THE MODERN SEX DOLL-OWNER: A DESCRIPTIVE ANALYSIS

Over the last fifteen years, the sex doll industry has grown from producing
inexpensive novelty items to creating a multimillion-dollar industry featuring high-end
realistic love dolls. Manufacturers and consumers of this product are located around the
globe. Since 1996, the most renowned U.S. sex doll company has sold over 3,500 dolls
worldwide, and in 2009 earned more than 2 million dollars in sales (Abyss Creations,
personal communication, October 4, 2010). Made of flesh-like silicone, modern sex
dolls sell at prices of $3,500-$10,000 (USD). Although the primary function of these
dolls is ostensibly sexual in nature, doll-owners have described varying levels of
emotional attachment to their sex dolls, from identification of their doll as a life partner,
to describing their doll as a mere novelty item.
The term “sex doll” is used throughout this paper, and refers to modern, high-end
dolls designed with sexual stimulation capabilities. These dolls are differentiated from
low-cost inflatable plastic dolls by their realistic design, size, and high level of
craftsmanship. Although not all doll-owners use their doll as a masturbation tool, the
term sex doll is used here to denote a difference from those dolls not designed for sexual
penetration/stimulation. It should be noted that in addition to the term sex doll, other
common terms for these dolls include love dolls, Dutch wives, silent wives, synthetic
partners, and gynoids. The word Polymerisian was recently coined by the doll-owning
community and defined in Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) with good
humor as “[a]ny person made with a synthetic polymer silicone skin with a rigid and
jointed skeleton.” The term “sex doll” is not limited to dolls created with female sex
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organs, but can include male, transgender and intersex dolls, as well. Throughout this
paper, the term doll-owner is used to describe those individuals who currently own a
modern sex-doll.
The sexual use of inanimate objects designed in human likeness has deep
historical roots. Accounts of Agalmatophilia, the pathological condition in which some
people establish exclusive sexual relationships with statues, dates back to ancient Greece
(Scobie & Taylor, 1975). Nonetheless, there has been no investigation into whether
consumers of the modern sex doll are mentally or emotionally disturbed. Neither has
there been a professional discussion regarding the modern day equivalent of
Agalmatophilia as a diagnosable and treatable condition. Wider prevalence of dollownership
provides an opportunity to gather information while engaging in this
professional discussion.
Although this is a burgeoning cross-cultural phenomenon, the availability of
organized information on the doll-owning population is limited. The doll-owning
community is a minority population which is marginalized by society and frequently
pathologized by professionals (Schewe & Moreno, 2011). To date, there have been no
empirical investigations to inform our understanding of doll-ownership.
Historical Factors
The creation of a human form for the purposes of sexual gratification is an ancient
and enduring practice. Technology has been instrumental in increasing verisimilitude.
As technology continues to discover new ways of animating objects through robotics, and
in computer programs designed to replicate human emotion, we will see further changes
to the presentation of this phenomenon. The basic form remains unchanged, although
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new fabrication technologies and materials create a much greater realism than ever
before.
Although the modern silicone sex doll is only around 15 years-old, the literary
history of sex dolls is much older. The ancient Greeks described a phenomenon referred
to as Agalmatophilia, or statue love. Agalmatophilia is not to be confused with the
fictional and supernatural powers of those who bring a statue to life, referred to as
Pygmalionism (Scobie & Taylor, 1975). However, several sex researchers have referred
to use of artificial human forms for sexual purposes as Pygmalionism. Pygmalionism is
referenced by Henry Havelock Ellis in his Studies in the Psychology of Sex:
Pygmalionsim, or falling love with statues, is a rare form of erotomania founded
on the sense of vision and closely related to the allurement of beauty. (I here use
“pygmalionism” as a general term for the sexual love of statues; it is sometimes
restricted to cases in which a man requires of a prostitute that she shall assume the
part of a statue which gradually comes to life…(p. 188)
According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book X, Pygmalion was a misogynist who
sculpted a perfect woman out of ivory. The goddess Venus, so flattered by the ivory
woman’s resemblance to her, brought the statue to life as a gift to Pygmalion. The story
of creating a perfect female has its modern expression in the play Pygmalion, by George
Bernard Shaw, and similar Pygmalionist themes are found in Weird Science (1985), and
Ira Levin’s film, The Stepford Wives (1972). In both films technology provides the tools
for man to design or program a “perfect” living woman.
Statuephilia and statue syndrome are other terms used to describe the use of
statues for sexual gratification or “the pathological condition in which some people
establish exclusive sexual relationships with statues” (Krafft-Ebing, 1965/1978, p. 351).
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Statues in ancient Greece and Rome were often placed at street level, tinted with
accurate colors, and displayed free of barricades, (Ellis, 1942) (Hersey, 2009), thereby
making them more lifelike and accessible to touch than most statues today. Statues and
life-sized automata were incorporated in religious and sex practices in ancient times.
Ptolemaic statue marriages of ancient Greece occurred when a ruler or religious leader
wed a statue of Aphrodite (Hersey, 2009). Ancient literary and historical accounts
describe the sexual use of statues and automata in Dionysian orgies (Hersey, 2009).
In Philostratus’s Lives of the Sophists, Onomarchus of Samos, referred to as “the
man who fell in love with a statue,” makes the following speech: “O living loveliness in a
Lifeless body, what deity fashioned you?…For truly nothing is lacking in you, the
expression on the face, the bloom of the skin, the sting in the glance, the charming
smile…” (as cited in Scobie & Taylor, 1975, p. 52). In Euripides’ Alcestis, Admetus says
to his wife, who is about to sacrifice her life for his:
I shall find a clever sculptor to carve your likeness and it shall be hid in our bed. I
shall kneel beside it and throw my arms around it and say your name ‘Alcestis,
Alcestis!’ and think that I hold my dear wife in my arms, snatching at cold
comfort to ease the weight from my heart! (as cited in Scobie & Taylor, 1975,
p.50)
The modern sex doll may has a direct antecedent in the cotton sex doll created
and used by sailors on long voyages, referred to as dames de voyage (Bloch, 1908;
Ferguson, 2010; Wolf, 2010). These dolls were created by French and Spanish sailors
during the height of their naval empires in the seventeenth century (Ferguson, 2010). The
navies of Imperial Germany and Japan reportedly sanctioned the widespread use of
dames de voyage, as preferable to homosexuality. Both navies reportedly manufactured
their own versions of the dames de voyage (Wolf, 2010).
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A popular urban legend claims the German navy became the first creator of the
modern sex-doll, Model Borghild (Ferguson, 2010; Lenz, n.d.; Pulham, 2008; Wolf,
2010). According to rumor and urban myth, the doll was part of the Nazi’s “fieldhygienic
project,” initiated to counterbalance the sexual drive of storm troopers (Lenz,
n.d.). However, the existence of the author, “Lenz”, and the reports on the so-called
Borghild doll are unverifiable, and are possibly hoaxes (Ferguson, 2010; Schewe &
Moreno, 2011). The Japanese had a version of a dames de voyage, called a do-ningyo.
A description is cited from a Japanese work titled “The Art of Quickly Seducing a
Novice” in Tabori’s book, The Humor and Technology of Sex (1969):
A man who is forced to sleep alone can obtain pleasure with a do-ningyo. This is
the body of a female doll, the image of a girl of thirteen or fourteen with a velvet
vulva. But these dolls are only for people of high rank. (p. 337)
Dolls and statues created and used for sexual purposes are cross-cultural
phenomena in various forms for centuries. The absence of historical information about
production, distribution, and sales, or customer satisfaction data on sex dolls leaves the
history of sex dolls open to considerable speculation. Until the emergence of the modern
sex dolls, records of sales are found only in rumored accounts of sex doll use, and antique
advertisements, such as the one translated by Henry Carey from a Paris circular in 1902.
It advertises the sale of a complete, custom sex doll made to fit customer specifications:
“All moves, arms, legs, buttocks, head, eyes; a perfect likeness of the person whose
photograph is sent…the complete apparatus, guaranteed against breakage, man or
woman, 3000 francs” (Cary, 1922, p. 50).
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Early Sexologists
Pioneers in the field of sexology in the early 20th century such as Iwan Bloch,
Havelock Ellis, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, and Magnus Hirschfeld, have referenced
statue love in their research. A French journal dated March 4th, 1877 published a story
which describes the case of a gardener who falls in love with a statue of Venus de Milo
and was found attempting coitus with it (Krafft-Ebing, 1965/1978). Krafft-Ebing
describes these types of acts: “Violation of statues…they always give the impression of
being pathological…these cases stand in etiological relation with abnormally intense
libido and defective virility or courage, or lack of opportunity for normal sexual
gratification” (p. 351). Hirschfeld’s Sexual Pathology (1940) considers Pygmalionism as
inclusive of more “primitive” human simulacra than statues:
To be sure the nature of Pygmalionism does not exhaust itself in love of statues as
such, but also in the artificial, and occasionally artistic, construction of a figure
corresponding to the inner desire whose sight and contact, which may go so far as
actions similar to cohabitation, bring about physical and psychic relief…I have
seen dolls which a prisoner made as a substitute for a woman. We are justified
only to a certain extent in speaking of hypereroticism in such makeshift
intercourse. (p. 226)
Hirschfeld goes on to differentiate between a type of “makeshift intercourse” and fetish:
“hypererotic excitation is evoked usually not only through the similarity to humanity
alone, but through some special property of the statue, much as the necrophile is attracted
to the course by the cool skin…” (Hirschfeld, 1940, p. 227).
Although early sexologists reference statue love, they provide no psychological
case studies to support their opinions. The Kinsey Institute also fails to provide specific
information on the use of life-sized sex dolls but does report on the use of sex “devices.”
The Kinsey Data: Marginal Tabulations of the 1938-1963 Interviews, conducted by the
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Institute for Sex Research, reported on male masturbatory techniques involving
“devices”: 7% of white college males, 5.5% of White non-college males, and 1.8% of
black college males reported “frequent use of devices: any sadomasochism, any highly
unusual technique” (Gebhard et al. 1979, p. 213). Doll or statue use presumably fall into
this category since sex dolls were not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the research.
Scobie and Taylor (1975) speculated agalmatophilia may simply have changed
form from statues to plastics: “Tentatively, it could be argued, over a few thousand years
mankind has dropped at least one pathological condition, agalmatophilia, from its
repertoire of pathologies…Only six cases of agalmatophilia have been documented in the
last two centuries” (p. 49-50). In criticism of Scobie and Taylor and early sexologists,
White (1978) writes:
Early scientific researchers of sexual behavior appear to have sometimes confused
fantasy (the process of imagining objects or events in terms of imagery) with
perversion (sexual behavior which differs widely from normal standards and
which is typically prohibited by law). This is certainly true of agalmatophilia. (p.
249)
Although the professional psychological community has just begun to investigate sex
dolls and their owners, it is clear the existence of sexual behavior similar to
agalmatophilia is more than mere fantasy. This investigator found two dissertations and
one master’s thesis on the topic of artificial women (de Fren, 2008), sex doll fashion and
identity formation (Itagaki, 2011), and artificial vaginas and sex dolls (Moya, 2006)
written by scholars in philosophy, fashion, and human sexuality, but could locate no
published psychological paper on the topic of modern sex dolls to date. In the absence of
empirical data on modern day doll-owners, the bulk of the information for this paper was
found across various areas of study, including online magazine articles, motion picture
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documentaries, movies, blogs, online forums, personal interviews, and surveys. With
that in mind, the existing material on modern sex dolls and their owners can be usefully
divided and examined with respect to the following areas: sociocultural, commercial, arts
and media, professional, and ethical considerations.
Sociocultural Factors
Doll manufacturers exist in several countries including Russia, Germany, France,
Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Japan and the U.S. are the undisputed
leaders in the sex doll industry. Approximately 20 doll companies exist between Japan
and the United States. There has been no research to date concerning prevalence rates of
doll-ownership in individual countries.
Japan is at the forefront of the sex doll industry, creating magazines, doll
exchange parties, and doll photography societies (Galbraith, 2008). “Love doll” escort
services have emerged which provide access to sex dolls without the high cost of
ownership (Ferguson, 2010). In South Korea and Japan, one can rent a doll for
approximately $100 per hour (Levy, 2008). Orient Industry is the most well-known sex
doll manufacturer in Japan. Their Candy Girl series (supple silicon flesh over flexible
metal skeletons) is well-known (Galbraith, 2008). Japan may demonstrate a level of
cultural acceptance of the western world lacks. A history of accepted, even venerated,
prostitution is found in the history of the geisha, in contrast to laws in the U.S. which
prohibit prostitution. Currently Asia is the only continent where known sex doll brothels
exist.
An article in Japan Today describes a sex doll funeral called a ningyo kuyo. The
funeral commemorates sending the doll unit to a factory for dismantling after the original
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owner was married. The owner of Orient Industry, a doll manufacturer in existence for
over 30 years, describes the ceremony: “Now she will return to her factory home like
‘satogaeri,’ the ex-wife going back to her family” (Galbraith, 2008). Japan Today reports
Japan has used dolls for religious purposes since 1000AD.
According to Orient Industry, the company sells approximately 50-80 dolls per
month and estimates there are over 20,000 doll-owners in Japan alone (Galbraith, 2008;
Maeda, 2007). A spokesman for Orient Industry reports that nearly all of the people who
buy these dolls are single men and about 60 percent of them are over the age of 40
(Maeda, 2007). “Nowadays, women are sometimes more dominant than men in the real
world, and they don’t always pay attention to men,” said Hideo Tsuchiya, the company’s
president. “More and more men are finding themselves miserable so we’re making these
dolls partly in support of men”(Maeda, 2007). Since the 1950’s the Japanese government
began using sex dolls to enhance the lives of its workers in remote outposts such as the
South Pole (Galbraith, 2008).
Commercial Considerations
The Dolls
Online, anyone can purchase a hyper-realistic, life-sized silicone sex doll and
customize it to one’s aesthetic, gender, and sex preferences. These dolls weigh between
40 to 120lbs, have moveable joints, and some are equipped with a complete skeletal
system made of stainless steel. Most doll manufactures offer a variety of faces, body
types, breast size, eye-color and makeup styles. Some doll companies have additional
features to choose from such as a customizable clitoris, artificial milk glands, pressure
released urination, and an insertable hymen. The option to create a transgendered doll is
also available with some doll lines.
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A few doll manufacturers have incorporated computer software to automate dolls,
enabling them to respond to vocal commands and facial recognition. They can be
programmed with a facsimile of a personality. Roxxxy is one such doll, advertised as
having five programmable personalities: Wild Wendy, Frigid Farrah, Mature Martha,
S&M Susan and an unnamed personality that is considered more “naïve” (Somaiya,
2010). Douglas Hines, founder of the Lincoln Park, N.J. based True Companion LLC,
said Roxxxy can carry on simple conversations.” Sex only goes so far – then you want to
be able to talk to the person,” Hines said (Roxxxy Sex Robot, 2010).
First Androids, a German based sex doll manufacturer, offers additional
motorized features for dolls, such as automatic tongues with various movement
capabilities, automated toes for stimulation, eyes equipped with video recording devices,
simulated respiration and heart beats, vocal reactions to genital penetration, and an
automated pulse that can be felt at the wrist and carotid artery. This information is found
on their website www.first-androids.de.
Manufacturers
The sex doll industry has been transformed by advances in computer generated
images (CGI) and silicone technology. Hollywood special effects technicians began
using advances in these technologies to create realistic corpses for films (Ferguson,
2010). These mannequins were the beginnings of the realistic, functional sex doll.
Although the origins of the industry are known, other details about the business of sex
doll manufacturing are less clear. Over 25 websites offer dolls, parts, and/or other
accessories for purchase. Prevalence rates of sales reported by manufactures are difficult
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to obtain. With the exception of Abyss Creations, none of the doll manufacturers
contacted for this paper would disclose specific sales information.
Abyss Creations manufactures a carefully-crafted, fully functional sex doll called
a Real Doll. Abyss Creations offers customers a choice of 13 body types, 16 faces, five
skin tones, 11 eye-colors, and 8 different hair colors. The company was founded in 1996
by Matt McMullen, a visual artist. Abyss Creations is located in San Marcos, California,
and produces about 400 dolls per year. Most Real Dolls are sold within the United
States, with the majority of sales in California, Florida, and Texas. Following the United
States, Germany, and Great Britain are Abyss Creations’ largest international markets,
with Japan and Canada close behind (Abyss Creations, personal communication, August
5, 2010).
To order a Real Doll online, the buyer first chooses a body type ranging in height
from 4’10” to 5’6”. Each body type has its own unique measurements, offering a variety
of breast-cup, waist, hip, and foot sizes. Next, the buyer chooses face type, skin tone, eye
color, eye makeup, lip color, nail color, hair color and style, and, finally, pubic hair. All
information concerning Real Dolls is found at the Abyss Creations website,
www.realdoll.com. At an additional cost, the buyer may opt to enlarge breasts, purchase
“hi-realism eyes,” or add custom freckles. Shipping is $500 USD within the continental
United States and $850 to $1050 USD outside. All sales are final.
Abyss Creations also takes custom orders: “We have made a number of pixie/elf
type dolls with pointed ears and specialty eyes, and also dolls with vampire fangs. We
also have made a number of transsexual and hermaphrodite dolls, most commonly with
male genitalia on a female form” (Abyss Creations, personal communication, October 4,
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2010). Male dolls are also available at Abyss Creations; however, there are only two
body and three face types from which to select. Abyss Creations reports that although
they sell half torsos and faces with oral cavities, their most popular items are full-sized
female dolls:
A standard doll costs $5,999 USD…These orders start at $12,000 for just a
custom face to over $50,000 for a custom face and body. We have made dolls of
this sort for artists and television shows as well as other projects…We have also
rented and sold dolls to several movies and television shows, most notably the
Oscar-nominated Lars and the Real Girl, CSI: New York, My Name is Earl, Reno
911!, and most recently, Rizzoli and Isles (Abyss Creations, personal
communication, October 4, 2010).
Abyss Creations sales show that their most popular doll is the Rui doll, a Body 2, Face 14
type (see figure 1).
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Figure 1

 

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