Another day, another Facebook controversy. What would life be like without all the drama that the social media giant stirs up? Both Facebook and Instagram are facing backlash on the inequality of ad restrictions. More specifically, there’s been outcry after outcry about unfair censorship in advertising on the platforms as it pertains to feminine wellness companies and products. 

If you’re part of a brand that creates products for women, have you been censored on these platforms? Will you be? Consider the implications; at its core digital advertising is supposed to be a fair practice. It’s supposed to work transactionally for everyone who engages with it: You pay X media company money, and they run your ad to their audience in exchange. 

Where is the Process Failing?

So canceling ads or downright banning them due to the content being too… feminine… seems abhorrent. Right? Well, it depends where you stand on the matter because there are some gray areas to acknowledge. For one, Facebook (and Facebook-owned Instagram) is a public company that states its policies publicly. 

Users opt-in to using its services by agreeing to its Terms and Conditions. Similarly, advertisers choose to run ads, and in doing so, agree to its Advertising Policies. Where things get a little (er, a lot) murky is in reviewing their Adult Content Policies. They define what they feel constitutes sexually suggestive content, but it’s not totally cut and dry. In fact, it leaves a decent amount of room for interpretation… which can also mean bias. After all, it’s humans who review, flag, and ultimately block content from running. So the question remains… are they being consistent and fair? Or are feminine wellness companies being unjustly penalized? 

Here’s a look at this issue, along with some of the articles and research floating around. 


People Don’t Agree About the Female Body

Several articles we found highlighted the fact that social media ads from feminine wellness and other female-focused companies get yanked from sites when they’re deemed sexual. But, this article in Forbes brings up a good point. “When it comes to the female body, there seems to be confusion when defining what constitutes sexual health as opposed to pleasure.” 

Some of the companies whose ads were pulled from Facebook and Instagram, like Dame and Unbound, sell sex toys and other products geared toward female pleasure. So, is it pleasure and its connection to sex that’s the issue? Or is the fact that these ads are suggestive of the female body and may include anatomical words like vagina (a word that many feel is still stigmatized in our culture)? What about the fact that Facebook also reportedly blocked ads for vaginal dryness treatments? Isn’t that a women’s health issue? You can see where this gets confusing.

Even when HuffPost reached out to Instagram to clear up the “why” behind its ad blocking, Instagram declined to define “inappropriate” and “sexually suggestive” in the context of non-recommendable content. It also declined to provide a comment explaining why it won’t define those terms. As the writer of the piece put it: “One of the reasons it’s important for platforms to define [their content policies] is to make sure that they don’t apply them arbitrarily.”


Evidence of a Double Standard?

The arbitrary application of vague policies is the heart of the issue. It begs the question… are Facebook and Instagram also banning ads that target men and insinuate male anatomy and/or pleasure?

Well, it seems there may be a double standard. This post from CNBC discusses how Facebook blocked ads about menopause products (which, by the way, are definitely in the “wellness” category and not the “pleasure” category) but did allow ads to run about erectile dysfunction (ED) products. 


The Future of Feminine Wellness

We certainly don’t have all the answers (or really any, at this point). But this is definitely an area to watch, especially given that we help our clients (many of whom are in the wellness space) advertise their products and services. We should all be able to fairly advertise.

As Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo, Professor of Gender and Sexuality studies at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, said: “Regulations have to be consistently enforced. Restrictions have to make sense and not favor one gender’s pleasure over the other. We need to come to a clear distinction between ‘obscenity’ and ‘personal care.’ Currently, this does not exist for women.”

What do you think? Is censorship of feminine wellness ads for the greater good, or are such ads being unfairly targeted? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.