In the old southern way of life in Mississippi, there are no boundaries between state and church, as long as it is an established church believing in the Good Book, the Good Lord and "good" values. So laws governing sex are not unusual, and more importantly, they tend to be feverishly upheld. After the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in March that there is no fundamental right of access to buy sexual devices, the Rankin County Sheriff's Department and the Jackson Police Department both led raids against shops selling sex toys, such as vibrators, in the metropolitan area. Due to a pending lawsuit, both the Rankin County Sheriff's Department and the businesses say they cannot comment. The JPD did not return phone calls by press time.
With neither side commenting, citizens must turn to the laws themselves in order to discern what is now considered legal.
The Mississippi Code, under Title 97 on "Crimes" and Chapter 29 on "Crimes Against Public Morals and Decency" is filled with odd laws governing the morality of sex, a topic most Southerners never even speak of in public. Section 97-29-101 of the Mississippi Code establishes the distribution of obscene materials or obscene performance through selling, renting, publishing or exhibiting, as well as intending to resell such items, as illegal. Also according to the Mississippi Code, knowingly selling, advertising, publishing, or exhibiting any three-dimensional devices designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of the human genitalia, also referred to as sexual devices, is illegal, found in 97-29-105.
Such invasion into personal space doesn't sit well with all Mississippians. "The government shouldn't legislate morality," says Allen Murtagh, 20, a Jackson resident. "If I want to stick specially designed plastic objects designed to fit into certain orifices into those orifices, then I will. The government can't stop people from doing sexual acts."
Sex toys aren't the only targets in these morality laws. Cohabitation by a man and a woman, unless married, is against the law under section 97-19-1. Section 59, entitled "Unnatural Intercourse," outlaws "crimes against nature," otherwise known as homosexual sex. (The U.S. Supreme Court overrode Section 59 in Lawrence v. Texas.)
Overturning the sodomy law sets a good example, Murtagh says, but the sex-toys laws still point to some hypocrisy. "They overruled the sodomy law. If sodomy is OK, why aren't sex toys OK?" he asks.
Unlike Murtagh, Robert Rutherford, also 20, agrees with the law. He says of sex toys: "They are just trashy and immoral. They especially shouldn't be [advertised] on a sign in public. That is just not something that should be in public."
These laws are unknown to many Mississippians, though. They are obviously not learned in high school, and sexual education is a mere silhouette of what it could be. So when National Public Radio announced last year that AIDS was spreading fastest in the United States in the South, it should not have been a real surprise. Many politicians want to pretend that condoms do not exist, and the only way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is abstinence—a concept that, however hopeful it may sound, simply does not catch on with all young people. With condoms being downplayed in favor of abstinence, and 16-year-old girls finding out about sex in light of having nothing else to do in their small towns, and armed with minimum knowledge, Mississippi becomes one of the top states in teenage pregnancy.
"There was no real required sex education class at my high school," says Neola Young, a 22-year-old Pearl High graduate. "I honestly got the feeling during high school that we were to pretend as if sex didn't exist. They pushed the abstinence card."
The most information Young received from her high school was through a 10th-grade health class that discussed the reproductive system without any mention of sex, STDs or pregnancy.
"Around here, the schools are saturated with 'no sex before marriage,' meaning that we all know kids are having sex anyway, but they've never been taught how to protect themselves or to act responsibly with it," Young continues. "The only way taught to prevent STDs, etc, is just to not have sex."
According to Thomas Morrison, a 42-year-old Jackson artist, the sex toy laws are just another attempt to hide sexuality. He says: "[The laws] hinder people's rights to sexual activity. They prohibit people's freedom to explore their bodies. If people are freer to explore their bodies in their homes, they are less likely to have psychological problems. If you're growing up with sex as a taboo thing, then it could lead to stranger things."
This legislation of morality is not new, though. Since the beginning of law codes, the governments of countries and empires have established a certain code of ethics, or morals, upon which their society was based. In American history, the most rampant attack on societal morals has been within the last 150 years, beginning with the abolition of slavery and really never ending. Obviously, ending slavery was a necessary legislation on morality, but the governments following have since had a more skewed reality of when it is appropriate to provide for moral laws.
Many lawmakers, of course, have urged legislation against "sins" that they themselves retained access to—prohibition of liquor comes to mind. The law was passed in 1920 mainly because many found this intoxicating substance to be immoral and damaging to society as a whole—even as lucrative bootlegging, secret speakeasies and organized crime rose to take the place of legal spirits, demonstrating the pattern that illegal sins often take: they just go underground.
The Equal Rights Amendment, a more recent justifiably moral effort at legislation to provide women a legal basis to sue for discrimination, was not ratified by enough states—Mississippi sure didn't step up—demonstrating that many people still hold on to a falsely ideal perception of man over woman that some consider morally justifiable because the Bible says that women should subjugate themselves to their husbands.
In fact, many laws still favor men over women. When a similar sex toy law manifested itself in Alabama, a group of women joined with the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the law, noting that male pleasure products such as Viagra remained legal. Citizens of Austin, Texas, also called a sex-toy law sexist, telling local papers that the instruments are mainly marketed to females. One store owner, anonymous due to a lawsuit, told the Austin Chronicle, "[T]he men writing the laws 'must have three-inch penises' to be so concerned about regulating female pleasure."
The latest attempt to further blemish the Constitution, uphold tradition (at least of the public sort) and progress a conservative moral agenda is a proposal for an amendment to outlaw gay marriage led by none other than President George Bush. Those who support such an amendment feverishly exclaim the goal of protecting the institution and the moral value of the sanctity of marriage. But the mass of 21st-century minds question the government's authority and right to legislate what most consider an issue of religious and personal morals—that is, you might consider it a sin, but isn't it someone's right to choose to face the consequences of their own decisions?
Morrison thinks so. "It's way past time for change," he says. "The sexual revolution happened a long time ago. These toys have been on the market for decades. As Bob Dylan said in one of his songs, 'If you can't go with the changes, then get the heck out of the road.'"
"also called a sex-toy law sexist, telling local papers that the instruments are mainly marketed to females."
Couldn't agree more. Actually, if you think about it, the only people receiving direct pleasure from most sex toys would be women (including lesbians) and gay men (and a few straight men that enjoy kink)... Seems the Morality Mafia is finding a new way to oppress women and gays AGAIN...
"The latest attempt to further blemish the Constitution, uphold tradition (at least of the public sort) and progress a conservative moral agenda is a proposal for an amendment to outlaw gay marriage led by none other than President George Bush."
Let's not forget there's a vote to amend Mississippi's Constitution in November banning the recognition of any form of gay partnership or marriage from ANY state, country, city, or county. This type of amendment could ruin families that experience protections in one state but are forced to move to MS because of employment or familial needs. Not to mention MS has one of the highest numbers of gay families (with children) in the US.
Damn the sexless, zealots I like to call the Moral Mafia!
i was thinking the same thing. the only men affected by sex toy laws are gay mens, and you know gay men are just about as good as women in the eyes of those alpha-male good ole boys.
i'm just waiting for dildos to start being used as weapons.
Funny you mention using them as weapons. Don't you find it ironic and disturbing that it is easier to buy a gun than a dildo in Mississippi?
The second post of these comments apply here as well
To all the moralists in MS this is for you!
Funny, I read this article and noticed the date was 2004. It says that JDP raided several sex shops in town at the time. And, to think that the moral right of the NJam crew thought Harvey Johnson was *soft* on sex shops.
Surpreme Court turns back on sex toys in TX.
The bar against promoting obscene devices has been found in other court cases not to infringe on a right to use obscene devices at home, the court of appeals for the Eighth District of Texas ruled.
This makes my head hurt! How do you get the devices home if you can't buy them. Internet aside!