Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Trouble is Not Getting it On — It's Getting it On the Air

Sadly, it appears that the very tired and offensive double-standard that labels women’s sexuality as taboo and men’s as expected and normal is still firmly in place – at least in terms of advertising.

A new female product, Zestra Essential Oils, which is a blend of botanical oils and extracts including Angelica, claims that it will enhance sexual arousal and even improve achieving orgasm in women.

The manufacturer claims the product is not having any trouble getting it on with its women users, but in getting it on the air via advertisers.

Semprae Laboratories, Zestra’s manufacturer, believes their ad has been rejected by a host of TV and other venues, including Facebook, because of our culture’s discomfort with women’s sexuality.

While it is almost impossible to watch nighttime TV without a barrage of male ads promoting Viagra and Cialis to treat erecticle dysfunction, complete with a frank warning about a four-hour erection, an ad promoting what Zetra may do has barely been seen.

Another product targeting the women sexuality market, KY Intense, has had its very frank ads aired without a problem. That product, with uses a compound including niacin to cause a warm, tingling feeling on the clitoris, only depicts a female and male couple in its advertisements. In those ads, the women use the product to get excited to have sex, and better sex, with the man.

Instead, the Zestra ad features middle-aged women discussing their loss of libido, and how the product has helped them regain a feeling of sexual arousal.

So, what is the problem? Like its manufacturer, I believe that the problem is that Zestra may truly be the first product ever marketed that places female pleasure first. Men are not necessary in this brave new world of women’s pleasure – lesbians take notice!

In addition some, including outspoken masturbation (solo-sex) proponent Whoppi Goldberg of The View, has noted that Zestra may be a true boon for women to receive sexual pleasure without any partner at all. All you need is a vulva and some Zestra – woohoo!

Underscoring this conclusion, is an article in the New York Times (which appears in full below) that points out that in an online ad for Zestra a woman says, “It works so well, when I think about it, it even makes me want to go home and use it now.” There are no men depicted anywhere in that segment.

[The above photograph is from the Zestra website, and is an example of what I believe is at the true basis of the real controversy.]

Here is the Zestra website's claim: “Better Sex, Effortlessly. Recommended by doctors, Zestra® is a safe, natural, easy-to-apply blend of botanical oils and extracts that works by heightening a woman's sense of touch. So you feel more during sex. Experience the Zestra Rush™ within minutes the first time — and every time — you use it.”

How does it work? Here’s what the website goes on to says: "Many women say that feelings of desire, arousal and sexual satisfaction do not happen as naturally as they would like. Zestra was developed to provide a much needed option for all women to feel more sexually satisfied.

Zestra is a safe, patented blend of botanicals oils and extracts, created to help women feel more — effortlessly. Topically applied Zestra works within minutes by heightening your sensitivity to touch – for deep, pleasurable sensations, sexual satisfaction and fulfillment.

After applying Zestra to the clitoris and labia, the effects – the Zestra Rush™ – begin for most women within 3 to 5 minutes and last for up to 45 minutes.”

Shame on advertisers for keeping women (underscore consumers) from taking the responsibility for their sexuality in their own hands, in the same way that marketers have allowed men to do since advertising was invented!

The following is the aforementioned New York Times article in its entirety below, or read it directly on its website:

For Female-Aphrodisiac Makers, Effort at Parity
By Abby Ellin

A woman in her early 40s pops up on the TV screen. “Women are starting to talk about something they have been feeling for a long time,” she says, “wanting more sexual satisfaction.”

Another woman, this one in her mid-50s says, “After I had my children, sex didn’t make me feel the same way.”

And a third, “I wish it were easier for me to feel aroused.” The two-minute ad for Zestra Essential Arousal Oils, a blend of botanical oils and extracts that promise to enhance sexual arousal for women, was created by ShadowBox Entertainment Pictures.

In an age of soul-bearing memoirs (adultery, addiction, incest) and frank discourse on male sexual concerns (impotence, size), the commercial is pretty tame: middle-age women discussing how they feel less than amorous. And when compared with a commercial for, say, Fire and Ice from Trojan, which features a couple racing into a 24-hour pharmacy to buy the product, it’s downright PG.

Still, Zestra has had a difficult time getting its ad approved to run on the air, meeting resistance from TV networks, national cable stations, radio stations, and even Web sites like Facebook and WebMD.

Rachel Braun Scherl, the president of Semprae Laboratories, which manufactures Zestra, believes it is because of the culture’s discomfort with women’s sexuality.

“The Cialises of the world are a perfectly acceptable part of conversation in our culture today, but when it comes to talking about the realities of women’s lives, like menstruation, you always have some woman running in the field in a dress,” Ms. Braun Scherl said. “In our experience, we haven’t seen women behaving that way. There’s a double standard when it comes to society’s comfort level with female sexual health and enjoyment.”

From May to December 2009, Ms. Braun Scherl and Mary W. Jaensch, Semprae’s chief executive, shopped the ad around to about 100 TV stations. With the exception of Soapnet Women’s Entertainment and Discovery Health, many either refused or placed certain parameters on the ads.

BET, for example would only broadcast the ad from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. and 8 to 9 a.m. Some of the other networks required additions — which the company made — to add disclaimers like: “Not for people under 18.” But the bulk of the stations and networks indicated that there were no changes that could be made to render the ad appropriate.

Zestra did not fare any better with radio. In the spring, Ms. Braun Scherl and Ms. Jaensch hired Leibler-Bronfman Lubalin advertising, a Manhattan agency, to create a series of radio ads. Many stations told them to remove the words sex and arousal, which proved somewhat challenging for a product having to do with sexual arousal.

In the end, only KBAY in San Jose, Calif., and KMJQ in Houston ran the commercials; KBAB and KSCS, both in Texas, agreed to broadcast them from midnight to 6 a.m., “which is useless,” said Albert Romano, LBL’s media director. “It’s called the graveyard shift for a reason. What’s the point of running the spots if no one’s going to hear them?”

Beth Bronfman, LBL’s chief executive, agreed that a double-standard existed when marketing some products to women. “Have you ever listened to a Cialis commercial word for word?” Ms. Bronfman said. “ ‘An erection lasting more than four hours.’ Why is that O.K.?”

Zestra came close to being featured on the Web site WebMD’s sex and relationship section, which regularly posts advertorials on Viagra and erectile dysfunction, but the company ultimately received an e-mail saying that Zestra “did not fall in line with WebMD’s Best Practice Guidelines.” When Ms. Braun Scherl and Ms. Jaensch asked for clarification on what those practices were, they did not receive a response. Neither Eric Lloyd, the Web site’s director for strategic consumer partnerships, nor Kate Hahn, a spokeswoman for WebMD, returned phone calls or e-mails seeking comment.

An ad on Facebook that read “Zestra Essential Arousal Oils — Try Zestra for Free” was pulled after several weeks. Ms. Braun Scherl and Ms. Jaensch received an e-mail stating that Facebook did not allow “advertisements that contain or promote adult content” including “sexual terms and/or images.” The women said they were unsuccessful in reaching Facebook officials to discuss the ad. Representatives from Facebook did not return calls or e-mails.

“Double standards abound when it comes to advertising anything having to do with our private parts,” said Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse. “Commercials for erectile dysfunction products, which discuss not only sex but the hydraulic processes involved in having sex have played during major venues like the Super Bowl. They boldly tout male sexual pleasure as a commodity: an erection in a bottle.”

The difference with Zestra is that it “places female pleasure first, and even seems to suggest that this pleasure can be had with or without the presence of a man,” Mr. Thompson said. Indeed, in one online ad for Zestra, a woman says that, “It works so well, when I think about it, it even makes me want to go home and use it now.” There are no men anywhere in the picture.

Mr. Thompson acknowledges that some of the reluctance to broadcast the ads may have to do with the vague sense of what products like Zestra actually do. “If this product works as well as it claims, Victorian prissiness and the collective American embarrassment about sex will probably be trumped by the marketplace,” he said.

According to Ms. Braun Scherl and Ms. Jaensch, Zestra sales have increased month over month, and the business is growing. The product has also been featured on television shows like “Dr. Oz,” “Rachael Ray” and the “Tyra Banks.”

Still, “there is a huge unmet need, and we’re limited in our ability to get the message to men and women who would benefit from the product,” Ms. Braun Scherl said. “What I would say is, if there are standards for what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, they should be equally applied to products for male and female sexual enjoyment.”'

Hey, I plan to order a small amount to try it. Will get back to you after it's...come!

(Note: The manufacturer has just provided me with a website for readers to sign a petition who feel "outraged" by this double-standard, and has requested that I provide it here. I think this is worth considering, but NOT as a marketing ploy, but to make sure that women's sexuality is taken seriously.)

— The Curator


  1. I find the censorship truly amazing, especially given the ad I heard on a local radio station just the other day for the company Adam & Eve. The radio station had no problem playing an ad at 5:00 in the afternoon encouraging men to buy "toys" to enhance their wives and girlfriends pleasure and get several free DVDs for themselves.

    Sure sounds like there are some men that not only are operating to a double standard; but who just might be so insecure that they are very worried their girlfriends and wives only put up with them for one purpose and will drop them if they no longer need them for that purpose.

    Is Still Here - secure in his maleness, thank you very much; so girls, go for it!

  2. Thank you so much for writing about the NYT article. We so appreciate you highlighting the issue and sharing it with your readers. Due to all the feedback we’re received about the double standard (shock & outrage), we launched a petition for equal advertising rights for women. We’d absolutely love it if you could sign it and share it with your readers so their voices can be heard.

  3. Rose: I have added the petition website to my blog post, but will leave it up to readers whether to sign or not to sign. Would feel better about it if the petition had been started by someone neutral, rather than someone associated with the product, but I think readers should be informed. Thank you so much for taking the time to write, and good luck with the product!