Technology has made everything easier, from the way we communicate, the way we store money, and now even the way we have sex. Since the invention of vibrators that connect to Wifi and have Bluetooth capabilities, the most intriguing creation has been the rise of sex doll brothels.

Sex dolls were first widely used in the 17th century when long expeditions on the sea left sailors sex-starved they began carrying a prototype of a doll created by French philosopher Rene Descartes. The doll resembled females and was made of fabric attached to bamboo poles, wearing a dress used by those wanting to let loose their pent-up sexual frustration.

In 1904, sex dolls were found in French catalogs. Its main advertising point was, “There is no fear of blackmail, jealousy, argument or disease. They are always available, always obedient.” This new model was described by sexologist Iwan Bloch who said, “Even the secretion glands are imitated, by means of a ‘pneumatic tube’ filled with oil.” 

While in the past sex dolls were reserved for shy men or sailors, nowadays, sex doll companies have seen a boom. Even in the media, the rise of robotic female companions is notable in media (like Lars and the Real Girl and Westworld). These images of women, however, are always within the male gaze. The feminine features, silk voice and generous breasts play into roles like housewife, nurse, or damsel in distress. In these dolls, men can mold the ‘perfect’ woman.

The dissent against sex dolls is not to do with the fact that real sex workers will not get customers, but it is the fear that men will not treat them with respect. 

As many modern women begin to create paths and identities that veer away from Stepford wives, in these dolls men find their imaginings and desires of artificial womanhood realized. David Levy has even predicted in his book, Love and Sex with Robots, that sex dolls “will have the capacity to fall in love with humans.” For now, however, sex dolls are seen by their advocates as a healthy release for sexually-timid men and those with high sex drives.

In Spain, sex brothels have risen in prominence. In a documentary by VICE called, “The First Sex Doll Brothel in Europe“, the documentary talks to the owner of the neighboring brothel who worries that the sex dolls will replace their business and take monopoly, however, the workers were not worried. They claimed that sex dolls are a niche market and the real thing is irreplaceable.

As technology advances, and sex dolls can now moan when touched and release lubricant while vibrating in ways the human female body cannot, is there something to be worried about?

In an interview with Rolling Stone Justin Lehmiller, a PhD research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and author of the book Tell Me What You Want, says “Most men and women fantasize about having some emotional needs met through sexual activity – feeling desired or validated or competent or loved. So, when you are talking about sex with dolls or robots, I think it’s going to be a relatively small number who seek it out because it just can’t fulfill their needs.” 

The dissent against sex dolls is not to do with the fact that real sex workers will not get customers, but it is the fear that men will not treat them with respect. 

Sex dolls are inanimate objects and they are a good starter for timid people still trying to understand what they like and what they do not. However, if their sexual confidence grows and their desires are violent in nature, because of the lack of practice on actual humans, they begin to underestimate pain. Their understanding of pain threshold and consent may be non-existent.

Sex dolls are seen by their advocates as a healthy release for sexually-timid men and those with high sex drives.

There was a study from the California State Polytechnic University, which compiled data as to who buys sex dolls. Ten percent are couples who use the dolls, then there are men with violent or paedophilic tendencies. There are debates as to whether this encourages their inappropriate desires or keeps them at bay. Although these dolls can be a point for release, it may embolden men to play out their violent, misogynistic paedophilic ideals onto real women and children. Others are those who have long had love affairs with inanimate objects and fetishes. Even those who are in long-distance relationships or unsatisfied with their sex lives were counted as reasons people own sex dolls. 

Sex dolls can be used for various things ranging from containment to therapeutic to simply being a stand-in. 

During this lockdown, businesses have also seen a spike in sex doll sales. The online sex store, Cherry Banana, told Vice News, “We’ve doubled our Cherry Doll sales since March, and now we sell four to five a week – 20 to 25 a month.”

Sex dolls are expensive, with sex dolls starting at around $800 and high-end ones costing up to $8,000, according to Forbes. With sex doll brothels like AuraDolla, it is affordable and accessible with a half an hour starting at $90 and an hour at $120. 

Sex doll brothels are not taking anything away from real sex workers, they are a niche market, that is thriving, but in their own corner of the market. Despite the percent that finds intimacy with sex dolls, humans will always crave one another.

Technology has shown time again the boundaries it can push and the feats it has accomplished are to be appreciated. However, one thing technology can not do is manufacture intimacy.

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  • Danai Nesta Kupemba

    Danai Nesta Kupemba by nature is a storyteller and a by product of this is her pursuing a Journalism and Media Studies degree Rhodes University. She's published a piece about war and family in Al-Jazeera, and hopes to be an advocate for Africa, by telling African stories. When Nesta isn't satisfying her wanderlust by stalking travel blogs, she's probably watching period drama's or reading Americanah for the thousandth time over.