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Study Links Female Sex Doll Ownership With Hostility Toward Women

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Oct 3, 2022

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Image Credit: Getty Images

The inherent purpose of sex dolls is to provide sexual pleasure for people — but it introduces a dynamic of ownership into sex. Does this translate into real life misogyny?

That’s one of the questions that research has been grappling with. In the last few years, conversations around sex robots have populated certain pockets of the internet. The emergence of highly lifelike sex dolls on the internet and on shelves of sex stores has piqued curiosities and triggered conversations on ethics, realism, and consent. A new study published earlier this year in the Journal of Sex Research revives conversations on the highly debated topic, providing empirical data on the pattern of how people use sex dolls and sex robots, for the first time.

The study, conducted by Germany-based researchers, looked at a sample of 217 people. 91.7% of people in the sample were male, and 67.7% identified as heterosexual. The researchers asked the respondents to complete questionnaires that collected their socio-demographic data and included questions on their use of their dolls, the level of anthropomorphization (or human-likeness) in their dolls, objectification of women, and their hostility toward women. On collecting the data, the scientists divided the sample into two groups — those who thought of their dolls as partners, and those who considered them as a toy — and then compared the responses in the two groups.

The results are chilling: those who treated their sex dolls as their partners and reported greater anthropomorphization in their dolls were more likely to objectify women in real life and behave with hostility toward them.

The study further observed that a large proportion of respondents in this group were divorced or single men, who also claimed that their doll was their ideal romantic partner. Think, for a moment, of the implications: this perception is about lifeless dolls, unable to speak, move, or act with any agency of their own. The researchers observed that respondents in this group were likely to agree to statements like “the first thing I notice about a woman is her body” or “I feel that many times women flirt with men just to tease them or hurt them.” These respondents were also deeply emotionally attached to their dolls.

This is in line with earlier documentation of how people use sex dolls. Reports across several countries observe how men enter relationships with sex dolls when their relationships with human beings are affected. An earlier report in The Sun looked at how men who bought sex dolls depended on them emotionally and thought of them as “way better than women.” “A doll doesn’t care about anything you say or do, so I feel free to explore my sexual fantasies,” the report had quoted one doll owner as saying. This points to a worrying trend behind the popularity of sex dolls: they are preferred to real women precisely because men can do whatever they want with them without facing any consequences and, importantly, without having to listen to them.


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This ready availability of sex dolls makes them hugely popular in the incel — slang for involuntary celibate — movement. In a 2018 piece, Vox explored the connections between the incel concept of “sexual redistribution” — where incels ask the state to “equalize access” to sex, treating it as a form of social capital and commodity instead of a consensual act — and sex robots, noting how economist Robin Hanson in his blog had touted sex robots as a facilitator of this equal access. This popularity of sex dolls among incels, and as a “replacement” for actual women, is a cause for concern among several feminists. Campaign Against Sex Robots (CASR) is one such global movement against the proliferation of sex dolls.

The key issue here is that of agency — and whether sex dolls can normalize undermining it when it comes to real women. In 2016, Lydia Kaye, lecturer in Fashion History and Theory, wrote as a member of CASR about how “sex robots will create another means through which women will be presented as objects to be used for sexual gratification and mistreatment.” She further added that “they will also desensitize humans to intimacy and empathy, which can only be developed through experiencing human interaction and mutual consenting relationships.” Emphasizing how sex robots are largely designed around female bodies and allow their users to customize everything, including the shape of their vagina and their pubic hair, Kaye points out that such practices “reinforce the view that the female body is a commodity.” Indeed, the nature of the use of sex dolls, especially as stand-ins for human (woman) partners, raises many ethical questions.

One of those questions is about consent. Writing for The Swaddle in 2020, Aditi Murti explored how the world moving towards more sentient robots — including sex robots — necessitates newer questions on consent and how we understand it. “… sex robots that can give and withdraw consent already exist, but the models of consent utilized are a work-in-progress. This is mainly because, as of now, sex robots can only simulate consent, rather than actively give consent,” she noted. Such scenarios can lead to either men believing that they can “game” or “trick” consent from sexual partners, or situations that facilitate rape fantasies since in only simulating consent, the robots still cannot stop the men from raping them. The current study, then, reinforces these fears and concerns related to treating sex dolls as partners.

However, it remains to be seen whether the problem lies with sex dolls themselves, or the people who use them. While the group viewing their dolls as partners reflected these concerns, the good news is that the group that viewed their sex dolls as simply toys reported not treating women with increased hostility. Psypost reported one male participant in the study responding, “I respect women and see dolls no different than a large fleshlight or masturbator.” Overall, the scientists observed that nearly 10% of all the respondents reported becoming less interested in women.

This could point to the possibility of human-robot partnerships getting more normalized in the future. “The data show that dolls help satisfy much more sexual as well as emotional needs. It could be that sexual and emotional relationships with objects like robots are increasing due to increasing technologization,” Jeanne C. Desbuleux, one of the authors of the study, told PsyPost. However, in a scenario where sex dolls are either seen as stand-ins for women or simply as large sex toys without any character, there remain worrying implications for how these partnerships will impact human relationships.

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Written By Amlan Sarkar

Amlan Sarkar is a staff writer at TheSwaddle. He writes about the intersection between pop culture and politics. You can reach him on Instagram @amlansarkr.

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