Making Sense of Reddit’s Ban on Sex Toy Ads

Making Sense of Reddit’s Ban on Sex Toy Ads

It’s 2019 — do we really still think masturbation is somehow dirty or evil? Reddit appears to, as it announced last month that it will no longer accept advertisements for sex toys on its platform.

I can’t say I’m surprised by the changes, and I don’t expect any XBIZ reader to be either. Let’s face it:  sex industry companies are already ostracized from the vast majority of mainstream outlets and services. We can’t advertise on Amazon — even though millions of sex toys each year are sold through the site, promoting them on the platform is not allowed. We can’t place ads on Twitter or Facebook either, and now even our unpaid activity is being severely restricted via shadowbans, de-ranking and other tactics.

Despite concrete knowledge that sex toys help many people with disabilities and health conditions access pleasure, sex toys are still seen as a luxury.

The reasoning is usually about protecting children, and it’s hard to argue with that in principle — none of us in the sex industry want kids to be exposed to adult content. But there are ways to do that (age-targeting, for instance) that don’t involve banning promotion of adult products. Most places manage to run ads for gambling, alcohol and 18-and-over films and video games without too much trouble.

Besides, the idea that Reddit should make its adverts “child-friendly” at all is bizarre. Reddit currently hosts so much porn that it’s had to be given a special exemption from the U.K. porn block that’s coming into force on July 15, and there are no plans to change that just yet. And though sex toy and porn ads are now banned, they can and will still be discussed in relevant subreddits. Reddit will still host chat and images of our products and services, it just won’t allow us to advertise — on NSFW subreddits or anywhere else on the site.

What’s especially interesting about this change is that Reddit will continue to accept ads for Viagra. In the post announcing the updates to its NSFW ad policy, Reddit explained that:

“Ads pertaining to products for the prevention of pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted infections, and erectile dysfunction are permissible, so long as they do not target minors and only focus on the clinical aspects of the product, rather than sexual performance or enhancements.”

What do they mean by “clinical aspects of the product,” and how do these clinical aspects differ from the benefits provided by many sex toys? Viagra gives you erections. For many with erectile dysfunction, erections are not possible without help, sure. But the same could be said of many sex toys on the market — some of which are designed to either induce erections or induce orgasms without the need for an erection.

Perhaps by “clinical aspects” they’re referring to reproductive sex, and Viagra’s use as a fertility aid? But the logic of that collapses as soon as you realize that many, many people take Viagra to aid masturbation, it’s just that they don’t often talk about it. Given the stigma surrounding it, I can’t say that either surprises me.

While we’re on the subject of “clinical aspects,” though, it’s worth highlighting that there are many sex toys which provide valuable clinical benefits for people with health conditions other than ED too. Bullet vibrators help those with vaginismus access pleasure, hands-free vibrators enable masturbation for those with severe joint pain, lubricant helps those who are post-menopausal … I could go on.

It’s important to be careful when talking about the health benefits of sex toys due to the rules around making medical claims. So let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that sex toys and lube can cure any of the above conditions any more than the makers of Viagra claim that it will “cure” ED. But to my mind the difference between sex toys and Viagra is that Viagra is solely about the erection — sex toys provide pleasure alongside it. Pleasure that has proven physical and mental health benefits, yet is still the focus of so much ignorance and stigma.

Why is masturbation still so stigmatized? It’s a question I’ve been forced to ask myself every single day I’ve worked in the sex industry. On the one hand we have editorial articles championing the health benefits of masturbation but on the other hand — over in the advertising department — masturbation is treated as if it’s somehow morally wrong. It’s like a part of us is still stuck in the dark ages.

Something has to change. And it’s especially important in the health sector, where various conditions make it impossible for people to access pleasure without the help of sex toys. I’ve seen urology nurses try to recommend sex toys to patients and fail, because their knowledge about what works is out of date and there’s too much embarrassment or stigma to investigate newer options. This stigma persists despite sextech companies working with and alongside medical practitioners to make toys that specifically address the concerns of these groups. Despite the work of amazing charities like Enhance the U.K. and Scope shouting about the benefits of sex toys. Despite concrete knowledge that sex toys help many people with disabilities and health conditions access pleasure, sex toys are still seen as a luxury — and a “naughty” one, at that!

Having battled masturbation stigma for a long time, it’s depressing to see evidence that our cultural narrative surrounding this natural, healthy act is moving backwards, not forwards. Editorial policy can embrace sex-positivity, but until the advertising department wants to join us in 2019, we’re going to have to keep fighting to get the message out there: masturbation is not evil. Could someone please tell Reddit?


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