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Sex devices face stiff opposition

Georgia's puritanical laws make it hard for sex toy sellers

This, That and the Other, a Smyrna head shop and merchant of sex toys, claims it hasn't sold a dildo since June of 2000.

It's not because of drooping demand. It's just that selling a device designed to turn you on is illegal in Georgia.

Restrictive laws relating to sex are nothing new here. For years it was a crime to engage in adultery or sodomy. But recently, government officials in Cobb County — where the Bible plays a bigger role in the bedroom than dildos do — have threatened to shut down This, That and the Other unless the store removes dildos and other genital-stimulators from the shelves. And Atlanta police have charged an Atlanta-based fantasy shop, Inserection, at least eight times with selling sexual devices, a misdemeanor. Inserection has been subject to police raids during which clerks and the owner were arrested, and has filed numerous lawsuits in DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb counties.

The statute is an ongoing concern for Inserection owner Michael Morrison, whose attorney has argued against the law in state Supreme Court, and lost.

"Basically, this is something that should be based upon contemporary community standards," Morrison says. "And I think if good citizens want their liberties defended, that's really where it happens — in the courtroom, with a jury."

Last November, This, That and the Other followed Inserection's lead and filed suit against Cobb County, complaining that the "State of Georgia has intruded into the most intimate of places — the bedrooms of its citizens — and the lawful conduct that occurs therein."

The case has attracted the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which dispatched one of its attorneys to Atlanta April 16 to argue for the plaintiffs.

Georgia law doesn't outlaw the use of dildos and other sex toys, only the sale of them. But don't be fooled, says Mark Lopez, the ACLU attorney.

"It's really about use," he says, "because if you prohibit sales then people can't get them. So what we call this is a back-door attempt to get at the underlying conduct."

Laws restricting the sale have proved a more difficult challenge for sexual device activists; state Supreme Courts in Texas and Georgia have upheld anti-sale statutes.

But This, That and the Other isn't challenging the law on the state level. It has taken the case to federal court, claiming that Georgia's law violates the Constitutional right to privacy, that it is enforced arbitrarily, and that it allows the government too much control over commerce.

The lawsuit also raises a question of fairness: If devices that excite the genitals are to be banned, then shouldn't Viagra and ribbed condoms be outlawed too? Moreover, the lawsuit claims, sexual devices are as crucial a treatment for sexual dysfunction as Viagra.

Attorneys for Cobb County say such an argument is toothless without testimony from people who say they've benefited from sex toys.

But sex is private business, the lawsuit states. Willing and candid witnesses are few. "Because of the sensitive and intimately personal nature of the reasons for using the product, most users of the products are understandably reluctant to come forward and challenge this law," according to the lawsuit. "For this reason, Plaintiffs have brought this action on behalf of their many thousands of customers."

Restricting access to sexual devices could "jeopardize the women's physical and physiological health, but may also destroy a marriage or relationship. The public at large will suffer irreparable injury."

This, That and the Other is asking for a temporary injunction that would allow the store to supercede the law and sell vagina dilators and simulators, dildos, vibrators and other genital-arousing goods.

Claims the lawsuit: "The sale and use of sexual devices is a deeply rooted and central liberty of our Country."

Benjamin Franklin would be proud.??