Campaigners are calling on Facebook to rewrite its policies to allow the promotion of sexual wellness products and advice to appropriately aged adults, in a similar way that alcohol brands can target specific age groups.
A Change.org petition has been created by sex toy start-up Biird demanding an end to sexual wellness censorship and gender inequality on social media. It has already garnered support from advertising and sextech champion Cindy Gallop and sexual wellness experts Dr Logan Levkoff and The Center for Intimacy Justice.
Biird has also launched an educational hub that is aimed at helping social media platforms understand why these restrictive rules cause major issues for the industry as they often censor pages and accounts that promote a healthy understanding of female and LGBT+ sexuality and sexual health in general.
The hub includes recommended policy changes, informative articles, educational content from industry experts as well as a place for people to share their experiences of censorship.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, has several policies that impact on sexual wellness content. One rule states that: “Adverts must not promote the sale or use of adult products or services, unless they promote family planning and contraception.”
Campaigners claim this rule open to interpretation. Condoms and erectile dysfunction products fall within this category and are often promoted, while female wellness products like vibrators, which promote sexual health, are banned.
Biird co-founder Evi said: “We know the restrictions our industry faces but that doesn’t mean we accept them. Currently our Facebook page has been blocked and we are not allowed to promote any of our posts on Instagram as it is deemed inappropriate.
“Viagra on the other hand promotes its posts regularly and many condom companies use phallic imagery to communicate the benefits of their products, yet sexual wellness products such as vibrators are completely banned.
“This petition and hub highlight how favouring male products like Viagra is not only wrong, but also impacts the industry and its ability to grow, all while preventing access to educational content on female sexual issues. We are asking all sexual wellness companies to join us and show their support. Sign the petition and demand Facebook equal the playing field.”
Dr Levkoff said: “Sexual pleasure is vital to both our sexual and our overall health. Using sex toys is not only common, but people who use vibrators are more likely to see a medical provider and have better sexual function.
“Sexual pleasure is neither gratuitous nor unnecessary. Lack of advertising in the sexual health and wellness space prevents people (regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, or relationship status) from the getting the information and services they need, as well as creates a culture of shame around sex. Shame has never been good for our emotional or intimate lives. We can (and should) do better.”
In addition to restrictions impairing education, the rules also bring financial ramifications for start-ups inhibiting their ability to grow and increase their value.
Gallop commented:”Every investor and venture capitalist should be joining and supporting this campaign. Erectile dysfunction solution platforms Roman and Hims both launched in 2017. Each has consistently raised huge amounts of money from male venture capitalists (Roman $376m, Hims $297m) taking both to unicorn valuations (Roman $1.5bn, Hims $1bn) in just three years – because they were able to spend huge amounts of money on advertising to grow.
“Advertising platforms are shooting themselves in the foot with gender-biased sextech bans. The ability for female-founded sexual health and wellness brands to advertise and therefore to scale, unlocks the ability to raise serious funding from venture capitalists and investors in search of unicorns, which in turn guarantees serious revenue for those platforms. There’s a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously – especially when it comes to sex.”
The move comes as Facebook has finally launched its dating app in Europe, having initially been blocked by the Irish Data Protection Commission.
The launch, originally planned to coincide with Valentine’s Day eve this year, was put on hold after the Irish data regulator raided Facebook’s Dublin office over fears that the app breached privacy laws.
Facebook Dating launched in the US in September last year and allows users to create a dating profile, which can match users based on interests, preferences and friend group, if they choose.
It will enter a crowded market, dominated by Match Group, which operates Tinder, Hinge, OkCupid, PlentyOfFish, Match.com, and others, while Magic Lab owns Bumble and Badoo.
However, not everyone is convinced it will be the runaway success some have predicted. Scott Kessler, an analyst at Third Bridge, an investment research consultancy, told MarketWatch: “When this was announced, the most obvious and clear take was that Facebook was going to be a very significant and impactful competitor in the category.
“Since then, people have taken a step back and realised that perhaps there won’t be a winner-take-all situation. It does seem like people perhaps don’t see Facebook as a place to go for online dating.”
Kessler also pointed out the social media company’s history with user data, and the lingering cloud of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal as a potential barrier for success.
“I do think there is a level of skepticism or concern regarding how the company and the property accesses and utilises people’s personal information and data,” he said. “It makes launching this particular property and gaining traction perhaps more challenging than people might have expected.”
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