Cindy Gallop stands in front of a presentation slide reading "Make Love Not Porn" by nextconf CC BY

Quick hit: policy around a sexual talk at the Open Video Conference

The Open Video Conference has adopted a harassment policy, and is also featuring a talk by Cindy Gallop. Here’s an excerpt of the abstract.

Links from this abstract may contain frank discussion of sex and sexual imagery.

Cindy Gallop stands in front of a presentation slide reading "Make Love Not Porn" by nextconf CC BY
Cindy Gallop delivered one of the most talked about TEDTalks in history at TED 2009.

Speaking very frankly, and from direct experience, she argued that hardcore pornography has distorted the way a generation of young men think about sex.

At TED 2009, Cindy shared with attendees her plan to fight back, with the launch of a website to educate people about the nuances in human sexuality. At OVC, she’ll start to share the next part of her project:, which launches in early 2012…

This talk will be frank. This talk will be honest. It will be graphic. But we think Cindy speaks to a hugely under-recognized issue, and does so in a funny and thought-provoking way.

The abstract contains a highlighted note:

This talk will contain explicit sexual discussion and imagery. This may be offensive, triggering, or uninteresting to attendees. As such, attendees are welcome to leave at any point and for any reason — even an important (or not) phone call. Please keep this discussion inside the auditorium, and refrain from discussing the content of this talk with other attendees outside of the session unless you have obtained explicit permission from them. We all have different levels of comfort around these topics and OVC works hard to maintain a safe environment for all attendees. Please note that the conference has a strict policy against harassment of any kind. Visit to learn more.

This hits some important points. Particularly important to me is making it clear that leaving this talk is OK, because this is something that many people are strongly socialised not to do. (Some speakers and chairs in some circumstances will even yell at you for it.)

How does this work for you? Useful? Not useful? Is it the kind of approach you’d like to see more of around sexual material? When else would you use it? Would it bug you in some situations or around some topics?

8 thoughts on “Quick hit: policy around a sexual talk at the Open Video Conference

  1. Vasi

    I worry that it might become a get-out-of-jail-free card at less-enlightened events. One could imagine a presenter saying “I’m going to use superfluous degrading images of women on my slides, but that’s ok because anybody who doesn’t like it can just leave at any time.”

    (Not that I expect Cindy Gallop to do this sort of thing! For this talk in particular, at least, I agree that it’s a good idea to make it clear that leaving is ok.)

    1. Mary Post author

      In fact that was more or less Mark Pesce’s approach at LCA 2011: he did briefly warn for “PG [parental guidance]” images/content before the talk. Many of the people involved in the arguments afterwards were very much pro-leave-the-room.

      There are obviously salient differences too: Gallop’s subject matter is inherently sexual whereas Pesce was using sexual(ised) violence as a visual analogy to Facebook’s (etc) use of your personal data, and this warning allows people to not attend the talk in the first place, rather than either leave or sit there.

  2. Cindy Gallop

    I wanted to just say here that I was actually very pleased to see that the Open Video Conference had posted this. I always begin any talk I give on MakeLoveNotPorn by informing the audience myself that I am about to use graphic, explicit sexual language; that anyone who anticipates they may be offended by this should feel free to leave now; and that they should also feel free to leave at any point during my talk as it unfolds, and I will not be remotely offended myself if they do so :)

    I did this at the Open Video Conference myself as a matter of course, but it is very helpful to me when the conference organizers also address this when they post advance news of my talk.

  3. Anita S

    While I understand the call to not speak about the talk outside of the auditorium space as a way to create a more protected environment, I’m curious about what that mean for participants who are live tweeting, or who wish to support or critique her talk (in a respectful way) with folks who are unable to attend in person. It’s maybe something to think about for conference/con events and the levels of engagement and participation outside of those physical spaces.

    1. makomk

      It also contradicts her supposed desire to make sure that attendees are fully informed as to what they’re going to be seeing. Given the history of anti-porn presentations using the most extreme images they can find to make a political point, that’s probably not a good sign. Is emphasising audience members leave even for their benefit, or is it more for political gain – will we again see claims that the state of porn is so shocking, large numbers of audience menbers had to leave?

      1. Mary Post author

        It’s not clear from “will we again see claims that the state of porn is so shocking, large numbers of audience menbers had to leave” [my emphasis] whether you are saying that Gallop has in the past made such claims or if they have been made by other critics of porn or anti-porn campaigners? This seems to be a fairly important distinction to me.

        Indeed leaving shouldn’t be set up with a double meaning: either leaving is a neutral act which nothing will be read into, or it’s a statement about the talk or content and it shouldn’t be promised to be one and turn out to be the other. But the warning is fairly clear that it’s the former, so unless Gallop or the conference contradicted their own warning by politicising people leaving there doesn’t seem to be much alternative. Basically there’s:
        a) politicising people leaving, which is problematic because it may be politicising a private decision or a neutral act, and in this case would be breaking a promise
        b) allowing people to leave but not using it as a political tool
        c) not allowing people to leave (by either rule or softer coercion like “it’s rude to the speaker to leave a talk at our event”), which is problematic because of consent issues

        I get the other point about sealing information about the talk too tightly perhaps meaning that non-attendees and future audiences of Gallop’s aren’t informed about her materials, message, politics and so on. Just that the conference seems fairly clear about stating how leaving will be read.

  4. A. L.

    actually i was a bit “off” since Cindy Gallop’s TED-talk was available until ? on the regular ted-talks website (i remember i online-watched, forwarded & bookmarked it there in 2009/2010).
    now it is hidden somewhere in the gammuts/blogs of ted, at least when i last researched it some weeks ago *ohwell

    alas, as a now back-from-usa in europe-residing-european i find this and this discussion rather “befuddling/un-geeky”.

    1. Mary Post author

      As regards the location of the talk, the TED video is linked from our post above, and the main vehicle for distributing it has been Youtube.

      In terms of being a geeky topic, this site has regularly discussed potential problems in, and policy around, talks at conferences. We probably wouldn’t talk about Gallop’s main point without that angle (although I can’t say for certain, there are geeky approaches to sex and porn for sure).

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