Toronto
4 min

Alabama slammer

Forcing Americans to get creative

PRODUCT OF ONTARIO. Queer and kinky Canadians can teach deprived Americans a thing or two about homegrown sex toys. Credit: Xtra files

In a move that sent an unpleasant shudder through vibrator aficionados everywhere, a US court recently ruled that the right to sexual privacy isn’t protected by their constitution. While this could have all sorts of negative repercussions in the fight for sexual freedom for our neighbours to the south, the immediate effect is that Alabama is free and clear to continue banning the sale of sex toys in that state.



On Jul 28, a federal court ruled 2-1 to uphold the 1998 law disallowing the sale or distribution of “any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.” The law carries with it a $10,000 fine and a one-year prison sentence.



The judges who ruled in favour of the ban contended that courts should not be deciding social policy – an argument that has been raging in American and Canadian legal and political circles for years, especially in cases involving queer rights. They also argued that should the Alabama law be invalidated, it could be the slippery slope leading to laws that legitimized incest, prostitution and obscenity.



The notable exception was Rosemary Barkett, a former nun and Clinton appointee, who alone ruled against the Alabama decision. Her dissenting judgment concluded that the law rested on an “erroneous foundation,” ie the idea that adults do not have the right to engage in consensual sexual behaviour. (Trust the ex-nun to come up with that radical notion.)



The bizarre law was being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six Alabama women, users and distributors of adult sex toys. In addition to arguing that the law was a violation of free speech, due process and safety from unreasonable search and seizure, the defence used the argument that sex toys were an essential part of treatment for women who couldn’t otherwise achieve sexual pleasure or needed them as part of their therapy and healing process.



But before you chalk it up to an Alabaman anomaly, they’re not the only state to nix battery-operated bed mates. Georgia, Mississippi, Indiana, Texas, Louisiana and Virginia also have laws on the books outlawing the sale of sex toys. Although it should be noted that the law doesn’t prohibit the ownership of sex toys, just their sale and distribution. There’s nothing to stop people from ordering their toys on-line or bringing them in from other more liberal-minded, less sexually frustrated states. Nor does it impact on the sale of condoms or virility drugs like Viagra. Go figure.



Up here in Ontario, I can’t help but wonder how exactly this particular law



is going to be enforced. It begs the question, what exactly counts as a sex toy anyway? Anything vaguely shaped like a penis? Many dildos are only remotely phallic. Are Alabama state police on the hunt for objects marked with the words, “Vibrator – Insert into vagina?” If not, law enforcement officers could soon be raiding every Wal-Mart across the Bible belt for showerheads and “therapeutic” Dr Scholl’s massagers. Are they intending to prosecute every kitchen supply retailer, pharmacist, hardware-store proprietor and dollar-store owner in Alabama? Because these are the places where many of us buy our favourite sex toys.



Anyone with a little creativity can create a toolkit of toys made up of inexpensive, easily obtainable objects for a rich, playful sexual life. So many things can be substituted for dildos as long as they are clean and have no sharp edges. Consider baseball bats, golf clubs and other sports equipment. Think about fresh vegetables – carrots, cucumbers and zucchini, oh my!



For the kinkier among us, wooden spoons and hairbrushes are both well-established paddles. Saran Wrap, assorted adhesive tapes and luggage straps serve many bondage and mummification purposes. Pool noodles can be used for the sound effects (think about it), clothes pegs for clamps and dowels for caning. And you never know when those complimentary paint sticks or textured tile samples from the hardware store will come in handy.



The list really is endless. What masquerades as an unassuming household object by day turns into a kinky plaything that teases and tickles and smacks by night.



Alabama, let me be the first to welcome you to the wonderful world of pervertibles, a term used to describe everyday objects that can be appropriated for sex, and specifically BDSM, play. The beauty of pervertibles is that they stimulate the senses, create mood and atmosphere and they can’t be regulated by overzealous sex police.



The term “pervertible” is commonly attributed to American leather activist David Stein (who, incidentally, also coined the term “safe, sane and consensual” in the early 1980s). The AIDS Committee Of Toronto has been running workshops on pervertibles for years as part of their Safer SM Education Project, although that particular seminar hasn’t been offered in some time (check out Safersm.org for details of upcoming Safer SM workshops).



Pervertibles don’t have to cost a damn thing. Just consider what Mother Nature has to offer with autumn just around the corner – peeling bark, pine cones, pine needles, a handful of earth. If you go into the woods today you never know what you’ll find. (But beware of plants you don’t know and any funny mushrooms.)



A $5 “loot bag” for each of your partners is a hell of a lot more sexy, creative and affordable than a separate vibe for each. But remember that the same rules about safety and sharing apply to pervertibles the same way they would to your more expensive goods: keep them clean and keep them separate. Please, don’t serve your uninformed guests with the same chopsticks you use to prick, poke and prod your bottoms – that’s just rude.



While pervertibles can make for endless hours of creative fun, keep in mind these objects weren’t designed with sex in mind. That means using pressure and force as appropriate to the object, if not to the bottom. In other words, do your research. The Internet is a veritable goldmine of ideas and good, practical advice.



So have fun, keep an eye out and send us your best ideas. We’ll pass them on to the governor of Alabama.



* Nadia Bello is a sex educator and a dollar-store junkie.