Marital aids and shower heads

September 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm (By Pat)

Ok, I asked Amba to go ahead and give me an account because I have a serious post I want to make, which I’ll do later this evening. But I decided to start off with something a bit more fun light-hearted. What’s the difference between a sex toy and a shower head?

Few political factions in the U.S. can lay great claim to intellectual consistency these days. Mutual hypocrisy rather abounds. When Democrats were uncivil to President Bush and called him a liar, Republicans were all about civility and decorum. When Republicans were uncivil to President Obama, roles switched, and Republicans spoke of speaking truth to power and the need to fight effectively, while Democrats suddenly rediscovered the need for civility and decorum.

But even among more civil debaters and on more specific issues, one can see some really inconsistent thinking. Let’s look at two issues.

Eugene Volokh brings us news of a court challenge to an Alabama statute which bans the sale of devices “useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.” Prof. Volokh believes the Supreme Court will either decline to hear the case or will uphold the law, though it would seem fairly at odds with current jurisprudential trends, both in light of the Griswold case on contraceptives and certainly the more recent Lawrence case on privately conducted homosexual activity. The left-leaning commenters, as one would expect, decry the law as prudery, and speak in glowing terms of the right to be left alone, to do what one will in one’s own bedroom.

On the flip side, let’s look at shower heads and toilets. I’m informed that shower heads have, in fact, been used as a “marital aid” by some women, and a number of public conservation campaigns make discretely sexual suggestions to “shower with a friend!” to save water, so this seems rather analogous to the sex toy ban. Since 1994, EPA regulations have banned from sale all shower heads which put out more than 2.5 gallons per minute of water. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 also imposed a 1.6 gallons per flush limit on most residential toilets. Again, those on the left are largely in favor of these regulations, while those on the right are against.

So here’s the question. How can you have a constitutionally-protected “privacy interest” in buying  “devices useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs,” but not have a constitutionally-protected privacy interest in the type of showerhead or toilet you buy for the single most private room of any house?


  1. amba12 said,

    At risk of spoiling the fun by giving a serioius answer, I think it’s that water is a commons and (in drought years at least) of limited supply, so the quantity of water used — not the design or off-label uses of the device — is the rationale behind restriction.

    As for the other case, there is probably very little in this world that hasn’t been used at one time or another, in one way or another, to stimulate human genital organs. (Stories about vacuum cleaners come to mind.) Obviously, massager wands are marketed as being for sore muscles. Maybe nobody believes it, but how can you prove otherwise? Explicit sex toys like dildoes that resemble the real thing and obviously have one purpose only (although I suppose you could use them off-label to fish something out of a drain or something?) could come under a pornography ban.

  2. pathmv said,

    Right, but why does the intent of the legislation matter? Do your constitutional rights really truly vary based on the intentions of Congress? The proponents of the Alabama ban would, if questioned, undoubtedly demonstrate a sincere belief that the existence of “adult” stores, and the very availability of “adult” products is a corrupting factor on our youth. Moreover, they would argue, that while such products may be voluntarily purchased and consumed, there is a tragedy-of-the-commons-like phenomenon at work. Society is not harmed when one or two people sneak across state lines and buy sex toys, but when it becomes widely available, with “adult superstores” near every other interstate exit, then that has a much greater impact on even those who prefer not to purchase such products.

    Suppose the Religious Right took over Congress next election and conducted studies and made findings that repeated use of artificial sexual devices increased the risk of, say, cervical cancer, and thus passed a ban on such products on consumer safety grounds. Further, let’s assume that the research actually supported the claim. Would such a ban be legal then? Should it really matter WHY Congress decides to ban a dildo, to determine whether the ban is constitutional or not?

  3. Randy said,

    This post is certainly timely, given this report yesterday of a recent study of shower heads.

  4. Ennui said,

    Damned dual use technology. They had the same problem with chemical weapons and nukes. :)

  5. lfineaux said,

    Excuse me, I have to shower now.

  6. pathmv said,

    Randy, I saw that report. I wonder if some free market think tank will perform a follow-up study to see whether full-power showers (of the banned type) have the same problems, or whether the problems might be attributed to the lower pressure heads not doing a good enough job scouring clean the inside of the shower head.

  7. pathmv said,

    lfineaux, I’m scared to ask whether that’s a result of reading the main post, or Randy’s comment… ;-)

  8. Randy said,

    LOL! Pat. Probably “all of the above.” Anyway, that study I couldn’t resist referencing was not exactly large scale. I think it involved a grand total of 30 showerheads in various locales.

  9. lfineaux said,

    pat — it’s good to be scared.

    Our showerhead is approximately 17 years old and definitely needs to be replaced but I’m not worried about germs from it. Specifically this is because you should see the rest of my house…

    I consider layers of dust as a protective covering.

  10. pathmv said,

    I just ordered new shower heads for the bathroom renovation necessitated by the Hurricane Gustav damage. The saleslady at the plumbing supply store was kind enough, when asked, to show me where to jam the screwdriver through to disable the flow-limiting devices in the two shower heads. Shhhhh…. don’t tell the EPA!

  11. Peter Hoh said,

    I can accept Amba’s analysis re. the commons. Because water is relatively low-cost, cost is not sufficient to cause consumers to demand low-flow products. Collectively (see, I’m a commie) we can effect great savings through measures like this.

    From what I could tell of the survey re. microbes growing in shower heads, I don’t think flow rate will be the determining factor. IIRC, shower heads with plastic components seemed to be more likely to harbor the harmful bacteria. than metal ones, and there was concern about shower heads that allowed water to remain pooled inside shen the shower was turned off.

  12. lfineaux said,

    Water is relatively low-cost but… our water bill has tripled (as has our gas bill, but not the electric bill) since our children left home. Can I just point out here that a teenager doesn’t understand the concept of a short shower or the idea that two showers a day is probably not necessary?

  13. pathmv said,

    Peter, I agree that’s the reasoning behind it, but I don’t see the constitutional significance of the Congressional motive. Also, a number of places attempt to limit water consumption by a tiered pricing structure. First umpteen gallons of water are relatively cheap, after that, the price per gallon goes up significantly.

  14. trooper york said,

    The shower head doesn’t really matter, but the girls in the store say you should definitely use hard water.

    Just sayn’

  15. Ennui said,

    Trooper york,

    That’s awful and entirely inappropriate. In other words, why didn’t I think of that?

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