The Human Side of Sex Dolls

15 May

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Editing erotica has been my personal form of adult sex education—not the kind you’d find in a school setting, perhaps, but one that has greatly expanded my knowledge of human sexuality and empathy for a far wider range of people than I’d have otherwise. Being exposed to fetishes, kinks and fantasies I would never have dreamt up in a million years on my own has forced me to recognize how vast the human sexual experience truly is, and to push myself out of my comfort zone to see the world and its eroticism through new yes.

comeagainbookcover

This was especially the case when I decided to publish the short story “Must Love Dolls” by Giselle Renarde in my anthology Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, about a couple who purchase a Japanese love doll. To the best of my memory, I’d never read an erotic story about a love or sex doll before, and what impressed me the most wasn’t just that Renarde managed to humanize an inanimate object, but to make the tale both sexy and romantic. She took a topic that could have come off as creepy and turned it into an ode to love and rekindling a woman’s bisexual desire:

Honor’s stomach knotted with nerves as she cupped one of Natsuki’s perky silicone breasts. She could hardly breathe as she carried that significant weight on her palm. It had been ages since she’d touched any breast but her own.

“How does it feel?” Tom asked.

“Heavy.” She sank onto the bed, wrapping her arms around the love doll, pressing both big breasts together and wishing she were naked too. “Her skin’s so soft. Her hair smells like lilies. God, I’ve missed this.”

“Playing with dolls?” Tom asked.

“Playing with women.”

He smiled. “I know, babe. Take off your top.”

She did him one better and stripped bare. “I’m nothing to look at, compared with Natsuki.”

Tom raised an eyebrow. “I’m looking at you.”

He always knew the perfect thing to say, and it made her horny as hell. She grabbed his belt and unbuckled it, then tore into his pants and found his erection. He was as hard as she was wet.

“I want to look between her legs,” she told him.

In real life, almost every article about sex dolls (a term I’m using interchangeably here with “love doll,” even though not everyone who owns such a doll does so for sexual purposes) has stated that the market for such dolls is almost entirely male—but not entirely. Photographer Benita Marcussen captured a range of doll owners, whose motivations range widely. One of them, Angela Halliday, met a fellow doll owner through a forum and now owns two dolls.

I admit that this is a topic it’s hard for me to personally sink into because when I look at these dolls, especially the images of the male dolls on the RealDoll website, I see something far from lifelike.

RealDoll2_Male_Banner_476

Yet I admit I have never seen one in person, and I would imagine that the longer you own and interact with such a doll, the more lifelike it starts to seem. Furthermore, if you do buy a female doll, you get plenty of options in terms of customization, from eyeliner style to choices of eye color, including blue grey and teal green. The attention to detail means that those investing the big bucks can craft as close to their ideal woman or man as they want. There’s even a flaccid penis option for the male dolls!

flaccidrealdoll

And, because I just can’t resist, elf ears are also an optional add-on (for $150). Who knew?

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Yet that is precisely why I want to learn more, because just as I may not 100% “get” the desire to own a human-size, lifelike doll, there are plenty of people who similarly have no idea why I, for instance, would want to be choked or have my face slapped as part of a BDSM practice. I consider my writing, both fiction and nonfiction, a way to explain, both to myself and others, those turn-ons, and consider it my job as a human being and especially as someone who writes about sex, to make my best effort to understand doll owners.

I think the reason the idea of owning a sex doll throws many people off is that it goes against all we are taught about sex—that its purpose is rooted in romantic love, that it should be, at least in part, not selfish, but selfless, that it’s about, at its heart, human connection. So those who object to sex dolls on the basis of their being inanimate should also, by that logic, object to sex toys just as strenuously. As Mark Shrayber puts it in an insightful article at The Daily Dot about sex dolls made in the image of popular porn stars, “Even if the RealDoll ‘objectifies’ women, is there any substantial difference between that and another masturbation tool, such as a wad of tissues or a Kleenex?”

wickedrealdolls
Wicked Pictures RealDolls of porn stars jessica drake, Asa Akira and Stormy Daniels, via The Daily Dot

The more I’ve read about these dolls, even though I still can’t picture myself embracing one, the more I’ve found that these interactions, for many doll owners, are deeply personal and powerful. For instance, an interviewee in the documentary Guys and Dolls is quoted at Alternet, saying, “It’s the difference between being alone and lonely. Being alone is one thing. I don’t mind being alone at all. However, I cannot stand being lonely….that’s something that more people, I would hope, would understand. That’s why iDollators [people in the doll community] have their dolls.” If a doll is what’s keeping someone from being lonely, who am I to argue with that?

That being said, I think it’s one thing for someone to give up smoking for a year in order to afford a doll (now that’s a person I’d love to interview!), but I can’t help but be horrified by the copy for the Finally Mylie! Love Doll, whose package reads “She’s Young, Dumb and Old Enough for Cum!” I feel no qualms about saying that I want nothing to do with someone who’s turned on by language like this, via its Amazon sales page: “She’s had years of practice speaking into the mic, and now she’s ready for yours. just add air and this teen-queen pole-dancing princess comes of age right before your own eyes!” I’m not trying to say that cheaper blow-up dolls are somehow déclassé next to more expensive dolls (the Abyss Creations, makers of RealDoll, dolls range from $6,500 to a whopping $51,000!), but rather that promotional copy touting the joy of having sex with someone who’s just turned 18 is not my thing in any way.

I’m still fascinated by the fact that these dolls, whether we have any experience with them or not, bring up such primal responses. They do tap into human urges, sexual and otherwise. I’m grateful to Renarde for bringing to life, in the realm of fiction, a side of these dolls I had never considered, and making me think hard about their potential. Although I don’t think erotica writers need to take on the role of being sex educators, by default, we do expand people’s knowledge about sex practices, and this single story certainly illuminated a whole world I had no clue about prior to reading it. I’m grateful for that, and look forward to exploring more about the human/doll connection.

Want to learn more about these kinds of dolls from the people who actually use them? Visit The Doll Forum, where there’s even a doll role-playing section for “all the dolls who’ve come to life and want to chat it up with other dolls out there.”

Some might say that dolls are serving as substitutes for human interaction. But even if they are, if the people using them aren’t harming any actual humans, and in fact, are enhancing their quality of life, what’s the problem? Furthermore, the fact that doll forums and testimonials exist prove that not everyone is simply hiding away with their dolls and never speaking about them. When I titled this post “the human side of sex dolls,” I didn’t just mean the sexy side, but the various human factors that go into both having a sex doll and living in the rest of the world. There are some photographed by Marcussen who can’t tell their children about their dolls, while others have disclosed their doll ownership, in conversations that I’m sure were challenging and thought-provoking. That, to me, echoes the way many sexual practices, sexual orientations and even erotica writing also has to be kept a secret. That is also the common thread, as I see it; even if we’ve never thought about sex dolls before, if you dig a little deeper into the subject, I suspect you’ll also find a way to relate.

8 Responses to “The Human Side of Sex Dolls”

  1. Kel May 15, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    I’ve always sort of thought dolls were for people who were way more visual than I am. I can’t hold it against them; I get more out of the written word than most people… and there are people who find my inclination to throw myself onto a flat surface and move until I fall over in the presence of music more than a little weird.

    I do sort of… worry… about people who can’t separate themselves from their fantasies, though, in any arena. Dolls are no different from any other fantasy, and certainly no more expensive than some of my own hobbies. (Motorcycle, anyone?) Actually, I’m now curious about how dolls stack up money-wise against other hobbies. I bet riding horses is way more expensive, for example. Boarding a horse has got to be way more complicated…

    People should do whatever makes them happy. I’d just rather wear my own fetish gear than put it on something else. 😉

    Like

    • C. Margery Kempe May 15, 2015 at 10:43 am #

      A friend posted a meme a few of my horsey friends shared: “Get your kids into horses. They’ll never have the money for drugs!”

      Like

  2. Madeline Iva May 15, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Horses can be about $300 – $400 a month to board — and you’re right, the costs can easily top 15k a year — and let’s not talk about show ponies or actually *doing* anything with a horse. Then you’re getting into over a thousand dollars a month, easily. That and sailing — or other boat related projects have got to be the most expensive hobbies ever.

    Still– some of these high end dolls are 7k a pop.

    I always feel like I’ve entered a special soft and squish odd fetish universe when the doll thing comes up. It gives me a mild form of vertigo. Yet people who sit around all day and imagine what their doll would say, or how it would feel, etc — is this so different from what I do all day when I’m writing? It’s different in form, yes, but I guess I could imagine that in the same way creating a story satisfies a basic need in me, having a doll satisfies a need on someone else. At least if they’re doing creepy weird sh** to it, they’re not doing that to another person.

    Like

    • Kel May 15, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

      The thing that makes it okay to me is that they’re just acting out a fantasy… it’s not a big deal, and I’d much rather people acted out their fantasies with a doll than trying to force another human into that mold.

      Not in a creepy-stalker way, just… fangirl or fanboy way. People who make up head-story about how they will find the perfect partner and live happily ever after and never actually go do anything about interacting with real humans make me sad. Especially when they then do find a human and try to, well, shove the human into their preconceptions of perfection.

      That always ends badly.

      Dolls that are based on a specific other human actually hit my “creepy” meter harder than anything. It’s one thing to have a type, and another to have an effectively non-consenting partner you pose.

      Like

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