Looks like a fight between a sex-toy seller and New York’s public transportation system will have a happy ending after all.
Dame, the “sexual wellness” brand that sued the New York public transportation authority for rejecting ads for its sex toys, announced Monday that it has settled and will begin running ads in the subway system this month.
Dame made headlines in 2019 with its federal complaint, which alleged that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was biased in rejecting the ads, which featured photos of sex toys alongside text reading, “91% of men get where they’re going while 60% of women…don’t,” and, “Thank you from the bottom of my vulva.” The MTA, which serves some 5.5 million people per day, had previously allowed ads from other companies featuring cactuses as metaphors for erect penises, and others bearing the acronym “DTF,” commonly known as an abbreviation for “down to fuck.”
According to Dame, the MTA denied its request to advertise in December 2018, citing new additions to its advertising policy that prohibited “any advertisement that promotes a “sexually oriented business.” The refusal followed months of communications between Dame and the MTA’s advertising contractor, OUTFRONT Media, and reflected what CEO and Co-Founder Alexandra Fine described as a double standard.
“I have continued to see companies [advertising on the MTA] that are either sexually oriented in nature, use sex to sell their products, or make jokes about sex toys to sell their services,” Fine told The Daily Beast. “They have to make sure they’re deploying those guidelines equitably, and I feel that they weren’t.”
When Dame first filed suit in June 2019, the MTA fought back, claiming the other products that had advertised on its subways—including ads for erectile dysfunction, breast augmentation, and the Museum of Sex—were not “sexually oriented businesses.” But this September, the two parties came to an agreement allowing Dame to advertise its products on the subways with slightly less graphic ads.
In a statement, MTA Spokesperson Eugene Resnick told The Daily Beast that Dame will run a paid advertising campaign on subway cars November through January and that the advertisements “will promote Dame’s brand and, unlike the earlier ads involved in the lawsuit, will not specifically depict or refer to its products.”
The ads are markedly different from the original mockups, featuring abstract art that is meant to reflect the feeling of pleasure. (To create them, the company surveyed its users about what pleasure looked like to them.) They are also different from ads that will run in other places that will carry the text “Get in touch with yourself.” (The majority of the MTA ads read simply, “Get in touch.”)
“There’s a lot of this that feels like I settled, but then I remember why am I doing this: I want my company to be able to run ads on the subway,” Fine said. “We’re getting to do that. And I think that doing something is part of how you make change, and I’m really proud of that.”
The MTA has long sparred with companies that advertise women’s intimate products. It clashed with the period underwear line Thinx back in 2015 over ads that used grapefruits to depict female genitalia, before eventually relenting. It also refused to run ads for the sex toy company Unbound in 2018, claiming they violated rules against obscene content. The MTA eventually caved to public pressure and offered to work with Unbound on suitable ads that did not contain phallic imagery—a requirement the company called “a ridiculous double standard.” The ads never ran.
Fine said the battle over subway ads is just a small example of the obstacles female-focused companies face, from struggling to find office space to being denied advertising online. She said she frequently gets calls from companies selling menstrual products or menopause services asking for advice on how to navigate these same barriers.
“I feel like us making headway is also helping them make headway, and it's just a collective push forward,” she said.