Is TV Biased Against Female Sexuality?

arousal female orgasm sexual pleasure
Sex, Self

Zestra is getting the cold shoulder from networks. Totally unfair?

Zestra Essential Arousal Oils, that all-natural blend of botanical oils meant to prime ladyparts for sex, has had a tough time getting TV advertising space. (Full disclosure: Zestra has advertised with YourTango.) Not only have Facebook and WebMD refused to run Zestra's ad, most radio stations and TV networks have only OK'd the spot for the late-night and other non-primetime shifts. 

Aside from being bad for business (though Zestra could get a significant amount of drunk buyers during that graveyard shift, no?), Rachel Braun Scherl, president of Zestra manufacturers Semprae Laboratories, told the New York Times that this oil-shunning is symbolic of how society views women's sexual problems. Was there ever such hoopla over erectile dysfunction ads? Why do men wanting erections get Superbowl commercial spots while middle-aged ladies desiring more orgasms can only be seen by insomniacs? Aren't they one and the same, really?

Apparently not. Here are the stated issues:

1. No men needed.

Robert J. Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse, suggests it's a leftover kind of masculine control. Watching middle-aged women beam while talking about regaining their mojo might make men feel inadequate or unnecessary. After all, unlike erectile dysfunction ads, there are no members of the opposite sex in the Zestra commercial. Uh oh.

"[Commercials for erectile dysfunction products] boldly tout male sexual pleasure as a commodity: an erection in a bottle." he told the Times. "[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. It works so well, when I think about it, it even makes me want to go home and use it now."

2. A woman's sexual pleasure is more suggestive than a man's.

Maybe people have gotten antsy about Zestra because the female orgasm—and let's be real, female pleasure in general—is more elusive and less mechanical. Does this lead the imagination to dirtier, murkier waters? Is it the mystery of what exactly these "all natural arousal oils" do?

As various news outlets have pointed out, Viagra and Cialis are by-prescription, FDA-approved items for an "actual" medical condition. Zestra is sold over-the-counter and—doubling back on the point above—the source of female sexual dysfunction is hard to diagnose, making it tough both to classify and remedy. It's not an, ahem, up and down issue, as with male dysfunction.

3. The messaging is too explicit.

The rub, though, is that the Zestras and Viagras of the world seek the same end, and many personal care products advertised are not FDA-approved (from toothpaste to anti-wrinkle cream). So, is the commercial simply too frank, too explicit? It does mention "sex" a number of times despite lacking any of the suggestive imagery that blasts us from billboards and screens across the country advertising shampoo, body spray or a cable network's new dramatic series.

Watch the commercial and let us know what you think. Are the words "sex" and "arousal" the problem, or is there still a cultural discomfort with frank discussion of female sexuality?