The Ethics of Lust: Your Dildo Might be Illegal

Forgive me for last week’s pause in the sexy law talk – I was at BlogHer ’11, a female blogger conference where I got to meet the infamous Riese and hear her speak all about Autostraddle, which was beyond fun and exciting. While there, I also made friends with the ladies over at Eden Fantasys, who gave me about 50 dildos and a few vibrators as well. Because even I can’t use 50 dildos, I’m giving some away on my site, so go there to get one please, as they are currently blocking the view of my TV.

Via Sinful Misadventures

With all these dildos piled high around me, I think it’s a good time to discuss the laws surrounding the purchasing of sex toys. As we talked about in our first Ethics of Lust discussion, a lot of harmless stuff gets classified as “obscene” and is then outlawed by the government. This list varies depending on the country or state, but chances are that vibrating rabbit you love so much was at some point illegal to make, sell, buy and/or own and, if you live in say India or Alabama, may still land you in jail even today.

Via Babeland

Not surprisingly, the Southern United States seems to particularly hate the use of sex toys and many states have banned them on “moral grounds”. Conservative Christian preacher Dan Ireland (I’m hoping no relation to my 90’s fantasy girlfriend Kathy Ireland) summed up the anti-sex toy argument when he said, “These devices should be outlawed because they are conducive to promiscuity, because they promote loose morals and because they entice improper and potentially deadly behaviors.”

Via Vintagesleazepaperbacks.wordpress.com

Sure, sometimes reverends die of “accidental mechanical asphyxia” while hog-tied with a dildo up their butt, wearing SCUBA gear and rubberized underwear, but normal use of sex toys doesn’t cause potential death nor do they lead to promiscuity. If anything, using sex toys benefits people’s health and gives people an option for sexual satiation without having to go out and be promiscuous. But of course I’m preaching to the choir here, as most readers of this article probably own a plethora of pleasure that would make Kinsey proud. If only I could get the Supreme Court of Alabama to do the same – or at least admit to doing the same. When faced with the issue in 2009, the court upheld the state’s ban on selling sex toys, stating that “public morality can still serve as a legitimate rational basis for regulating commercial activity, which is not a private activity.” What about Lawrence v Texas, the famous Supreme Court case that knocked down anti-sodomy laws and recognized the right to sexual privacy? The Alabama Supreme Court recognized the right to use a sex toy in private, but argued that, “there is nothing `private’ or `consensual’ about the advertising and sale of a dildo.”

Via A Typical Joe

In other words, you can own a dildo, but you can’t buy one at your local “adult novelty” shop. Luckily for you in Alabama, online sex positive shops like GoodVibes, Babeland and Eden Fantasys offer rush delivery. But for those of you that can’t wait for overnighted packages, fear not, as it turns out some stores are still selling sex toys in states where such activity is banned, just under different names. For example, this BodyWand makes an excellent “personal massager”, available in three different sizes for the various sized muscles in your, um, back.

Via Bambino Musical

Yet, despite the ban, some brazen stores are just outright selling sex toys, hoping to lure conservatives in by offering to swap guns for sex toys. While this may seem like a fair trade to me, under the law stores like this still have to be careful to not have “obscene” or “lewd” advertising that might offend the neighbors’ delicate sensibilities.

Via NY Daily News

Thankfully, Alabama is the strictest state in the nation when it comes to selling sex toys, as an appeals court shot down Texas’s similar ban in 2008. However, conversations and events promoting the use of sex toys are still routinely banned, as was this Law Students for Reproductive Rights seminar at the University of Wisconsin Law School. As someone who lives in Oregon, a state full of sex toy shops and strip clubs, I can’t imagine not being able to mozy down to my local female friendly sex toy boutique to pick out a present for a partner. As much as I love my online sex toy shops, it’s hard to gauge the size and texture of a toy solely by pictures. Unfortunately, until these bans are lifted, many customers will just have to bust out the measuring tape and hope for the best. For our readers outside of the United States, what are sex toy shops like in your area? Are there any banned items or any special branding that has to happen to sell a sex toy?

Profile photo of Queerie Bradshaw

Lauren Marie Fleming is Queerie Bradshaw. She loves shoes, social justice and sex. Born a farmer's daughter, she believes everyone deserves a good roll in the hay, and feels empowered by her feminine sexuality. She frequently travels both domestically and abroad, exploring women and wine from all regions. A recent law school graduate, she fights for international rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of good porn. When not studying sex and the law, Lauren Marie Fleming is a freelance writer, speaker and consultant, owner of Creativity Squared, LLC, a digital publishing and consulting company and is Editor-in-Chief of QueerieBradshaw.com, a site for Frisky Feminists and Politiqueers.

Queerie has written 9 articles for us.

42 Comments

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    This is fascinating. The UK law permits the sale of sex toys without resorting to euphemism. However, I’ve always preferred to find a bargain online… unfortunately, this has meant my last purchase was ridiculously over-sized, so now I own a vibrating cudgel… for those self-defence emergencies.

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    i hope lesbosexy sunday isn’t being replaced for these articles

    i wouldnt mind them as a thing on their own, but sometimes i just want a break from “look how much it sucks to be gay”, and that break is had through cute pics of girls in underwear and links to cool tumblrs

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    Ha, we were just talking about this yesterday! My friend said when he lived in Texas, everything was labelled either an “educational model” or a “cake topper” and I was trying to wrap my mind around that ridiculousness.

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    The timing on this article is awesome! I live in Alabama and just the other day I was in my local Spencer’s when I noticed some sex toys and I was wondering if something with the law changed. For my entire time in college, there was only one pleasures store nearby and that was it. For some reason, in the last six months or so, adult video stores have been popping up and apparently Spencer’s is stocking up… so I am still a little curious as to what might be changing.

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      When I was researching this article, I also found that to be the case. The guns for dildos ad is a perfect example of something that wouldn’t have existed in Alabama a few years ago. I couldn’t find a reason why more stores were popping up and wonder if it has to do with a recent federal case from Texas that declared their ban illegal. However, that case doesn’t seem to overturn Alabama’s Supreme Court decision that advertising sex toys is illegal, so I don’t know why places like Spencer’s feel safe now. If you find out, please let me know.

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    I don’t know about any regulations regarding toys and stores here in Germany. For some you need to be 18 to enter but that’s it. Also brands like The Fun Factory are from here so you might think of Germany as the Dildo Think Tank.
    We have a lot of disgusting/trashy sex shops, though, the classier ones are harder to find.

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      Not being American, the whole drive-thru experience for anything that isn’t fast food really confuses me; first time I was over on your side of the Atlantic, I was flabbergasted when I saw a drive-thru liquor store. But how in the name of cheesecake does a drive-thru adult store work? o_O

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      I live in Athens, but I haven’t seen this drive-through. Where is it?

      You know, just understanding the culture here, it could be a reflection of the preference of discretion more than an implication of laziness.

      This area is socially, overall, relatively progressive and sex-positive, but, the religious community is more intense about what their members do… and because the population is so small and compact, there is a greater risk of someone recognizing a fellow church goer while he or she is visiting the local adult video store. I imagine that a drive through gives the privacy of staying in your own car and then moving on much more quickly.

      Of course… I don’t totally rule out laziness as a motivating factor at all.

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        It is somewhere on University Dr. I haven’t been to visit it yet, but am told it was once a bank. So it uses a tube system. I must find out if it is only condoms through the drive-thru or anything they can fit in the tube thing.

        And yes, the religious right here is amazing. I love working Sundays with the 20 odd churches in a 3 mile radius. I get glared at a lot. ^_^

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          Oh I did hear about that! I’ll have to check it out next time I’m out that way.

          and are you serious? You get glared at? I’m really sorry to hear that! Is that the reflection of some awesome lesbian personal grooming or where you work?

          Also, just to throw this out there, I hang out in Florence more than Huntsville and it is very glare free.

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          I’m androgynous in appearance. So anything outside the gender binary box upsets some of our patrons. Although, I occasionally get tipped for being an awesome lesbian. :) I find it funny most of the time. I’m usually in Madison…so you know the church going folk in that area…

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          Right on! I love that there are quite a few androgynous and masculine women in this area. You all make our community awesomer, so thank you!

          And I think a sense of humor is required to survive the kind of demographic you’re talking about! Madison is like one of the worst! People crack me up though– between the people who are completely clueless (no matter how bad I mess with them) or those who obviously don’t have a gay point-of-reference and go out of their way to express that they ‘love me anyway’ kind of stuff. I personally find it hilarious.

          Anyway, good luck! Hopefully I’ll see you around someday!

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          It is in an old bank. Hilariously surrounded by real banks. Not sure what’s available at the drive-thru. Stopped by a few months ago. I was kind of unimpressed with the merchandise. Mainly overpriced cheap dildos and a little head shop.

          The patrons were rather interesting as well. One of them saw fit to tell my girlfriend she looks like a dude in a dress. I think I’m just going to continue shopping online.

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    I can’t believe sex toys are actually illegal somewhere. I mean, I would actually completely understand sex toys promoting any sort of violence being banned, like BDSM stuff. (And before someone flips out, I mean from the perspective of a law, I can see why that would be viable. I’m not saying I personally would ban it. I am not say I would or would not ban anything.) But vibrators? A tiny battery-powered massage device? REALLY? I was going to make some comment about Alabama being so backwards, but it does turn out you can’t buy or sell guns there either, so that comparison is gone. So, anyway, I guess Alabama is the only state left enforcing anti-sex toy laws? That’s so weird. Going dildo-shopping with your girlfriend is a lesbian rite of passage.

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    OK, I read that stuff you linked about that reverend found dead in Alabama and… that’s just so weird. I cannot even fathom how that is a sexual thing. I tell you, if THAT’S what it took to get me going, I think I’d give up altogether. Sounds like an awful lot of work. Of all the embarrassing ways to die, that has to be rather high. The thing that really gets me is, I just… don’t understand the wetsuits. I guess I don’t want to. I wonder if he preached against sex toys or depravity or homosexuality. After all, the ones who are most against it seem most guilty of it. Regardless, how horrible for his family. Very sad. Very disturbing.

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    I live one state over (MS) and sex toys are technically illegal here, as well. However, I have found out that MS is under the same court of appeals that overturned TX’s law, and it’s been deemed unenforceable here yet there’s still a law against 3D devices designed for personal gratification on our law books. That said, there’s also a law that you can’t go over a certain low speed limit on a road that is now a major highway. *fail* Gotta love those laws! Yes, we have sex toy stores everywhere, and it’s still a bit “taboo” and the stores tend to lean toward video stores that carry a handful of novelties.

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