Report of TSA’s 7-Inch Limit for Sex Toys Is Greatly Exaggerated

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Photo: Patrik Giardino/Corbis

It was no surprise to learn, courtesy yesterday’s New York Post, that traveling with sex toys in your carry-on bag can yield funny looks, more frequent hand searches, and creepy notes from TSA agents. (If only because the Post previously reported on the phenomenon when it happened to writer Jill Filipovic less than two years ago.) Still, there was one line that caught the Cut’s eye:

“The TSA acknowledges that there’s nothing illegal about traveling with the devices. Vibrators and dildos are OK in carry-ons, as long as they’re under 7 inches long, TSA rules say.”

Who knew there was a sex toy rule of thumb? Though totally reasonable — especially compared to the TSA’s draconian 3.4 ounces toiletries rule — the size limit seemed a little arbitrary. What is the difference between a six-inch vibrator and an eight-inch vibrator, from a national security perspective?

On this matter, it was hard to get a straight answer from the Department of Homeland Security, possibly because the TSA spokesperson bent over backward not to repeat the word vibrator back to us in their responses to our questions.

“The items that you inquired about are not considered to be prohibited items,” the spokesperson wrote. The person said that the Post’s seven-inch figure was untrue, but would not elaborate. That left us even more perplexed. Where did that number come from? Did it apply to other items, like Clarisonics or hairbrushes? Or was there no limit to the dildos one could pack, so long as they fit in the overhead compartment? 

In search of more information, the Cut contacted Ethan Imboden, founder and chief creative officer of Jimmyjane, a sex toy company whose products are marked with "Travel-Ready" airplane badges and do not exceed seven inches in length. Were these designed with the mysterious — and possibly fictional — limit in mind?

Imboden said Jimmyjane is cognizant of travel hassle and embarrassment while designing its products, but most of it is in consumers’ heads. “There really should be no restrictions,” he said. “Unless the product is so large that it could be considered a clublike object, which there are restrictions around — and which would also perhaps be embarrassing.” It happened to Imboden once, when he was traveling with an industry award in the form of a “massive steel dildo.”

“That did raise eyebrows,” he said.

We took this information back to TSA. Was the concern that sex toys — or other objects — larger than seven inches long entered clublike territory?

“TSA has a feature on its homepage, in the upper right corner of the page that says, ‘Can I bring my ____________?” the spokesperson responded. “If an individual types in the items that you were asking about, the traveler will be informed whether the items should be packed in carry-on, checked baggage, either, or neither.”

Sure enough, vibrator got the green-light for carry-on, while billy club had to be checked. But Jimmyjane's “Travel-Ready” badge had revealed another sex toy safety concern. It marks products that have a travel mode that locks the functionality of buttons, Imboden explained, to avoid inadvertently setting your suitcase off with the telltale buzz.

“We’ve all heard the stories, and they’re real, of TSA sending the bomb squad to investigate a bag that’s making strange noises as a result of someone’s vibrator being turned on,” Imboden said. (We asked TSA about the history of and procedure for such false alarms. Their response: “Passengers may want to consider removing batteries from any battery-operated device as sometimes the items may be jostled while traveling and thus switched on accidentally while in transit.”) For concerned customers, Imboden further recommended a range of products that would be less embarrassing upon discovery: “less phallic, less representational ... could be a kid’s toy.” But mostly, he advised travelers not to worry. “TSA has seen it all."