Women-Focused Sexual Wellness Brands Are Getting Cock-Blocked

Madeline Howard
Jun 19 · 5 min read

The pink and purple-hued Instagram page of Lovability Inc. — a woman-owned sexual health company that celebrates female sexual pleasure — is dotted with cheeky, eye-catching posts featuring its products like “Moregasm Mist” spray bottles, “Hallelubeyah” lubricant and condoms packaged in trendy, circular tins that read “Babe With the Power.”

The problem is, the company’s posts and its sponsored ads are frequently blocked before the brand’s 24,000 Instagram followers get to see them. The reason? The content is deemed inappropriate for general audiences by Instagram for displaying too much female nudity or suggesting sexual situations.

According to Tiffany Gaines, the company’s 29-year-old founder and president, sex-focused brands marketed toward females have trouble getting their products in the eyes of potential consumers on social media and elsewhere, and it’s because of the stigmatization of female pleasure.

“Brands promoting women’s sexual health — from vaginal dryness to orgasm equality — are challenged at every turn to gain access, exposure and acceptance,” Gaines said.

Gaines and many of her cohorts allege that companies marketing toward their cis-gender male counterparts don’t face these same issues, even in the mainstream media and in public advertising spaces when it comes to selling things like erectile dysfunction medication or cis-male-focused sex toys.

“Since launching five years ago, Lovability has experienced a lot of censorship,” Gaines said. “Facebook and Instagram platforms have rejected close to 90 percent of the ads promoting our condom, lubricant and spray products.”

The process goes something like this: Companies are required to submit prospective ads to social media platforms for review in advance, before they go public. For many of the female sexual wellness companies, however, these ads never come to fruition. Before getting the chance to advertise, social media mediums will reject the ads, citing various reasons for doing so.

“It’s obvious that there are no restrictions for sexualizing the female figure in advertising,” Gaines said. “It’s time to transition away from the male gaze of female sexual objectification.”

The ad process is different than actual posting that the companies do via their social media accounts. However, companies like Lovability Inc. are still similarly censored by having images (or entire accounts) removed without the company owner’s consent.

Take Rachel Malkin, the 22-year-old employee of Dame Products, a sex toy company that Malkin said is not allowed to take out sponsored advertisements on Instagram at all because of the nature of the products they sell. Therefore, most of Dame’s social media publicity comes from their Instagram page.

Malkin said that despite the fact that she and her colleagues are careful to ensure all of their posts comply with Instagram’s standards, they recently had their entire account deleted.

“It was just like any other day here at Dame, and I get here very early,” Malkin said. “One of our new interns got here at eight thirty and she said, ‘My mom checked our Instagram this morning and she was like, what’s up with your new company’s Instagram?’ Then she went and looked, and the Instagram was down.”

The Dame account was completely removed without any warning from Instagram. When they tried, neither Malkin nor any of the employees could login to the company’s page.

“They don’t tell you,” Malkin said. “No one emails you and tells you. We don’t have any full nudity. We abide by all the rules.”

It was only until later that day after Instagram had received an influx of complaints from the company’s fans that the account was revived and still, Dame received no explanation from Instagram regarding their removal.

Sexually suggestive photos of nearly nude women designed to attract men, however, are prevalent on social media. The Instagram accounts for Barstool Smokeshows and Pornhub are able to post images of women — there are few to no men in the posts — in sexual poses without repercussion.

Lovability Inc.’s Gaines argues that the censorship her company faces uniquely impacts their profits, since their customer demographic largely consists of millennials and those coming-of-age in Gen Z, the two age groups who tend to be most active on social media.

“For any small business owner, that’s more than just frustrating,” she said. “Facebook and Instagram are the ideal places to initiate meaningful discussion about sexual health and happiness as well as to introduce our products. This makes it very difficult to grow our audience and connect with the women who most need our products and positive body messaging.”

When asked about their practices for approving or rejecting ads, an Instagram representative responded that they would need to take a closer look at the specific female sexual wellness companies that feel they are being unfairly scrutinized. Then they pointed to their general online guidelines, which list the following as non-compliant ad content:

● “Nudity or implied nudity”

● “Excessive visible skin or cleavage, even if not explicitly sexual in nature”

● “Images focused on individual body parts, such as abs, buttocks, or chest, even if not explicitly sexual in nature”

None of the standards above mention sex toys or lubricants, many of which are the primary products distributed and marketed the by female sexual wellness companies.

“Companies focused on the male libido have the green light to advertise, but contraceptive companies such as ours rarely have an ad approved,” Gaines said.

Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo is a professor of Gender and Sexuality studies at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering. Her work focuses on examining sex from various cultural angles such as identity, health and business.

Based on her research, she’s found that the inhibition of online advertisements for these female-based sexual wellness brands has to do with deep-rooted societal perceptions about women and sexuality.

“I feel the issue is grounded on the problematic relationship the United States has with sex in general,” Maldonado-Salcedo said. “In the year 2019, women are policed around sex in an honor and shame system. Virgin and whore dichotomies prevail, particularly in this current climate that seeks to limit women’s roles in public life to reproduction.”

According to Maldonado-Salcedo, abstinence-driven sex education in America that does not adequately cover a range of information about sex — which is often due to religious attitudes and conservative policies — has led to the notion that for women, being sexually active and being immoral are inextricably intertwined.

“A woman who is sex-positive is slut-shamed in our society,” she said. “A woman who seeks sexual pleasure is often looked at as a deviant or someone who in some way is morally dangerous.”

When it comes to social media, Maldonado-Salcedo said platforms should rethink their standards.

“Regulations have to be consistently enforced,” said Maldonado-Salcedo. “Restrictions have to make sense and not favor one gender’s pleasure over the other. We need to come to a clear distinction between ‘obscenity’ and ‘personal care.’ Currently, this does not exist for women.”

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Madeline Howard

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writer + reader of stories | bylines in Cosmo, Nylon, Thrive Global and more | Twitter & Instagram @maddiehowardnyc | MadelineHoward.com

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