Starting June 18, San Francisco residents will have an unexpected element added to their commutes: Female orgasms — in disguise. There won’t be any O-faces or body parts or even sex toys. Instead, these are ads that feature a data chart of an orgasm. The images were collected by people using Lioness, a smart vibrator that tracks pelvic floor contractions during orgasm. The ads also contain the Lioness logo, a well as parts of the vibrator itself, the words “Revolutionizing the way we approach female sexuality,” and the company’s URL.
Liz Klinger, founder and CEO of Lioness, tells Bustle that they weren’t allowed to use the word “vibrator” in the ads, but the word “orgasm” was approved after some negotiation. They also weren’t allowed to show the complete product, which is why commuters will only get close up shots of the Lioness. And there’s no way to know that the data chart is an orgasm, unless you’re already familiar with the product or you look it up after seeing the ads.
“It's not towards our mission and branding to be “explicit” or pornographic anyway,” James Wang, Lioness co-founder and CTO tells Bustle. “Because the idea is to normalize and destigmatize what is a fundamental and basic human function.”
So if the ad is for vibrators, why can’t they show vibrators? The answer is complicated, but lies in the fact that female sexuality is used to sell everything. But it’s recently become clear that the only ads that aren’t allowed to use female sexuality are ads that are for female sexuality products.
That hypocrisy was highlighted in a recent controversy over an ad campaign that the sexual wellness company Unbound submitted to be shown in the New York City subway. The ads — which were created by popular Instagram artists and focused on the theme “self love” — were initially rejected by Outfront Media, the company that approves MTA ads, for breaking two New York laws: one that “prohibits the dissemination of indecent material to minors” and one that “prohibits the public display of offensive sexual material.” After an internet outcry, Outfront agreed to work with Unbound on making the ads MTA-acceptable.
Lioness knew that story — and they knew going in that they were going to have to be crafty about how they advertised their products. And their ads, while subtle, are “the first time orgasm has been allowed in an outdoor ad,” Klinger says. Considering the fact that Lioness is the first company to chart orgasms in a way that appears completely non-sexual to the uneducated eye, this makes sense.
Klinger says there could possibly be pushback once people know what those charts actually depict. “But there is also the same possibility that other people will find it equally refreshing to see more topics that were once considered taboo addressed in a public space,” she says. “I think this is especially true for a topic like female sexuality, which has been used by some advertisers in the past to add some ‘sexiness’ to whatever they were selling, but not female sexuality when it's in the context of a woman owning her own sexuality and sexual pleasure.”
So while other industries continue to use women’s nude or nearly nude bodies to sell everything from beer to men’s cologne to men’s jewelry, women’s sexual wellness companies have to keep coming up with tricky gymnasts to sell their products. Lioness’ ads are a great example of the kind of creativity that can come out of restriction — and a great step toward a day when vibrator companies can actually show vibrators in their ads.