UPDATE JULY 21, 4:47PM – Venus Envy Halifax has altered its advertisement in Metro Halifax’s Pride edition to remove the “Rabbit” vibrator. In the July 21 edition, the 3.5′ x 13.5′ advertisement shows a rainbow cucumber instead of a sex toy.
Venus Envy explains on its Facebook page:
“Metro has graciously offered us space to advertise not only our Pride sale, but also Ma Nature’s greatest sex toy: the cucumber.”
The post encourages patrons to write to Metro publisher Greg Lutes to protest the censorship of the original advertisement.
Neither Venus Envy Halifax or Metro Halifax responded to Xtra’s call for comment.
The owner of a Halifax sex-toy party company says it’s “ridiculous” that Venus Envy had to change its advertisement. Rachel Dodds says people might get the wrong idea about the cucumber and use it for sexual pleasure.
“It’s not safe,” says the entrepreneur.”It’s not logical, and it really should not be encouraged, or put the idea in peoples’ minds.”
She says vegetables like cucumbers are covered in pesticides and bacteria, potentially causing harm when inserted vaginally or anally. Dodds says the advertisement “supports unhealthy sexual practices” and says Metro Halifax should have allowed the image of the “Rabbit” vibrator.
“Venus Envy’s objective is to provide healthy sexual attitudes,” she says. “It’s absolute regression, for the sake of what? What are we trying to protect people from?”
The new Venus Envy advertisement in Metro Halifax pokes fun at the paper for not publishing a picture of a vibrator, says Venus Envy’s owner. Maggie Haywood says the new advertisement, featuring a long rainbow cucumber, is tongue-in-cheek.
“I hope people will take it as … ‘Isn’t this just silly?'” says Haywood. “Isn’t it just silly that this phallic object is okay and that phallic object is not?”
The advertisement promotes the same Pride sale as the banned advertisement. The new advertisement will run in Metro on July 21 and 22.
On July 19, Haywood and Metro publisher Greg Lutes were on the CBC talk show Mainstreet discussing the conflict. That’s when Haywood got the idea to replace the Rabbit vibrator with a phallic-shaped vegetable.
“We are also drawing on a long, long history of vegetables as cheap and inexpensive sex toys,” she says. “A lot of young people just experiment with whatever is handy.”
Metro offered to run the advertisement free of charge. Haywood says the advertisement on July 22 will be Venus Envy’s last in Metro; they will not be buying advertisements in the future.
Metro Halifax has so far not responded to Xtra‘s call for comment.
Xtra has learned the TD Halifax Jazz Festival has severed ties with Metro Halifax following the publication’s censorship of the Venus Envy advertisement.
Kasia Morrison, the festival’s communication manager, says Metro contacted her on July 18 to ask for statistics about the festival. Morrison says the festival declined to comment in support of Venus Envy.
“We are expressing our discontent with [Metro‘s] actions,” she says. “Not because we think they are all around horrible… but we want to stand behind Venus Envy.”
Morrison says the festival did not have any advertisements scheduled in the paper and says the festival’s actions will not “make a big dent” on Metro. Morrison says the long-standing relationship between the festival and Venus Envy motivated the decision.
“[The advertisement] is reflective of a healthy sexual lifestyle or habits,” she says. “We don’t understand why [Metro] would single out an ad reflecting that.”
Morrison says she’s never heard of an advertisement being rejected from a Halifax-based publication. The TD Halifax Jazz Festival ran from July 8 to 16.
UPDATE JULY 20, 12:42PM –Mottahed says that Metro does not have a national policy about the advertisements published in their papers.
“Ultimately it’s a local decision… it’s up to the individual publisher concerned,” he says. “It’s a very subjective, personal, regional thing that is decided by [publishers] in any given market place.”
Metro Ottawa general manager Dara Mottahed says he is “perplexed” that Metro Halifax’s decision to pull the Venus Envy advertisement has been met with such protest. He says he does not think Metro Ottawa’s readers will complain about the advertisement featuring the Rabbit vibrator.
“I think that if it [does] garner complaints, if will be because of people catching wind of what’s happening [in the] media in Halifax,” says Mottahed.
UPDATE JULY 19, 3:55PM – Shelley Taylor, the owner of Venus Envy Ottawa, says Metro Ottawa approached the store about advertising during that city’s Pride week. Taylor’s graphic designer submitted the advertisement featuring the Rabbit vibrator.
“We were told at first we wouldn’t be able to run [the advertisement],” says Taylor. “[Metro Ottawa general manager Dara Mottahed] spoke to me at first and said [the ad] was problematic [and] that he was trying to keep everyone happy. I asked him if he had seen what was happening in Halifax, in terms of the publicity that it was getting.”
On July 18, Taylor referred Mottahed to a media article about Metro Halifax refusing the Venus Envy Halifax advertisement. Later that day, Taylor says Mottahed decided to run the advertisement. The advertisement is scheduled to run once during Ottawa Pride week, Aug 21 to 28.
Metro Ottawa has so far not responded to Xtra’s calls for comment.
JULY 18 – The Halifax edition of Metro newspaper has pulled advertisements by a queer-friendly sex shop during Pride week in that city. The store, Venus Envy, ran an advertisement in Metro’s July 15 edition promoting its Pride sale and special seminars about sex toys for the gay community. The ad features a picture of a rainbow “Rabbit” vibrator, with the head of the toy obscured.
“After the ad ran on Friday, the [advertising] rep called to say that unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to run the ad unless we changed the imagery,” says Maggie Haywood, manager of Venus Envy. “Because they received a single complaint, the publisher, Greg Lutes, decided to cancel the ads.”
Haywood says the complaint was made by a parent who said the ad is “inappropriate” for their 15-year-old daughter.
“I am honestly a little dumbfounded over this,” says Haywood, from the store in downtown Halifax.
Lutes says the decision was based on the “culmination” of many complaints over three years.
“Every time we run one of their ads that has the graphic illustration of the sex toy, we get numerous calls from readers and also advertisers that don’t want to be on the same page or in the same paper as the Venus Envy ad,” says Lutes, from Metro’s office.
While Lutes calls Venus Envy “a good client,” he says running their ads is not worth the controversy.
“We are very open-minded and very liberal and pride ourselves on being forward thinking,” he says. “[But] there comes a point where I need to look into what other readers and advertisers are saying and assess the situation.”
Metro offered to run the advertisement with an alternate graphic, but Haywood refused.
“I stand behind this ad,” she says. “I think it is fun. I think it is sexy in a non-explicit way. I don’t want to run another ad. I think this is an excellent portrayal of what Venus Envy does.”
Copies of the same ad were scheduled to run three times during Pride week, July 17 to 24. Metro circulates 40,000 weekday copies in Halifax.
Similar Venus Envy advertisements have been published in The Coast, Halifax’s alternative weekly newspaper. In an email to Xtra, advertising director Bethany Stout says they have had a long relationship with Venus Envy and have never received complaints.
Pride week is Venus Envy’s busiest time of year and the parade route passes right in front of the store. Haywood says the absence of the ad from Metro will not affect the business but calls the situation an “annoyance.”
“It’s the 21st century,” says Haywood. “I don’t think pictures of vibrators should shock anyone. I don’t think it’s something that parents shouldn’t be able to explain to their kids, as part of normal, healthy adult sexuality.”
Stefanie Sasinek-Roil says the internet makes risqué images available to teenagers.
“I think any mother who thinks their 15-year-old daughter doesn’t know what a vibrator looks like is living in the Dark Ages,” says the mother of three.
Sasinek-Roil says Metro’s decision to pull the advertisement is “knee jerk, irresponsible and cowardly.” Though she does not read Metro often, she will actively avoid the newspaper after this controversy.
“I think when [advertisements] are pulled on the basis on one complaint, our entire society is run by the most closed-minded of us,” says the Halifax-based doula. “That’s not an accurate portrayal of our culture as a whole.”
Patrons at Venus Envy were surprised the advertisement had been pulled from Metro.
“I don’t see what the problem is with presenting images of healthy sexuality,” says Randall Perry, editor of Wayves, an Atlantic Canadian gay magazine.
Perry says it’s a double standard to print pictures of “nearly naked party girls” on the gossip pages but not to print pictures of sex toys.
“I am kind of flabbergasted that in 2011 this kind of conservatism still goes on,” he says.
Lutes says Metro has received eight to 10 messages in support of Venus Envy since July 15.
Tara Bayne wrote to Metro in protest of Venus Envy’s ad being pulled. With a 15-year background in public relations and journalism, Bayne says it’s rare for ads to be pulled by a publisher.
“Newspapers and the media are supposed to be part of freedom of the press and being an objective [source] of information,” she says. “It’s disappointing for a newspaper to pull an ad like that.”