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Dame Products sex toy advert
An advert from Dame Products’ third round of submissions to the MTACourtesy Dame Products

A sex toy company is suing New York’s subway system over sexism

Dame Products ads were removed from NYC’s subway, so they’re going to court to #DerailSexism

Women get pleasure from sex – this should not be news to you. Women masturbate, watch porn, and experience searing sexual desire. In order to satisfy this lustful yearning, women sometimes – TBH most of the time – need sex toys to actually get off. And where better to ponder the facilitation of your orgasm than the journey to work?

Despite peddling huge dick-shaped adverts for erectile dysfunction, the New York subway system seemingly has a policy against promoting products that enhance women’s sex lives – and this is why sex toy company Dame Products is suing their ass.

NYC’s transit agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), initially showed interest in the company’s ads, but subsequently rejected the billboards, citing updated guidelines that prevent “sexually oriented” businesses from advertising. This would be reasonable enough – if pretty square – if the subway wasn’t displaying ads promoting businesses that cater to men’s sexual needs.

“We actually went through three rounds of edits with the MTA”, Dame Products CEO Alexandra Fine tells Dazed. “We went back and forth with their team for months ensuring we could meet their guidelines.” After receiving the go-ahead, the company spent around $150,000 (£117,976) on updating their ads, but were met with months of “radio silence” that ended with their ad approval being rescinded.

“(It) was like a punch to the gut,” Fine describes, “we were on the brink of major progress, and then the MTA backtracked.”

This isn’t the first time the MTA has come under fire for alleged sexism; in May 2018, the agency reversed its rejection of ads for innovative vibrator company Unbound following widespread criticism of its gendered double standard. “The MTA has always and will continue to ensure that our policies are applied evenly and fairly,” a spokesman for the agency previously told the New York Times.

“This lawsuit is important because it is necessary for us to change society misconception of vibrators and sexual pleasure as harmful” – Alexandra Fine 

Though it seems this progressive 360 didn’t last long. Frustrated with the drawn-out process, and blatant contradictions, Dame Products decided to take a stand. “This lawsuit is important because it is necessary for us to change society misconception of vibrators and sexual pleasure as harmful,” Fine tells me, “when in truth, not reminding individuals that sex should be pleasurable is harmful.”

Last year, new stats revealed how the number of reported sex crimes in the New York City subway system had increased for the fourth year in a row – paired with a study that found men underestimate how much women are sexually harassed, ‘normalising’ the fact that women are living, breathing human beings who can experience sexual gratification, and rescind consent when pleasure doesn’t play a role, is still so vital. Dame Products believes its continued visibility is key to creating a more equal discussion about sex, sexuality, and consent.

“We need to see representations of women’s sexuality and pleasure in a healthy way,” Fine says. “Vibrators have many benefits for women/people with vulvas – they’re tools for low libido, abuse survivors, and cancer patients, to name just a few! We continually discount the importance of advocating for enjoyable, pleasurable sex because we never learn to discuss this openly.” Fine adds that, somewhat tellingly, all the people Dame Products communicated with at the MTA were men.

This lack of candid dialogue saw women’s sex toys penalised at a respected tech show back in February. After receiving the Robotics Innovation Award at Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show, robotic sex toy The Osé – the ‘world’s first hands-free sex toy’ for women – had its award taken back for “indecency”, despite a sex doll for men and other toys being exhibited and even scooping awards in previous years.

Discussion surrounding censorship of the female form, and body autonomy off the back of US rollbacks and draconian abortion laws is ever-evolving.

Fine believes that curbing the advertisement of women’s sex toys only enforces stigma surrounding female sexuality. “The vague and sexist reasons behind the MTA’s refusal to show our ads are not only barring many businesses like ours from growing their companies,” Fine concludes, “but their censorship is a violation of First Amendment rights.”

“Advertisements are hugely influential to our culture and we want to stand up for the needs and desires of vulva-havers everywhere.”

Read Dame Products’ full lawsuit here, and support the campaign to #DerailSexism.