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Sex and the censorship: Raven Faber talks about the difficulties of online advertising

“If you start talking about female pleasure then everyone starts clutching their pearls. We can’t say vagina or run any adverts that support vulva pleasure.”

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Raven Faber censorship online social media Engerotics

FemTech World speaks to Raven Faber founder of EngErotics about online censorship, sex tech standards and what needs to change

The slogan for this years’ International Women’s Day was #BreaktheBias. However, it remains difficult for femtech or sex tech companies to even attempt this on the very social media platforms promoting the hashtag.

Over 40 companies have signed a petition aimed at highlighting, and ending, the discrimination faced by female-founded companies online. The companies say their posts and accounts have been blocked, shadow banned and paid advertising banned due to explicit content – including posts on endometriosis, sex tech, vagina health and other female-centric content.

Raven Faber founded EngErotics with the aim of moving into well-designed, accessible sex tech. She also began to include CBD in her business through different self-care products that enhance the experience for users. However, with the increase in online censorship, we ask if being in the cannabis industry and the sex tech industry has been difficult.

She said: “When I started EngErotics, I didn’t realise we were going to enter into cannabis as it was strictly sex tech because that’s what I knew. I didn’t know anything about CBD because I had been working in the corporate world where there were zero-tolerance policies.”

When a client reached out to Raven, she began researching what CBD was and also how it could be combined with sex tech to improve a user’s experience. Through research, she noticed that there was a huge issue with consistent quality and standards in the cannabis industry which was similar to the sex device market.

Raven said: “I discovered, similar to what we see in the intimate device work of sex toys that there were no design standards. There were no formulation standards as it was very much the wild west with no checks or accountability for quality, safety or efficacy. This was another place for engineering and tech to shine to help bring good practise and accountability into the industry.”

Online censorship

In the past few months, campaigns have been launched around the censorship experienced by sex tech or femtech companies online. This includes adverts being removed, social media posts taken down, accounts blocked and banned. Femtech companies are arguing that this has a huge effect on the industry – especially for women- as bans have included products specially designed for women. However, adverts for male products do not struggle with the same level of bans.

Raven Faber Censorship online internet engerotics

In a survey, the Centre for Intimacy Justice found that 60 per cent of femtech companies had had an advert removed by Facebook/Meta. Half of the companies who participated had had their accounts removed by Facebook while 100 per cent had had an advert rejected by Instagram.

Raven remembers how difficult advertising was when she started. After hearing reports of how difficult it was to advertise, she decided to use a grassroots approach with Facebook in comparison to a multi-platform advertising strategy or paid advertising.

She said: “I didn’t really bother with paid advertising as I was hearing from other people that they were having a rough time with it. People were having their social accounts shut down so I did the best that I could. We didn’t have an Instagram or Twitter for a long time but we had a Facebook page where people could find us.”

While Meta platforms cannot stop every account that features sex or fem tech, bots look for certain words to flag from obvious choices such as cannabis or sex to the more unusual word, men. It has led to influencers changing the way they spell certain words to avoid triggering a bot response. This is why accounts use words such as s3x, oud or m3n instead of the actual spelling.

Raven said: “In the beginning, it was just me making things up and hoping it would work. I didn’t censor myself so I would spell sex correctly or not abbreviate the word orgasm. We had to be very careful not to post anything explicit or show pictures of the toys or nudity. Maybe it would be a pretty picture of a black woman with a suggestive copy.”

She added: “How could we put this out there in a way that is going to look benign enough where we do not get shut down because so far our account hasn’t been closed. A lot of our growth has been organic, I never bothered with throwing money into paid advertising because a lot of people were getting shut down anyway.”

Social media censorship

Often with smaller, independent or start-up companies, social media can provide a valuable link between customers and businesses. It’s essential in a world where PR campaigns can be too costly for emerging entrepreneurs or start-ups.

Raven explained: “Social media platforms are necessary evils. It’s where people go looking for you now. I’m not against social media but I hate being told what I can and can’t say when it comes to sexual education because it’s important. However, when you deal with industries that are considered to be vice then this is what you run into.”

Vice industries is the term increasingly used to describe the sex toy, adult pleasure, sex tech and cannabis worlds. In many ways, it can feel like a community where the two have almost identical problems such as bans and banking. They can overlap in many ways when it comes to censorship.

Raven said: “It took us over a year to find a merchant processor. There are a lot of people who struggle to find banking in the intimacy device and cannabis industries. I lucked out because when I opened my business, I named it, registered it and got my tax ID before I started making a product. No one told me to do that but it made sense to do it that way. I saved myself a lot of pain by getting in good with a bank first.”

She added: “If you are looking to hire contractors then there may be certain ones that won’t work with you because of the industry you are in. If it’s not the sex tech then it’s the CBD. There have been a handful of people who don’t feel comfortable providing the service because you sell vibrators because of the stigma. It’s all about the perception of what is seen to be shameful or vice. They worry that it will rub off on them and tarnish their reputation.”

The perception of the vice industry and the stigma has also had a huge effect on brands during the pandemic. Vice brands in the cannabis and fem/sex tech worlds were denied a loan during Covid to help with staffing costs or keep businesses alive.

“In 2020, the government gave out loans to businesses that qualified during Covid but businesses they defined as lewd didn’t qualify for assistance.  This could include owners of strip clubs trying to pay their bartenders or adult pleasure stores that couldn’t get help. Getting a loan can be really difficult,” Raven said.

“The activity I saw on social media during this time from business owners was that those offering intimacy devices were running into brick walls because the definition of what was defined as a ‘lewd’ business was too broad and subjective. It affected everyone from those who had brick and mortar stores to e-commerce or potentially even sex therapists too. A lot of people didn’t qualify and they were hurting.”

“The funny this was, that a lot of politicians or government workers were enjoying the products they were stigmatising. A lot of my peers in this industry had people on a payroll that they couldn’t afford to pay because they didn’t qualify for this loan.”

The sex tech industry has taken massive steps into the wellness industry in recent years. The backstreet stores and dodgy websites have been replaced by glossy marketing campaigns, well-packaged items with self-care instructions or free chocolates. The vibe in modern times seems to be more focused on masturbation as a part of your wellness and self-care routine making sex tech less scary or inaccessible to all.

Industry progression

But while the industry goes forward, the advertising channels and options seem to be going backwards.

Raven said: “It’s really backwards in that you can’t advertise now. There are some companies that get away with it but a lot of the smaller ones cannot. It’s really unhelpful because you know exactly what a good campaign can do. You pump money into your ad spend with a campaign to increase your reach substantially but it’s hard. It’s difficult to get organic growth and traction.”

She added: “It’s sex educators too who are having their accounts closed down. It’s good educational stuff to do with sex which is so badly needed. It’s heavily biased in that if we are talking about men then you can run ads for erectile dysfunction medication or erectile devices. But if you start talking about female pleasure then everyone starts clutching their pearls. We can’t say vagina or run any adverts that support vulva pleasure.”

When it comes to moving forward, Raven is focusing on the journey rather than the number of followers. She believes the smaller numbers of genuine fans or customers are better than the larger audience.

Raven said: “It takes a lot of tenancy to go after that organic growth. Do we have 40,000 followers on our Instagram? No, but we will get there after a while. What I have noticed with those who follow us is that they are really into what we do. If we have 1000 followers then 60 per cent of those are actual customers in comparison to those accounts with thousands of followers where no one buys a thing.

Make no mistake, social is important. Due to the obstacles and the red tape, I’ve been focusing more on the journey, and the quality rather than the quantity.”

Read more: Sword Health launches bloom: a new pelvic pain product

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Start-up raises US4.2m to address disparities in women’s mental health

LunaJoy Health seeks to address the complex needs of high-risk women

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LunaJoy Health co-founders Sipra Laddha, MD and Shama Rathi, MD

The US telehealth start-up LunaJoy Health has raised US$4.2m in funding to address disparities in women’s mental health.

LunaJoy aims to eliminate inequalities in mental health and “redesign” the way women access care.

The platform, which offers mental health therapy, counselling and medication management, is developing care models that cater to underserved populations, providing care that seeks to address the complex needs of high-risk women.

The funding round, supported by Y Combinator, FoundersX Fund, Goodwater Capital, Magic Fund, VentureSouq, Nurture Ventures and NorthSouth Ventures, is hoped to help the company expand its capabilities and close disparities in maternal health care.

“The support from our investors, coupled with the current focus on maternal health improvements through TMaH funding, sets the stage for the change we need to see so badly across the industry,” said Sipra Laddha, co-founder and CEO of LunaJoy Health.

Mental health is a lifetime pursuit, and we want to design a way to engage and support women with a variety of needs and varying degrees of risk.

“By using technology, we can measure and treat symptoms more effectively, delivering a better service model to meet rising demand and a shortage of therapists in the US.”

This financial and strategic support, Laddha said, will help LunaJoy roll out its “novel” integrated care programme, LunaCare, across select communities in need of maternal mental health.

The investment will also facilitate the integration of advanced technology solutions to enhance care coordination and patient monitoring.

Surbhi Sarna, partner at Y Combinator, said: “LunaJoy Health’s mission to bring a new standard to maternal health care for Medicaid mothers aligns perfectly with our goal of supporting scalable solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

“We are proud to back such a vital initiative that promises significant impact.”

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New survey to ‘amplify’ marginalised voices in healthcare decision-making

UK charities enter partnership to address gender gap and advocate for inclusive healthcare policies

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The gynaecological health charity Cysters and Endometriosis UK have announced a partnership to amplify women’s voice in healthcare decision-making.

Despite progress in healthcare data collection, there remains a gap in representing the experiences of marginalised groups, particularly for those impacted by conditions and diseases like endometriosis.

Decision-makers in Parliament and the NHS often rely on data and statistics to inform policy and resource allocation. However, these datasets may not accurately reflect the experiences of marginalised communities.

A recent report from Endometriosis UK that gathered data on the experiences of being diagnosed with endometriosis in the UK found that whilst the ethnicity of respondents who identified as ‘white’ was proportionate to the data collected in the Census 2021, the remaining data was not illustrative of the ethnic diversity of the UK, with 15 per cent of respondents choosing not to respond to the ethnicity question.

To address this gap and advocate for inclusive healthcare policies, Cysters and Endometriosis UK are launching a new survey initiative aimed at amplifying the voices of marginalised groups in healthcare decision-making.

“We know that the current statistics are not inclusive of all communities, particularly marginalised groups,” said Neelam Heera-Shergill, founder of Cysters.

“By encouraging those from marginalised communities to share their experiences through this survey, they will be helping us to advocate for the changes that are needed, backed by evidence from their communities.

“In addition to delving into the diagnosis journey for people of colour and the unique barriers they encounter. We aim for this research and findings to pave the way for additional funded research on all menstrual-related conditions affecting people of colour.”

The survey seeks to gather insights into the experiences of marginalised communities, particularly concerning conditions and diseases like endometriosis.

Participants are encouraged to share their experiences openly and honestly, knowing that their responses will contribute to shaping more inclusive healthcare policies.

Sarah Harris, a researcher at Cysters, said: “We urge everyone to participate in this survey and share it far and wide. Together, we can ensure that all voices are considered in the conversation surrounding healthcare policy and resource allocation.”

The survey is anonymous and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. To participate, visit Delayed Diagnosis of Endometriosis Among People of Colour in the UK Survey.

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Menstrual care start-up launches period equity initiative across college campuses

The initiative is hoped to facilitate access to period care and educate students on the use of more sustainable products

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Cherie Hoeger, founder and CEO of Saalt

The US menstrual care start-up Saalt has launched a new initiative aimed at addressing period poverty and environmental sustainability.

The Period Equity Initiative aims to reduce 100 million tampons from the environment while combatting period poverty.

Institutions, including Harvard University, Vanderbilt University, Northwestern University, the University of Utah and the University of Nebraska, are already participating in the programme.

One in five female college students in the US have had to decide between buying period products and paying for other basic essentials like food and other bills according to a nationwide survey.

The initiative, a direct response to the demand for more units for student populations, underscores the issue of period poverty, which affects students across America, challenging the misconception that it is solely an “overseas problem”.

Saalt aims to make period care accessible and affordable through the subsidisation of reusable period products, such as cups, discs, and period underwear, to participating universities and their campus affiliates.

The project is hoped to not only facilitate access to period care, but also educate students on the use of more sustainable products, which are designed to be reused rather than discarded.

“Every day we hear from customers about how life-changing Saalt cups are for them,” said Cherie Hoeger, founder and CEO of Saalt.

“Creating period equity and managing the environmental impact created by disposables are pressing matters that demand urgent attention and innovative solutions.

“Through our Period Equity Initiative, we’re taking a proactive approach to tackle these challenges by leveraging our expertise and aligning with universities across America to make a big impact closer to home.”

The Period Equity Initiative, Hoeger added, furthers Saalt’s commitment to making period care more affordable, accessible and sustainable.

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