Let’s set the scene: Let’s Talk About Sex by TLC plays softly in the background. Doves are flying. Champagne fountains are flowing. An assortment of colorful rose petals are… petaling. Kenny G is there.
*Record scratch* Patrick Stewart walks in and begins to narrate.
What does sexual wellness and being sexual mean to you? Because let’s be honest- learning about sex and sexual health is a lot more than awkwardly watching your high school teacher attempt to fit a condom over a banana in sex-ed class. And sex isn’t just something you have, either.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The, like, fact that — that people — had sex. That they just had it, like sex was this thing people — had, like a rash. Or a — a rottweiler.” – Angela Chase, My So-called Life
We live in a society obsessed with sex, and yet it’s still something that we’re still largely misinformed about. As a result, this can mean that people aren’t having honest and healthy conversations about sex or their own sexual health.
On May 16th, Unbound, a sexual health and wellness company that provides a safe and inclusive place for women to explore their sexuality (and purchase various types of sex toys, lube, and all things kinky and fun), teamed up with illustrator’s Laura Callaghan, Kristen Liu Wong, Loveis Wise, Robin Eisenberg, and Yoko Honda, to submit an ad campaign to be showcased in New York City’s infamous subway stations.
“We wanted to create a campaign that would not only highlight our company and the products we make but also convey the idea that the pursuit of sexual wellbeing is an act of self-love–that buying a vibrator is an act of self-love. We also wanted to make the point that we believe all sexuality and pleasure is something worthy of more visibility. At the very least, it is worthy of being as visible as cis men’s sexuality.” – Unboundbabes.com
Unfortunately, the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) didn’t share their vision, and the ad was quickly denied because it supposedly broke two New York laws. One that “prohibits the dissemination of indecent material to minors,” and another that “prohibits the public display of offensive sexual material.”
Oh, the irony of being able to publicly question one’s virginity with the words “STILL A VIRGIN?” printed in bold letters with an actual phone number made available underneath… or showing a bare bum by the Museum of Sex, and discussing erectile dysfunction meds, and it not being deemed sexually offensive. This is something Unbound saw as a double standard, considering the ads that were already being advertised in the subway stations. By using the hashtag #WTFMTA, Unbound called out the MTA in a post on Instagram, where they compared their images against the current ads.
“It’s difficult for me to understand how they don’t see the hypocrisy […] Why is a man’s ability to be aroused and enjoy sex a medical need, but for a woman or non-binary individual, it’s offensive?” – Polly Rodriguez, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Unbound
With the help of angry women and healthy sex-life supporters everywhere, #WTFMTA created such an uproar that MTA spokesman Jon Weinstein shared with The New York Times that they are making plans to “work with the company toward a resolution that is agreeable to all parties and allows their ads on the system.”
In response to the news, Rodriguez stated:
“We want to make certain we’re not just putting a band-aid on this issue, but really making an effort to change the policies that resulted in this dispute in the first place. We’d love to be able to make a lasting impact on the policies that have, and obviously continue to, discriminate against companies that cater to different genders and versions of sexuality.”
There’s this lingering gendered double standard that allows women to be sexualized, but publicly owning our sexuality and sexual wellbeing is taboo. This highlights the importance of Unbound’s aim: to provide the necessary visibility of women taking ownership over their sexual health and wellbeing, while also normalizing how we view women owning the space in which they are able to comfortably express themselves.
When I activated sexually—when sex became not something I was available for, but something I sought to understand through my own needs—my relationship to the world improved. – Lucy Gillespie, How Wild Sexual Exploration Made Me A Better Woman
Lucy Gillespie, a writer for Together Magazine, explains how the pursuit of sexual wellbeing and sexual empowerment equals life empowerment in her article, How Wild Sexual Exploration Made Me A Better Woman.
“Sexuality is more than how we relate to sex; it’s how we relate to the world. It’s how we choose to identify with the world, how we style ourselves and how we flirt and play. It’s what drives our desires and our feelings of satisfaction when we fulfill them. To challenge one’s own sexuality to become more adventurous and supple will therefore affect and activate every facet of your life. As both professional beings and sexual beings, women need to activate.”
A great example of sexual activation is from the movie Pleasantville (1998) with Reese Witherspoon, Toby Maguire (aka Spider Man), other famous actors that I’m not going to list, and (the late and beautiful) Paul Walker.
Pleasantville symbolized sexual awakening due to the main characters Jennifer/Mary Sue (Reese) and her brother David/Bud (Spider Man) getting trapped in a perfect black and white 1950s TV show named Pleasantville. By breaking several societal norms, they ultimately cause the town to become “woke,” and see color for the first time.
So what does this have to do with sexual activation?
There’s a scene where Reese, or Mary Sue, goes on a date with her boyfriend Skip (aka the late and beautiful Paul Walker), and convinces him to take her to Lover’s Lane, where she then proceeds to have sex with him- a concept that is unknown to the citizens of Pleasantville.
After the deed has been done, a very shooketh Skip sees a vibrant red rose for the first time (symbolizing virginity and innocence, which was so effortlessly and iconically taken by the baddest bitch who has ever walked the sidewalks of Pleasantville), marking the beginning of a major transformation.
The more the people of Pleasantville began to experience certain things for the first time outside of the status quo (not just dealing with sexual intercourse), the more colorful their world, and even themselves, became.
And that’s the point that Lucy is explaining in her article, and a good metaphor for what Unbound is trying to do with their ad campaign. Sexuality and exploring what that means to every unique individual, should be embraced and given an equal opportunity to be visible, so that we can start having conversations that aid in self-empowerment and awareness. Because life isn’t always black and white; it’s colorful, and sexy, and confusing, and beautiful.
And boy, is it beautiful.
*Clears throat* Sexual activation, am I right?
Written by Teresa Johnson