My Adventures with Censorship

by Jeff Booth

I have experienced censorship first hand on a number of occasions. It has almost always been ridiculous, and random, and involved petty power plays by those who believe that if sex is involved, playing by the rules, integrity, courtesy, and decency are not necessary. Some of them did impact CenterSEE negatively.

One of my first exposures to direct censorship was over an art gallery showing by several friends who did erotic art.  The erotic art show even got a write-up in Penthouse magazine. That was great publicity for my artist friends, especially since the show was closed after the first day. This was in Los Angeles in a regular art gallery. The show was for adults only. It was shut down not by local authorities, but by the owner of the building the gallery was in. He told them he would evict the gallery if they did not shut down the show.

I also experienced direct art censorship several years ago when I was involved working with the Lifestyles Convention. One of the important parts of that convention was the erotic art show, which was always well done with a  professional curator. Kris and I were friends with the curator and his wife, so we learned first hand about what he went through. This time it was not local authorities, but the state ABC, Alcohol Beverage Control. They seemed to have decided that since they had failed at keeping alcohol away from minors, they would instead focus on the other authority the law gave them- protecting the morality of California adult citizens. They told the hotel where the art show was being held to shut down the art show or lose their liquor license for the entire hotel. No, alcohol was not allowed in the gallery. The ABC claimed control over the entire hotel, even in places where alcohol was not served. You can read about the debacle in the article by Steve Mason in our Archives.

I was the editor for the Adult Business section of It was a popular section that discussed and reviewed adult toys, movies, and other commercial related aspects of the adult industry. Unfortunately, was purchased by a much more conservative company that wanted to drive away the adult content, despite the fact that it produced large revenues and was very popular. This included sections on BDSM, sex education, and other channels of content by other editors. The first move was, “to protect the children”, to remove us from their search engines and their channel listings. That dropped traffic by about 80 percent. Since all of us working on were freelancers who had built up our own channels, and we got paid based upon the number of page views and advertising, suddenly, a number of people who were making a decent living saw it disappear almost overnight. The next decision was that since the adult channels were now underperforming, a problem they caused by removing us from search and channel listings in the first place, that we would no longer be paid the premium but at a lower rate per page view because of our “lack of success”. This pretty much wiped out all of the profitability from editing a channel, which took a lot of work to make a success. I and all of the other adult content editors resigned, which was what they wanted all along.

One of the most ridiculous forms of censorship was when I was doing radio interviews to promote an event I was producing for CenterSEE celebrating orgasm. It included free classes related to orgasm, educational displays, a stage show where we set the world’s record for most touch free simultaneous orgasms using hypnosis, and lots of other orgasm related activities of an educational but not hands on. Anything hands on, of course,  would have gotten the event closed down. The producer of one the shows, a rather popular one actually, told me that I could not use the word orgasm. If I did, I would be bleeped. This was right after the Janet Jackson Superbowl episode and all the radio stations were a bit paranoid. A friend who did a popular educational sex segment on a major Los Angeles radio show had to quit doing that segment because of all of the fear and pressure from not knowing what the FCC would go after.

Of course, censorship goes beyond being told what to say-it also includes being told what you can’t do. That cost us the physical building where we held CenterSEE events and classes, and forced us out onto the Internet. You can read about that in the L.A. City Shuts Down CenterSEE Home article.

None of my personal experiences with censorship have been particularly positive.

Art Show Censorship

By Jeff Booth

This is one of the more bizarre cases of censorship, and it was one that I experienced first hand. I worked as a volunteer at this convention and got to witness all of the events as they played out. Steve Mason was even more directly involved with it and the aftermath, and he provides the full scoop below:

Lifestyles Convention Art Show Censored

by Steve Mason

People will be quick to tell you that this is a free country…the freest in
the world.  A man here is innocent until proven guilty, he is equal to every  other man in the eyes of the law and certainly he is entitled to due process when  accused of a crime.  Actually, it doesn’t always work that way.  Let me tell  you about a story that began a few years ago.

The Lifestyles Organization (LSO) had just hosted its annual convention in  San Diego and all seemed right with the world.  This was the third year in that  city and contracts were signed for another three years. – including an extra  long weekend fete celebrating New Years Eve.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well about a month after the convention, LSO was told there was a problem  with the California Alcoholic Beverage Commission.  It seems an ABC agent  reported having witnessed illegal sex acts during the Masquerade Ball, which had been  held on the last night of the convention.  Why he said nothing at the time, why he informed neither hotel security nor LSO’s security, why he did nothing  to stop those alleged acts himself is anyone’s guess.  Curiously, the San Diego
vice squad – who also had agents present – reported no such violations.
Despite all this, the bottom line is that one individual, with no evidence, no  witnesses, no lawbreakers arrested (or even named) effectively drove the more  than 2000 LIFESTYLE convention couples out of town.  Just like that!

This was all happening about the time that LSO was in the midst of planning  its annual Halloween Dance.  The hotel selected for that event was in Long  Beach (about 100 miles from San Diego) and the staff there was working hard to see  that the affair went smoothly, obviously hoping for future LSO contracts.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the local ABC agent contacted the hotel and that was pretty much the  end of that.  He told them that the hotel’s liquor license was on the line.  Since this would most likely result in the various hotel managers losing their  jobs as well, the mood was suddenly grim.  But the contracts had been signed so,  despite the ABC’s threat, the Halloween Dance came off without a hitch.  Indeed, the Long Beach police were in attendance and reported no illegalities.  This made no difference, however, and LSO was henceforth considered persona non  grata at that facility

By now the president of LSO, Dr. Robert McGinley had tried repeatedly to  communicate with the local ABC agents.  They were completely unreceptive.  In  fact, their attitude was that since McGinley didn’t have a liquor license, they  didn’t have to talk to him.  Clearly it didn’t matter that he was the one they  were putting out of business.  Since that sounded far too much like a Catch 22,  McGinley got his lawyer and flew to the state capitol in Sacramento.  Meeting  with the agency heads was a friendly enough affair but, as subsequent events  made plain, a total waste of both time and money.

While this was happening, plans for the next LIFESTYLES convention were well  underway, with Palm Springs (which is more than 100 miles from San Diego, Long  Beach and Sacramento) selected as the site for the gathering.  The staff of the city’s convention center and the managers of the four hotels where the  conventioneers would be staying were most accommodating.  There was even talk of a  community wide welcome effort similar to that afforded the gay and lesbian conclaves that have made Palm Springs their once-a-year home away from home.
LIFESTYLES would, after all, be bringing an estimated $1.7 million to the city’s  otherwise non-existent summer economy.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the local ABC agent then called a meeting of everyone involved and it  was downhill from there.  Did I say, “everyone involved?”  Actually the LSO  people, the ones most involved were never officially informed.  It was only after receiving a tip that McGinley and his attorney put in an appearance.  But  trying to explain the finer points of the law to the agent of an agency that sees  itself as being beyond the law is a lot like trying to teach a pig to whistle; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.

By way of background to all this, the ABC was originally established after  the infamous Prohibition Act (which was ultimately responsible for organized  crime in this country) was repealed.  The fledgling ABC was charged with such specific tasks as regulating the hours that alcohol could be sold and such vague  generalities as defending morality; whatever that’s supposed to mean.  The  sloppy wording was intended to sort of wrap around the ill-defined evils of drink but in fact it resulted in a government bureaucracy with far more in the way of power than mission.  All an ABC agent needs to do is suspend a bar’s liquor license (the holding of which is viewed as a privilege rather than a right) to effectively put that business into foreclosure.  Of course this is still  America so the matter can be taken to court…right?  Wrong!  Along with having a  seemingly inexhaustible supply of taxpayers’ money to fight taxpayers, it’s  almost impossible to haul the ABC before a judge.  Just read on to see why this is so.

Following true to form, the Palm Springs ABC agent told the managers of the city’s convention center that merely opening the doors of the annual Sensuous &  Erotic Art Exhibition would result in the loss of their license.  This was before anyone other than the curator even knew what was going to be in the show – which was going to be held in a room where no food or drink would be sold – or even allowed!  The ABC agent contended that as long as the facility held a  liquor license, he had jurisdiction over the entire complex.  Following this line of reasoning, X-rated movies would be illegal in hotel rooms with mini-bars and, indeed, nudity of any kind would be prohibited in any establishment
with a liquor license.  This would make criminals of all those who ever showered upstairs in a hotel that had a bar downstairs.

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union took an interest and obtained a federal restraining order.  So the show and, indeed, the entire convention  were allowed to continue almost as planned.  I say “almost” because the atmosphere had by that time grown decidedly hostile and all talk of future conventions in Palm Springs were dropped.  When the media contacted the ABC office for comment, they were told that the agent in charge was on vacation.

While no one in their right mind could possibly look forward to taking on an established bureaucracy, it was at this point that McGinley felt he had no  choice.  It was either fight the ABC or close up shop.  So a court suit was launched charging Jay Stroh, Dir. of CA Dept. of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, Manuel Espinoza, Chief Dep. Dir. of the CA Alcoholic Beverage Control, Gilson Grey, Administrator of the CA ABC Long Beach/Lakewood Dist., Kenton Byers, Chief Council for the CA Alcoholic Beverage Control and Robert Luman, Chief of Police in Long Beach with violating the 1st, 5th, 9th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution.  The case centered on the ABC’s gross misuse of authority, stating that the defendants conspired to undertake an intricate scheme
targeting LSO and designed expressly (with malice of forethought) to “Drive them out of California.”

Arguing for the ABC in California’s Superior Court on September 1st, Dana  Cartozian of the Attorney General’s Office told Judge Thomas McKnew that although  the agency would “politely read” his opinion, it would continue to act in kind.  Judge McKnew responded “You’ve just thrown down the gauntlet, sir” and went on to say “I’m still going to exercise the prerogatives I believe I have” and “you can take that back to your boss and I would hope you would take it back directly because I’m offended…if the ABC is controlling expression…outside of their authority…I believe I do have jurisdiction.”  Judge McKnew added “If
the board that you’re representing is going to act like a Rambo, the best place  for it to first be heard is in the Superior Court…these allegations are  against individuals who are using the ABC as an instrument to carry out their own  view of what should be the morals of the State of California” and “I don’t see  in the statute or the State Administrative Code where that authority is given  to the individual defendants in this case.”  In short, it was Cartozian’s contention that whatever may be said in high school civics classes about the right of the common man to fight City Hall, it didn’t apply to the ABC.  Of course, Judge McKnew would have none of that and, after hearing the case, found in favor of LSO.

And wouldn’t be nice if that was the end of the story – justice, however
belatedly and expensively, had finally been done!  But such was not the case. Working with their seemingly inexhaustible supply of taxpayer cash, the ABC continued the legal battle for another five years.  And now Justice Patti Kitching  of the 2nd District of Appeals has reversed McKnew’s decision saying that he was wrong to have even heard the case because his court had no jurisdiction over the ABC and the actions they take.  They are, in effect, above the law as it  applies to LSO and, by extension, above the law as it applies to you and to me.

So the next time somebody tries to tell you that this is the Land of the
Free…just ask them if they have a liquor license.

Los Angeles Shuts Down CenterSEE Home

By Jeff Booth

Of all my experiences with censorship and the attempts to control people’s behavior, this was the most personal. It cost me a great deal.

It took place in 2005. I was on the board of advisers for the largest swing club in the United States. It was located in downtown Los Angeles, and had 20,000 square feet. Part of the space was used by the CenterSEE for our Erotic University classes. It was one of the most unique spaces in the country to hold classes in.

The facility had been built out for use as a swing club, an erotic art museum, an adult store, and for shooting adult movies. We could use a dungeon for a BDSM class, or a large area with private curtained beds for a couples massage class, or use any of the other unique environments including a dedicated traditional classroom. We had the run of the place during the day on Saturdays, which was a time when they had no other events scheduled. It was an amazing place.

This entire facility was dedicated to sexuality. There were foot fetish events. There were adult product expos. What ultimately did them in, though, was the swing club. Not that their days weren’t numbered from the day they opened their doors. Los Angeles is a surprisingly conservative town when it comes to sex. We are so prudish that with more beaches than probably any other county, there is not a single nude beach anywhere even close.

Did you know that swing clubs are illegal in Los Angeles? Actually, that is not technically true. But the city declared that these events were held without the proper “sexual encounter license”. So, how do you get such a license? You can’t.

The city had begun their harassment long before they officially shut it all down. Building inspectors came in and shut the place down several times. The last was when they declared that the occupancy was 30 people. That was for a building of 20,000 square feet. The owner fought that and won.

Sure, the parties did everything they could to comply with the law. They were private membership only events for couples over 21 only. No cash was taken at the door. No alcohol was sold to keep the ABC out. They were not advertised or publicly promoted. They did not impact the neighborhood, which was industrial and a ghost town at night. They had their own private parking. The local vice cops came in to visit and the owner worked hard to create a good relationship with them and assure them that no prostitution was taking place.

Once the city decides to take you down though, they will. Sure, if you could just walk into an event like this, I suppose people could encounter it accidentally and be offended. Of course, that was not possible. You’d have to do some serious searching to get invited. So what reason did the city have for shutting them down? Even if the laws on the books apply, we all know that the city has limited resources, so why go after this while meth dealers continued to peddle their wares within the same part of the city? How much did it cost for the undercover officers (who had to come in pairs) to infiltrate these events? Sure, its fun for them to be there, but in reality, I’ve talked to a few vice cops who have dealt with issues like this and they would much rather be going after serious crimes instead of the activities of consenting adults done at a very private venue.

Was it a health hazard? Not any more than private behavior is, and in this environment condoms were generally used and strongly encouraged and they were everywhere within easy reach. Studies of couples only swingers time and time again have shown them not to be a high health risk. A major business that offers people an opportunity to hook up and has far more involvement with prostitution is little regulated in this regard- hotels. People are still going to have sex, but swing clubs provide a safer environment and typically provide safe sex education and supplies.

The bottom line was about controlling people’s behavior. The city of Los Angeles succeeded in shutting down this amazing facility, but in fact, they did not succeed in changing anyone’s behavior. It was just human folly destroying something that meant a lot to a lot of people, including myself. Nothing positive was accomplished for anyone.

We lost the physical space that had been the home for our classes, but it motivated us to create the virtual space of our online Erotic University.