History of Sex Dolls

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      history of sex dolls

      This post is a summary of a great article published by The Atlantic regarding sex dolls. The full article is available on this page.

      The story of Pygmalion goes like this: A sculptor carves a statue in the shape of a beautiful woman. It is so beautiful that he falls in love with her. He then prays that she could become real, has his wish granted, and lives happily ever after.

      If Pygmalion lived in today’s world, none of this would be too foreign to him. In Ovid’s original story, there is some implication that the sculptor was not only in love with the statue but that he had sex with it before it came to life, according to The Erotic Doll, a book by Dr. Marquard Smith, the head of doctoral studies and the research leader at the Royal College of Art’s School of Humanities.


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

      But the most public prelude to the modern sex doll was the mannequin-based art created by Surrealists like Man Ray & Salvador Dalí. A work called “Mannequin Street” featured at the “Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme” at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in 1938, included 16 mannequins outfitted by different artists.

      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. The goal was 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 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, you could find sexdolls in most sex shops (although only inflatable dolls were available then).


      Why aren’t more women using sex dolls?” and “Why are so many men loving dolls?

      Some answers are purely practical. For instance, only 25% of women can consistently orgasm from vaginal sex alone. This makes a doll far from being the most efficient sex toy. Another reason is the weight. The dolls are difficult for many women to move around.

      There’s also plenty of speculation about the difference between men and women’s masturbation styles. In his 1936 book Studies in the Psychology of Sex, the English psychologist Henry Havelock Ellis wrote that men are more visual, while women are more imaginative and rely more on their sense of touch.

      Both Smith & McMullen reiterated this conventional wisdom, and, allowing for individual differences, it seems like a plausible enough explanation for why most dolls, like most porn, are made with men’s interests in mind.


      According to Smith, any sort of non-reproductive sexual behavior has historically been seen as perverse. These days, though, many people are okay with sex that isn’t reproductive. Humans are less okay with emotional attachments that are not socially productive.

      But realistic dolls often do inspire real affection, and even devotion. Men assign personalities and preferences to their dolls. “There is genuine empathy here” Smith writes, “what the Germans call Einfühlung, an entering into the feelings of another.”*

      Sarah Valverde, a researcher & mental health therapist, did her masters thesis in psychology on the demographics and psychological characteristics of sex doll owners. She says that many of the men she surveyed for her research felt shame or embarrassment about owning sex dolls.

      But contrary to popular stereotypes, they were just as satisfied with their lives, on average, as the general population. Doll owners didn’t suffer higher-than-normal rates of depression or other mental illness either. Owning a sex doll “can be considered by some as a deviant sexual behavior” she says. “But unless it’s all-consuming and it impacts other areas of life, we really can’t define it as a disorder.”


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

      Women are unpredictable and dolls are steadfast; women will leave you and dolls are loyal.

      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 dolls represent the far end of a spectrum of social attitudes. Plenty of men would like real women to be a little more like dolls.

      As human women become more empowered. Sex dolls also offer a way for men to retreat into relationships where they are still in control.

      A doll may bring a man comfort, may inspire devotion in him, and may drive away his loneliness. It will never challenge him, and it will certainly never do anything to make him feel ridiculous.



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