Williams Takes Ala. Toy Ban to Supreme Court

Anne Winter
WASHINGTON — Sherri Williams, the Alabama adult store owner who has been fighting the state's sex-toy-sales ban since 1998, has taken the case to the Supreme Court in her final appeal, challenging the law as an unconstitutional intrusion into the bedroom.

"A person should have the right to make their own decision to explore their sexual boundaries outside what some government official says is moral," Williams said. "A little vibrating piece of rubber can't possibly harm anyone."

Jonathan Plotzker, senior director of merchandising at sex-positive adult retailer Good Vibrations, told XBIZ that he wonders why the state should have reason to regulate one's own personal sexual gratification.

"I can drink, I can smoke, I can drive a car — all of which may lead to dangerous consequences," Plotzker said. "How can an orgasm really bother anyone?"

Williams was most recently shot down by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Feb. 14 when it upheld the state ban, saying "the state's interest in preserving and promoting public morality provides a rational basis for the challenged statute."

The law bans the sale of adult toys, but not their possession, and residents are permitted to purchase the products over state lines and bring them back over the border. The sale of adult videos is not banned under the law.

"That's the funny thing; I can sell porn all day long but I can't sell a vibrator," Williams said.

Carolyn Riccardi, New York marketing and education coordinator for female-friendly toy retailer Babeland, told XBIZ she sees this as a gender issue. Though women do purchase adult videos, she said, it's men who generally comprise the video market. Women, she said, are consistent consumers of the toy market.

The state is encouraging a male-dominated marketplace, while stifling another that caters mostly to women.

Mae Schultz, marketing coordinator at Babeland, told XBIZ that the lack of sex-positive education and women's empowerment to enjoy their sexuality is the saddest result of Alabama's ban.

"Women around the country are opening up about their sexuality," Schultz said. "From having sex toy parties ... to shopping with their friends at sex toy stores. These acts are not obscene and I disagree that it's within the state's interest to monitor."

Williams said she will continue to sell sex toys in her two adult toy shops in Alabama until "they handcuff me." The state so far has not enforced the law, waiting until the court reaches its final decision.

"I think [Williams is] setting a wonderful example," Plotzker said, "not just for retailers in this industry, but for every American."