Why are we still hiding, whispering about it?

Shades of Grey Are Really Black and White by Rachel Braun Scherl

I voraciously read the blockbuster trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey — every intricate S&M interlude. As a “vagipreneur,” I actually needed to read the books for work. With my business partner, Mary, I run Semprae, a female sexual health company offering Zestra®, basically a topical Viagra for women.

As a businessperson, a maven of pop culture and a woman, I understand the interest and increased desire expressed by women reading this ubiquitous “mommy porn.” After all, we are virtually obsessed with sex, right? We lauded Sex and the City and praise the new show, Girls. We talk about dominance and submission on carpool line because of Fifty Shades, in which the heroine has orgasms every 32 seconds. Even SNL did a spoof, showing mommies’ desire for “private” time with their books

Indeed, women across America seem to be re-awakening to their sexual desires — and awakening their partners out of deep sleep to play. Even Barbara Walters asked her View co-host, Elizabeth, “What about you and your husband?” — questioning if Elizabeth and Tim engage in rough sex. Whoopi jumped in, outraged, “We are not in our living rooms!”

So does the Fifty Shades discussion and sex talk on primetime mean that we have evolved? Have we moved passed the characterizations of women as Madonnas or whores? Is there a sea change in our acceptance of women’s sexual expression? Not so much.

Women are devouring this book, not because they are obsessed with S&M, but because they are entranced by the hero’s maniacal focus on the heroine’s needs — emotional, physical AND sexual. That’s what really turns women on — not a fascination with S&M (not that there is anything wrong with that). The illusion that we are now more comfortable with female sexual satisfaction just isn’t real. Think about it — if we were really comfortable, why would women be hiding the book, talking about it in whispers and shadows?

According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 43% of women have sexual concerns or difficulties at some point. Armed with this knowledge and an effective product, Mary and I set out to make the world safe for female sexual satisfaction. How could we lose with a solution that helped women and their partners feel good? Seriously, we had marketed dozens of products for women from the tops of their heads to the tips of their toes. When Zestra came along, Mary and I literally thought, “How hard could this be?” Flush with passion, we created authentic, honest, “G”-rated ads promoting sexual satisfaction for women. Off we went to the TV stations to spread the word. And that is where we could “get not satisfaction.

We immediately came face-t- face with decisions makers who felt female sexual satisfaction was not appropriate. “We don’t advertise your category,” they said. And it was not just a few who slammed the door. NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, TNT — no. One hundred other TV stations — no. Ditto for Facebook, WebMD and radio stations. The naysayers were mostly men, but not always.

We were shocked. Seriously, they don’t advertise our “category”? What about the ads for male satisfaction — you know, the Viagras, Levitras and Cialises of the world that advertise on TV incessantly? Or the lingerie ads featuring scantily-clad women, or those that simulate sex to sell anything from mattresses to sneakers?

To be clear, our commercials do not show people engaging in any intimate activity. Nor do we mention any female (or male) body parts. Everyone is fully clothed, talking to the camera. We even edited the spots as some networks requested, removing the words sex, sexual and arousal — which does make it hard to advertise a female sexual arousal product. But the “nos” kept coming.

Some answers just seemed to defy logic. TMZ — the show where they stalk celebrities to expose embarrassing details of their lives — said Zestra is not “appropriate for the evening hours.” Imagine my surprise upon seeing a TMZ show the next week discussing “TMZ Apocalypse Sex Party,” “Boner pills,” sex with animals and strangers and mocking Dr. Steven Hawking’s disability. Mocking people and sex with strangers meets their standards, but Zestra doesn’t? Are we being punked?

Or there was the guy from NASCAR who wanted Zestra to sponsor a car. We said “sure” if ESPN — who advertised Cialis, Extenze and Viagra almost 1,000 times from January 2011 to March 2012, according to Kantar Media — would take our ads.

Nothing doing. However, we were free to sponsor a car. Thanks.

We were literally incredulous at the blatant double standards. But we were determined to take the opportunity to create some righteous indignation when the New York Times broke the story in 2010, describing the mass media’s discomfort with the discussion of female sexual satisfaction. Stints on Nightline, The View and major media outlets followed, decrying the injustice. In a world where 4-hour erections are common fare, how could this be? Everyone from Barbara Walters to Ashleigh Banfield weighed in with outrage. We felt we had broken through, except we hadn’t.

Eighteen months later, I would love to say things have changed. Or that free speech applies to female sexual satisfaction. Our progress on the conversation about female satisfaction continues to be stunted, despite what the Fifty Shades discussions might have us believe. Our ads continue to be rejected or limited to the graveyard shift by 90% of media outlets.

So where does that leave women of the world looking for sexual satisfaction? Sadly, in the same place we’ve always been. Our society does not get off the hook by saying we are comfortable with female sexual satisfaction because of one book, when our record in so many other aspects is severely lacking (e.g., coverage of Viagra by insurance companies, but not birth control). Perhaps Fifty Shades makes us believe that female sexuality is filled with rainbows, billionaires, whips and possibilities? But from our vantage point, the world is still very black and white.