Women’s Sex Toy Startup Sues the New York City Subway for Banning Its Ads

subway train advertisements

Brooklyn-based sex toy company Dame Products filed a lawsuit yesterday against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) after it refused to run ads for female-focused sex toys.

Passengers riding the New York City subway can see advertisements for condoms, male libido, and erectile dysfunction that feature images of cacti-shaped phalluses and bare buttocks. If these images have gotten a green light from the MTA, why have the pastel-colored sex toys on a beige background been deemed inappropriate?

That’s what Alex Fine, a credentialed sexologist, and Janet Lieberman, an MIT engineer – the two women behind the Dame Products company – would like to find out. They filed a complaint against the transportation authority with the federal court in New York in order to do that.

The company, which aims to “close the pleasure gap” between men and women by producing toys for female stimulation, has spent $150,000 on developing and revising its ad campaign.

However, the MTA rejected Dame’s ads in December last year because they “promote a sexually oriented business, which has long been prohibited by the MTA’s advertising standards.”

In September 2018, Dame began collaborating with Outfront Media, the MTA’s advertising agency, on creating an ad campaign for its products that was supposed to be featured in NYC subway cars.

A couple of months later, Outfront Media informed Dame it had “no objections” to two advertisements for a small wearable vibrator called Fin. The light-green sex toy worn between the fingers was featured on a neutral background with two different text options: “Toys, for Sex” and “Get from Point A to Point O.”

After working with MTA’s advertising contractor, incorporating its feedback and getting approval for the Fin ad, Dame was shocked to receive a rejection letter for its campaign in early December.

According to the lawsuit, the same Outfront Media representative that worked with the sex toy company on the advertisement campaign informed Dame that it was in violation of the MTA’s Advertising Policy and had therefore been rejected. The representative also said the transportation authority was going to release a new FAQ about its guidelines.

On December 3, the updated FAQ was published on MTA’s website and forwarded to Dame. It reads that “advertisements for sex toys or devices for any gender fall within the prohibited sexually oriented business” category.

In the complaint lodged with the federal court, Dame accused MTA of “privileging male interest” through inconsistent advertising choices and consequently infringing the right of free speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment.

“I think it’s important that we are fair, and it is unfair that other companies are being allowed to run advertisements that are validating sex in some way, and our company that targets female enjoyment is being viewed as inappropriate,” Dame Products CEO and co-founder, Alex Fine told CNN Business.

The MTA hasn’t given any official comments regarding the lawsuit so far.

Ivana is a staff writer at SmallBizGenius. Her interests during office hours include writing about small businesses, start-ups, and retail. When the weekend comes, you can find her hiking in nature, hanging off of a cliff or dancing salsa.