All About Sex Dolls: Sex, Society, and Intimacy

two love dolls on each other

There’s research, and then there’s popular discourse. Still, the general opinion around sex dolls seems to be pitting men against women. It paints a picture of sordid male desire for a customizable, idealized physical female form — one that doesn’t talk back, won’t ever have needs, and will never age, grow wrinkles, or gain weight.

Despite everything, sex dolls’ implications about social context and sexual behavior might not be as cut and dry.

A Brief History

Early iterations of sex dolls date back to the European sailors in the Age of Exploration. Back then, sailors considered it superstitious to have women on board. They fashioned crude dolls out of fabric and leather, sometimes stuffed with straw, to keep themselves company on long voyages.

Referred to in French as dame de voyages and in Spanish as dama de vinjes, the Dutch would trade them freely with Japan before the country isolated itself from the rest of the world. The Azumagata Ningyo, early Japanese sex dolls of leather and tortoiseshell, came from those early sex dolls — sold or rented out in early sex doll brothels.

The development and sale of Sex dolls would continue throughout controversy in the West. In the last thirty years up to the present day, there’s been a massive growth in the market for sex dolls — and even sex robots — even though there’s still a lingering stigma.

sex dolls prototypes

More Than Sex Toy, Not Quite Robot

Sex dolls have since come a long way from sackcloth and straw. To date, love dolls and synthetic companions have evolved with more high-tech manufacturing and improved materials. Love dolls aren’t always created to fit an idealized form. While that may be true for marketing, manufacturers reveal that requested customizations on sex dolls include even ‘unattractive’ physical attributes — like love handles, stretch marks, moles, and even wrinkles.

The more real they seem, the more love dolls deviate from simply being more sophisticated sex toys.

The difference between sex dolls and sex robots is the presence of sensors, actuators, and programmable AI. Therefore, blow-up dolls aren’t classified to be the same as sex robots — but why does the distinction matter? Is one better than the other? The reason behind this dilemma is ethics. Is it possible for a robot with artificial intelligence to ever consent to sex?

two love dolls on each other

Why the Stigma Against Sex Dolls?

Perhaps the negative connotations of sex dolls come from how and to whom they’re marketed. That is, to men. Even if manufacturers make both male and female-formed love dolls, the majority of sales still come from men.

However, those statistics don’t necessarily mean that women are less interested in sex or that men have a harder time getting it. There are physical differences in how women and men achieve orgasm, and there are theories that when it comes to sex, men might be more visual and women more tactile. This could be a similar reason as to why stimulating sex toys are more marketed and sold to women.

Perhaps it also stems from the idea that sex with a humanoid form is the epitome of objectification. But that circles back to whether connoisseurs are having sex with an inert female form, or conversely, an object that happens to be shaped female. And what about realistic sex toys — as in, dildos in the shape of penises and fleshlights with painstakingly designed vulvas. You could argue that copying genitals minus the rest of the body could be even more reductive.

Sex Dolls: A Replacement for Intimacy or a Venue for Creativity?

Why are people buying sex dolls? Are they always used for sex?

mannequin models

A big chunk of cheap blow up sex dolls are probably still being sold as gag gifts. Fashion enthusiasts and store owners confess to using love dolls instead of mannequins. But if you want to get to the root of demand, perhaps the best people to ask are the manufacturers.

Marketing places a lot of emphasis on the ‘replacement’ aspect. But what exactly are they replacing?

For some, love dolls feel like a safe venue to explore their fantasies and fetishes. For example, a couple navigating the logistics of including a third body in bed may wish to practice first with a sex doll before propositioning a stranger or a friend.

Germany, France, and Spain are even exploring the use of the love dolls as an alternative to sex workers, to circumvent laws against prostitution. And it makes sense, from a practical standpoint — dolls, after all, would be easier to transport, keep track of, and clean.

A Changing Mindset, Growing Market

Now that sex is becoming better represented in media, attitudes towards sex and sex paraphernalia are also changing. In China, for example, the sex toy market has mushroomed from 1993 into a booming billion-dollar industry. Ads and taglines call sex dolls and sex robots replacements for not just girls and wives, but also husbands and boyfriends.

Quarantine and covid regulations led to a significant spike in sex doll sales. This points to the fact that love dolls and other sex toys are an untapped, under-researched viable option for people who can’t socialize — and outside of the pandemic, this includes the physically isolated, the disabled, the immunocompromised, and the elderly.

Recommended: Intimacy, Lockdown, and Sex Toys

In the face of a harsh and critical society, increasingly unrealistic standards of beauty, and a growing understanding of isolation and social anxiety, we raise the question — is it such a bad thing to be lonely?

Want to expand your knowledge of sex and kink? Check out the latest fascinating posts on Pleasure Uncensored, or join the community on Foxtail to be part of the conversation!

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