Sex Toy Company Wins Legal Fight to Advertise Vibrators on Subway

Sexual wellness company Dame just won the right to display its ads on the subway—making it the first female-founded pleasure brand to run ads throughout New York City on the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

This settlement with the MTA, announced today, comes after a nearly three-year fight for the company. In 2018, Dame developed ads that showed the products Dame offers—jewel-toned silicone toys that look nothing like human genitalia—alongside text like “Toys, for sex,” and “You come first.” Dame spent $150,000 on revising the campaign to meet the agency’s standards before the MTA abruptly rejected the company from displaying its ads on the subway two months later, publishing guidelines prohibiting “sexually oriented businesses” from advertising on MTA property. Ads for erectile dysfunction and male libido, however, kept running unhindered.  

An ad for Dame that will run in the subway, showing two hands touching fingertips.

Courtesy Dame

Dame brought a lawsuit against the MTA in 2019, claiming that the decision was unconstitutional and infringed on its free speech rights. The complaint claimed that suggestive, sometimes explicit ads from companies including the Museum of Sex, male sexual health startups Hims and Roman, and breast augmentation services run on the subway, while Dame’s relatively safe-for-work images were rejected. The MTA was “disproportionately applying their anti sexually-oriented business clause to women’s pleasure advertisements,” Alexandra Fine, CEO of Dame, said in a press release.

While they won the legal battle and are now allowed to advertise on New York’s transit system, the new ads look very different from the original designs they started with in 2018. They’re even more abstract than before, barely alluding to sex or sex toys. Instead, they show softly-lit blue and orange illustrated hands, touching fingertips or roses, with the tagline “Get In Touch.” The ads feature quotes from customers who were asked to describe what pleasure feels like to them: “It feels like I’m growing flowers within me,” or, “It’s like touching the sunrise.”

An ad for Dame, showing a hand touching a rose.

Courtesy Dame

“This was a huge win for us—but settling definitely feels like settling,” Dame told Motherboard. “We experienced first hand how sexually oriented businesses that cater to vulva havers have to work five times harder to advertise on the same platforms that we’ve seen other sexually oriented ads run. Even so, I’m immensely proud of my team’s perseverance and creativity. At the end of the day, running these ads are a step in the right direction to dismantle the censorship of female pleasure in our culture.” 

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