This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Alabama law criminalizing the sale of sex toys.
For nine years, the law has been in and out of District, Appeals, and Federal courts. The ACLU had asked the Supreme Court to review Alabama’s right to control products perceived to threaten the moral health of their users and the public. Six states currently have various restrictions on sex toys.
Alabama controls the sale of sex toys because the legislature believes they promote a “prurient interest in autonomous sex” through “the pursuit of orgasms by artificial means.” Actually, I totally agree with that description. But where legislatures and courts may find this dangerous, I find it life-affirming, healthy, and good clean fun. Well, fun, anyway.
In fact, it raises an interesting question—how do we define “artificial” and “non-artificial” orgasms? Penis = natural, while fingers = artificial? “I love you” = natural, while “I’d like to lick you on Times Square” = artificial? Non-intercourse sex was criminalized in America for over a century precisely because it was considered “unnatural.” That’s why the right to sodomy is such a big deal, whether you do it or not—because it overturns the paradigm that divides sexual behavior into “natural” and “unnatural.” The problem isn’t that the wrong things are put into these categories—it’s that the categories exist.
The Alabama law allows people to buy sexual devices with a “bona fide medical purpose.” If we wish, we could list the medical benefits of virtually every sex toy:
* Dildo: strengthens pelvic floor muscles, especially after childbirth
* Butt plug: helps men ejaculate, increasing fertility
* Cock ring: helps men last longer, facilitating intercourse, increasing fertility
* Vibrator: helps prevent atrophy of vaginal tissue after hysterectomy or menopause; also reduce menstrual cramps
But why should we have to do this? It’s demeaning to pretend that sex toys are like flu shots, dental floss or laxatives—of interest only to promote our health, and used grudgingly at best.
And how can a state legislature get away with arguing that “pursuing orgasms by artificial means for their own sake is detrimental to health and morality”? This is not a statement based in science, criminology, or medicine. It sounds more like nutty propaganda out of Nazi German, North Korea, or survivalist Utah. Actually, using sex toys while voting might actually enhance everyone’s health and morality.
It’s easy to be snide-but-serious about this law:
* If an Alabamans makes a dildo from a cucumber, can the grocery store be arrested for peddling obscenity?
* Does Alabama plan to sue the U.S. Patent Office for patenting orgasm-producing machines?
* Will Alabama start monitoring people’s orgasms to make sure they’re “natural” and not “artificial?” If you get off on a fantasy of Newt Gingrich or Britney Spears, isn’t that about as unnatural as you can get?
* In Alabama, you can buy a gun but not a vibrator. Why do they feel the second is more dangerous than the first?
We can laugh, but this extraordinary erosion of personal liberty, coupled with the massive disrespect and fear of sexuality, is no joke. States have a “rational interest” in “prohibiting autonomous orgasm”? Is Pamela Anderson now a terrorist?
We really are living through a War On Sex. The Supreme Court has declared our orgasms a battlefield, and sex toys are another casualty.