Detail of a work by artist Brian Kovach, part of the 2o21 Graduate show at Cranbrook Art Museum. (Image by the author for Hyperallergic)

Sexual wellness brand LELO has announced its intention to confront the eggplant in the room: the fact that there are no dedicated sex emoji. The brand has submitted an application to introduce the first official #sexemoji to Unicode, based on findings from a nearly 10,000-user survey conducted over a (presumably sweaty) five-day period in February of 2021.

The data definitely shows a clear niche for sex emoji, with 76% of participants in the study saying they use emojis for sexting and 86% in support of LELO’s application. The company did not explicitly examine conflicts of interest in the current industry standard use of euphemistic emoji, but presumably, it complicates those times when people merely wish to suggest eggplant parmesan for dinner, acknowledge the splendor of desert flora, or revel in Georgia’s delicious peach season.

“For the sexual wellness industry, the first lockdown of 2020 completely normalized the discourse on sexual pleasure in the mainstream media,” said LELO CMO Luka Matutinović in a statement from the company announcing the application. “It was proven as a key part of human well-being, and the ability to talk about sexuality in every medium is essential for personal well-being.”

Infographic of highlights from the nearly 10,000 users who took LELO’s sexemoji survey in February of this year. (courtesy of LELO))

Of course, there is some nuance here that is yet to be established. While 62% of survey participants say the sex emoji should hint at sex, only 29% believe it should “clearly portray” sex. Furthermore, 54% think there should be an emoji for safe sex and sex toys — a decision sure to send vibrations through the discourse on sexemoji for time to come.

It could be argued that creating visual euphemisms for sex is a practice as old as sticking our finger through an A-OK circle of our other fingers and pulling it out again. It’s unclear from the press release whether LELO is proposing the creation of explicit little pictures of genitals — and if that’s the case, I would argue that we’re still in a struggle to keep people from flashing their junk all over the virtual place, so maybe we don’t need more of that — but LELO would disagree.

“We see this emoji’s creation as gearing towards free sexual expression on all channels and posting without fear of censorship on social media,” said Matutinović. “Having sex, safe sex, and even sex toy emoji will therefore be the next milestone in fully liberating the discourse on sex.” Thumbs up!

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....