Why Is It Okay for Subway Ads to Show Erections but Not Sex Toys for Women?

Alexandra Fine is the CEO and co-founder of Dame Products, a sexual wellness company that makes sex toys for women. Last year, Dame was barred from advertising their products on New York City’s subway—even though ads about erectile dysfunction are allowed. This week, Dame announced they’re suing. Fine opened up to Glamour about what she sees as the double standards in advertising—and why it’s time we do something about it.

As you may have noticed we, societally, are not exactly thriving sexually. We’re having less sex than ever before, and only finally starting to come to terms with the intersection of power abuse and sex. Women are five times more likely to experience pain during sex and four times more likely than men to experience sex that’s not at all pleasurable. Don’t even get me started on orgasms: In one study, 91 percent of cis-men said they “usually” or “always” orgasm during sex—only 39 percent of cis-women said the same. How messed up is that?

At Dame Products, we’re on a mission to close the pleasure gap. We make toys for sex (designed by and for women) and help start a whole bunch of conversations about female pleasure. We believe that feeling joyous in our bodies, is human. It’s powerful. And we want to see more of it.

Unfortunately, while many people benefit from and desire our products, a major institution has decided that you shouldn’t see them advertised. After months of working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (New York City’s public transit agency) to bring Dame ads to the subway—just like ads hawking erection pills have been in the past —the MTA released updated guidelines making it clear they were banning companies like Dame from advertising sex toys—products that promote female pleasure.

The taboo is real. And it’s impacted us in so many ways. So, we’re suing the MTA.

This isn’t our first rodeo—we’ve been dealing with push back and outright bans against our ads on social media and IRL since we founded the company. It’s crazy to me: We aren’t trying to create products that encourage unhealthy behaviors, just products that help satisfy biological needs in a safe and simple way. Last year, after facing allegations that their ad policies were sexist for refusing ads from our friends at Unbound, the MTA went on record with the New York Times to say they wanted to find a solution to work with companies like ours. We saw an opening, and we were pumped.

Advertising regulations are an important part of the world—I get that. And I know splashing ads featuring sex toys all over the city is a taboo-breaking change, but it’s an important one that I think would really better society. So when the MTA said there was a way to make this work, we were willing to create ads that worked within their guidelines. Whatever we could get on the subway would mean opening the door to changing the world in a way that we believe is better for us all.

So, we reached out and began developing a set of Dame Products ads that would run in the subways. When the MTA gave us what we thought was preliminary approval of two of our ads in the fall of last year, we literally jumped for joy. We sadly didn’t have any champagne in the office but we popped the metaphorical bottles nevertheless. After we submitted the final versions, we learned that all of our ads had been rejected.

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