Hands Off: Apple Blocks Female Masturbation App from iPhone

A quick search at Apple's App Store for the iPhone will reward you with a long list of apps for sex positions, sex games, sex facts, premature ejaculation remedies, sex-related social networks, controlling your vibrator, and lesbian erotica stories. What it won't find is an app for female masturbation because that's a topic Apple apparently doesn't want to get its hands on.

Sexual content is OK for Apple's App Store, but not masturbationSexual content is OK for Apple's App Store, but not masturbation

HappyPlayTime built an iPhone app designed to teach women masturbation techniques and remove the stigma against taking matters into your own hands, but wasn't able to get through Apple's app review process. The company called the app an educational game, but the content apparently didn't suit Apple.

Tina Gong, the designer behind the app, said,

Our reviewer who told me that HPT would not be allowed on the app store, even with a 17+ rating... The reason given was that 'the concept was not something that Apple wants to go forward with.'

In other words, the problem was HappyPlayTime's content, and not the app's code.

"The reviewer herself sounded sympathetic," Ms. Gong said on the HappyPlayTime blog, "but it seemed like it wasn't something she could control."

Apple's rejection feels a bit contradictory considering there are apps detailing sexual positions, and promoting sex activities through games. Even more so since OhMiBod offers an iPhone app to remote control their vibrators -- tools clearly designed with masturbation in mind.

Sexuality in general -- and masturbation specifically -- has always been a touchy subject in the United States, and Apple's prudish approach to apps is no different. Also like the U.S. mainstream view on sexuality, Apple seems to have a double standard: It's surprisingly easy to find iPhone games that involve staring at women's breasts, for example, but penis-staring games aren't there.

Granted, it's possible there simply isn't a market for games focused on staring at men's crotches, but considering how broad human sexual interests are and how many titles are available through the App Store, it's surprising there isn't at least one.

Window shopping at the App Store didn't turn up any apps with masturbation techniques for men, either, although there are apps explaining how to hold your penis to help overcome premature ejaculation. That's certainly not the same as masturbation, but it does imply Apple doesn't have a problem with men touching themselves.

Karma Sutra apps for both heterosexual and gay encounters are available, both of which detail sexual acts that go beyond masturbation. These apps don't, however, show human genitals, and that may be where HappyPlayTime ran into trouble. The game uses a cartoon vulva to teach female anatomy and self stimulation techniques, but doesn't include graphic depictions of a woman's genitals -- much like the dancing condoms icon for Sex Jokes Pro.

That cartoon vulva representation may have been enough to trigger the app rejection, although right now it isn't clear exactly what Apple keyed in on. The developer guideline sections Apple cited include 16.1 (objectionable or crude content) and 18.1 (pornographic material). The Mac Observer asked Apple for clarification, but hasn't yet received a response.

"As you can tell from the design, we purposely made it somewhat abstract - we didn't want it to be explicit that this was a vulva," Ms. Gong told TMO. "When you think about the sensation of touch, it's a naturally intimate medium. There is so much that went into the design, including the character, her personality, her phrases, the game mechanics (all which fall under this broad idea of 'concept' that Apple calls it), that I believe makes the experience innovative."

That innovation is what makes HappyPlayTime so appealing both as a personal exploration and discovery tool, and as a way of communicating with your partner. The game lets users make videos showing how they touch the Happy vulva character and then share them as a way of demonstrating how they want to be touched; the app offered a way for partners to engage in positive sexual communication in a non-threatening way.

Even though HappyPlayTime won't be making an appearance on the App Store, its developers aren't sitting on their hands. They're already working on plans to turn the app into a Web-based game and bypass Apple's App Store completely, which means HappyPlayTime will find its way to the iPhone regardless of what Apple deems appropriate.

[Updated with additional comments from app developer Tina Gong]