Skip to Content

Women’s Sex Toy Startup Sues New York City MTA Over ‘Double Standard’ in Advertising Rules

Dame's proposed ad for sex toys was rejected by New York's MTA. Dame's proposed ad for sex toys was rejected by New York's MTA.
Dame's proposed ad for sex toys was rejected by New York's MTA. Dame Products

New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority has never allowed advertising of sex toys—but it’s run plenty of sexually suggestive ads, notably for products addressing male-oriented issues like erectile dysfunction.

Sex toy startup Dame, which manufactures products geared toward women, developed an ad campaign featuring small vibrators and phrases including, “Toys, for sex.” The campaign was rejected by the MTA in December, and now Dame is suing the transit authority for damages. The rejection “reveals the MTA’s sexism, its decision to privilege male interests in its advertising choices, and its fundamental misunderstanding of Dame’s products,” the company said in its complaint.

“Just because we are talking about sex in public, doesn’t mean we are saying you should have sex in public,” Dame CEO Alexandra Fine says, “and just because we are talking about sex doesn’t mean it has to be arousing.”

The five-year-old, Brooklyn-based startup says it invested $150,000 in the defunct ad campaign and “suffered substantial economic losses” from the MTA’s decision. Its lawsuit in the Southern District of New York cites the MTA’s approval of ads for the Museum of Sex, birth control pills, and treatment for erectile dysfunction.

The MTA’s guidelines on advertising in this category—a market projected to reach $35.5 billion worldwide by 2023—specifically prohibit “advertisements for sex toys or devices for any gender.”

“The MTA’s advertising is in no way gender-based or viewpoint discriminatory,” MTA Chief External Affairs Officer Maxwell Young said in a statement.

Dame’s lawsuit arrived the same week that women’s co-working space The Wing had an ad campaign rejected by Boston’s transit authority. In that campaign, the phrases “Want to mute the mansplainers and start your own conversation?” and “The World was built for men. The Wing is built for you.” were flagged as “political issues or matters of public debate” in violation of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s advertising policy.

Fine hopes Dame’s lawsuit will address both the MTA’s stance on advertising sex toys and what she sees as a gender-based bias and double standard in what is and is not permitted to appear around New York.

“I was very much willing to work with them,” Fine says. “In life and sex, you know it’s always about a push and a pull.”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—How to stop automation from leaving women behind

—SoftBank’s Kirthiga Reddy says the fundraising “environment has changed”

—Why luxury fashion sees the sustainability movement as an opportunity

—The Fortune 500 has more women CEOs than ever before

—Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily

Keep up with the world’s most powerful women with Fortune‘s Broadsheet newsletter.