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Alabama has developed an unfortunate reputation as a state where government plays the roll of prayer bully, encouraging religious ritual in public school classrooms, government meetings and even the inauguration of the state's highest official. But now, a new law brings the power of Alabama law into bedrooms, stores and even private gatherings thanks to a new "dildo law" which took effect on July 1. It makes it a misdemeanor to distribute "any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs."

August 3, 2020

The definitive lexicon, the Oxford Dictionary, defines "dildo" as "a word of obscure origin, used in the refrains of ballads" as well as "a name of the penis or phallus, or figure thereof..." The first recorded usage is by the playwright and poet Benjamin Jonson (1573?-1637) who in "The Alchemist," one of the many plays he produced between 1605 and 1616, wrote: "Here I find...the seeling fill'd with poesies of the candle; and Madame, with a dildo, writ 'o the walls." Five years later, the Bard himself employed the term in "A Winter's Tale" (though some claim this was penned in 1611, not 1610.) None of these, however, abound with the erotic overtones of the term's use in the Hindu religion, where the dildo is one of many protean symbols of fertility and potency.

Back to Alabama and its anti-dildo crusaders. Are they serious? One can sell firearms, fast cars, fatty food and plenty of other things which may end up being harmful to adults and minors alike. But what's this about a taboo on any "device" which is "primarily for the stimulation of human genital," religious repression and government power in American society? Plenty...

Dildos used to be marketed as facial "massagers" in advertising supplements to the daily newspaper. It was a polite way for mom to order a "beauty aid" through the mail, and most men weren't checking out the ad sections offering shower curtains and blenders. Changing mores and a more liberated cultural atmosphere about things sexual began to change that opprobrium, though, and the once-lowly dildo has almost made it to the status of a Victoria's Secret catalogue. Somebody out there is buying these vibrating devices; and there is even a pop culture list of "Ten Reasons Why Zucchini Is Better Than Men," or something to that effect.

Occasionally, faced with a surfeit of difficult issues, legislators and political wannabees have seized upon the dildo (metaphorically speaking) as an issue, sometimes a way of harassing or closing adult book stores. The news reports about such efforts usually prompt public hilarity; and like the prime time, front page media coverage of President Clinton's alleged peccadillos with Monica ("Mommy, what's oral socks?"), the mention of vibrators, dildos and similar penile-like devices is just too enticing a subject to let pass without a nuanced remark. The device that certain people don't want other people to use or sell is transformed into a topic of conversation and debate. Male legislators especially seem threatened by the dildo, although one searches in vain to find any bills in any state capitol which seeks to ban inflatable, "anatomically correct" dolls that vaguely resemble a female anime character sans clothing.

Put simply, those public crusaders who sally forth to ban the dildo mount a jackass rather than a noble steed. They are quickly, and justly, pilloried as fools, authoritarians, prudes and opportunists. One female legislator in Arizona, for instance, introduced legislation to ban the display or sale of more than five dildos in any one place or transaction. Why five? That was never discerned, although it was rumored that this part of the "dildo bill" gave the statute the illusory appearance of being concerned with commercial transaction. The legislative solon, known for her Christian rectitude and stature with church groups, was dubbed "the dildo lady." It is not known whether she ever lived the incident down, or ever owned the erstwhile device.

The Alabama law makes the distribution of dildos a crime, but (probably grudgingly) leaves personal possession of such devices untouched by prosecutorial hands and whims. Does that really make any sense? How can one possess what is not sold (unless one masters the art of dildo making)?

This foolish measure was sponsored by State Senator Tom Butler, who inserted it into a larger bill designed to shut down strip clubs in one county. There, District Attorney Tim Morgan sought the ban, and thought that a dildo-banning provision would shut down -- well, the Skin Joints of Madison County! (Is there a movie plot here?)

Fortunately, a group of women have enlisted the support of the overworked American Civil Liberties Union in challenging the new law, arguing that it violates the right to privacy. Sherri Williams, one of six plaintiffs, told Associated Press, "No one wants the government in their bedroom." She owns two stores that peddle sexual aides; another plaintiff, identified as B.J. Bailey (we're not making this up...) sells similar devices at in-home gatherings.

Sexually hypocrisy abounds here, of course. Four of the women plaintiffs argue in the lawsuit that they require these instruments in order to have orgasms. Perhaps such a claim offends the "machismo" of God-fearing Alabama males, who fear themselves as not being up to the task, and easily replaced by a few inches of battery-operated plastic in the hands of solitary (or, heavens forbid, multiple) women. Is there a fear that the mere availability of these vibrators will "spoil" women? One used to hear similar claims attributed to black men and white woman, a folk legend which has been suggested at one time or another by the Ku Klux Klan and later by Eldgridge Cleaver. Perhaps the muscular black "Mandingo" slave luridly gracing the covers and pages of a Kyle Onscott novel has been replaced by the handy vibrator as the latest threat to the Southern White Male.

... unleashing the Dildo Detail from the local police station isn't going to magically energize flagging males, or drive legions of frustrated women into the arms of American men.
And, of course, there is Viagra. Former presidential candidate Bob Dolls discusses it openly on CNN, Wall Street is shamelessly bullish on its financial returns, and it is embraced as a wonder drug of sorts. Presumably, Alabama Governor Fob James, State Senator Butler, Madison County DA Tim Morgan or any other male who could perhaps have a "sexual disfunction" can waltz into a pharmacy, prescription in hand, and obtain a prescription for Viagra, a panacea said to be the equivalent of an erotic Fountain of Youth. Over thirty deaths have allegedly been linked to the drug (although that connection remains uncertain). At last count, your editor failed to unearth any FBI Uniform Crime Reports detailing the rate of "deaths due to dildo use" or "violence due to vibrator abuse." Where's the harm here?

The handy dildo survives despite a rampant climate that declares that "men are at risk," supposedly assaulted in their potency and sheer manhood by everything from environmental poisoning (low sperm count?) to diminished self-esteem and sexual self-worth brought on by the presence of educated, competent and tough women in the workplace. What's a guy to do when his wife brings home a bigger paycheck? How do you impress the blonde at the singles bar who's driving the Porsche, when you're still making payments on the Saturn? It's unfair, right? It's enough to lower your testosterone (and other anatomical functions)... and she's got that "thing" in her purse or nighstand drawer that proclaims to the world, "Hey, buddy, you're not needed here!"


Men still earn 30% or more than women in the marketplace (a discrepancy that needs to be resolved), and besides, unleashing the Dildo Detail from the local police station isn't going to magically energize flagging males, or drive legions of frustrated women into the arms of American men. Sorry, Charlies, the world doesn't work that way.

District Attorney Morgan, named with a defendant in this suit did not return telephone calls from reporters seeking comment on this latest judicial Armageddon. Wisely, his attorney apparently ran for cover, perhaps from embarrassment for himself and his client. This is a pathetic waste of government resources, taxpayer money and the public trust; it betrays a state besotted with angst over false modesty, hypocritical propriety and an inflated sense of religious do-goodism which requires Bibles in classrooms, and shuns orgasms in the bedroom. Perhaps the real dildos in Alabama aren't just found in adult stores and the erotic equivalent of home Tupperware parties... perhaps they be legally and easily located in the state Capitol itself.

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