Etsy sex toy ban sparks seller outrage


Sex toys and many other erotic items are to be banned from online marketplace Etsy – sparking a backlash from sellers.

Also prohibited from 29 July will be items which – when modelled – expose body parts such as female nipples or the cleft between the buttocks.

Etsy – which focusses on handmade, vintage and craft items – said new rules on sales were being introduced because of “evolving industry standards.”

Affected sellers have told the BBC they feel let down by the policy change, which they predict will cause their revenues to plummet.

“As creators who have helped make Etsy what it is and who have remained loyal to their platform for years, we feel betrayed,” said Anna (who preferred not to use her surname), founder of Simply Elegant Glass, which makes sex toys.

Etsy says the ban is about keeping users safe and reflects industry-wide trends.

“We carefully crafted this policy with the goal of continuing to enable creative expression and the spirit of our marketplace, while taking into account evolving industry standards,” Etsy’s Alice Wu Paulus wrote announcing the changes.

In many countries there is pressure on platforms, sometimes backed by new legislation, to do more to prevent under-18s from encountering explicit content, and to remove illegal or “harmful” content from their platforms.

Payment processors are also increasingly wary of working with platforms that enable sex based commerce.

But Anna suggested those concerns could be addressed by more clearly labelling and separating adult product listings on Esty, which she accused of “forsaking content-filtering tools in favour of blanket bans”.

She also defended the products she made, saying she had focussed on making adult glass products since 2015 – having learnt glass-blowing 18 years ago – “as a means of artistic expression”.

Anna said a significant portion of Simply Elegant Glass’ orders were generated through Etsy, and migrating to another platform, like Shopify, felt like “starting anew”.

The business has posted an open letter to Etsy on X (formerly Twitter).

A Czech Republic-based seller of premium silicone sex toys – who did not supply their name – said many businesses who relied on Etsy would see a “significant drop in income”.

“This means that many people have just 30 days to find a new job because the self-driven traffic to a standalone website may not be sufficient,” the seller told the BBC.

For those forced to look for jobs, finding alternative employment would be tricky as “putting a ‘sex toy business’ on the resume when seeking employment may close the doors to many employers” the seller said.

Mike Stabile of the Free Speech Coalition – a campaign group that defends the rights of the adult industry – accused Etsy of rolling out “sweeping sitewide censorship” in a post on X.

But some sellers were glad of the changes – voicing support on Etsy forums – though they also had questions over how the new rules will be enforced.

The strengthened policy set out the types of products that are prohibited, and how permitted “mature” products should be displayed.

It also provides examples of adult toys and sexual accessories which are acceptable such as restraints, handcuffs, and “sex furniture”.

The rules include bans on:

  • Adult toys designed to be inserted into the body
  • Pornography, including vintage adult magazines and films
  • Using human models to display an item, if body parts such as genitalia, “gluteal clefts” or female nipples are visible
  • Advertising sexual services such as custom photographs and videos depicting nudity
  • Some non-photographic art where there is explicit nudity and the context is sexual – such as depictions of a sex act

This is not the first time updates to Etsy’s policies have sparked a backlash.

In 2015 the marketplace controversially brought in rules on the selling of spells.

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