If you want to buy a sex toy in Sandy Springs, Georgia, you are going to need a prescription from your doctor, a note from your teacher, or even a thumbs up from the local police. That’s because the city council has passed an ordinance limiting the purchase of all sex toys to those that will be used for a:
“bona fide medical, scientific, educational, legislative, judicial or law enforcement purpose.”
Sandy Springs is not some tiny backwater Georgia town time forgot. It is a suburb of Atlanta with about 100,000 people. In fact, Atlanta has tried to swallow it whole several times since the 1950s and was only fended off by voter referendums or unfavorable court decisions.
Every year beginning in 1975, some state lawmaker would introduce a bill to authorize area residents to hold a referendum on whether to allow Sandy Springs to incorporate as a city, and every year it would be killed with a procedural move by legislators from Atlanta who always hoped they would someday be able to annex the area. But in 2005, after thirty years of trying, Republicans took total control of all the levers of the Georgia state government, changed the procedural rules, and voted to allow a popular referendum to incorporate the area into the City of Sandy Springs.
The measure passed with 94% of the vote.
The good people of the City of Sandy Springs set up their own police and fire departments, elected a mayor, and a six member city council. On December 1, 2005, nine short years ago, they officially became their own masters – so maybe we should cut them some slack on this unusual sex toy rule. They’re new at governing,
Sandy Springs is not the first city council to try to keep adult businesses out of their locale – if that is indeed the purpose of the sex toy law. The tried and true method has always been to restrict the sellers – shops can’t be too close to one another, or in proximity to schools or churches, or places kids congregate – broaden the field enough and there’s nary a place where an adult business can legally open, and courts have usually upheld such regulations. But to allow sex toys to be sold, but restricted to buyers who aren’t going to use them for their intended purpose? That’s quite a novel approach.
I admit I am intrigued as to how this law works on a community level.
First of all. What exactly is a “law enforcement” purpose of a sex toy? Outfitting undercover hookers? And even stranger, what is a “legislative” or “judicial” purpose? Any guesses? I’m stumped.
I wonder if the Sandy Springs city council realized when they passed their law that you don’t need a “sex shop” to buy a “sex toy”. Vibrators, one of the main toys targeted by the Sandy Springs law, are available for purchase in some very mainstream places, like Kroger and Target and Walmart. They are marketed over the counter, right next to the condoms and the home pregnancy tests and the Plan B.
So let’s say a recently widowed middle-aged woman wants to buy a Kroger vibrator. There it is on the conveyor belt next to the cucumbers and the cat food and the butterscotch hard candies. Is the pimply-faced high school check-out clerk really obliged to question her about its intended use?
I bet he calls the manager. “Vibrator on aisle ten.”
Travel Advisory: Avoid Sandy Springs, Georgia, until further notice: You just know you are going to be stuck in line behind every orgasm-starved granny in the city trying to score an illegal vibrator.
Let’s suppose the manager is summoned from where he is building a display of canned peaches and he has the widow step out of line – like the Kroger version of a TSA screening. Experts say to comply with the law yet avoid customer lawsuits, stores are likely to demand a doctor’s prescription or other tangible proof of how the vibrator will be used at this point. If our widow shows him her husband’s death certificate as proof of her need, is a grocery store manager now supposed to determine whether her loss of conjugal relations through widowhood is or is not a “bona fide medical purpose?
“Well, ma’am, are you sure you can’t reach orgasm without a silver bullet? You do have a lovely cucumber there.”
Can she sue if he refuses? Can the city close the store down if he allows the buy to happen and a customer complains? Will police now send out undercover enforcement officers pretending to be gay dudes in search of Ben Wa balls?
The more I consider the Sandy Springs ordinance, the more I realize it is not enforceable. I think the new city government of Sandy Springs fell victim to an old conservative flaw: the urge to use public policy to make moral judgments – and to punish the people they find wanting.
The city of Sandy Springs, predictably, is being sued. Melissa Davenport, who has MS, was brave enough to file suit, claiming the law prevents her from being sexually intimate with her husband in a fulfilling manner. A second plaintiff, Marshall Henry, who is a bisexual artist, says because of the law, he can’t purchase items for his artwork, and can’t sell the pieces when he creates them. And besides, he just enjoys using them.
The law needs challenging, of that I have no doubt. But I do admit this is one time I wish outraged people hadn’t rushed to court. If ever there were a cause perfect to make a little mischief – this is it!
An organized protest slowing down checkout lines all over the city as citizens try to buy vibrators without proper documentation?
Candlelight vigils in the city parks, everyone singing Let’s Get Physical while holding a humming vibrator?
Or we could have a Facebook page where people upload their selfies taken with the Sandy Springs Police Department turtle, with a vibrator held aloft ala the Statue of Liberty?
If someone in Georgia would organize such an event, I promise to personally sit in front of a Sandy Springs Walgreens with a sign reading: No Vibrators. No Peace.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.