Anyone receiving a campaign flyer from Canada's Sex Party would have noticed, alongside details of the party's platform, an illustration of two naked torsos intimately entwined, a painting of a couple enjoying mutual oral sex and a rendering of a penis with wings.
Had anyone received it, that is.
The group intended to mass-mail the pamphlet in time for national elections in early 2006 as its way of pushing the envelope on sexual discourse. But the party refused to enclose the mailing in an actual envelope, as required, and the Canadian postal service rejected it.
Citing its policies against "sexually explicit" matter in mass unaddressed mailings, Canada Post flat-out refused to deliver the pamphlets, and the Sex Party sued.
Last week, the two organizations argued their cases in federal court in Vancouver — the Sex Party raising freedom-of-speech concerns and Canada Post citing its responsibility to children who might have access to such mail — and a judge is expected to rule in a couple of weeks.
If successful, the suit could mean that not only will the Sex Party get to mail its "sex-positive" message to the masses, but the role the postal service plays in protecting citizens from mail it deems inappropriate could change.
The suit asks that Canada Post be required to deliver the pamphlet, but also that the court declare the administration's ban on sexually explicit mail illegal and unconstitutional.
"There's just something really wrong with the government controlling expression of a political nature in the midst of an election," Sex Party president John Ince said. "And so our position is that in a free country, there have to be significant limits on that control. Otherwise, you get a system that looks like China or Russia."
Claiming to be the world's first political party devoted to sex issues, the two-year-old organization aims to liberate a repressed Canadian public and government from what it sees as "sex-negative" attitudes about the human body, erotic art and, well, sex. Among its big issues are sex education in schools, legalizing prostitution and public displays of affection.
Ince complains, for example, that bars are permitted to host violent hockey-type fights, but not live-sex performance art.
"What the heck is this about? You can fight, but you can't make love," he said.
The party ran three candidates (Ince was one of them) in provincial elections in 2005 and plans to run as many as seven during the next elections.
"There's absolutely no chance that we'd get elected," he admits. "We just want to participate in the political process."
Similarly, Ince knew there was little chance the pamphlet was going to be delivered without the modesty of an envelope. In negotiations with Canada Post, the group refused all modifications the administration suggested.
But that was entirely the point: The rejection paved the way for the suit, which created an opportunity for a broader public discussion and, ultimately, dissemination of the party's message through the media (including news Web sites such as this one).
For its part, the postal service has no problem with the Sex Party's message or even its artwork. It just asks that, if they are going to campaign using "unaddressed ad mail" — what we might call bulk mail in the U.S. — they cover up the sex bits.
"Canada Post sees it as a privilege to deliver messages to the homes of all Canadians, and we think it's our responsibility to be careful to ensure that a reasonable community standard is respected," said Janet Toddington, an attorney for Canada Post in Vancouver.
That standard is where things get complicated. According to postal regulations, mail that is broadly distributed without an address, such as ads, catalogues, pizza flyers and political announcements, must be suitable for the general public. In determining where to draw the line, the postal service applies standards similar to those used by Canadian broadcasters.
Just as a "you know it when you see it" standard of pornography can vary depending on who is doing the seeing, so can the milder standard for "sexually explicit."
While Toddington and the Canada Post lawyers deemed the image of the nude couple's embrace "graphically sexual in context," for example, Ince and his party considered it erotic art.
The postal service also objected to the pamphlet's quiz, "Test Your Sexual IQ," in which recipients could discover, for example, the average amount of sperm a man ejaculates (one teaspoon to one tablespoon) or which testicle tends to droop most (the left). The party, no doubt, found it educational and fun.