Dildo-mania hits Texas 

Small-town mommy busted as queen of obscene

Perhaps you read last week that a Texas housewife was arrested on charges of obscenity. Joanne Webb's crime was to sell a vibrator to two undercover cops.

Webb, a former fifth-grade teacher and mother of three, lives in Cleburne, a small town outside Dallas, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. She is one of 3,000 consultants employed by Passion Parties to sell sex toys in privately hosted events for women only. Think dildos and strawberry nipple cream (I have no idea) instead of Tupperware. Webb, free after posting $1,500 bail, told the Chronicle that she thinks she "ruffled feathers in town by daring to join the Chamber of Commerce."

The conditions of her arrest are an almost-surreal demonstration of the antediluvian sex laws that states still employ to regulate the pleasure of the citizenry. In Webb's case, the cops tricked her into selling the sex toy by showing up at her husband's office, where she also maintains a workspace. Claiming to need to restore pizzazz to their worn-out sex life, the cops asked her to sell them "marital aids." Webb suggested they attend one of her private parties. When they insisted they needed an immediate remedy, she sold them the toy.

Of course, this spared the cops the political embarrassment of showing up at one of the parties and finding their neighbors' wives sipping punch from glasses salted with nipple cream, swapping recipes and painting raspberry-flavored lubricant on over-sized dildos. Webb's arrest has caused consternation even in little Cleburne, but you can imagine the shock on the jail clerk's face were he compelled to book the entire chapter of the Junior League in their new edible underpants.

The Texas penal code includes in its definition of "obscene" any "device designed and marketed as useful for stimulations of the human genital organs." (The banana growers association has been put on notice in Texas.) Webb is charged with violating the code section that says, "A person who possesses six or more obscene devices or identical or similar obscene articles is presumed to possess them with intent to promote the same." The exception is devices for "bona fide medical, psychiatric, judicial, legislative or law enforcement purpose."

Don't you love that? Doctors, psychiatrists, judges, senators and cops can decide whether you can insert a dildo into your body, but average people are too feeble-minded to undertake sexual pleasure on their own. This is the same logic that first criminalized sodomy and now seeks, with President Bush's complicity, to exclude "sodomites" from marrying. It's the same logic that wants to take back from women the control of their bodies in the abortion dispute. Only the state and medical establishment can decide what's right for your body.

What is unspoken is that the state and medical establishment have won their freedom by rewarding religious institutions with the ongoing control of the rest of us. Of course, with all religious-based proscription, there is always an escape hatch -- namely hypocrisy. Thus Webb's real offense is that she sold the sex toy for its intended purpose. Texas law, much like the law of other states, allows the sale of such items as long as they are represented as "novelties" or "gags" -- you know, like whoopee cushions and itching powder. Webb would be fine had she said to the female cop, "Now, honey, I am selling you this 11-inch dildo as a practical joke to make your husband feel inferior -- not as an actual substitute for his 5-inch dick -- know what I'm saying?"

Requiring people to deny the actual use of sex toys puts them in the same disagreeable position that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy relevant to military service by gay people does. It requires that one become complicit in the state's hypocrisy. Thus, one of Passion Parties' largest distributors had to make an official reply insisting that the toys really are sold as novelties. This, in turn, prompted local smut cop Capt. Doug Sandifer to argue, "We believe that any reasonable person ... would see that it is marketed for that purpose" -- namely sexual gratification.

And, of course, he's right. And that's the hell of such laws. The loophole of pretense, whether it's calling a dildo a magic wand or requiring gay people to pretend they are straight, does nothing but reward people for refusing to challenge stupid laws that impose antiquated religious values. That, in turn, reinforces the oppressive values.

And the state's minions will go to any length to guarantee their own immunity from Puritanism by enforcing religious-based laws. We saw that recently here when DeKalb County cops, having lost the right to arrest people for sodomy, took to loitering in a mainly gay bookstore's video area to arrest men for "loitering for sex."

Nothing will change until people abandon shame about their sex lives. That's one of the lessons here. There is no such thing as vanilla sex. The women of a tiny little town in Texas have been scooping up sex toys. And so, probably, are you. What good comes of hiding it?

cliff.bostock@creativeloafing.com

Cliff Bostock's website is www.soulworks.net.

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