Influencers and Female Pleasure CBJ Magazine
Influencers dominate our social media accounts, so when it comes to promoting sex toys, are influencers breaking down barriers and promoting female pleasure or are they just pursuing a paycheque? Credit: Unsplash 

“Well I’ve got something special to keep you entertained this lockdown … #ad” 

Influencers dominate our social media channels – from fashion to fragrance, curling irons to lingerie, lipstick to vibrators.

Influencers can make anything appear desirable with a decent product, the right lighting and a cheeky little discount code. And with May being masturbation month, social media was fuller than ever with influencers and their ‘favourite new toys’.  

So when it comes to promoting sex toys, are influencers promoting female pleasure or are they just pursuing a paycheque? 

The reality star effect

With shows such as Love Island and Too Hot to Handle gracing our screens nightly, new reality stars are being born almost daily amongst the cute bikinis, couples challenges and ‘can I pull you for a chat?’

Although shows such as these can be criticised for their lack of diversity (as well as other issues), the conversation around female sexuality and pleasure is brought to the forefront of popular TV. Women openly discuss sex without shame or embarrassment, just like we do with our friends at home.  

So, do women such as Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson and Too Hot to Handle’s Francesca Farago make the perfect sex toy influencers?

Brands Lelo and Bellesa certainly think so, with both of the lovely ladies regularly advertising products, posting promotional content, and hosting giveaways. And with 59% of brands now budgeting for influencer marketing, platforms such as Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are now full of #ad and #gifted content. 

But what does this actually mean for us as consumers?

Do we trust the recommendations of reality star influencers because of their openness about sex and sexuality, or are we simply buying into a clever marketing ploy? 

The fact that influencers can openly advertise vibrators and other female-centred toys is a testament as to how far we’ve come in tackling the “taboo” of female pleasure. Previously, these topics would have been unheard of on social media until the sex-positive movement became more popular around 2015, less than 10 years ago.  

But with mega-influencers such as Molly-Mae Hague rumoured to be pocketing £11,000 per Instagram post, it begs the question: Are influencers looking to help us achieve the Big O? Or are they hoping for some 0’s themselves? 

Mixing business with pleasure

Celebrity endorsed sex toys are often luxury products.

In October 2020, Singer Lily Allen released her first sex toy in collaboration with Womanizer. The Liberty costs £89 – the kind of product that your typical ‘Sort Price: Low to High’ gal might not scroll down to. 

But it was Allen’s sex-positive social media campaign that set her apart from the rest.

#IMasturbate began to circulate Instagram interviews Allen had done with magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Dazed Beauty which portrayed her open and honest relationship with masturbation, tackling our internalised misogyny and reminding us that needing some extra help to orgasm is perfectly normal.  

And if her toy does all the things she claims it will, then perhaps the higher price tag is worth it. After all, if we can’t invest money into our own self-pleasure, then when can we invest in ourselves? 

The Zoella Controversy (aka a 32-year-old woman discusses sex toys) 

In comparison, not all influencers receive the same praise when it comes to open discussion about sex toys.

For many of us, Zoe Sugg, or ‘Zoella’, was the sister we never had growing up. She taught us how to style our hair, the best red lipstick to use and had us wandering around with hamster print pencil cases.  

Heaven forbid the 32-year-old (that’s right, 32!) recommends sex toys to her young audience…

Which is exactly what Zoe did as the UK entered its third lockdown last year: The perfect time to make a sex toy purchase.  

Zoe’s blog post ‘The Best Sex Toys to Spice Up Your Life in 2021’ sparked some controversy which lead to the exam board AQA taking the website off their syllabus for being ‘unsuitable’.  

But this was not the first time Zoella had explored these kinds of topics on her website.

Zoe and her team have written about everything from period sex to abortion way before this ‘controversial’ article fell into AQA’s line of fire.  

So why all the outrage? 

Is it because Zoe’s previously child-friendly persona has caused us to forget she’s a 32-year-old woman discussing self-pleasure with her similarly aged following?

There’s no denying Zoe has been infantilised in the media, preventing her from passing on sex education tips in the same way she was allowed to pass on tips for the perfect eyeliner.

If Zoe is the big sister we needed growing up, then our big sister should be the person we can turn to for help as we age. We’ve grown up with her passing on pearls of wisdom, but now she can provide much-needed answers about sex and relationships, not how to curl your hair or choose the right lipstick.

AQA have since released a statement clarifying their decision regarding Zoella and their Media Studies syllabus. 

Positivity or paycheque?

So, when it comes to influencers and sex toys, there’s no escaping the fact that money will change hands (even Zoe’s post had ad-affiliate links).

But is this the price we have to pay (no pun intended) to promote and normalise female pleasure in popular culture? 

Influencers have the power and platform to bring these so-called ‘taboo’ topics to a wider audience. They have the ability to grab attention from both their following and the wider media who love to comment on their actions.

We just need to trust that they’re doing it for the right reasons, which goes beyond the cushty paycheque.