Amy Buckalter didn’t give it a second thought when she decided to use Facebook to advertise for her start-up, Pulse, in late 2017. Buckalter knew her male friends saw all sorts of raunchy ads addressing erectile dysfunction on Facebook constantly, so she figured her lubricant for women going through menopause would be just fine.

She was wrong.

For the past year and a half, Pulse has had most of its ads blocked by Facebook, and it is not alone. The Seattle start-up is one of several direct-to-consumer brands selling lubricants for women going through menopause that told CNBC they are prevented by Facebook from advertising on its service.

These companies claim their experiences show how Facebook is inconsistent with how it applies its policies to pick and choose which companies are allowed to advertise on the social network. Pulse, along with Genneve, Unbound and women’s health expert Dr. Anna Cabeca say Facebook has a double standard that allows brands that target men to run ads but block the equivalent for women.

While male-focused brands like Roman and Hims are able to run ads with mentions of “premature ejaculation” or “E.D.,” which stands for erectile dysfunction, Pulse and its peers have to be overly cautious about the terminology they pick. As expected, any mention of a reproductive organ is an automatic rejection, but many other terms often get vetoed.

“It has been a battle with Facebook. It has been basically gender bias with Facebook,” Buckalter told CNBC. “And it’s cost me money.”

Facebook says it tries to walk a fine line with ads that address adult products.

“All ads are equally subject to our advertising policies, which are stricter than our community standards,” a Facebook rep told CNBC, in a statement. “Facebook has long had a policy that limits ads with adult content and adult products in part because we take into account the wide array of people from varying cultures and countries who see them. We continue to review these specific ads.”

Some companies affected by the perceived gender bias are able to advertise, but only after numerous rounds of appeals and several edits to meet Facebook’s ever-shifting standards. Others, like Pulse and Unbound, say they are completely blocked from advertising on the social network no matter what they try.

“It’s so messed up. Facebook sends us emails asking us to advertise, so then we go and try to and we get rejected,” said Polly Rodriguez, CEO of New York-based Unbound. “Not being able to advertise is the most hindering, crippling component to running this business.”



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