You can put many things into your vagina, but only some of them can be advertised on Facebook. In recent months, the network has worked on custom ads for Durex, the venerated global purveyor of condoms, lube, and vibrating “massagers.” But in August, Facebook rejected two slideshows advertising kGoal, a pelvic floor–strengthening device that offers immediate feedback via a smartphone app.
Brian Krieger, CEO of kGoal manufacturer Minna, told me that when he submitted the two slideshows, he received an automated email from Facebook, saying the ads violated the site’s ad standards. “Ads are not allowed to promote the sale or use of adult products or services, including toys, videos, publications, live shows or sexual enhancement products,” the email read. “Ads for family planning and contraception are allowed if they follow our targeting requirements.”
Krieger sent a response to the Facebook ad team, protesting that the kGoal was not an “adult product.” “It’s true that the product is placed into the vaginal vault of the body so that it is able to measure the strength and duration of pelvic floor exercise muscle contractions,” he wrote, “but it is not intended to be used or marketed as a pleasure device or anything like that.” In its reply, Facebook wouldn’t budge: “This decision is final and we may not respond to additional inquiries about this ad.”
Facebook PR representative Mike Manning says the ad embargo has as much to do with Minna’s other two products (vibrators built and marketed as sex toys) as with kGoal, which is explicitly branded as a health device to help people with vaginas keep their muscles fit. The Kegel exercises kGoal measures have plenty of nonsexual implications, especially after giving birth, when a loss of vaginal muscle tone can cause incontinence. But Facebook also considers the landing pages its ads link to when judging for adult content. “If the main focus of the business on the website it’s leading to is the sale of adult products (as Minnalife.com is), that page is not allowed to advertise,” Manning says. Part of the reason for the policy has to do with Facebook’s global presence: According to Manning, laws that regulate ads for adult products vary from country to country, and those ads are “more likely to cause negative sentiment” among Facebook users around the world.
But visit the U.S. homepage of Durex, a sanctioned Facebook advertiser, and you’ll find a map of the world’s kinkiest countries, plus articles on “How to Have Better Sex” and “Incorporating Toys into Your Bedroom Play.” The latter plugs (heh) the company’s personal massagers, all of which are more likely to lead to orgasm than a tension-free trapezius. Sex toys might not be Durex’s “main focus,” in Facebook’s parlance, but that’s a subjective measure in the first place. Minna only sells three products, and two are sex toys. If it added one or two more Kegel devices, would its “main focus” shift? How about if it sold more kGoal devices than vibrators?
Facebook’s explicit loophole for companies that peddle contraception and family-planning products seems less like a logic-driven policy than a strategy for tapping into the massive advertising budgets of the big condom corporations. The site has rejected ads promoting sexual-health nonprofit Advocates for Youth’s “Great American Condom Campaign” on the basis that they contained “adult content.” The ads weren’t explicitly sexual, but they contained phrases like “safe sex” and—in line with the organization’s focus on sex education for youth—were marketed toward minors. Both Minna and Advocates for Youth have hit on troubling double standards when it comes to Facebook and sex: Ads for companies solely focused on sex are OK, but not ads for vaginal health devices made by companies that also make sex products. Ads for condoms are OK, but not when they’re aimed at a population least likely to know about safe sex practices. Facebook argues that its policies make the site a better, more positive place—but for whom?