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Travel Advisory

by Violet Blue

Governments around the world are delivering SARS-related travel advisories, but the deadly epidemic is only one of many troubling travel issues today. Since 9/11, air travel has become complicated, frightening and irritating, turning routine business trips and leisure vacations into Kafka-esque nightmares. Even so, while the "mile high club" may have become an urban legend, enjoying your sexual lifestyle choices while traveling doesn't have to be a thing of the past.

In February 2002, 36-year-old Renee Koutsouradis was seated next to her husband on her connecting flight at the Dallas airport when she was paged over the intercom. The baggage handlers had noticed that one of her checked suitcases was making a strange sound -- it was vibrating. She met with Delta personnel on the tarmac (in view of many fellow passengers) and explained that the noise was from a vibrator in which she'd unwittingly left the batteries. It was a sex toy Renee and her husband had picked up on their vacation to Las Vegas. The airline personnel had Renee hold the vibrator up for everyone to see, and they laughed hysterically, making sexually harassing comments such as, "Doesn't your husband satisfy you?" while passengers and employees watched. Renee brought suit against Delta for discrimination by an air carrier on the basis of sex.

The type of discrimination and humiliation Renee endured is thankfully rare, but every sexual traveler can potentially be the victim of minor ordeals and tense moments. Sex toys scanned by X-ray machines get removed from bags for examination. Metal detectors pick up piercings in private areas, and their owners are subjected to extended searches. And if your gender does not appear to match the gender identity on your driver's license or passport, you may be in for a long delay -- or worse. The simple answer to these potential problems would be to travel sans sex toys or to change how you dress or appear for travel. But what if you're going on a long trip, having a wild weekend, a romantic week away or can't (or don't want to) change who you really are?

Make the first thing you pack your self-assurance. It's reasonable -- and expected -- that airlines will be alert for questionable items. But as Good Vibes' staff sexologist Dr. Carol Queen states, "it is highly inappropriate, and potentially an act of sexual harassment, for an airline staffer to make a public issue of finding an intimate object in a customer's bag." What if it were a pack of tampons they were examining? You have just as much right to have a dildo in your luggage as you do any personal care item; it is not dangerous, and it is improper for anyone to make it public. Remember that airport and airline personnel are engaging in harassment should they humiliate anyone in regards to sexual matters -- be it for condoms, tampons or a strap-on harness in your baggage.

Next on your sexual traveler checklist should be your common sense. Don't put sex toys in your carry-on baggage unless you absolutely have to. Remember that if they're confiscating toenail clippers and eyebrow tweezers, they probably won't let you carry on your catheter and sounds set, or breath control equipment on the plane. Don't put anything in your carry-on you aren't willing to part with if security decides it's potentially dangerous (even if you believe their decision is uninformed, you won't be in any position to argue if you want to make your flight).

Remove the batteries from all battery-operated vibrators -- even if you think they're difficult to turn on. The new push-button pulsing vibes are especially easy to accidentally turn on and tiny toys powered by watch batteries (like the Fukuoku) are easy to forget about. Even if a vibe doesn't buzz in your bag, if it accidentally starts it can get hot enough after a while to cause problems. Dildos are less of a problem because they're generally made of silicone or jelly rubber and have no mechanical parts. Dildos made of glass will require special packaging concerns -- wrap them well in soft cloth. Strap-on harnesses usually have metal buckles or D-rings; and "packing" or wearing a harness with metal fixtures is not recommended. Stow harnesses in your check-in luggage, along with any and all S/M toys. You'll want to err on the side of caution in order to avoid explaining your choices in personal items -- and possible loss of very expensive sex toys!

Traveling with piercings has proved so bothersome for some folks I interviewed that when traveling they remove their piercings and pack 'em away with their socks and swimsuits. That's one option -- but if you can't or don't want to remove your piercings, you have a couple of options. Some piercings won't set off metal detectors (like ones made of gold), but most will. Be prepared for uninformed security personnel to single you out and possibly search you completely. Be calm and explain that you have genital or nipple piercings. Prepare yourself for your trip by carrying a drawing or photograph of your piercing to show security, but remember that on heightened alert the security personnel will likely need to see the piercing(s) for themselves -- in which case they will assign a same-sex officer to take a look. The security team is justifiably trying to ensure the safety of your fellow passengers, but if you feel they behave inappropriately, complain loudly and state clearly that they are doing so -- making a private issue public may protect you.

Traveling when you do not appear as the gender on your identification is much more tricky than remembering to take the batteries out of your vibrator. Because of the post 9/11 Patriot Act, transsexuals, FTMs and MTFs in transition, cross-dressers, butch dykes who appear masculine, and people who simply don't look one obvious gender or another all face issues of proving their identity when getting on a plane. If your driver's license says "F" and you look like an "M," you'll have some explaining to do. With the Patriot Act, when they run your license through at the airport, it automatically links to all other federal databases, and if there are any discrepancies, again you'll have some explaining to do -- and a possible delay.

Explaining your situation isn't always easy. You will be pulled aside and questioned, and it's wise to think through what you'll want to say before you go to the airport so you can remain calm. Your sailing will be the smoothest if you do everything you can to travel with the correct information. If you're lucky enough to encounter understanding security guards, that will help, too. Some airports have security personnel that have undergone sensitivity training (hope for this!) and even if they haven't, they will eventually accept your situation. People in transition from one gender to another will want to travel with a letter from their therapist explaining that they are in transition, and be sure to have contact information for the therapist on the letters in case the security personnel are required to cross-check.

Be aware of the customs and social mores of the place you are traveling to. In Texas, they won't look kindly at a suitcase full of vibrators (possessing more than three is currently illegal in that state). In devoutly Catholic countries, it is considered a crime against nature to appear as a different gender than that on your ID; for instance, in Columbia it is illegal to dress/act/present as the incorrect sex -- they will jail you. Japan is equally unsympathetic to gender issues. Carry the phone number for your country's embassy or consulate on you at all times. While you still may have to pray for sensitivity training for our American diplomatic staff, some embassies (such as Thailand, Brazil and the Philippines) are aware and understanding toward gender issues.

So don't put off that sex-drenched vacation! Travel smart, and for more information about legal issues at your destination of choice, call or e-mail the friendly staff at the best sex hotline in the nation, San Francisco Sex Information.

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