Six woman recently file suite against the state of Alabama over a law it enacted last year regarding vibrators and other sex toys. The law states that selling or distributing “any obscene material or any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs” is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of one year in jail and a $10,000 fine.1
Sherri Williams, a plaintiff and owner of a store that sells the said products, argued that this law “completely stomps all over citizens rights to their own privacy.”2 At a hearing before the U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith, Mark Lopez of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing the sellers and users of sex toys, argued that many sex therapist recommend sex toys for woman who cannot achieve orgasm without them. His fundamental argument was that a law that intrudes into the privacy of people’s bedrooms “is not the role of the government.”3
Conversely, Alabama’s Assistant Attorney General Courtney Tarver told the judge, “This is really a case about the power of the Legislature to prohibit the sale and manufacture of products it deems harmful.”4 The state attorneys ultimately argued that there is no fundamental right “to purchase a product to use it in pursuit of having an orgasm.”5
Their window dressing is that this law pertains merely to the “sale and distribution” (or “manufacture”) of sex toys. At root, however, they believe that a vibrator, which is used for sexual stimulation, is “obscene” per se, no matter the circumstances in which it is used, be it, for example, lesbians who use it during their “one night stand,” or a husband who uses it on his wife in their love-filled monogamous marriage (probably the only sexual relationship that Alabama’s state lawyers would approve of).
To a mentality that believes sex toys are inherently “obscene,” then they are necessarily “harmful,” too. But who are they harming?
Attorneys for the state contended that legislators have broad discretion in passing laws to protect “the public.” To these attorneys, however, the people making and selling sex toys and those purchasing them in pursuit of (greater) sexual pleasure are excluded from that amorphous concept “the public”; their individual rights are to be sacrificed. Yet only such consenting adults are involved in the making, selling, and purchasing of such products, which involves no inherent physical “harm,” i.e., force, or fraud started between them. Thus, the state has no need to “protect” individuals from the making and selling of sex toys. Moreover, to hold that an individual has no fundamental right to an orgasm through their use, is essentially to deny him his fundamental right to the pursuit of happiness. An individual may rightfully pursue his happiness by any means he chooses (whether or not his actions actually bring him happiness), so long as one’s actions don’t involve physical force or fraud started against others. In opposing this law, plaintiff Sherri Williams identified the basis from which it arises: “The government somehow believes that it has a right to legislate morality.”6
The upholders of this law fundamentally believe that certain non-coercive immoralities must be outlawed. And because, at root, they regard sex as inherently debased; man’s body as low and divorced for his higher, “spiritual” side; i.e., his mind; and sex for the sake of pleasure (particularly when procreation isn’t one’s end) as “animalistic,” they regard sex toys as inherently “obscene.” If sex toys are such, and “obscenity” is immoral, then one has no rights to make, sell, or use them.
The antidote to this irrationalism are the rational ideas that sex is good, that it is best when performed as the physical celebration with a “kindred spirit” of the achievement of one’s rational values, and that sex so properly based should be pursued for the great pleasure and happiness it adds to one’s life, whether or not procreation is one’s end. Only when these ideas become dominant in our world will such absurd anti-sex toy laws become non-existent.
1. John Bacon, “Ban on sale of sex toys protested,” USA Today, February 19, 1999.
4. Jay Reeves, “Alabama Defends Ban on Sex Toys’ Sale,” Associated Press (NY), February 18, 1999.
5. USA Today (same reference as above).