Second Sex #1: Outlaw


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by Meghan Scott

I'm on my way to being an outlaw. I'll be booked for possession of dildos with intent to promote.

In a way it's like one of those wacky laws that get sent around as e-mail forwards, too weird to be believed. But it's true, the sale of "obscene devices" which are "designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs" is illegal in the Lone Star State, according to the Texas Penal Code; that means no dildos, artificial vaginas, or vibrators are allowed. If you have them, be prepared to defend your ownership on the grounds of education or art. Not only that, but a private individual owning seven or more such devices can be brought up on charges of "intent to promote," which is a class A misdemeanor. Mercy me! I don't know how many people out there have dildo collections, but I'd be willing to bet it's more than you'd think. (It's always more than you'd think. Always.) That means an awful lot of people out there are breaking the law. I wonder: if I advocate the use of dildos, is that promoting? Can I be arrested for that?

"Hey, everyone, use dildos! They're great! Everyone should use them! I hereby promote dildo use! And try vibrators while you're at it! Yay, sex toys, rah rah rah!"

Well, the boys in blue don't appear to be knocking down my door just yet. I'll let you know if they do.

Silly me, I didn't know about this law until recently. Perhaps it was the extensive variety of dildos and vibrators available for sale at my friendly neighborhood toy shop that threw me. But look carefully the next time you go dong shopping in Texas; vibrators are marked as "personal massagers" and dildos are simply "educational models." They aren't sold for sexual purposes, but to relieve aching necks or to demonstrate proper use of a condom. The staff at the stores will explain the law, but never even in jest do they suggest a sexual purpose for their products. (An employee demonstrating a luscious rabbit pearl on my hand actually said with a straight face, "Now imagine what it will do for your sore muscles." But then, I imagine he's had a lot of practice.) When you buy one, expect to sign a waiver stating that you won't use the devices for any lewd or lascivious purpose. It's sort of like places that will sell you a bong, under the guise of it being nothing more than a way to smoke perfectly legal tobacco. Who the heck smokes tobacco out of a bong, anyway?

I couldn't find the history of the law; if anyone out there could enlighten me, I'd appreciate it. But as far as I can tell it's just another way for the conservatives to impose their narrow morality on everyone in the state; dig through the laws and codes and you'll find a slew of laws that legislate sexual behavior (notably anti-sodomy laws). After all, you can't call Texas a particularly progressive state; I've heard the term "nothin' but steers n' queers" applied to our fair state on more than one occasion, which should tell you something. I can't think of one rational reason to outlaw sex toys being sold as sex toys, and I'm a creative thinker. Maybe Texans were afraid Dildo Huts would spring up in their malls and encourage deviant sexual behavior if toys went unregulated. Though I don't see using a vibrator as particularly deviant . . . perhaps if you're using it on a cow. I have yet to meet someone who has a public anti-dildo stance, and I've met some real nuts in my time. (I'd love to see the protest rallies for that cause.) The only people I can even conceive of being in favor of this law are the tight-lipped, tight-assed conservative prudes who can't stand for anyone else to have a good time. You know the types, women with big hair and fetching little sweaters with kitties knit into them, men with comb-overs and ill-fitting Sears suits. People who can't stand to think of anyone else having fun that they wouldn't choose for themselves, so they have to rain on everyone else's parade. The same folks who protest movies and television shows with a vengeance, instead of just not watching what they find offensive. The same folks who insist their kids have all pledged to wait until marriage to have sex, ignoring the fact that the kids in question are currently fucking like bunnies every chance they get. These are people who have no concept of a reality they don't accept, and when some bit of nastiness creeps into their field of awareness, they have to trounce it.

If I'm reading the law right, it's not so much the use of toys that bothers the conservatives, it's the open sale. Sort of like how they feel porn is awful and base, but as long as it's kept totally secret and never leaves the home, it's okay; the open sale, however, must be stopped. Strip clubs are fine, as long as they aren't anywhere near where decent people live their lives. Anything overtly sexual must be hidden away. I absolutely loathe that mentality. What gives them the right to tell anyone what is acceptable sexual activity and what isn't? I'm not saying we should hand out hardcore BDSM blood-play porn to first-graders, I just think we should allow consenting adults to do whatever they want in the privacy of their homes, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else in the process.

It's all so arbitrary. And I'm not clear on the details; if someone has more than seven dildos but considers them educational models and not toys, why would they still be charged with intent to promote when they had no lascivious purpose? It's that carnal intent which is ostensibly the evil the law means to vanquish. What if I buy a vibrator across the state line? Can I use it sexually if it was sold to me as a toy, or does it transmogrify into a neck massager when I come back home? I'm so confused.

Had I ever had the opportunity to speak with Shrub while he was governor of this fair state, I'd have asked him what's so dangerous about a latex phallus and requested clarification on the finer points of the law. Rest assured that if I ever meet Gov. Rick Perry, I'll pose the question to him instead. Perhaps I should write a letter to him in the meantime:

"Dear Gov. Perry:

"It recently came to my attention that sex toys cannot be sold as such in the great state of Texas. Vibrators, dildos, and artificial orifices designed to stimulate the human genitals are verboten as such, though their sale is legal when they are sold under different names with different ostensible purposes.

"Whose business is it what I insert into my various bodily cavities and those of other consenting adults, as long as no harm is done? I fail to see any practical or just application of this law. Its entire purpose seems to be inspiring store owners to be more creative about how they market their products. While I'm sure this is no great inconvenience to them, it seems a little superfluous to me.

"I appreciate your prompt action in this matter."

Even in hippie-liberal-collegiate Austin (the one place in Texas that isn't really Texas), the law has been used to abuse local businesses. A raid on the Forbidden Fruit boutique in 1989 resulted in the manager of the store being arrested and the merchandise ransacked. Since then the store has learned the law; they carefully sell their personal massagers and educational models to clientele eager to ease tight shoulders and . . . um, educate with models. Employees must keep the law in mind. Customers sign disclaimers to show they have no carnal intent. Sex toys are not for sale in Texas, technically. (That "technically" should be in big, flashing neon letters. The law isn't stopping anyone from doing anything with the items in question, believe me. I know this firsthand.)

Since the only use of the law is abuse, why has nobody protested it? Well, I guess it's not common knowledge that it exists; unless you've bought the items in a store in Texas, there's no reason why you would know, really. Maybe it's not a pressing concern to most people, but it bothers me. It isn't frivolous, it isn't a joke; there's significant potential for abuse, particularly in small towns when a conservative mentality rules. Small businesses owners could find themselves run out of town, their stores raided and destroyed by small-minded law officers. Someone might decide not to open a shop that sells such items, for fear of persecution (or prosecution). In previous raids under this law, merchandise has been demolished, at the expense of the business owner. You can't blame people for being reluctant to put themselves at risk. And all because of a stupid law that shouldn't even exist in the first place.

The principle is just as important as the practical aspects; the law needs to butt out of consensual sexual pleasure. How I pleasure myself and my partners is solely my concern; the stores that provide me with products to do so should be able to conduct business with impunity. I've been known to use Popsicles, feather dusters, and clothespins for lewd purposes; should they all be outlawed, too? (I know, silly question. Popsicles, feather dusters, and clothespins are all intended for more innocent purposes, and it's my own damn fault if I corrupt them by using them otherwise.) But really, how does it hurt anyone if I use toys? I'm willing to bet there are plenty of Junior League members who use vibrators, many civil servants who use dildos. It doesn't stop them from being upstanding citizens, and what they do in the privacy of their homes doesn't influence anyone else at all. I firmly believe that if you want to outlaw something, you need to show how it could cause harm. Maybe if someone explained to me why it's so all-fired awful to allow sex toys to be sold as such, I'd feel differently. I haven't figured it out on my own.

Texans, write to your representatives and protest this idiotic law; the worst that can happen is you'll offend your rep's delicate sensibilities. At least you'll be helping to bring sexuality out of the shadows; we talk about impotence openly these days, it's time to be candid about sex toys. Hell, maybe once we legalize dildos, we can get to work on knocking down those anti-sodomy laws. In the meantime, I think I shall glue dildos all over my car and do a driving tour of East Texas. Anyone who wants to post my bail in advance, let me know.


Meghan Scott is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. She has worked as an editrix, ghostwriter, professional stripper, and women's rights activist. Her causes include reproductive rights, comprehensive sexual education, and increasing tolerance for alternative lifestyles. She can be reached at meghan@bmeworld.com.

Second Sex is an ongoing series of essays about the intermingling of sexuality, politics, gender, psychology, feminism, and philosophy.


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