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Sex + Relationships

Zoella Sex Toy Review Sparks Public Dialogue on the Stigmatization of Femxle Pleasure

The removal of YouTube star, Zoella, from a school curriculum has sparked a public dialogue on normalizing femxle pleasure and providing sex-informative content to teens. 

English YouTuber Zoe Sugg (Zoella), 30, was recently removed from the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) Media Studies curriculum after parents cited concerns of adult content on the Zoella website. The Jan. 13 article, “The Best Sex Toys to Spice up Your Life in 2021,” was one of multiple recent Team Zoella articles focused on “adult” topics that parents questioned. 

Sugg later explained that as a company, Zoella has been striving to address “adult” subjects in an approachable way to destigmatize certain topics and encourage inclusivity. 

“We want to talk about taboo subjects, have conversations with experts, ask those less heard to use their voice and try and have a really varied range of topics to help, inspire or make people feel less alone,” Sugg said in an Instagram post.

Responding to parental concerns, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) Exam Board announced that they would be removing Zoella from the GCSE media studies curriculum. 

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News outlets quickly picked up the story announcing, “Exam board drops YouTube star Zoella from the GCSE syllabus after she posts 'best sex toy' reviews.” 

On Jan. 30, Sugg took to Instagram to respond to the coverage. After clarifying that she was unaware of her presence in the GCSE curriculum, Sugg noted that though she started as a teen YouTuber, her content and audience have matured with her. However, she also contested the implication that sex-informative content was inappropriate for 14-16 yearolds.  

“Although we don’t aim our content at teens, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that it’s there for them to read at all and these media articles are just perpetuating the fact that female pleasure is something that we should feel ashamed of,” Sugg wrote. 

On Feb. 1, AQA released a statement addressing what they perceived as “misconceptions'' on social and news media concerning their decision. The board clarified and reaffirmed the decision to remove Sugg, saying it was not intended as a judgment on the content or a stance on sexual education. 

“Effective relationships and sex education in schools is vitally important and we completely support it. All we’re saying is that we don’t think studying adult-focused lifestyle websites in GCSE Media Studies is the best way to do it,” AQA wrote.

The incident has sparked widespread public dialogue on normalizing vaginal self-pleasure, the availability of sex-positive content for young people with vaginas, and gender-bias in media coverage. 

“Teen girls should be learning more about this stuff! Taking it off of the syllabus just adds to the idea that it’s shameful, ” user Bianca Barratt wrote in an Instagram story. “Also notice the language of the stories. Just more evidence that the media is inherently sexist.” 

Barratt appeared to be referring to headlines such as, “YouTuber Zoella is dropped from school syllabus after posting saucy vibrator reviews,” and the use of words such as “saucy” that imply the content is flippant and rude. 

Since the incident, people across the internet have been opening up about how a lack of adequate sex education in school led to shame and confusion about their own bodies and sexuality. 

In an Independent article, writer Alice Broster expressed how she felt this incident was another example of schools mishandling sex education while coding sex and self-pleasure as wrong.

“A decade later, the sex-positive communities online saved me – but it seems schools continue to censor sex education; making it seem, at best, a low-priority matter; and, at worst, dangerous and shameful,” Broster wrote. 

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As reflected in the comments on Boster’s article, some people ultimately stand by AQA’s decision. 

“Using a 30-year-old producing content for other women of a similar age may not be the best thing to educate 16 and 17-year-olds. That does not mean that there is anything at all wrong in what Zoella produces or stands for. It just may not be the most suitable material to use for that particular purpose,” wrote one reader under the username NorthernGit. 

The conversation surrounding this incident has expanded into a broader reflection on how we as a society treat and talk about, or don't talk about, self-pleasure, particularly for people with vaginas.   

“WOMEN DO MASTURBATE & FEMALE PLEASURE IS A THING (even if we’re shamed and “dropped” for speaking about it),” Sugg wrote. 

For those who are looking for sex-informative and sex-positive resources (UK based): 



Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

Photos: Her Campus Media Library


August is a senior at American University majoring in Journalism and minoring in Cinema Studies. In her free time, she enjoys watching movies, reading, and creative writing. August's preferred pronouns are she/her/hers.
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