We all get vulnerable when we get naked: a Q+A with MakeLoveNotPorn Founder, Cindy Gallop

Header photo x Kevin Abosch

Well, if you just want to jump right in, we definitely can, so, I guess, if you could just tell me about that TED talk nine years ago. I mean, what led you to that TED talk?

Sure. MakeLoveNotPorn was a complete and total accident I never consciously, intentionally set out to do any of the things I now- very bizarrely – find myself doing. It came about through the fact that I date younger men– they tend to be men in their 20s– and about 10 or 11 years ago now. 

I began realizing, through dating younger men, that I was encountering an issue that would quite honestly never have crossed my mind if I had not encountered it so very intimately and personally.  I realized I was experiencing what happens when two things converge – and I stress the dual convergence because most people think it’s only one.

I realized I was experiencing what happens when today’s total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. When both of those factors converge, porn becomes, by default, sex education in not a good way.

So, I found myself encountering a number of sexual behaviors in bed. I went, “woooah, I know where that behavior is coming from.”

I thought, “Gosh, if I’m experiencing this, other people must be as well.” I didn’t know that because, 10 or 11 years ago, no one was talking about this, no one was writing about it.

I’m a naturally action-oriented person and so I went: “I want to do something about it”.

So, nine years ago, I put up, with no money, this tiny clunky website, MakeLoveNotPorn.com, that posted the myths of porn and balanced them with reality.

The concept was porn world versus real world.

I had the opportunity to launch MakeLoveNotPorn at TED, which I had been going to for many years. I became the only TED speaker to say the words “come on my face” on the TED stage six times in succession.

As a result, it drove this extraordinary global response to my tiny website that I had never anticipated. Thousands of people wrote to me, from all around the world. Young and old, male and female, straight and gay, they poured their hearts out to me. I realized I uncovered a huge global social issue.

I then felt a personal responsibility to take MLNP forward in a way that would make it much more far reaching, helpful, and effective. I also saw an opportunity that I believe in, which is the future of business doing good and making money simultaneously.

I saw the opportunity for a big business solution to this huge untapped global social need. I use the word big, advisably, Sinclair, because, even then, nine years ago at the stage of conception, I knew that I wanted to counter the global impact of porn as the default sex ed.

I was going to have to come up with something that at least had the potential one day to be just as massive, just as mainstream, and just as pervasive in our society, as porn currently is.

I was thinking big right from the get-go. What I decided to do was, I always emphasize, as I did to you now, that MLNP is not anti-porn, because the issue isn’t porn.

The issue is that we don’t talk about sex in the real world. If we did, amongst a whole host of benefits, people would then be able to bring a real world mindset to the viewing of what is simply manufactured entertainment.

I realized I was experiencing what happens when today’s total freedom of access to hardcore porn online meets our society’s equally total reluctance to talk openly and honestly about sex. – Cindy Gallop

That’s why our tagline of MLNP is pro sex, pro porn, pro knowing the difference. And our mission is one thing only: which is to help make it easier for every single person in the world to talk openly and honestly about sex.

Talk about sex in the public domain — and by that I mean parents to children, teachers to schools – but, even more importantly, talk openly and honestly about sex privately in your intimate relationships.

The reason that is critical is because we don’t talk about sex currently; it’s an area of rampant insecurity for every single one of us, all around the world, no exceptions.

We all get vulnerable when we get naked. Sexual egos are very fragile. People, therefore, find it difficult to talk about sex with the people they’re actually having it with while they’re actually having it.

In that situation, you are terrified that if you say anything at all about what’s going on, if you comment on the action any way at all, you will potentially hurt the other person’s feeling, you will put them off you, you will derail the encounter, you’ll potentially derail the entire relationship.

At the same time, you want to please your partner. You want to make them happy. Everybody wants to be good in bed, but no one knows exactly what that means. That means you will seize your cues on how to do that from anywhere you can.

If the only cues you ever see are in porn, because your parents didn’t talk to you, because your school didn’t teach you, because your friends aren’t honest, those are the cues you are going to take to.

Given this mission of talking about it, I decided to take every dynamic in social media and apply them in this one area that no other social media network platform is ever going to go, in order to socialize sex, to make real world sex and talking about it socially acceptable and, therefore, utterly just as socially shareable as anything else we share on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram.

Everybody wants to be good in bed, but no one knows exactly what that means. – Cindy Gallop

Five and a half years ago now, my team and I launched the first stage of this mission, which is makelovenotporn.tv, which is an entirely user-generated, crowd-sourced video-sharing platform that celebrates real world sex.

Anyone from anywhere in the world can sell it to us videos of themselves having real world sex, but we are very clear what we mean by this. We are not porn, we are not amateur; we’re building a whole new category on the internet that has never previously existed: social sex.

Our competition isn’t porn. It’s Facebook and YouTube or, rather, it would be if Facebook and YouTube allowed you to socially, sexually, self-express.

Social sex videos on MLNP are not about performing for the camera, they are just about doing what you do on every other social platform: capturing what goes on in the real world as it happens spontaneously in all its funny, messy, glorious, silly, beautiful, ridiculous, wonderful, comical awkwardness.

We curate to make sure of that. Our curators watch every single video submitted from beginning to end. We do not publish it unless it’s real. We also have a revenue sharing business model, so our members pay to rent and stream social sex videos and then half of that income goes to our contributors or, as we call them, our MakeLoveNotPornstars.

We hope to make our MakeLoveNotPornstars as famous as YouTube stars and for the same reasons: authenticity, realness, and individuality. We want them to make just as much money.

We want to hit the kind of critical mass where one day your social sex video gets a million rentals at $5 per rental. We give you half that income. We are the answer to the global economy, by the way.

Photo x Constance & Eric

The answer to the global economy, yeah, wow! $5 for a million views! Wooow! And that’s just like the floor right there, that’s not even the ceiling. What do you hear from members in terms of what this has done for them? Like, this kind of experience? Are these folks who typically would have done something like this before? Is it like an everyday thing for them? New for people?

Sure, so this is just what’s fascinating about what we are doing. Porn, on the one hand, is masturbation material. That’s fundamentally what it is, that’s its role. We are not just that, we are that too– by the way, very happy to be that– but we are many more things on top of that.

For example, social sex is enormously reassuring because we celebrate real world everything: real world bodies, real world hair, real world penis size, real world breast size.

You know, you can preach body positivity and self-love all you’d like, but nothing makes you feel positive about your own body like watching people of all body types, loving each other, desiring each other, getting turned on by each other, by having an amazing time in bed.

Our mantra is every body is beautiful when they are having real world sex, and they really are. We are also reassuring because we celebrate the accidents, the awkwardness, the messiness. If you only learn about sex from porn, it teaches you that sex is a performance– nothing must go wrong. But, oh my God it did! How excruciating! How embarrassing! I can’t speak about this to anyone! 

However, if you can’t love yourselves in bed, when can you? In our videos, ridiculous things happen because it’s the real world. We celebrate real world emotions, love, intimacy, feelings.

Our members write to us and our MakeLoveNotPornstars. A man wrote to us and said, “The sex in that video was incidental. I want what you guys have. I saw where your eyes met. I hope one day I can meet somebody that I’ll have that with.”

We get enormously moving emails. Those are from our members and they write to us and tell us.

Couples tell us we saved their marriage. They write and tell us, “We haven’t had sex in years.” But, again, because we are social sex, it’s okay for the wife to say to the husband and the husband to say to the wife, “I came across MakeLoveNotPorn in a magazine or whatever, you know. Why don’t we watch this together?” And then, kaboom. Best sex since our wedding night.

Couples tell us that our videos gives them ideas and inspiration for things to do in their own sex lives. Those are our members who are viewing.

This is also fascinating: our contributors, our MakeLoveNotPornstars, tell us that socially sharing their real world sex is as transformative for them in their relationships as socially sharing everything else has been to the world at large.

We are all inclusive, LGBT. We have many solo MakeLoveNotPornstars. By the way, most of our MakeLoveNotPornstars have never ever filmed themselves doing anything sexual before. They are doing it for us because they believe in our social mission.

We have many women who are filming themselves masturbating for the first time ever and shared this very intimate act publicly on our platform. They tell us that doing that made them love themselves more. It boosts their sexual sense of self, their sexual self esteem.

Couples tell us that doing this transformed their relationship because when you decide to film yourself having sex, you have to talk about it and when you talk about it, it doesn’t matter how long you have been together, the conversation goes places it has never ever gone before. Couples will write to us and say we thought we were open, but doing this took our relationship to a whole new level.

Photo x Julian Hanford

Wow! That must feel reassuring for you.

Oh yeah. We hear from members all the time. It’s what keeps us going. You know, the amazing response of people that come across the country. The one thing that I didn’t realize when I embarked on this venture was that I was fighting an enormous battle every single day to build it.

Essentially, because every piece of business infrastructure, any other tech that start ups just take for granted, we can’t because the small print always says, “No adult content.”

And this is all pervasive across every single area of the business in ways people outside the sphere don’t realize. I can’t get funded, I can’t get backed.

It took me four years to find one bank that would allow me to open a business bank account for MakeLoveNotPorn. Our biggest operational challenge is payment processing. PayPal won’t work with our content, Stripe can’t.

We had to build our entire video sharing and video streaming platform from scratch. It’s proprietary technology because existing streaming services will not stream adult content. Every tech service I want to use, including hosting and encryption, says no adult content,

We’ve been bootstrapping for five and a half years through enormous challenges. The amazing response we’ve had from our members is what keeps us going because we are what the start-up the world is crying out for and so yeah, that’s wonderful.

Can you share how many members you have or how many views you guys get?

Yep, so, bear in mind that I said we had no funding. Therefore, we have never done any form of paid-for marketing or promotion. Our growth has been entirely organic. It’s driven by two things: media coverage and search.

The only benefit of being a controversial venture is that we get ongoing media coverage, all around the world, all the time, without doing one single bit of media outreach. We have over 500,000 members globally. We have over 250 MakeLoveNotPornstars. We’ve had over 2,500 videos submitted in the course of our life cycle.

We began taking in income on day one. Now our monthly income, at the moment, is still very low because of all the payment challenges, but the point is, in a world where nobody pays for porn, our members are paying for social sex.

They see the value of what we are doing and, until earlier this year, we achieved all of that on only two full-time employees, one of whom was me, unpaid. I’ve been trying for four years to raise the funding I need to scale MakeLoveNotPorn. I finally managed at the start of this year. I’ve finally been able to hire a full time team to build out the full vision.

Did you have to take on investments?

Yes. When I had the idea for MakeLoveNotPorn.tv back in 2009, following the amazing response to my TED talk, it took me two years of pitching to find one angel investor who put up the seed funding I needed to build the platform.

He asked to be anonymous. He works in the world of finance.

Sadly, it would not benefit him for people to know that he backed us. He’s been amazingly supportive ever since and I’ve been trying to find more investors. He’s a professional investor and so, during his course of work, as he meets people he think may be open minded, he’s pitches MakeLoveNotPorn to them.

That’s how he found out himself what I already knew, which is that sextech is like the final investment frontier. We’re having a conversation where he is just gobsmacked. He said, “Cindy, the guys I meet,  they are all guys, they will invest in literally anything else– alcohol, tobacco, gambling, guns– but bring up sex and WOAH.”

And he was so frustrated because he sees the potential, so he said, “I’m going to put up the funding you need by myself.” I was amazed. I would not have gone back to him. He’d been so supportive.

I didn’t want to ask him for any more money, but he volunteered to put up the money himself because he knows our potential and scale so that’s how I’ve got the funding but I’ve only been able to find one investor.

What’s the potential in scaling right now for the next five to ten years? What are you talking about when you think about scaling?

Well, I want to build MakeLoveNotPorn to be a billion dollar venture. And I know it has the potential. In a world where Silicon Valley VCs are funding young white guys with food delivery apps, and often trivial games.

I would say MakeLoveNotPorn operates in the single biggest market of them all. Not porn, not sex, the market of human happiness.

And here’s why we have to scale: to achieve our ultimate goal.When I say that MakeLoveNotPorn’s single mission is to make it easier to talk about sex, because we do not do that currently, people don’t get how massively, profoundly, fundamentally beneficial the impact of that would be.

Here’s what I mean. I decided to make MakeLoveNotPorn around my personal beliefs and philosophies, one of which is that everything in life and business starts with you and your values, so I ask people the question, “What are your sexual values?” and nobody can ever answer me because we are not taught to think like that.

Many of us, if we’re lucky, we’re born into families where our parents bring us up to have good manners, a work ethic, sense of responsibility, and accountability, but nobody ever brings us up to behave well in bed. But they should because, then, empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, and honesty are as important as every other areas of our lives and our work when we are actively taught to exercise those values.

Here’s what will happen when MakeLoveNotPorn achieves its mission and scale: parents will bring their children up openly to have good sexual values and good sexual behavior in the same way they currently bring them up to have good behavior in every other area of life.

We will, therefore, cease to bring up rapists because the only way that you end rape culture is by integrating into society a universally understood, talked about, operated, promoted and, very importantly, admired good sexual values and good sexual behaviors.

When you do that, you also end #MeToo, you end sexual harassment, sexual abuse, sexual violence – all areas where the perpetrators currently rely on the fact that we do not talk about sex, to ensure that their victims will never speak up and never go to a therapist.

We massively empower women and girls worldwide. When we do that we create a far happier world for everybody, including men. When we do that, we are one step closer to world peace. I talk about MakeLoveNotPorn as my intent to bring about world peace and I’m not joking.

To me, it sounds like, listening intently and intuitively to you, that we have to do this. We have to have these conversations about sex. It’s not something that we get to do or it’s cool to do or it’s fun or it’s this ideal. We have to.  

But here’s what’s really important, Sinclair, about what MakeLoveNotPorn is doing. Because I gave myself an enormously challenging task, building a social sex video sharing platform, there is undoubtedly a hierarchy of investment within sextech.

People are more into fun sex toys, a known category, something familiar.  People having sex on video is, woah, that’s a bit too far– but here’s why I’m doing it.

First of all, I knew that if I wanted to counter the global impact of porn as default sex education, I had to do it in porn’s own medium: online video. That was obviously why I undertook a video sharing venture.

Secondly, again, I said I live my own philosophies and so, I believe that the future is video. With the advent of the internet, communication began as text-based, then Flickr launched, then came Instagram and communication was photography. Now, communication is video. As we see with Snapchat and Whatsapp, video is the future.

The third reason is, you can talk sex education until your blue in the face, you can write sex education, you can lecture sex education, you can make cute, little funny animated videos about sex education, nothing educates people about sex like watching people actually having it.

At the moment, given the whole #MeToo movement, there are many people writing very, very good pieces about consent. I was reading one yesterday by Jaclyn Freidman on Refinery29.

It was a great piece about consent, but here’s the problem with all those wonderfully eloquent, beautifully written pieces about consent: nobody knows what that actually looks like when you’re actually having sex.

On MakeLoveNotPorn, you can see good sexual values and good sexual behavior in action. Education through demonstration. You can see exactly what it looks like to communicate during sex, to basically make sure someone is okay with everything you’re doing. We are the only place you can see good sexual values and good sexual behavior in action and that’s incredibly important because nobody knows what that looks like otherwise.  

What are your sexual values?

The ones I outlined to you earlier; I used my own beliefs. Empathy, sensitivity, generosity, kindness, honesty.

Are those your values as a person as well? 

Oh yeah. I say to parents: literally think about this as all the life values you want to bring your child up to have and just extrapolate that into making them aware that those values should also permeate their sexual relationships and their sexual activities and behavior.

I’ve been thinking about sex work a lot because I’ve been embracing it as a term and not thinking about it in terms of porn star, prostitute, slut, and hoes. It’s kind of a cool term to open up things for me, and I’ve been interviewing sex workers and I’ve been asking them a question: What can we do to end sex work stigma? And I’m curious about what you think of that based on the work you do?

First of all, and I’ve said this publicly many times when I talk about socializing sex and normalizing all of this, at MakeLoveNotPorn, we call ourselves the social sex revolution. I explain the revolution part is not the sex, it’s the social aspect.

When we achieve our mission, sex work should be as natural a career choice as deciding to be a doctor or lawyer or accountant. I mean, that’s our end goal in socializing all of this.

In the meantime, we have a very unique category on MakeLoveNotPorn which I conceived of, again, as part of my initial concept that I wanted to have when we launched five and a half years ago, and my friends helped me.

MakeLoveNotPorn is the only place on the internet where porn stars share the sex they have off set, in the real world. Because porn stars have real world sex, too, that is completely different from the sex they perform in the professional category.

My gay, straight, lesbian, trans porn star friends share on MLNP videos of the real world sex they have in their real world relationships with their partners and they talk in those videos about how different it is from the sex they perform on set.

On the one hand this is, again, my philosophy of communication through demonstration because nothing makes my point about knowing the difference than porn stars showing how different their real world sex is.

What our friends in the porn industry really appreciate about this, and I hate the fact, Sinclair, I even have to use these words, is that those videos humanize porn stars, they humanize sex workers because we ask all our MakeLoveNotPornstars to make free-to-access intro videos.

What we ask them to do is to contextualize their real world sex– because real world sex has context, has a backstory, has relationships. They can be as creative as they like, do whatever they like.

We just say, make a free-to-access intro video that just contextualizes the video. With porn stars who are sharing their real world sex, they talk about their emotions. They are adorable how much they are in love. I mean, this is a side of porn stars you do not see in their work and that helps to realize them as full human beings in their own right.

Thank you for that. I want to ask questions about you. I had an assumption, and that assumption was that you had already worked in pretty high up businesses before you started this. I’ve heard that somewhere, I’m trying to remember. I guess my question for you would be, how have you navigated self-doubt and how have you navigated criticism and how have you navigated barriers, barriers imposed on yourself and barriers imposed from others?

This is something that I believe in very strongly and I recommend to other people. As I said earlier, everything in life and business starts with you and your values.

I recommend to everybody– because, again this is not an exercise that we are generally encouraged to do– I recommend to everybody: look into yourself. Identify exactly who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, what your values are.

The reason that’s important is because, then, you can absolutely live those values and work those values. That makes life so much easier, by which I mean, life still throws you all the shit it always will, but you know exactly how to respond to that in any given situation in a way that’s true to you.

The important thing for me is knowing that I’m living and working according to my values. I don’t give a damn about what anybody else thinks as long as I know that to be the case, and that’s the important thing to me.

That means that I know the right way to deal with any situation that arises. And you know, when you have that North Star of your values and how you follow them and how you actually walk the talk and live your values, that just makes life so much easier.

My other question: What advice would you give to someone working on being an entrepreneur and kind of following your footsteps of doing something  which could be perceived as radical? 

That’s actually a very important part of all of this because, right now, not least driven by Silicon Valley, there is a glamourization of entrepreneurship and start-up culture that is very dangerous because it means there are a lot of people, business school students, young people going, “I want to be a entrepreneur” and “I want to have a start up.”

And that’s not a good idea because you should not start any business, unless it’s something you passionately, passionately care about and believe in.

As I said, MakeLoveNotPorn was not an accident. As the saying goes, the path appeared.

I didn’t go, “I want to have a sextech start up.”  My God, the battle I fight everyday. What I say to people is, it’s important because, as a start up, as a entrepreneur, you are going to go through absolute God damn fucking hell.

It’s going to be incredibly difficult, it’s going to be deeply unpleasant, and the only thing that will get you through the unpleasantness is doing something you passionately believe in, that you just have to make it happen because you want to make a difference with it.

You’ve gotta have that passion there. Don’t start a business just to start a business.

Before I was a tech entrepreneur, my background consists of over 30 years in advertising, brand building, marketing, and I helped to start up a couple of agencies. I’m here in New York because I moved here about 20 years ago to start up the US office for the ad agency I used to work for.

I started an agency in the world’s toughest advertising marketplace, Madison Avenue, and I had a Chinese proverb stuck above my desk that said, “To open a business is very easy, to keep it open is very difficult.” That’s exactly what start up life is.

And you know, when you have that North Star of your values and how you follow them and how you actually walk the talk and live your values, that just makes life so much easier. – Cindy Gallop

Not to be coy, but what is the most challenging thing about it? I would imagine it’s just the risk you take and the uncertainty. Are there just a lot of assholes out there? What are the challenges?   

The challenges are different for every entrepreneur. As a sextech entrepreneur, I have a very unique set of challenges. I always say: every obstacle an entrepreneur faces, as a sex-related start up, you can triple that.

I am literally the tech world’s final frontier; I have a particular, unique set of challenges. I also, by the way, represent the triple whammy of un-fundability. I’m female, I’m older, and I have a sex-tech start up.

The challenges will vary for every person. It’s just there will be challenges. Have no doubt of that.

What’s something that people can do, for the folks who are like, “I’m not going to watch social sex, I’m not going to watch porn, but I want to have better conversations around sex and a better mindset around it.” What advice would you give to those folks just starting out?

Go to the  MakeLoveNotPorn Academy and enter your email address there, because we will be expanding into a more formalized sex education area of our site and so that will be the “safe for work” general content application.

I would also encourage the audience: when I speak at tech conferences, I say I’m going to ask you to do something that no one has ever asked you to do before, start a sextech venture.

Start a sextech venture, support a sextech venture, fund a sextech venture. People are encouraged to be entrepreneurs in every other area, except for this one and, oh my God, there’s so much to be tackled, there’s so much room in the sextech world. Think about what you would want to change about human sexuality and sexual experience and start a sextech venture doing that.  

I’m just curious, just off the top of my head, as a Black person, who out there could I support that’s Black that’s doing sextech?

Go to this amazing site called Afrosexology. Check them out and go to the minority report. Again, celebrate the sexuality of people of color. We have a wonderful MakeLoveNotPorn ambassador named Aria Vega, based in Atlanta, who is bringing our message to the Black community.

By the way, we embrace diversity in every area, we embrace representation, we want to be as diverse as possible, and we’ve been very historically inhibited, as I said earlier, with funds and resources, to do outreach to those communities.

We are just thrilled: we recently published our first MakeLoveNotPorn’s Black edition, that features all of our MakeLoveNotPornstars of color.

Also, go to womenofsextech.com, which is our female sextech founder community platform. You will find a whole range of amazing female founders of color there starting up a whole different range of sextech ventures you can support.   

I hear sextech and I think about it being the intersection of sex and technology. Is that what it means?

I wrote the official definition of “sextech.” If you Google “what is sextech,” you’ll find me on page one. And, by the way, I did that, Sinclair, because when I started trying to raise funding four years ago, it was obviously difficult.

Again, this is something I say to entrepreneurs: I knew I had to pave my own way. When you have a truly world-changing start-up, you have to change the world to fit it, not the other way around.

I like to say I got into the Steve Jobs business of reality distortion because if reality tells me that I can’t grow MakeLoveNotPorn in the way I want to, then I’m going to change reality.

What I mean by that is, I deliberately set out to define, pioneer, and champion my own category– sextech–to legitimize it and to create receptivity on the part of the investors. I wrote the definition of sextech, which is, “Sextech is any form of technology or tech venture that decides to innovate, disrupt, and enhance any area of human sexuality and the human sexual experience.”

We have not even begun to leverage the power of sextech. Rule 34 of the internet states if it exists, there is porn in it. Gallop’s rule of sextech states: if the tech exists, it can be sextech. The applications for technology and sex are enormous and people haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.  

Is there a big sextech conference that I haven’t heard of that I should be going to?

Not yet, no. Actually, in a way, and this is very subjective, I don’t want a sextech conference. I want general tech conferences to embrace sextech. For example, I want CES (consumer electronics show) to have a big sextech division, which they have not done to date. We are lobbying for it.

The difficulty with sex is that sextech, sex-related entrepreneurs and ventures get marginalized and pushed off into a ghetto and I want us to be mainstream.

Not just a part of something that’s like, “Oh we’ll let you guys do this.” It’s a part of life.

Exactly. We should be embrace the sextech summit at all the big tech conferences.

You know I do a lot of self care and wellness and I have a question for you about that, but I’m thinking about it and I’ve been myself afraid to say, when you think about holistic wellness, where does sex fit in for you? Because I’m still afraid to say that and offend someone. It’s an important thing to put down.

Oh my God, yes, absolutely. Sinclair! My biggest obstacle in building MakeLoveNotPorn and raising investment is the social dynamic that I call, Fear of What Other People Will Think.

Because when I pitch MakeLoveNotPorn to investors, it’s never about what the person I’m talking to thinks.

When you understand what we are doing and why we are doing it, nobody can argue with it. The business case is clear. It’s just what is their fear about what they think other people will think, which operates around sex unlike any other area.

Fear of what other people will think is the single most paralyzing dynamic in business and in life. You will never own the future if you care what other people will think. One of the reasons I am loud and proud about MakeLoveNotPorn is because I know how people feel like they have to respond in a way society expects them to respond to; everybody gets it.

Everyone should just drop the pretext simultaneously. From nine years of working at MakeLoveNotPorn, I know everyone is dying to talk about sex– so no, you’re not offending anybody.


Man, I would totally be down to buy some MakeLoveNotPorn academy flash cards just to have on me to be like, this is how you talk about sex ed, just do it.

Oh yeah, we will have those in due course.

I will take them. You make me feel more confident just talking to you. I’m like, “Well, I guess I can just talk about this now.” Is MakeLoveNotPorn a business of two? Did you say it was two?

I’m happy to say since we’ve raised the funding we needed, I’ve been able to hire a full time team at the start of the year, so now we’re up to eight people, which is very exciting.

Eight peopled? Wow! How do you, one, practice self-care, at this point? And what does wellness look like for you – f or someone who is action-oriented?

A couple points on that.

First of all, I’m regularly asked in interviews what I think the most important qualities of entrepreneurs are and my answer is always: persistence, resilience, and the ability to manage your own mind. I’ve gotten very good at managing my own mind and that is how I cope with stress.

It is literally the way you think about it in your own head.

The one thing about working for yourself is that you can manage your own schedule and yes, you work very long hours and yes, I work evenings and weekends, but this is what a lot of people still working in the corporate world don’t understand: there is just an extraordinary amount of stress relief that comes from being the one in charge of your own schedule.

I’m imposing work on myself. I’m not around someone who is going, “Well, Cindy, you better do this and have this done by then.”

You know what I mean? And so, I find, in part, because I’m 58-years old, I’ve had a ton of experience. I’ve been around the block 50 million times. Any business challenge that arises, I know how to deal with it. I manage my own time and I manage my own schedule. And I find that very de-stressing .

I have one last question for you. I got this because I interviewed Anne Friedman.

We love Anne Friedman.

Okay, so Anne Friedman mentions something on her podcast, Call Your Girlfriend, there’s a question that people never ask her. I’m curious, is there a question that you rarely get asked that you’ve been wanting to answer? Or that you that you think that people don’t ask you for whatever reason?

To be honest, I can’t think of one at all, no. No, I think people know they can ask me anything so they generally do.

That’s really awesome. Very, very last question. If you had one minute to say, “this is my life’s work and this is what I want people to know,” because everything had disappeared and this is what I want you to know, what would you say in that minute?

I would want people to know that I gave my absolute damndest to make it easier for all of us to talk about sex, to get to better sex, to get to better relationships, to get to better lives.



An open letter to perfection.

Dear Perfection,

The actual definition of failure is: oh shit. ugh. well, now I know.

I could end this letter here, because I don’t want to give you too much of my time, but in truth, I’ve given you most of my life. Because of the abuse I experienced from my father, the ridicule I experienced in middle school, all the times I got beat up/picked on/told I wasn’t worth anything, all the times I got dumped for saying “I love you” way too fast, I’ve spent my entire life trying to be a better version of a person no one seemed to think was good enough as is.

I’ve been a master people-pleaser. I’ve been the one who always steps up, not because I think I’m noble or whatever. But because I don’t get to just sit still and be. I always have to keep grinding. I have to keep moving. I have to keep proving that I’m the best one for the job. Any job.

But, I’m not. No one is good at everything, and if they are, their name is probably Donald Glover. But, that aint the point of this letter, tho, he too might struggle with you. Because, you suck, Perfection.

You’re the lie that keeps so many people trapped, depressed, anxious af. 

I’m writing to remind you of this.

You’re the reason I feel like shit while writing this right now.

I’m worried about getting it all right:

  • parenting my future child
  • my wellness conference on Saturday – you got me all kinds of worried about that
  • all the money – thousands – I’ve been putting into my business ventures
  • calling myself a mental health speaker – what do I know??? (tell Doubt I’m coming for them too in a future letter)
  • calling myself Oprah
  • calling myself anything more than who others told me I am – nothing
  • this email. this email is a fail. this email isn’t perfect. ugh.

So yeah, I’m worried. I’m worried about my marriage. My friendships. My Blackness. My business connects. And I don’t blame you. I don’t even blame myself. I’m over and beyond blame. I’m just tired of you. Tired of you sneaking up to me right when shit gets good. My life is so good right now.

But you had to come thru when I stepped on the scale the other day and saw that I was 10 lbs heavier. I lost 30lbs 3 years ago and kept it off, and because of this recent season, I’ve gained 10 back. 10! I feel like a fat boy. Fat and ugly. And I’m feeling okay about that.

So, in a way, you’ve won, Perfection.

But, you also lose every time any of us write to you, think about you in an honest way, and get real about our relationship with you. I want to stop hating you and resenting you and really just get clear on the relationship I want with you. You’re always gonna be here. I have way too much trauma to ever really get rid of you. I can’t avoid you. You’re in my DMs, my tv shows, my social media feed, my brain, my blood, my life, you’re in all of us. You show up to us all.

But, I’m the CEO. The captain of this mutha fuckin ship and I’m not going anywhere.

Writing this to you was so cathartic, that I’m a go and get even more messier as I reach for my goals. I have goals.

I’m gonna make the half a million dollars per year. I’m gonna lose the weight. I’m gonna be the father I never had. I’m gonna keep inspiring people and talking about things no one else is in my circles: sexual self-care, sex in general, racism, life as a black man who paints his toes, life as a black geek, life as someone who’s mentally ill, life as someone who is real.

And sure, I’ll revise and edit a few thousand times before I send things out, but I’m a still do it. I’m a figure this all out. But, I don’t have to figure out a damn thing today. That’s what you want me to think.

I get to rest. Imperfectly. Broken. Here. And, I’m not going anywhere.

You tried.


Sinclair + Anyone struggling with your lies

Believe people when they tell you what they’re going through: a Q+A w/ Greg Mania

Featured image x Pete Medrano


Sinclair: What are some things you are currently working on?

Greg:  I’m always juggling multiple projects on top of writing satirical columns for Out and covering books for PAPER, but right now, I’m focusing on a series of writing workshops that I’m going to be teaching for Personal Disclosures alongside other guest faculty that includes literary luminaries like Roxane Gay and Chloe Caldwell — pinch me!

Sinclair: You mentioned a book project in your Vulture feature and that it talks about your journey from “New York City nightlife to comedy.” Tell me more about that.

Greg: The book is a memoir that catalogs growing up closeted in the middle of New Jersey to finding myself immersed in the world of NYC nightlife to go-go dancing to carving a space for myself in the comedy/writing world and everything in between. I got the idea for it right after I graduated from Hofstra in 2013, but didn’t start writing it until 2015 when I got laid off from a job I had at the time.

I was living in Harlem and was a part-time student at The New School, but I still dabbled in nightlife here and there. Eventually, I pursued writing and comedy full-time, but I wanted to chronicle my time as an active participant in the nightlife scene. It really was my life for a few years, and it had a tremendous impact on me, both creatively and personally.

My agent and I have gone through revision after revision for the past year and we spent the summer revising the proposal, so the project is finally ready to be shopped. I’m typing this with one hand because my fingers have been perpetually crossed on the other since the proposal started going out.

Everyone, no matter how many accolades they’ve accumulated or how long their string of hyphenates are, struggles with self-doubt. I think remembering that everyone contends with a set of self-imposed limits is a comfort. You’re not the only one. – Greg Mania

Sinclair: What’s your writing process like? Do you put yourself on a schedule? Are you kinda all over the place?

Greg: I’m not one of those writers that can stay up all night and write. No, no. My brain shuts off by seven PM — I can barely compose a tweet by then. I like to write first thing in the morning and do as much as I can until I’ve squeezed out enough material to the point where I’d rather stop instead of forcing it.

I don’t have a word count quota or anything like that. I write what feels good, when it feels good, and retain the discipline necessary to see a project to the end.

Sinclair: When it comes to mental wellness, where are you are healing today?

Greg: I don’t mean to brag, but I’m a triple-threat — but, like, not in the talented way. I’ll never be cast in Chicago. I mean that I live with depression, anxiety, and OCD, peppered with the occasional PTSD that resulted from a fire in the apartment building I used to live in in Harlem. I live with all of these and not a day goes by where they don’t make their presence known.

It’s sort of like a relay race: my depression will run up and hand the baton to my anxiety, and it’ll be my anxiety’s turn to monopolize my brain, and then my anxiety will hand the baton off to my OCD, rinse and repeat.

I’ve grown up with a slew of phobias as a kid and I went through therapists like a can of BBQ Pringles, but we never really knew what was “wrong” with me; I wasn’t diagnosed with anything because every therapist thought it was a “phase.” I had my first panic attack at 13, but didn’t know it was a panic attack until I was diagnosed with anxiety and panic disorder at 20.

It was really bad at 20; I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t leave the house for months, and almost had to take a semester off from school. but with the help of meds (shout-out to Lexapro!), therapy, and learning about what I was living with, I was able to find a way to do just that: live with it. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days  and I still struggle, but I’ve accepted my mental illness as a part of me. It doesn’t define me, but it’s still a part of who I am, and I’m open and honest about that.

I used to hide during anxiety attacks. Now, if I’m with people, I’ll just be like, “I can’t breathe — I’m having an anxiety attack — just let me close my eyes and take a few deep breaths and, in the meantime, please try to win this round of 90’s sitcom trivia so we can win some free pancakes.”

GM by Chris Callaway
Photo x Chris Callaway

Sinclair: What is something we often get wrong when talking about mental health?

Greg: I don’t think people understand the severity of dismissing it as “stress” or a “rut” or a “bad mood” or any other kind of casual language that diminishes what someone is going through mentally and emotionally. People literally die from it. If left untreated or ignored, the consequences can be fatal.

Trust me, I’ve been down that road, and eventually I knew I had to get help. Therapy saved my life. I think the key here is to listen. Believe people when they tell you what they’re going through and, if you can’t empathize, offer support.

Sinclair: What’s something you wish you could say to your sixteen-year old self?


Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Greg: I apologize way too much. I always assume I’m an inconvenience and think that every time I ask for something, no matter how respectful I am or how many times I re-read a draft of an email before I send it, the person I’m asking something of is going to host a press conference about what a nuisance I am.

I need to stop apologizing and just ask for what I want, while remaining respectful, of course, but without thinking I don’t deserve this or haven’t earned that.

I know that all of this amazing and I’m grateful for it every day, but sometimes I still feel like that unemployed writer who used to sit at home, struggling to make ends meet and overdrafting on shit like toothpaste. – Greg Mania

Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

Greg: I have a few close friends — they know who they are — but my boyfriend, Pete, is honestly a miracle. I say that because he’s still with me even after witnessing me spontaneously burst into tears at places like Boston Market.

Listen, I’m a mess, but he’s shown me unconditional love and his support knows no bounds. I can express my fears and desires, unfettered, and he’ll never judge me, only encourage me and remind me that I’m stronger than I think I am.

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Greg: Getting paid. I work part-time as an office administrator because, unfortunately, I can’t pay my rent in exposure.

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

Greg: Last weekend! My parents live in the woods so I like to go there and just get some quiet time. NYC is frenetic by nature, and that energy sticks to my bones, so I need to go somewhere where I can hear my thoughts and shake off all the stress that’s accumulated in me, both mentally and physically.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?


Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?


Sinclair: When was a time where self-doubt was at its worst for you during your career and life journey?

Greg: I would be lying if I said I don’t struggle with self-doubt on an almost daily basis. I feel like such a hypocrite because I’m always my friends’ biggest cheerleaders and pride myself on being able to help them navigate through their self-doubt, but that’s because I’m seeing them through a pair of eyes that’s not their own, so, of course, I see their unbridled magic and the joy they bring to the world– but it’s a little hard for me to see it in myself sometimes.

Listen, I finished a book and my agent is now shopping it around to publishers; I earned my master’s degree; I co-wrote, co-produced, and filmed my first feature-length film last year; my pilot script just won an award and has been nominated for another one, in addition to it placing in a few other competitions; I get to write for some great publications; I’m about to teach a writing workshop alongside authors I’ve been a fan of for such a long time now; and I get to do this interview with you!

I know that all of this amazing and I’m grateful for it every day, but sometimes I still feel like that unemployed writer who used to sit at home, struggling to make ends meet and overdrafting on shit like toothpaste. I forget to stop for a minute and enjoy the view.

I’m always thinking one or two steps ahead because I have a voice inside my head that sounds not unlike the one I heard as an insecure, closeted teenager who struggled to have his voice heard growing up. Some days, I can ignore it and keep going. Some days, it’s too loud for me to ignore, so I curl up in bed and re-watch Ugly Betty, and then, I remind myself that there’s always tomorrow.

Photo x Pete Medrano

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Greg: Be kind no matter what. If I just start there, everything else will fall into place.

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why?

Greg:  Follow Personal Disclosures on Instagram. They recently hired me to teach a series of writing workshops but they’re a media company founded by a group of writers from The Second City and they produce a podcast that I’m obsessed with. It’s storytelling at its best.

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Greg: I just spilled my guts a few questions ago about the intense self-doubt I still feel from time to time, so I think it would be a little hypocritical of me to divulge advice on combating it but look, I’m not giving a TED Talk so here it goes: everyone, no matter how many accolades they’ve accumulated or how long their string of hyphenates are, struggles with self-doubt. I think remembering that everyone contends with a set of self-imposed limits is a comfort. You’re not the only one.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Greg: This is for my cats.


Greg Mania is a New York City-based writer and comedian who is best known for his satirical columns for OUT Magazine. His work has also appeared in The Huffington Post, PAPER, BULLETT, Posture, LADYGUNN, CREEM, Baron, among other international online and print platforms. He’s also an award-winning screenwriter, and has recently co-wrote and co-produced his first feature-length film, Deadman’s Barstool. He’s a recent graduate of The New School, earning an M.A. in Media Studies with a concentration in creative writing and screenwriting. He’s currently working on his first book. Instagram. Twitter. Website. Personal Disclosures. 



Healing can be a work of a lifetime: a Q+A w/ Sarah Ittmann Leite

Sinclair:  In terms of being a business owner, badass, and owner of one of the dopest places of healing ever, how did you get to where you are today?

Sarah: By putting one foot in front of the other– even when I didn’t know how or, in fact, especially when I didn’t know how. You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when they step out into thin air and, only then, a safe path of stepping stones appears? To me, that is the test of risk taking when moving beyond my comfort zone.

By daring to have faith when there is no indication that I should move forward; that is when new possibilities arise.

There have been so many times when I should have walked away down a safer path. Only by stepping out into the unknown did my path appear.

Sinclair: How do you want people to feel after leaving Yoga Tree?

Sarah:  Although many yoga students may show up to take care of an achy back, they often end up taking care of a deeper need. My intention is that people leave feeling more themselves than when they walked in.

What someone gets out of a class or a healing session at Yoga Tree can be so many different things: flexibility, of course; and strength, wisdom, a sense of calm, renewed energy, freedom (in body, mind and/or spirit), balance, acceptance, acknowledgement, being honored exactly as they are, or challenged to be more.

By allowing each person their unique experience – and not imposing my agenda –  there is a greater potential for a broader change in the individual and the community that ripples out to change the world.

Sinclair: What’s the best part about going to work each day?

Sarah: Without a doubt: the people. It is such an honor to be trusted with this part of a person’s life journey. I also love all of the people I work with. I get to interact and explore life with the most amazing people in Baltimore.

Sinclair: Where do you hope to see Yoga Tree be in the next 365 days?

Sarah: This is the year for us to deepen our roots and not focus on overstretching our reach. We are scheduling more of the things our current students love: workshops and community collaborations, in addition to monthly book club meetings and regular blog posts. I am so grateful to have this clear aim for this year.

Sinclair: I’ve taken several hot yoga classes recently and have been met with kindness and grace by your instructors. What’s your philosophy when it comes to building and fostering a solid team and positive work environment?

Sarah: I believe in the Law of Attraction and, at the same time, my style is influenced by an early read in my business life: Good to Great, by Jim Collins. How do I reconcile that?

The Law of Attraction states we attract into our lives whatever we are focusing on, so I believe that the right people find me and Yoga Tree and then we work with what we have.

On the other hand, Jim Collins writes in regard to how to steer a company: “…leaders of companies start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people…”

By really knowing what Yoga Tree’s company culture is and hiring people that are a good fit, and then putting them in the position that allows them to shine their amazing unique light makes the rest of it easy. When it’s right, it’s easy!

There have been so many times when I should have walked away down a safer path. – Sarah Ittmann Leite

Sinclair: What’s the last thing you and your team did for fun?

Sarah: Argh! I love my team and I have lots of fun with them individually, but we struggle to get together outside of work as we are made up of a dozen part-time staff. We have a yoga/hike outing planned and I am researching an amazing retreat on the Eastern Shore, so this is the year for fun!

Sinclair: What’s something people often get wrong about healing?  

Sarah: Wow! Great question. I think the greatest misunderstanding around healing is around time and the finish line. It’s easy to presume that there is an end goal on the journey towards health.

Why would we presume otherwise? If we go to a doctor and need to take a course of antibiotics, once we finish the two weeks, we are healthy again. The time and the goal are clear.

With the deeper inner healing that we delve into with the healing arts of yoga and meditation, we are undoing old history that has been stored in our bodies from the life we have lead up to this point and in our DNA from the history of wellness or illness we have inherited.

Moving through that deep healing is not a “cure” that we can put a timeframe on. Healing can be a work of a lifetime.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Sarah: My actions do not have to please everyone all the time. As I write that, I want to erase it, as it sounds crazy that a person (me!) would even have to think that through, let alone stop trying to live that way. I have found it to be a sneaky and challenging behavior to unlearn. So many people benefit from being around a people pleaser.

There is a wonderful reinforcement to continue making everyone else happy. In fact, people are a little cranky when the shift begins– and I get it! When you rely on things being a certain way, it can be disappointing to not get your needs met in the same old way. This has been a healing process that I noticed I needed to begin when I was in my early 20s.

Trying to please others is still my default nature that I slip into, and one aspect that I will continue to practice navigating gently away from.

Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

Sarah: I go to my husband, Henri. He teaches yoga with me at Yoga Tree and handles a huge portion of the way the studio runs smoothly. Even with so much background information, when I come to him for support, he doesn’t over-analyze the little details or harp on the past.

He is great at meeting me where I am. He listens more than talks. He inspires me to take a break from a problem I am coming at too intently, or reminds me that the answer is within me.

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Sarah: Finding balance.

It’s easy to presume that there is an end goal on the journey towards health. – Sarah Ittmann Leite

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

Sarah:  I’m an expert at self-care! I love to soak in a hot bath full of Epsom salts and essential oils. Herbal teas are a great chance for me to settle my mind or energy. I buy those from Jenny Erhardt at her herbal shop in Hampden: Zensations by Jen. She helps me to find the right blends for what I need at that time.

I also do yoga and meditation at home, or I take a class at Yoga Tree if that fits my schedule that day. Taking care of myself is an important part of my job!

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Sarah: Playing with our five-year old son. Lately, we are doing a lot of improv and creative storytelling. He has a toy car that he started to pretend is a phone. We take turns pretending to receive a phone call on this toy.

The fun part is getting fully into it. When I am listening to the pretend phone, I nod and say “mhmm,” and make lots of intrigued (and exaggerated) facial expressions. He will be so intrigued and invested in my reactions that it’s amazing to really ham it up and see where it takes us.

We alternate who is on the phone. It’s so fun to sit on the edge of my chair and wait until he’s done and shout, “what did he say?” and watch his face as he composes an elaborate story.

Screen Shot 2018-10-03 at 7.55.21 PM

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Sarah: Politics, ethics, human rights, being afraid to be a strong woman for fear of being labeled a strong woman. Why can’t I just be considered a strong person? I could go on…. and I will, but I’ll save it for a blog post!

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you during your career and life journey?

Sarah: My decision to slow down this summer has brought me tremendous self-doubt. Last year (September 2017-June 2018) was one of the busiest years since opening my studio. I did so many challenging and exciting things that I didn’t know I could do. I smashed some of my previously unreachable goals.

During that time, I felt so validated. Coming off of that schedule and focusing on my smaller and more daily goals (of this plan to grow deeper and not higher in the upcoming year) has been a let-down.

My adrenaline likes to kick in and when I make plans that are more balanced and slow moving, I have more quiet and space for reflection that can allow doubt and self-judgment to show up. The voices like to creep in and say, “Is this enough?” Or “why aren’t you trying harder?”

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Sarah: The Sanskrit word “Aparigraha” refers to non-attachment, or the more literal translation is “non-grasping”. It emanates into many arenas of life, including being accepting of what is happening in a yoga pose today and not comparing it to someone else’s yoga pose, or even judging it against our yoga pose yesterday, last week, or last year.

It also points to being patient with how quickly life is giving us what we want from it. This would be: “non-greed,” or being happy with what we have. My favorite version of the translation is “non-attachment”. To take action and not be attached to the outcome is an essential element of The Alexander Technique.

Rather than focusing on the end goal, we focus on the means we apply to getting there. In The Alexander Technique, we teach how to rewire the brain-body connection so that we can find a new approach to small tasks and this eventually changes the fabric of our motivation and response cycle which, in turn, quiets the mind and allows the right thing to unfold.

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A flow by @khalynbey ✨

A post shared by Yoga Tree Baltimore (@yogatreebaltimore) on

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people in Baltimore’s wellness community that we should follow and why? 

Sarah: I know this one! Baltimore is full of amazing massage, acupuncture, and other transformative body and energy workers.

I’ll share the ones I see regularly:

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Sarah:  Clarify what your dream is. I see so much potential for lateral movement in life that “giving up” on a dream can really be a clarifying call to a new dream. If you are deeply unhappy and full of doubt, your inner wisdom is trying to tell you something. When you know WHY you are aiming for a goal, often WHAT you are aiming for shifts and changing that aim is not failure; it is the polishing of one’s craft or calling.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Sarah: Thank you for this opportunity.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Sarah: Practice some element of quiet or stillness which allows you to hear your inner wisdom. Stay connected to that. When you are feeling off track, ask for help and then continue to delve into finding your own recipe for life. You do not need anyone else’s secret sauce. Trust yourself.



Sarah Ittmann Leite found a transformative path towards healing when she began a regular yoga practice in 1996. By 1999, she was certified and began teaching and practicing yoga daily. In 2004, Sarah opened Yoga Tree (formerly Bikram Yoga Hampden), in 2010, her husband, Henri Leite, became a certified yoga teacher and joined her in running the  business. Sarah has continued to strive for greater knowledge of self in order to strengthen her role as a guide to others on their journey. She holds a Master’s in Transformative Leadership and Social Change from Tai Sophia, (now known as MUIH: Maryland University of Integrative Health) and is a certified Alexander Technique Teacher (graduated from  AT MidAtlantic). She lives with her husband, son, and a pet goldfish. Sarah runs Yoga Teacher Training programs, continues to teach a wide variety of yoga styles, teaches the Alexander Technique, and directs Yoga Tree towards new and wonderful growth. Instagram. Website

☀️ Featured Awesomeness ☀️

Sarah says, “Please come and try a month of Yoga and Pilates at Yoga Tree for just $39.  Also, take 20% off a drop in or any class cards with offer code TRYUS20. Offer can only be used once.”


There’s always something better ahead of you: a Q+A w/ Abby Honold

Sinclair: According to your website, you identify as a rape survivor/thriver. What does being a thriver mean to you?

Abby: I’ll start off by saying that I think there’s more than one label that defines my experience with sexual violence. I think a lot of people like to say, “be a survivor, not a victim”, but I know full well that I am victim/survivor/thriver all wrapped up into one.

With that said, I like the word “thrive” because it reminds me that growth is possible. My life gets to be more than what happened to me, and I get to move forward in whatever way I want to. I think that’s really empowering.

Sinclair: Where are you with healing today?

Abby: I always say that healing is more of a rollercoaster than a linear path, and that’s true for me as well. I am grateful that I can generally look back on where I was a year ago, and know that I’m in a more secure place than I was then. I still have PTSD, and I don’t know if that is ever something that will go away for me, but I don’t have enough good things to say about how beneficial it can be to connect with fellow survivors, on top of therapy and other traditional ways of healing. One of the most helpful things for me has been discovering that I’m not alone.

Sinclair: What’s the best thing about the work that you do?

Abby: My favorite thing is always reaching out to and talking with fellow survivors. Even if our conversation is brief, I know how big of a difference it can make to just have someone acknowledge your pain and tell you that they’ve been through it too. It really helps motivate me on the more technical aspects of what I do, and reminds me of why all of this is worth it. 

Genuine joy is hard to come by with PTSD, so I try to aim for feeling content and generally happy. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: What is something that we often get wrong about women’s bodies?

Abby: I think one thing we get wrong about bodies in general (not just female ones) is how the body holds on to trauma. There are plenty of things that we can logically understand or mentally work through, but our bodies have their own memory that they react from.

That’s one reason why trauma is so difficult to tackle and work through in traditional therapy. The negative experiences we’ve had have affected both mind and body. There are a lot of suggestions people have given me over the years that I had rolled my eyes at, thinking there was no way something like yoga or massage would actually help me.

I’ve learned – as time has gone on – how wrong that assumption was. It was something I got wrong. Things that heal our bodies after trauma are just as important as things that help to heal our minds.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re currently working on that’s both super challenging and exciting?

Abby: I recently joined the research board of a nonprofit here in Minnesota called the Minnesota Justice Research Center. I have become more passionate about criminal justice reform as a whole, and I look forward to being able to help further change as a whole in that arena – not just for victims of crime.

I think that many people forget the trauma that incarcerated folks have often experienced. To me, it makes sense to look at the bigger picture and make things better for everyone at every level of the criminal justice system.

In addition, as always, I’m excited about and proud of my bill, the Abby Honold Act. It would provide funding to law enforcement for trauma informed questioning techniques. It’s challenging, for sure, because a lot of people think that the status quo is working just fine when it comes to how law enforcement deals with sexual assault victims.

I know, as do many other people who have been through the system in various ways, that that’s just not true. I believe strongly in finding better ways to investigate sex crimes. And, the good news about my bill is that if I’m wrong, there’s a research component that will show that. I really, truly want to find a better way to do things, and I hope that this is just the start.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn?

Abby: One thing I’m working to unlearn is the assumption that everyone has the basic knowledge that I have. It’s a really basic trap to get stuck into. When I’ve given the same talk and have answered the same questions hundreds of times, it’s easy to feel like people should already know this.

In reality, what I talk about is super complicated, and it’s really triggering for a lot of people. It took me a long time to unlearn some of those basic myths about sexual assault victims – myths that I even internally applied to myself.  

So, I shouldn’t expect everyone else to be able to automatically pick up on it. It requires a lot of patience, but I have to remember that we’re all starting at a different level of knowledge and empathy on this issue, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that someone is being willfully ignorant. It just means that they haven’t had the opportunity to learn as much as I have.

Never forget that whatever battle you’re fighting, there are others who want to fight it with you. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Abby: Talking about false allegations is still really difficult for me. I was harassed for a long time by many people who called me a false accuser -as have many fellow survivors that I know.

It’s been extremely triggering to encounter people who use the same kind of language and attacks that I faced during my experience, and I’ve found myself being more defensive occasionally when that subject is brought up.

However, I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in being able to separate out and interact with folks who have good intentions in that area. There are people who care about both due process and care for victims, and I’m glad to connect with those people because I really think that, together, we can make a difference.

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

Abby: I try to practice self-care constantly! For me, self care goes beyond treating myself to something a little luxurious – although that’s important too – whether it’s taking an extra long shower, eating a favorite meal, or getting a massage.

I think that the vast majority of my self-care is putting my well-being as a top priority. I’ve always been someone that would rather care for others rather than myself. So for me, self-care often looks like saying “no” to a request or tackling a big task at the beginning of the week so that I can have some space and time for myself.

Self-care looks different for each of us, because we all have different needs, and sometimes the specifics of my own self-care routine changes based on what’s happening in my life at a certain time. As long as I’m placing myself as a priority in my life, I’m always able to find ways to practice self-care.


Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Abby: Genuine joy is hard to come by with PTSD, so I try to aim for feeling content and generally happy. The best path to this for me is to unplug from anything serious for a couple days to reset my brain a bit. It’s hard dealing with trauma day in and day out.

I love watching things that are pure comedy or wholesomeness during these breaks, and spending time with my pet and husband.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Abby: It’s really hard to see someone in a position of power (whether at a university, police department, attorney’s office, etc) refuse to change things, despite countless examples of why things aren’t working the way they are.

It gets even harder when I’m hearing from fellow survivors who are still being negatively impacted by people like this. It just really saddens me that there are people who have all the tools and resources to heal instead of hurt, and they don’t choose to change for the better.

It took me a long time to unlearn some of those basic myths about sexual assault victims – myths that I even internally applied to myself. So, I shouldn’t expect everyone else to be able to automatically pick up on it. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Abby: Coming forward publicly was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and honestly it shook me for at least a year afterwards. That’s probably how long it took me to get used to it. I was not only suffering from some pretty intense flashbacks and reminders of my trauma, but I really doubted that anyone would ever want to listen to what I had to say.

I had spent two years of my life being ignored, harassed, and underestimated. It was totally new territory to actually be listened to. It was definitely difficult changing my entire life around and having to spend so much time talking about something so triggering.

I feel like I’m in a great place with being able to handle things now, but everything about this was a tough adjustment. I’m very grateful that I was able to keep pushing through and find some balance.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Abby: I try to always remind myself to do the right thing, and what I mean by that is often more complicated than what my gut reaction is. Doing the right thing requires a lot more critical thinking than just being able to stick to a simple rule that I can always follow. But I’ve tried to always commit myself to truly listening to others, checking my biases at the door, and being kind.

It doesn’t always work. I’m far from a perfect person. But, I’ve been proud of myself since applying these guidelines to myself and my own behavior. I’m also a strong believer in both accountability and redemption – neither one truly exists without the other. I try to always live by them, and I really do hope others will check me if I don’t check myself.

I like the word “thrive” because it reminds me that growth is possible. My life gets to be more than what happened to me, and I get to move forward in whatever way I want to. I think that’s really empowering. – Abby Honold

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Abby: You never know what’s around the corner. I don’t even just mean external things, but you also have no idea how much strength and creativity is inside of you.

You can do it. And if you can’t, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just because one thing doesn’t work out doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. There’s always something better ahead of you.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Abby: I owe this to fellow victim-survivors (oops, that’s six).

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Abby: We can all do better, be better, and make a better world. The secret is open-mindedly collaborating with one another. Never forget that whatever battle you’re fighting, there are others who want to fight it with you.



Abby Honold is a rape survivor who advocates for sexual assault victims. She had planned to be a teacher at the time of her assault, and now instead focuses her energy and knowledge towards raising community awareness in order to affect positive change for victims, especially those within the criminal justice system. Instagram. Twitter. Website.


You’ve got to make time and space in your life for the people you care about: a Q+A w/ Ann Friedman of Call Your Girlfriend

Quick note: Several of the questions in this interview were submitted by writer, long-time fan, and Sinclair’s super close friend, Kelsey Oppenheimer. 💛

Sinclair:  What advice do you have for young women who want to fiercely practice shine theory

Ann: Shine Theory is a term I coined with my friend and co-author and podcast co-host, Aminatou Sow. Practicing Shine Theory means investing in other people. You can just briefly meet someone at a networking event and expect to have each other’s backs forever and ever! Shine Theory is helping your people be their very best, and accepting their support in return.

It means leaning toward openness and collaboration rather than a scarcity mentality—committing to share resources, contacts, support. It doesn’t mean you’ll never feel jealous again, or that you’ll never be in direct competition for a job. But if Amina has taught me anything through her friendship, it’s that there are great rewards when you work and wish for someone else’s success the way you wish and work for your own.

Sinclair: Aside from writers , where/who do you draw inspiration from?

Ann: It’s super important to me to maintain close friendships with many people who are not writers or journalists. I love hearing about what they find important, which problems and news items are eating at them, and what art they’re obsessed with lately. I draw a lot of inspiration from watching my friends work and talking to them about their practices.

Sinclair: Considering the privileges you hold, how did you get so lucky?

Ann: Where do I even begin!? I’m a cisgender, heterosexual white woman from a family with lots of economic security. I have no history of trauma or mental illness. So those are just a few of the privileges. As for luck, I am grateful I started my journalism career when I did—in 2004. During my first years in the profession, digital spaces were still relatively unrecognized as powerful, and also not monetized.

Meaning that my work could kind of grow up within and alongside the consumption of digital media. If I’d entered media five to ten years earlier, I would have probably struggled to adapt. If I’d entered five to ten years later, digital media would have been far more developed and I would have struggled to gain attention for my work as quickly. So I definitely credit that timing as lucky.


Sinclair: In interviews and in podcast episodes, you talk about your strong group of friends/support. How have you cultivated this over the years?

Ann: I just try to keep showing up for people I care about, and ask them to do the same for me. When I’ve been new to a city, I’ve been sure to get out of my house a lot, and to make an effort to accept any and all invitations to hang out. Many of my close friends in Los Angeles can be traced back to just a few early friendships I made, because I kept showing up when those friends invited me, and so I became close to their friends, and on and on.

I also make an effort to hang on to friends who live in other cities—which is the founding premise of our whole podcast. You’ve got to make time and space in your life for the people you care about. You can’t expect friendships to stay strong if you’re letting them run on autopilot. Amina and I are writing a whole book about this right now!

Sinclair: Speaking of podcasts, I really enjoyed the Pooptastic episode of Call Your Girlfriend. Pooping is ridiculously stigmatized and gendered. What response did you all receive from this episode?

Ann: We love tackling topics that are taboo for no reason. The best feedback we got on that episode was from a person who works as a bike messenger. She said she’s pooped in every high-rise building in her city!

Sinclair: Which episode of the show do you think back to often? 

Ann: I probably think most about our Businesswoman Special episode, which is all about how we run and have scaled the business side of the podcast. When people inevitably get upset that we are not covering every single issue of importance, or when they call us sellouts for accepting certain advertisers, I love having this episode to refer them to, because it lays out very clearly and conversationally all of our decision-making criteria.

Sinclair: What books are you currently reading?

Ann: An advance copy of Talent, the forthcoming novel from Juliet Lapidos, who was until very recently my brilliant editor at  The Los Angeles Times. Michael Arceneaux’s delightful memoir I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé. And Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, a collection of John McPhee’s New Yorker essays about the craft of nonfiction.

Sinclair: How do you get so much reading done? You spoke a little about this in your Extraordinary Routines feature.

Ann:  Some weeks are more reading-heavy than others. But the main thing that helps me is to use a link-saving app (I use Instapaper, but a lot of people like Pocket or Evernote). I save interesting articles as I come across them during the day, then read on my phone or my Kindle at lunch or in the evening. When it comes to books, the most important thing for me is to pick up a new book right after I finish one. If I wait, often I end up letting my reading really lag.

Sinclair: What’s something we can do to create a safer and more inclusive world for women?

Ann: Oh, SO many things! There were a lot of good what-to-do explainers written earlier this year when the MeToo movement was very much in the public eye. For me, I think it’s important to realize that sexist beliefs and gender stereotypes don’t only worm their way into mens’ brains. They affect all of us.

And so breaking down gender-based oppression often begins challenging assumptions—both our own and those made by others. Asking hard questions about what we believe and why. Reading, listening, and learning. And then refusing to stay silent about what we continue to learn.

Sinclair: Your weekly newsletter is dope af, masterfully curated, and socially conscious. It’s also how I first heard about you. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself since starting it?

Ann: The newsletter has become my way of making sense of the week. Because of the way it’s structured—I have to write a subject line, I have to pick and choose what things to highlight, I have to write a short intro—it forces me to spot narrative themes and motifs in the mess of news and articles I’ve consumed over the past seven days.

I already knew I liked to do that, because I was an editor for years before I was a writer, but the newsletter has helped me realize that I love this as an ongoing practice: Thinking about what has really mattered lately, not just in my own life but in the wider world of media I consume.

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn? 

Ann: I think I talked about this on an episode of the podcast recently, but I have a very ingrained idea that people who really care about their brains don’t really care much about their bodies. Of course this is bullshit! We all need our bodies—we’re not brains in vats.

But I think what happened is that I took lots of cultural messaging about women’s worth being tied to their ability to meet some pretty exacting physical standards, and I thought, “That’s a losing game. If I focus only on my brain and my brain only, then I can sidestep that whole problem.” As if. I know now that there are real consequences to trying to separate your mind and body in that way.  

To do things well, you can’t do everything. But I truly hate having to choose. – Ann Friedman

Sinclair: It seems that you live your life very intentionally how did it come to be this way?

Ann: In some areas I do, but in others I don’t. I think it probably looks like I live life intentionally because the most intentional parts of it are on public display. My writing is intentional, most of my career choices have been pretty intentional. Those are the visible parts of what I do.

But I make foolish choices all the time. I go on autopilot when I should be actively trying to change things. I’m definitely a human being who is, like all of us, intentional in some important ways and a hot mess in others.

Sinclair: You’ve interviewed a ton of amazing people (like yourself). What are some interviews you’re proud of and/or particularly enjoyed? 

Ann: I had a great conversation with Alicia Garza last year that has really stayed with me, especially as I think about how I live my beliefs. And recently I did a live conversation at Skylight Books with my pal Thomas Page McBee about his new book, Amateur. It was just great. I love Thomas’s brain (and his writing!) and could talk to him about masculinity and bodies all day.


Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Ann: I have a hard time cutting things out. I’ve been interested in almost every opportunity that has ever come my way, and I’ve also worked hard to create many opportunities for myself. I find myself wondering, “What if I pursued the newsletter to its fullest extent? What if I only worked in audio for a year, no writing? What if I only wrote books?” To do things well, you can’t do everything. But I truly hate having to choose.

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care and why is self-care important to you?

Ann: On Friday, I took the afternoon off and went to my friend Nikki’s house. (NB: Nikki has an incredible forthcoming novel you should definitely check out!) She made gazpacho and we watched Valley Girl and just were lazy together. It was great. I felt totally renewed when I drove myself home, as if I’d just spent an afternoon at the beach or the spa.

For me, self-care often means letting my brain and my body rest together. It’s important because I don’t think my inbox or my to-do list will ever be at zero. So I have to know how to create breaks and hit pause for myself. I really try to protect my non-working hours. I worked on the morning of Labor Day, so I gave myself all Friday afternoon off in exchange. I try to be a good boss to myself.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Ann: These expensive sheet masks. Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lifting each other up. The unseasonably mild Los Angeles summer.

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Ann: The fact that Brett Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Ann:  After I graduated college, I didn’t get a single job or internship I applied for. They were mostly at newspapers, and I was pretty sure I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter, anyway. But I also didn’t want to do nonprofit-comms work either, and I thought that was my “other option” if I were to pick a job that was more explicitly about advancing my beliefs.

I now realize it was a total false binary (as most binaries are). At the time, though, it felt like I would end up being a underpaid, unhappy fraud no matter which path I picked.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Ann: This is such a big question! I do an annual “personal strategic plan” (sometimes it ends up only half filled-out, but at least I always attempt it), and I pulled this list of values from my 2018 doc: Living my beliefs about justice and equality and the change I want to see in the world. Kindness and empathy. Making time for the people I love. Doing work I am proud of. Being paid commensurate with my effort and experience. Working hard but smart.

Being nice to my body and remembering it’s there. Doing things that scare me / not stagnating. Saving 20% and donating 10%. Fully owning the things I’ve poured the most of myself into. Reading books. Being able to enjoy what I do and what I have. Not working nights and weekends. [Note: Wow, this is so much of what I’ve been talking about in this interview!!]

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why? 

Ann: Well you have to follow Amina on Instagram and Twitter (@aminatou). I’ve been getting style and life inspo from Alok Menon (@alokvmenon) and Virgie Tovar (@virgietovar). I love Miriam Perez’s @houseplantparenthood account, too. And I’ve been listening to Bitchface, Sweet & Sour, and First Draft podcasts.

Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to a writer struggling with self-doubt and feeling like giving up on her dreams?

Ann: I return to Cheryl Strayed’s “Write Like a Motherfucker” essay again and again. Whenever I feel angry that my work isn’t better, her words really help me. And I’ll say this, too: All you have to do to be a writer is to write. We’re lucky enough to practice an art that is relatively cheap. Very few materials needed other than time and effort. So stop waiting for the exact perfect opportunity or platform. Write for yourself. Write for your friends. Even if you think it’s awful or you’ll never share it or you can’t see where it’s going. Write write write.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Ann:  I didn’t get here alone.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Ann:  Stories.


Ann Friedman is a journalist who covers gender, politics, technology, and culture. She also co-hosts the podcast Call Your Girlfriend with Aminatou Sow, and together they are working on a book called Big Friendship. It will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2020. Instagram. Twitter. Website.

Featured Awesomeness: Ann says, “Appolition, an easy, set-it-and-forget-it way to use your spare change to help incarcerated people make bail. It rounds your purchases up to the nearest dollar and donates the change.

This post contains affiliate links. 🎁