Chatter has been abundant these past few weeks surrounding a Georgia woman who is filing suit against Sandy Springs, Georgia, due to an ordinance that prohibits the purchase of a sex toy without a prescription.
Melissa Davenport, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, says that even though sex toys have saved her 24-year marriage and inhibited sex-life, doctors in her city still refuse to prescribe her the toys she and her husband depend on for intimacy and pleasure.
The Sandy Springs ordinance is absurdly oppressive, but also ironic, as it is being enforced in a state that recently passed one of the country’s most extreme gun laws. The sweeping gun bill that was passed by Georgia senators this March will allow guns in schools, bars, libraries and places of worship, and will even make it easier to pass through airport security while carrying a firearm. This gives the citizens the right to bear arms… but not dildos.
While women and men are being hindered in their ability to enhance partnered intimacy or choose freely to masturbate using sex toys, due to ordinances including Alabama’s Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act, they are being simultaneously empowered by nationwide pro-gun legislation to express their misogynist ideals and feelings of rejection through the use of a firearm. This unfortunate truth was exemplified just last week, when Elliot Roger went on a shooting spree in Isla Vista, California.
Ironies aside, Melissa Davenport’s lawsuit brings to the surface major truths about how women’s pleasure and sexuality is perceived by the media, politicians and even our peers, and archaic ordinances similar to the ordinance in Sandy Springs are not the sole indicators that in our society, female pleasure – especially autonomous pleasure – is a major taboo.
In the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson conducted studies that told two important truths about masturbation: masturbation is not dangerous, and everyone (especially women!) masturbates.
Yet, while facts about sexuality that are rooted in scientific research somehow fail to be received and understood by our society that freely sexualizes women without embracing their actual sexuality, sex-fearing legislators are intent on supporting laws that are rooted in misogyny and dated ideals about sex and reproduction; ideals that assume that women achieve orgasm through penetration alone.
In 1973, the Texas Legislature passed the Obscene Device Law, which penalizes sale and use of sex toys and remains in effect even today. In 2008, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas overturned the law, which it considered a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S Constitution. The State of Texas, however, argued that it had “legitimate ‘morality based’ reasons for the law, which include ‘discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation,’” and the ruling was overturned by The Texas 13th District Court of Appeals later that year. In simpler terms, the State did not want people to pleasure themselves unless that pleasure took place within the context of partnered intimacy between a man and a woman.
The endemic fear of masturbation – especially female masturbation – doesn’t start and stop with science and laws. The media we consume on a daily basis tells the same story of fear and oppression. During the 2012 season of HBO’s Girls, viewers were up in arms on the Twittersphere over character Mernie masturbating on TV, and a female masturbation scene was cut from CW’s Reign this past October, both indicators that major strides are needed to change the way we view, understand and talk about women’s sexuality.
Melissa Davenport’s lawsuit should be a reminder to us all of the importance of creating a society where sex and sexuality are not pathologized, and equally important, where women’s sexuality is not regarded exclusively within the context of penetration and procreation. It is a reminder that we should all be working toward creating a society where our Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights are regarded as equally important, and examined rationally, rather than with bias and fear.