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Student entrepreneur says negative stereotypes surrounding sex responsible for her account with payment-processing service being shut down

By Kristy Koehler, February 3 2020—

During her last semester at the University of Calgary, Alexa Forigo started a business. She combined her years of experience working at adult stores with her passion for sex education and launched Sensuale Intimate Wellness with her business partner in early 2019.

The ethos of the company, she says, is to provide body-safe sex toys through a gender-neutral website, sourcing products from suppliers who produce ethical products and fully disclose ingredients.

“We only carry toys that are 100 per cent body-safe,” said Forigo. “The industry is unregulated, so a lot of the time you’ll see toys in stores that will say that they are 100 per cent body-safe or made of medical-grade silicone, but a lot of the time they’re actually made of really horrible, toxic materials.”

Things were going well, until her payment provider, Square, told her she would no longer be able to process payments. 

On Dec. 10, 2019, Forigo received an email from Square, informing her that Sensuale’s account would be deactivated for violating the company’s Terms of Service.

“We reviewed your account and found that your business is prohibited by the Merchant User Agreement, which means we can’t accept payments related to your business,” said the email. 

Square’s Terms of Service prohibit the sale of “adult entertainment oriented products or services (in any medium, including internet, telephone, or printed material).” 

But, says Forigo, her company’s products are health-related, and shouldn’t be viewed as lewd or fall under the category of adult entertainment. She reviewed the Terms of Service before signing up with Square, and thought that the clause she’s been alleged to have violated was referring to pornographic materials. 

Forigo says Sensuale has gone out of its way to ensure that demeaning images of women are not used in any of the packaging for the toys she sells.

“We don’t carry pornography — nothing that we have uses explicit imagery,” she said.

While she can still process payments online, Forigo says roughly 60 per cent of her business comes from selling toys at trade shows and private events. She signed up with Square because it was an easy way to collect payment.

“Everybody that we know in the industry uses Square,” she said. “It’s so easy and goes right into your pocket it was a really handy system to use.

“We’re doing a trade show March 13–15 and we have no idea what we’re going to do. More than half of our income is brought in through the convenience of Square and they took it from us.”

Forigo said insult was added to injury when, on Jan. 11, Square sent her a “Happy Anniversary” email. 

“It may be hard to believe, but it’s been one year since you signed up with Square! Thanks for partnering with us — we’re looking forward to supporting you for many more years to come,” read the congratulatory message.

Square maintains that Forigo’s products violate their Terms of Service.

“When sellers sign up with Square they agree not to sell any products or services prohibited by our Terms of Service,” said a spokesperson in a statement. “If a seller violates those Terms, we notify them that we will have to close their account. We are constantly reviewing our Terms of Service to see if there are more businesses we can support.”

In addition to Square’s prohibition on adult entertainment products, their terms prohibit a wide range of items and services including off-track betting, occult materials, hate or harmful products, escort services, liquor and bankruptcy lawyers.

Forigo says it’s time Square updated their Terms of Service to be more inclusive. 

“It is beyond me why this prejudice exists,” said Forigo. “We haven’t been approved for ads on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter because we dare to mention that there is pleasure involved in sex. Square is perpetuating the notion that sex does not exist anywhere outside of procreation.”

In the meantime, she’s trying to find an equally accessible alternative to Square that allows for debit transactions and doesn’t need to connect to the internet in order to process payments.

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