3 min

Turned on in public

Just put some white tape over your swollen member

Walking along Yonge St recently, I passed a window display of X-rated videos. In a halfhearted nod to, I suppose, obscenity laws, the VHS boxes had been anointed with small white stickers over certain body parts.

One photo featured a man’s sweaty tanned groin connected to another man’s open mouth by a narrow white strip, the size of the strip being directly in proportion to, to… to what? Whatever could the sticker be hiding? In the game of connect the censorship dots, anyone over the age of five would know what was being covered up. You couldn’t see the box and not think, “A penis is being sucked.”

If the idea of a penis entering a mouth is crystal clear, what exactly is the sticker protecting pedestrians from? Does the colour or the texture of the penis make the idea of cocksucking on Yonge St more dangerous to society? It’s hard to believe that the line of acceptability can be so sharp you can mark it with a piece of white tape – but there it is. (Is there an English-speaking person who sees the word “f-k” in a mainstream magazine and doesn’t read “fuck”?)

When I try to figure out a motive for the white tape I can’t come up with anything better than the government wanting to prevent people from becoming sexually aroused, particularly in public. Which takes me to several items you’ll find on this website: two court decisions on pornography (check out the item after next and the Xtra West story at, a judge suggesting that men masturbating in a gay bathhouse might be illegal

(see the story on Xtra West’s section of and, strangely enough, Toronto’s new smoking ban in bars (the next item).

In the two court decisions, judges have made it clear that Canadian governments have gone too far in regulating the sexual imagery we watch in the privacy of our own homes. What’s interesting about the decisions is how obvious they seem. In the case of the Ontario Film Review Board against Glad Day Bookshop, the judge pointed out that Canada already has obscenity laws, so it makes no sense for the government of Ontario to censor things, too. Duh.

A British Columbian judgment on sadomasochistic (SM) videos goes one step further, questioning Canada’s obscenity laws themselves. Judge Raymond Low ruled in part that since many Canadians themselves have SM sex, it’s unlikely they would find SM videos offensive. Low makes at least three jumps that are unheard of in Canadian law,

but make perfect sense in real life: he acknowledges that Canadians happily have kinky sex, that they don’t mind others having it and that videotaping it doesn’t magically make it harmful. Low has tossed aside the notion that Canadians are fragile creatures, easily succumbing to undefined sexual harm. We can handle it. At least in our VCRs, DVD players and computer screens.

Having sex with other people in the partial privacy of a place of business remains a problem, if you believe the judge in the case of Goliath’s bathhouse in Calgary. Judge Terence Semenuk ruled last month that men masturbating in front of each other could be indecent – and therefore illegal – and so is proceeding with bawdy-house charges against staff and clients found in the bathhouse during a 2002 police investigation. What Semenuk seems to have missed is that if Canadians can deal with the other idea of people having sex, even having kinky sex, they can surely deal with men being sexual in the company of other willing men in a space built for that purpose.

If Semenuk thinks they can’t, he should take a walk in downtown Toronto in the wake of the ban on smoking in bars. Our sidewalks – public spaces! – have become sex pits. Evicted smokers are loitering, intoxicated and horny, outside bars and nightclubs. In just the first weekend of the smoking ban, I witnessed smokers and their friends on the street displaying their asses, grabbing their crotches, kissing, groping and otherwise hooking up. It’s a new cruising phenomenon.

White tape or no white tape, people get sexually aroused in public. Guess we’ll have to live with it. And enjoy it.

* Paul Gallant is Xtra’s managing editor.