So did Maggie Thatcher try to ban sex toys?

Well, we’re not going to believe anyone who says anything this damn silly, are we?

Thatcher’s home secretary, Lord Leon Brittan,

Someone who doesn’t know the difference between a politician who will be granted a Life Peerage in the future and the junior son of a Duke is unlikely to entirely grasp all the nuances of the British system really, are they?

A trove of new documents released by the National Archives in the U.K. have unveiled that the Iron Lady once considered a law banning sex toys (i.e. dildos, butt plugs, nipple clamps, metal chastity devices and just about every adult toy you can imagine) in an effort to promote “public decency” and prevent “physical injury.”

The documents reveal the former prime minister was persuaded to consider the law by notorious antifeminist, antigay, anti-television, anti-obscenity, anti-everything campaigner Mary Whitehouse.

Thatcher’s home secretary, Lord Leon Brittan, wrote to his boss in September 1986 about Whitehouse’s “strong case” for banning sex toys under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, the same law used to prosecute the publisher of DH Lawrence’s classic romance novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

So, arguably, sex toys, or certain sex toys, were in fact illegal under the law as it was.

In response, Thatcher requested Brittan prepare a test which would allow lawmakers to set a new bar for measuring what was indecent. After mulling it over for a bit, Brittan replied that trying to measure that sort of thing would be too complex a concept for the courts to litigate over and the plan was swiftly abandoned.

The news of Mrs. Thatcher’s war on sex toys…

That’s not the news of Maggie’s war on sex toys. That’s the news of Maggie, umm, “sending the idea back for consultation”. Which, translated out of British governmentspeak is “Do stop being a fool Leon and by the way, bugger Mary Whitehouse”.

War on sex toys my arse.

22 thoughts on “So did Maggie Thatcher try to ban sex toys?”

  1. And this is why I love this blog. I can go from trying to learn a little bit about economics to enjoying a conversation about the legality of buggery! Happy New Year to all!

  2. There is one slight problem with this story, which rests on s1(1) & s1(2) of OPA 1959.

    (1) For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a whole, such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it.

    (2)In this Act “article” means any description of article containing or embodying matter to be read or looked at or both, any sound record, and any film or other record of a picture or pictures.

    Really not sure that the definition of an “article” here will stretch to a dildo or butt plug, not to mention that, at that time, any attempt by Thatcher to outlaw sex toys would surely have been deeply unpopular on her own benches.

  3. Far be it for me to suggest that Queerty.com is anything less than a thoroughly credible source of news, but…

    “We always knew Margaret Thatcher was a prude”

    She wasn’t that much of a prude. She had two kids, you know. And Denis never struck me as being unhappy.

    As for sex toys: hey, if people want to shove battery-powered plastic implements up their bums, good luck to them. But sex doesn’t need ‘toys’.

  4. Describing Whitehouse as anti-feminist seems a little unfair (even if she used the term herself). The behaviour of modern feminists shows that she was just a fourth-waver avant la lettre.

  5. After mulling it over for a bit, Brittan replied that trying to measure that sort of thing would be too complex a concept for the courts to litigate over and the plan was swiftly abandoned.

    How times have changed. These days muddled, contradictory, and unworkable legislation would be rammed through within weeks and lawyers would be picking through the mess at the taxpayers’ expense for the next two decades.

  6. Thatcher’s home secretary, Lord Leon Brittan, wrote to his boss in September 1986 about Whitehouse’s “strong case” for banning sex toys under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act

    Sounds to me like a strong case for repealing the Obscene Publications Act.

    In response, Thatcher requested Brittan prepare a test which would allow lawmakers to set a new bar for measuring what was indecent.

    If only today’s lawmakers would stick to that standard. Good on Maggie – my opinion of her premiership has gone up even further.

    Steve: But sex doesn’t need ‘toys’.

    Sex doesn’t “need” anything other than 30 seconds of hole-in-the-sheet missionary position once per child, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun if you expand your horizons. Sex toys are a big part of that. If you’re not using a vibrator on your wife now and again then she’s missing out on a great experience. Toys aren’t a replacement for regular sex, they’re an enhancement to it.

  7. Whitehouse may have called herself anti-feminist, but I’ve seen quite a few “Mary Whitehouse was right!” articles from members of the current feminist wave.

    A year or two back I saw a debate: “Mary Whitehouse – Prude Or Prophet?”

    No prizes for guessing which side of the argument activists from organisations like the UK Feminista were on.

    I think Whitehouse would fit in with them pretty well today, especially considering some of their other allies on the religious right.

  8. “That’s the news of Maggie, umm, “sending the idea back for consultation”

    Its like these people have never seen ‘Yes, Minister’.

  9. “Tim Worstall
    December 31, 2014 at 9:33 am

    Not sure: was heterosexual buggery ever actually illegal?”

    It was in the US for a long time – sodomy is sodomy, no matter who you do it with.

  10. DK,

    “Whitehouse may have called herself anti-feminist, but I’ve seen quite a few “Mary Whitehouse was right!” articles from members of the current feminist wave.”

    Julia Walters did a TV thing about her and personally said that in hindsight Mary Whitehouse got it right. She then mentioned The Watershed, which is bollocks because Whitehouse had nothing to do with the Watershed.

    Whitehouse was a foul woman whose actions have been misrepresented in hindsight. She’s been portrayed as having helped create the watershed (untrue) and simply about public broadcasting (i.e. the BBC) and protecting children. She was a homophobe who was against free expression in areas such as religion, sex and violence.

  11. Matthew L – Sex doesn’t “need” anything other than 30 seconds of hole-in-the-sheet missionary position once per child, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun if you expand your horizons

    Oh man. I did once drunkenly, jokingly suggest we expand our horizons to include her cute redheaded friend… turns out wifey has a mean uppercut for such a tiny girl.

    Sex toys are a big part of that. If you’re not using a vibrator on your wife now and again then she’s missing out on a great experience. Toys aren’t a replacement for regular sex, they’re an enhancement to it.

    Yes, that’s probably what David Carradine thought at first.

    It’s all fun and games till you find yourself in a gimp mask and ballgag, having a pineapple shoved up your jap’s eye while a team of black midget strippers makes an erotic film with your wife, titled “Ho White and Tha Seven Dongs”.

    No thank you.

  12. Oh man. I did once drunkenly, jokingly suggest we expand our horizons to include her cute redheaded friend… turns out wifey has a mean uppercut for such a tiny girl.

    You married the wrong girl. Last time I asked that question my wife told me she wasn’t in the mood for a threesome but I was welcome to do what I wanted, so I had the threesome with two redheads while my wife watched a movie in the other room.

    And yes, sex toys were responsible – it’s amazing what they’ll agree to after four or five rounds with the Magic Wand.

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