Friday, November 16, 2007

Julia from Alabama: “You can’t have my rights, I’m still using them!"

Julia Carter is a frequent reader of this blog. She offered to find out just how the new Alabama law prohibiting the sale of sex toys affects a woman intent on buying one. So she visited two Alabama shops specializing in items for erotic pleasure (see? I'm resisting calling them "sex-toy shops" because such products are against the law) to investigate on behalf of all Alabamans seeking sexual freedom. Here's her report:

As it says in Marty Klein’s excellent article, the Alabama legislature has recently passed a law prohibiting the sale of sex toys in this state. Wanting to find out first hand what this actually means to local consumers, I decided to stop in at one of our stores.

I visited a shop called “Pleasures” for two reasons, one is they have the most extensive selection of any retail store in this area, the other being that the owner of this shop, Sherri Williams, challenged the proposed law in court, filing numerous appeals against the state, including an appeal to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately the courts refused to hear her last appeal, so it is now illegal to sell sex toys or dildos in the state of Alabama.

I was immediately greeted by a nice young woman, who then asked to see my ID. “Hmm,” I thought, “I’m 55 and I’m being carded, this is cool,” although I’m sure this is standard procedure for everyone who comes in to the shop. You must be 18 or older to enter.

The store looked about the same, with all the same merchandise as before. In front, where it can be seen by anyone passing by, including children, is a whole array of lingerie. Nothing directly sexually suggestive, so if I had kids I wouldn’t mind them seeing this. In the back part of the store where they used to keep their huge variety of sex toys, are the enormous variety of “novelty items” which are now sold for medical, scientific, and educational purposes, or to be used at a party for something such as a "cake topper."

Since I think lots of orgasms are good for my health, I was pleased to see that all the same medical devices I’ve been used to being able to purchase were still there, with even a few new additions, though I suggested that they might get into trouble calling things medical devices.

I told the salesperson I was there to find out how the new law was panning out, and to see what they could still sell.

We chatted for a bit and giggled about the day the Supreme Court refused to hear Sherri’s appeal and the city lit up our big rocket, part of Huntsville’s famous Space and Rocket Center, with hot pink lights in honor of the first day of breast cancer awareness month, not realizing that these two stories would both be on the evening news.

Then she showed me some of their new items which are especially woman-friendly, with shapes to fit the contours of the female body. Although there were some products with labels saying they were for medical use only, most of the products on the racks have a sticker on them that says “SOLD AS A NOVELTY ONLY” followed by smaller print saying not to use it on inflamed tissue, skin eruptions, or unexplained calf pain, and that they are not suggested for penetration of body openings.

I asked if customers would have to sign a waiver if making a purchase, and we do. This is what it says:

“All products which may be subject to the restrictions imposed by code of Alabama sections 13A-12-200.2 and 13A-12-20.3 are displayed at Pleasures for bona fide educational purposes only so that our customers may make informed medical, scientific and educational decisions with respect to the type of products displayed.

“No such product is offered for sale in this store. You may offer to purchase such a product, but by asking to purchase an item you represent and warrant that your purchase and any resulting sale of the product is for a bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative or judicial purpose. In her/his sole discretion, any employee of Pleasures may refuse to accept such an offer to purchase.

“No exceptions will be made to this policy.

(The fourth paragraph is a standard medical disclaimer.)

“Alabama State Law does not prohibit the possession of an adult toy. Nothing sold in this store is prohibited by law.”

Paragraph two of the disclaimer says, in other words, that if a customer comes in asking to buy a sex toy or a dildo, they will be told that the store does not sell sex toys or dildos, and can be asked to leave.

I bought a medical device, a new bullet (mine’s about to wear out) and an educational device, an intriguing looking sleeve for the bullet that has a g-spot attachment that I’ve never seen before, paid my $16.50, and signed the document.

Since one day we could have a class action lawsuit against the state I guess I also bought these items for “legal and judicial purposes.”

The next day I called another local store, Naughty and Spice, which carries a similar array of lingerie and “novelty items.” (I like their lingerie because they have fishnet tights which fit well over bigger legs and are very durable.) They told me their policy was similar to the one at Pleasures, and that no one from the state had come into the store to tell them to take the novelty toys off the shelves. They are planning to open a second store just across the state line in Tennessee, about a 30 minute drive from here.

Since most people don’t have this new information, I decided to do a public service announcement at our pub’s open mic night. “It is now illegal to sell sex toys in Alabama. This law was challenged several times, and we gave it the good fight, but we lost. If you go into a store asking for sex toys or dildos they’ll tell you they don’t sell these items and can ask you to leave. However you can still buy novelty items . . . ”

This helped the bartender out a lot, because it was near closing time and all the people he would normally have to ask to leave, several times usually, left on their own in a big hurry. Most of them were youngish guys, a few with girlfriends in tow, who seemed to still think those anatomically correct pleasuring devices are competition for them. If you ask me this is one of the major underlying attitudes behind making it illegal to sell these things. Hopefully they -- and our state legislators -- will gain more self esteem and emotional maturity in the future.

Some of my younger women friends have tiny stickers which say “you can have my sex toy when you pry it from my cold dead . . . .” I don’t like the negative tone of this one and thought about instead putting one of my worn out silver bullets in the back window of my car with my new bumper sticker that says “No you can’t have my rights, I’m still using them,” but decided this wouldn’t be in very good taste.

I’ve been laughing and joking about all this, and I still have access to my toys, but I deeply resent the fact that once again a bunch of de-sexed, mostly male authority figures are attempting to interfere with our sexual freedom. The sex toy law is not all that different from our state laws forbidding legally recognized partnerships of homosexuals, and the national laws that some are attempting to pass making abortion and maybe even contraception illegal. All of these are efforts to limit and control our splendidly varied erotic expression.

Thank you, Julia, for this terrific report! Comments, anyone? -- Joan

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Marty Klein on Alabama anti-sex-toy law

Alabama has declared war on sex toys, and whether or not we live in that state, we need to heed the warning that our sexual rights are under attack. Dr. Marty Klein, author of America's War On Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust & Liberty, recently wrote a powerful article about this issue. I asked his permission to excerpt it here:

Supreme Court Silences Alabama's Vibrators

The U.S.Supreme Court has 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 (issues 9, 33, 39). 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. But where legislatures and courts may find this dangerous, I find it life-affirming, healthy, and good clean fun.

In fact, it raises an interesting question--how do we define "artificial" and "non-artificial" orgasms? Penis = natural, while fingers = 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 reduces 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.

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. We really are living through a War On Sex. The Supreme Court has declared our orgasms a battlefield, and sex toys are another casualty.

Dr. Marty Klein is a licensed marriage counselor, certified sex therapist, and author of America's War On Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust & Liberty. Visit his Sexual Intelligence blog.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Express Your Sexuality Vertically – Dance!

    Dancing is a magnificent celebration of eroticism. I recommend it whether you're in a relationship or flying solo. Dancing is all about celebrating our bodies, expressing ourselves nonverbally, letting our souls soar through our moving bodies. Dancing is sexy-- as George Bernard Shaw said, dance is "a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire."

Dancing is also an erotic form of communication with a partner, with many partners, or with ourselves -- letting the lift of an arm, the swing of a leg, or the roll of a hip communicate a much more complex and subtle language than words.

Robert and I met in the line dance class I teach, and we've been dancing together ever since. When Robert and I dance, whether we're line dancing separately, across the room from each other, or in a close embrace in a romantic dance, we're aware of our own and each other's body moving expressively, sending each other messages. We entice, seduce, sometimes just entertain each other with our vertical body language. We're lucky enough to dance together regularly--we teach a line dance class together, and practice together for fun.

If you're single, whether or not you're looking for a sexual partner, the need to be touched is basic to humans. Dance is a safe, even dignified way to get your touching without pursuing intimacy. You'll hold a stranger (or a series of strangers) safely at a distance in "dance position" and learn moves together. You won't need to admit out loud how enjoyable it is to settle into the arms of a temporary partner and respond with your body.

During dry spells between relationships in my past, I would joke with a male friend that dancing was my whole sex life. Indeed, it felt like that: being held in a man's arms, agreeing tacitly to follow wherever and whatever he led (so different from the rest of the way I run my life!), making eye contact--sometimes sensually, sometimes playfully, sometimes just acknowledging the cool dance moves--then saying "thank you" after three minutes and moving on to someone else. Thank goodness for dance!

With the popularity of television shows like Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, you may think you have to be skilled, disciplined, and committed to perfection to succeed. Not so! Dance is about self-expression and freeing the natural dancer in all of us. It's not about judges or weekly eliminations. And you don't have to be gorgeous or a star hoofer to attract partners – just be friendly and enjoy yourself and your partners.

If you've thought that you're too old to learn to dance, you're wrong. In my line dance class, for example, dancers in their seventies enjoy rolling their hips and strutting their stuff alongside dancers in their twenties, and it's the same in every social dance class I attend. There's a special kinship, I think, among older dancers – we love and acknowledge the vibrant physicality of it, we feel graceful and handsome, and we enjoy each other with warmth and joy.

If dancing isn't a part of your life, I highly recommend it. It adds a dimension of self-expression, body appreciation, and sensuality to the way we live our lives. And it's so much fun! Just about every community offers dance lessons: ballroom, swing, Latin, nightclub, country-western, and more. To find places to dance, search "dance" (or the specific type of dance you want) plus your city or county on the Internet, look at the calendar listings in your newspaper, and find local dance studios, rec centers, and health clubs in your Yellow Pages.