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History And Psychology Behind Sex Dolls

McMullen's sex doll shop

ATLANTIC ARTICLE BY JULIE BECK

AUG 6, 2014

Throughout history, men with an inclination to make love to women-shaped things have made do in various ways. Sailors often used cloth to fashion fornicatory dolls known as dame de voyage in French, or dama de viaje in Spanish. In modern-day Japan, sex dolls are sometimes known as “Dutch wives”—a reference to the hand-sewn leather masturbation puppets made by the 17th-century Dutch sailors who traded with the Japanese.

A persistent urban legend holds that Adolf Hitler charged one of his SS commanders to design sex dolls for German soldiers during World War II, to prevent them from slaking their lust with non-Aryan women. Whether or not this is true, the commercial sex doll does find its origins in Germany.  The Bild Lilli doll—invented in the 1950s and modeled on a sexy, outspoken comic-strip character called Lilli—was an 11.5 inch plastic model, not a penetrable sex doll. In his book The Sex Doll: A History, Anthony Ferguson calls the Bild Lilli “a pornographic caricature.” Although it was marketed to adult men, the doll is widely cited as the inspiration for Barbie, so, you know, take that and run with it.

In the United States, sex dolls were first advertised in porn magazines around 1968, when it became legal to sell sexual devices through the mail. By the 1980s, they could be found in most sex shops—though they were the inflatable kind, more suited to be gag gifts at a frat party. 

real sex doll showroom

The realism and utility of sex dolls took a giant leap forward in the late 90s, when  artist Matt McMullen started working on a lifelike silicone female mannequin and documenting its progress on his website. Before long, he began getting emails asking if it was … anatomically correct. At the time, it wasn’t. But the demand was there, and so McMullen provided the supply. Hence, the eerily lifelike RealDoll was born. After shock jock Howard Stern got hold of one and seemingly had sex with it on his radio show, McMullen’s company grew quickly, and he now sells anywhere from 200 to 300 high-end customizable sex dolls per year.

Most of McMullen’s dolls are female; Do I think the dolls will replace women or threaten to replace women? Absolutely not.” He states.

Barbara, a 61-year-old small business owner from California, is one of the few women involved in the iDollator community. She says she first heard about the dolls through a news story about people who were using them to cheat their way into carpool lanes. Then she saw Davecat on the TLC show My Strange Addiction, got in touch, and found him “extremely welcoming.” The community as a whole embraces female members, despite being mostly male, she says.

“Feminists seem to be totally horrified by these dolls, which puzzles me, as I am a feminist,” Barbara told me in an email. “They say that the dolls ‘objectify’ women because they are so beautiful that real women cannot hope to compete with them on the basis of looks.”

There are many reasons for owning sex dolls. Some doll owners are just having fun. Some suffer from social anxiety or even disabilities that might make human relationships difficult. Some people just want to take arty photographs. The whole phenomenon is surprisingly hard to nail down.

These questions of intimacy inevitably come back to the relationship between the genders. We may not be able to extrapolate much from one person’s motives for buying a sex doll. But the phenomenon as a whole is like a funhouse mirror—it may show a skewed reflection of male-female relationships, but it emphasizes some aspects we’d rather not see. These woman-shaped things, which can be whatever their owners want them to be, represent the far end of a spectrum of social attitudes. Plenty of men would like real women to be a little more like dolls.

When I spoke to Davecat last year, he was offended by this idea. “A lot of men are lonely because they’re misogynist pricks, true, but a lot of other men are lonely because they don’t meet women’s expectations.” But then he went on: “Dolls don’t possess any of the unpleasant qualities that organic, flesh and blood humans have. A synthetic will never lie to you, cheat on you, criticize you, or be otherwise disagreeable.”

The inventor of the Fleshlight, a popular masturbation toy for men, also submitted a patent in 1995 for a “female functioning mannequin.” (Within the mannequin’s “cavity,” as the patent puts it, would have been a cartridge full of “oily elastomer.”) According to Smith’s book, the inventor cited “as the reasons for its invention the fact that women are cruel, venal, superficial, that they humiliate and break the hearts of men and that dolls on the contrary are reliable, compliant, companionable, and loving.”

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