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No, Sex Dolls Won't Stop Future Incel Attacks

Toronto’s new sex doll brothel claims it will allow customers to act out violent fantasies in a safe way.
Images via Wikipedia Commons/CP. 

Earlier this week, news broke that a new sex doll brothel, Aura Dolls, will be opening in an understated Toronto strip mall plaza—a highly private bordello advertised as the first of its kind in all of North America.

Patrons of Aura Dolls will be able to pay $80 an hour to have sex with high-tech silicone dolls.

The announcement has already sparked controversy, with residents and city politicians claiming the brothel shouldn’t open in such a “family-oriented area.”


When VICE reached out to the shop to ask about the service, an Aura Dolls spokesperson, who only identified himself as Alex, suggested technologies like sex dolls give customers the opportunity to act on violent fantasies in a “safe non-judgmental way.” In an email statement, Alex also said a sex doll service could have even been instrumental in preventing the tragic van attack in Toronto in late April, which was allegedly carried out by Alex Minassian, a man who appeared to identify as an “involuntary celibate,” or incel.

“Alek Minassian was [allegedly] an active member of the incels, which are a group online who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite wanting one. Our dolls mimic being with a real partner up to 95 percent, so maybe this could have been enough to satisfy the sexual needs to a certain degree,” Alex said. “However, would this have prevented the attack all together? We can never be sure but we do believe it can be a positive reinforcement especially for those in the same boat.”

He went on to say sex doll services can help lower crime rates and improve sex lives in marriages. But sexual violence educators, women’s rights advocates, and criminal justice researchers have outright refuted these claims, arguing not only that sex dolls aren’t a good way to address the incel problem, but that this brand of thinking is inherently dangerous.

“If someone wants to open up or frequent a sex doll brothel, do it—but don’t pretend there are societal benefits, particularly for women and girls, because there is no evidence to support the argument,” Myrna Dawson, Director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Legal Responses to Violence at the University of Guelph, told VICE. “It is a purely-for-profit venture, not a violence prevention initiative.”


Aura’s statements are part of a genealogy of arguments which emerged, in columns and in interviews across the internet, shortly after the mass murder. In a piece for the New York Times, columnist Ross Douthat wrote about the ambiguous concept of “sexual redistribution,” citing an earlier blog post by the economist Robin Hanson, which had suggested incel plight—not being able to get laid—was possibly as legitimate as wealth inequality. Douthat came to a similar conclusion, interpreting how society might adapt—with sex robots and virtual reality porn, among other new technologies—to the incel problem.

But the idea that sex workers, dolls, and robots could be an antidote to preventing misogynistic men from turning to violence has been met with equal force.

“I think it is, at best, a very silly argument, and in its worst manifestation, I think it’s incredibly dangerous,” Julie Lalonde, women’s right advocate and public educator, told VICE. “It [reproduces] the core of this whole issue, which is male entitlement, and the idea that we should find somebody to satisfy [men] rather than talking about why their satisfaction is our primary concern.”

The expanding sex doll conversation, just like the incel problem it is being positioned to fix, is mercurial as it is complex. There’s no easy way to think or talk about it. The UK’s first sex doll brothel, The Dolly Parlour, opened in South London earlier this year to the onset of local anxieties about how the business might fuel rape fantasies. The same thing happened in Paris in late March. These fears did not sprout from nothing—when Lumidolls opened in a secret Barcelona location last year, purporting to be the world’s first sex doll brothel, the owner said he had to turn away customers who wanted to act out rape fantasies.


There is also an ongoing case in eastern Canada, where a man is being tried for importing a child sex doll from Japan, which has effectively complicated the legal language around child pornography. Speaking to CityNews, Aura Dolls said their dolls don’t appear underage and meet an unspecified legal height requirement.

The sex tech industry is valued at around $30.6 billion. With that much research and profit, it is inevitable that there will be an equally overabundant supply of problems and conflicts—particularly how these technologies impact women and sex workers.

Dawson said this isn’t just about dolls, but about the societal infrastructures that enable a cycle of gendered violence and allow men to view women as property.

“And this is clearly and nicely illustrated by the fact that we are hearing the argument that sex dolls—inanimate objects, things, no matter how beautiful or life-like—can easily replace a live woman in various ways.”

Follow Connor Garel on Twitter.

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