/This Sex Toy Company Isnt Only Fighting The MTA — Theyre Taking On The Publics Understanding Of Pleasure, Too

This Sex Toy Company Isnt Only Fighting The MTA — Theyre Taking On The Publics Understanding Of Pleasure, Too

When the co-founders of the sex toy company Dame filed a lawsuit against New York City’s transit agency for refusing to run its subway ads on June 18, they weren’t expecting such a massive response — they just wanted to convince the MTA to reconsider their campaign, which they said was rejected based on a “sexist policy.”

“I really think that this is a little bit of a misunderstanding,” Alexandra Fine, who co-founded Dame alongside Janet Lieberman, told MTV News about the lawsuit. “I don’t want to be in a long drawn-out MTA case.”

But, after filing the suit, that looks unlikely: MTA Chief External Affairs Officer Maxwell Young said in a statement to MTV News that they plan to “vigorously defend this lawsuit,” adding that “the MTA is constitutionally entitled to draw reasonable content-based distinctions between different types of advertisements and to consider its diverse customers.”

Fine told MTV News that part of her understands where the MTA is coming from, but just hopes they can meet in the middle. “I don’t think the MTA means malice. I think they’re just trying to do right by New Yorkers and that if they would just meet with us… I hope we can meet each other and find a resolution that works for everybody and makes everybody thrive.”

MTV News caught up with Fine about why she and Lieberman ultimately decided to sue the MTA, what they hope to change in the sex toy industry, and how they plan to close the pleasure gap for everyone.

MTV News: I wanted to talk about the complaint that you wrote. I read a lot of lawsuits and legislation and your complaint was so, so easy to read. It was more like a story than a suit. How important it was for you for that complaint to be digestible and easy to understand?

Alexandra Fine: We knew that we wanted to post the complaint publicly and we expressed that to our lawyers. It feels like you’re fighting two fights: There’s the legal fights, but we also wanted to make sure we were convincing lay people as well. But I’ve got to tell you, the lawyer who wrote the complaint is brilliant. After we talked through all our grievances and I was preparing to read it, I blocked off two hours of time, I got some coffee, and was like, “I’m going to read a legal document.” And then it was a breeze to read. I can only take so much credit. There are other amazing human beings who are involved.

MTV News: It definitely gets your point across: You think the MTA was wrong to say no to your ads. Why is it important for you to have ads placed in the subway to begin with?

Fine: Advertisements are an important platform for entrepreneurs in order to get their message and the value they’re trying to bring to the world to the world. It’s the way you can distribute your offering. So if it’s going to be allowed for everybody, it’s important for us too, so people can know about us. Over 50% of women will use a vibrator. They are correlated to a higher quality of life as well as sexual pleasure. They have a positive impact in the world. And if we can’t tell people about them, then people don’t know about them, and I think that that is denying access to pleasure for certain people. And that’s problematic.

[Advertising is] something that we use in our society and I think there should be some regulations. I don’t want to feel aroused on the subway, but I think it’s important that we’re holding space to have public discourse about sex. People should know that sex is supposed to be safe, consensual, and pleasurable and that they’re entitled to feel good.

MTV News: So it sounds like you sort of understand where the MTA was coming from.

Fine: [Their decision] has nothing to do with the content of our ads from what I can tell, based on my communication. It literally had to do with the fact that the products we sell are predominantly used for sexual pleasure. Their actual language was that we were a ‘sexually oriented business.’ I remember being like, ‘my business doesn’t have a sexual orientation!’ And it immediately made me feel Twilight Zone-y. Had they not been on the subway? It really threw me through a loop. So when they sent that to us, I [thought] ‘Maybe they just don’t see it.’ And I’m writing them back to them saying, ‘Yes, but you guys have these other advertisements.’

MTV News: I know that you’ve encountered some advertisement blockades, but is this the first time that you’ve taken legal action?

Fine: Yes. This is the first time we’ve taken legal action…. It took [co-founder Janet Lieberman] and I a very long time to feel entitled to and ready and willing to put a legal case forward. At first we felt very much like, we just want to show the world instead of harping on how it is, which is what this complaint feels like it’s doing. But that was a silly binary we were creating. If we want to change the way the world values, invests, and understands the power of sex, we need to sometimes take legal action. We need to fight a little bit as well as continue to shape the world by what feels more like active doing.

MTV News: Something I was thinking of when I was reading this complaint, is how much thought must have gone into saying, no, this is my space.

Fine: Yeah. I would even argue that you as a consumer decide whether or not these products are sexual. They’re definitely designed to be pleasurable, but we’ve done the research, and when we asked people what their main reasons are [for using] one of our products, 40% of people said to fall asleep. I remember we were floored. And I guess one could argue that our products aren’t only sexually oriented, they could just be pleasure oriented. Which is probably what the MTA has a problem with: pleasure.

MTV News: This whole discussion really reminded me of the ways in which the pleasure gap is just so prevalent in our daily lives. Is that something that, not just with this lawsuit but with your company in general, y’all are working on closing?

Fine: We started this company to close the pleasure gap. I think women do not feel as entitled to pleasure as men… We want people besides heterosexual men to feel entitled to have an orgasm when they have sex or to have pleasure however they define that. And [Lieberman] and I very much felt like there was this huge opportunity in the space because we haven’t as a society invested in female sexual pleasure. There are a few other women-founded organizations that have popped up in the past five years. And I think that speaks to younger women demanding better tools and products that are made safely and smartly for their needs.

MTV News: You mentioned younger women, do your sex toys really appeal to millennials and Gen Z?

Fine: Not really. I would say we don’t sell as well to Gen Z as some of the other brands out there. Our products are high quality, rechargeable products. I would say most people for their first vibrator going to buy a battery-operated, $20 one. Eva is really designed for partner play. So I would say most of the people who are buying Eva are actually in long-term monogamous relationships. When we were in the New York Times in 2016 our number one demographic online for the whole month was 65+.

MTV News: Wow.

Fine: Married women are twice as likely to own a sex toy. It’s a little bit like hot sauce. As you get older you need a little bit more hot sauce. You’re not addicted to the hot sauce, you just like the hot sauce. You kind of want more hot sauce.

MTV News: So have you noticed any big changes in the way that people have perceived hot sauce since you started Dame?

Fine: Yes. It’s been such an interesting five years, right? I feel sometimes when I talk about these products as reducing pain and not only increasing pleasure, people respond to them in a way that validates their needs more. There was something about me too that made some people be like, “I can’t talk about sex and business in the same sentence.” There was a small cohort of older men who really felt uncomfortable by me even more because they just don’t understand how to talk about sex with it not being harassment. But then there was a lot more people who are like, “Oh my God, we need this. We need people who are trying to invest in optimizing sex.”

All we’re trying to do is cultivate conversation, research, and innovation that helps us have more joyous, safe, pleasurable experiences and simultaneously minimize pain. I’m not opposed to hedonism, but that’s not the type of marketing we’re trying to lean into. This is really just about connecting. So many women are just not even connected to their bodies. So many women experience sex as something where they dissociate from their bodies and we want to bring people back to their bodies, feeling their pleasure, connecting more deeply with their partner and enjoying their lives more.

This interview has been edited for length.

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