Sexism is Built Into the Algorithm

Men’s wellness and personal care service Hims may have raised eyebrows when its ads for hair loss and erectile dysfunction solutions (all framed in a hipster-friendly format) began appearing in the New York City subway system. But nobody pushed back against allowing the ads in the first place.

The same thing was not the case for Brooklyn-based Dame Products, a sexual wellness company that engineers innovative sex toys and sells sexual wellness product for women. Apparently “the frank, cheerful language that resonates with its female customers is seen as TMI.”

In 2018, Dame CEO Alexandra Fine spent months negotiating with New York City’s Mass Transit Authority to approve placement of Dame product ads on subway system walls. After five months of discussions and rounds of approvals, the MTA stopped communicating with Fine.

“They ghosted us,” Fine said. “They added a new line in their FAQ page specifically saying sex toys aren’t allowed and that they would never work with a sexually oriented business.”

“They were also running advertising for the Museum of Sex, who sells our products. And they were running advertising for erectile dysfunction pills and libido supplements,” Fine added.

Why Hims, not Dame? Dame is now suing the MTA and wants New York’s Southern District Court to decide. The company also launched an online PSA quiz campaign called Approved, Not Approved, which highlights the hypocrisy of advertising and social media platforms when it comes to women’s sexual wellness products.

A company’s access to technology services, from ad tech to payment processing, can also depend on the way a given company interprets pleasure versus necessity. PayPal and Stripe, for example, won’t allow payment processing from any site they judge as having “adult content.”

Hims also launched Hers, a spinoff brand that sells birth control pills and treatments for hyposexual sexual desire disorder to women. The company declined to comment on whether it faced any challenges when it came to access to technology services for women’s sexual wellness products.

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