants, I was warrior woman. Also it was brand differentiation.

What do you do when you’re not working?

When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re working all the time.

But you’re meeting all these young men and having all this sex, aren’t you?

Er … I’m not all the time, no, no! I’m traveling a huge amount and doing a lot of public speaking, which is partly a revenue stream for me.

Leopard skins cover a pair of Malaysian planters chairs. The leopard skins were purchased at an auction in the UK and were a gift from Cindy’s parents.

So you’re more interested in business than sex …

Oh … er … I’m an entrepreneur working to make my business successful. If I don’t make the business successful, I don’t get to pay the mortgage. I’m putting that ahead of sex, too bloody right … fortunately one of the businesses happens to be about sex.

Sooo … Fifty Shades of Grey … off you go, Cindy!

There are three reasons why I hate it:

Number One: it’s appallingly badly written. I had to force myself through it for research purposes.
Number Two: it is the classic Mills & Boon Cinderella story wrapped up in new trappings.
Number Three: it is all about all the components of, and endorsing, a thoroughly abusive relationship.

The reasons I love it are:

Number One: it’s done what I’m trying to do—it’s socialized sex, to make it socially acceptable to admit that we all like reading erotica and sexy writing.
Number Two: It “de-taintifies” sex that a lot of people really enjoy having if society hadn’t taught them to go “Oh my God that’s kink.”
And Number Three: it’s obviously rejuvenated a tremendous number of marriages and relationships.

Do you always talk in bullet points?


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