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October 09, 2007

Killjoys of Toys: Ala. Code § 13A-12-200

"Between the Briefs"
By Rooks

It was a big week for sex and the law, what with the suicide this past Friday of the Asst. US Attorney caught soliciting a child for sex, and the Oklahoma judge whose conviction for multiple counts of public indecency was upheld this week. (His Honor was using a penis pump while hearing trials – if that’s the reason those robes are so voluminous, I really prefer not to know.)

Though y’all can imagine how extraordinarily tempting it was to write on character, fitness, and sex offender registries this week, one particular news item got my metaphorical panties in the proverbial twist. Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Williams v. King, a case challenging the constitutionality of an Alabama ban on the sale of sex toys.

Don’t panic – S3 over on South U. isn’t going to shut down Michigan-state-government style.

Thankfully we don’t live in one, but there are still some states in the union where helping folks get their jollies can carry a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine (mind you, that’s just for the first offense). Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama all have laws that prohibit the sale of sex toys. (Louisiana struck down their similar statute some time ago, realizing that no one in New Orleans was paying any attention anyway, and thus preventing some sort of Deep South Anti-Orgasm Belt quinfecta.) Many of these statutes also technically restrict the purchase of vibrators, dildos, and even ribbed condoms by designating that possession of more than (in Texas at least) six sex toys constitutes an intent to distribute.

The women of Alabama, naturally, refused to take this one lying down, and soon after the law passed in 1998, a group of toy purveyors and users sought to challenge the statute. After their second trip to the 11th Circuit yielded what was, in this columnist’s opinion, a mindblowingly moronic 2-1 decision which, among other things, likened the sale of sex toys to prostitution, the plaintiffs sought a hearing with the Supreme Court to assert that the law unconstitutionally infringes on sexual privacy rights. (The 11th Circuit opinion is Williams v. Morgan, 478 F.3d 1316, for those playing along at home, and was, in a mild piece of irony, filed on Valentine’s Day of 2007.)

Now, I don’t want to picture the Justices talking about Pocket Rockets any more than the next person old enough to have seen Thomas’s confirmation hearings, but I do think that the ban is at least an issue worth examining. The Court’s decision, or rather, lack thereof, seems a far cry from the assertions of sexual liberty advocated in the Lawrence, Griswold, and Casey opinions, and frankly, makes my little sex-positive heart incredibly sad.

All is not lost, however. The plaintiffs say they will seek to bring suit again, under free speech this time, and folks from Alabama can still buy a buzz in neighboring dens of iniquity across the state lines in . . . wait, not Mississippi, not Georgia, ummm . . . Florida! Sex toy sales remain delightfully legal in Florida. And, though hysteria hasn’t been a fashionable diagnosis since the Teapot Dome scandal, Alabamans can still purchase in-state sex toys . . . ahem, personal massagers . . . “for medical purposes.”

Though I doubt that RG has a significant readership in say, Huntsville, I thought we could do our part for the pants of the people of Alabama, not to mention any Michigan law students who might’ve felt a wee bit left out by all the sex their classmates are having, by adding a note on online vibrator shopping, and detailing a couple of great resources for one’s erotic device needs.

There are a number of things to consider when purchasing a sex toy, but they can essentially be boiled down to four: style, volume, material, and cost. Stylistically speaking, when you’re shopping online (not during class, we hope), bear in mind that the essential differences between a dildo, a vibrator, and a plug are that a dildo doesn’t vibrate; a vibrator, eponymously enough, does; and a plug is generally meant for one’s rear entrance. Also, toys are designed differently for a reason – think about what area of your bits you enjoy having stimulated (and how) before plunking down your hard-earned loan money on the first thing that looks serviceable.

Volume and power issues can be a real killjoy, so pay attention to whether your toy, if electric, requires batteries or an outlet, and be sure to read the reviews to find out what other shoppers did (and didn’t) like about your toy. (Are you ok with something that, when on, sounds like a cross between an outboard motor and a buzz saw? Perhaps more importantly, is your roommate ok with it?)

Like any other bed partner, toys run the gamut between high and low maintenance -- there are sex toy materials out there that take longer to clean than your apartment after finals (cyberskin leaps to mind here). The well-being of your new little friend is important, so be conscientious of what kinds of lubricant to buy as well. Silicone lubricant is generally to be avoided with a silicone toy, and oil-based lubricants should not be used with latex . . . anything. (Hopefully I don’t need to tell anyone that if they’re using sex toys with a partner they should also use a condom.)

If that just sounds like a bit too much work, you can go the cheap date route and snag a less expensive knock-off (the sex toy industry is a giant IP lawsuit waiting to happen, seriously), but you risk sacrificing quality; think of it as an investment in happiness. Websites like babeland.com (previously Toys in Babeland) and goodvibes.com have just about everything one could think of (and some things one couldn’t even imagine), in a variety price ranges, so you can feel free to shop with confidence (and minimal guilt about how you’re spending Uncle Stafford’s money). So buy a sex toy for Alabama, and use it however you please . . . though I will say that, if you’re headed to court in Oklahoma, we recommend you leave the plugs and pumps at home.

To submit a question or idea for Res Gestae’s new sex columnist, please feel free to e-mail rg@umich.edu, or, if you’d prefer greater anonymity, deposit your question under cover of night in the RG student group pendaflex outside Legal Research 116.