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Why Are Sex Dolls So Popular with Men in China?

"The best sex dolls are a modern day work of art," says the owner of one of China's biggest manufacturers of silicone dolls. "She can satisfy our heart's most tender dreams and desires."


All stills from Chinese Cockblock: The Sex Doll Industry

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Thousands of excruciatingly horny men throughout China are buying silicone models of women. To have and to hold. And to fuck. But these aren't your entry-level women replicas—these are $3,000 worth of thermoplastic elastomer. They come in many brands: MICDOLL, HITDOLL, and more. It's a revolution that is apparently sweeping the country at precisely the same time men are reportedly struggling to get it up with actual human beings.

In a country that supplies 70 percent of the world's sex toys, and has a burgeoning middle class with more freedom and cash than ever before, it's no surprise that people are getting their jollies in more experimental ways. Porn is a national offense, and the creator of the nation's largest porn site is serving life in prison. Despite this, the sex-toy industry is worth roughly $2 billion in China, because love will always win.

Nevertheless, I had a lot of questions: What's so special about these dolls in particular? Why go to the financial and personal extremes of purchasing a soulless woman-puppet?

With the help of a translator, I spoke directly to MICDOLL owner Zang Han. "Current users of these sex dolls do so for the following three main reasons," Zang says. "First, to satisfy a physiological need. Second, to take photos with and share with others. Third, cosplay."

Why, then, has there been a sudden boom in their popularity? MICDOLL have recently launched a " Road to the US" range, supposedly to foster international, er, love. These appear to have far more realistic replications of the vagina. "These dolls have an external appearance much like real people, and they can move very much like real people," says Zang Han. "The best sex dolls are a modern-day work of art. In the same way that a young woman can have a beautiful Western face, so can a lifelike sex doll. She can satisfy our heart's most tender dreams and desires."

"The current sex dolls are fully waterproof," says Zang Han. "You can wash them in the bathroom just like you would wash a real person." And, yeah, you can remove their head and genitals, too, if you're feeling creative. But I'm not here to judge. If having sex with a headless doll is your thing, then all power to you, my friend. Functionally, this is most likely to ease cleaning, but I can't help imagining rows office workers with hundreds of plastic vaginas in their backpacks.

Another brand is HITDOLL, which is even more sophisticated. These dolls have their own temperatures (98.6 degrees, thanks), a "metal skeleton," and a "real sex voice," so you know she's not faking it. Their website urges you not to use the doll when it's heating, which is presumably because it'll melt your junk. There's quite an extensive care Q&A provided, complete with handy advice on washing the anus—"directly." In other words, unlike the head and the vagina, if you do your business in the ass then you're going to have to clean it the hard way. And, yes, HITDOLL allows you to create a doll with your own face on it.

"The reality is, lifelike sex dolls are a hobby or interest, not unlike skateboarding or photography," Zang tells me.

This is echoed in an interview with the Japan Times by doll enthusiast Liu. When asked if he would consider the less expensive blow-up alternative, he responded: "No way [he'd] have sex with that kind of cheap plastic." His disgust was quite palpable at the mere suggestion he'd swing his wang anywhere beside his wife or doll 156, his personalized, lifeless doorway into all his sexual desires. This makes sense: If you're a beer fan, you're not going to drink Hamm's when you can get a Sierra Nevada, are you?

"I have a workshop," Zhang Han says, "where I design the newest and most advanced sex dolls. In my opinion, the next generation of sex dolls will on the one hand use the most cutting-edge materials and technology, and on the other give the impression of being even more true to life. Another area we are putting a lot of effort into is developing the capability to interact."

I still had questions.

In a country where the cost of one doll is roughly twice the average salary in Shanghai (the nation's highest) and the primary function is sex, which can be provided by the free resource known as your hand, what's the point of all this effort?

As Zang had warned me, it's not all about sex. Sex is only a part of it. After a week of delving into the darkest corners of Mandarin Google, I discovered that there are many options for the Chinese doll lover, provided you speak Mandarin and can afford to spend far more than your monthly salary on items like wigs and dresses.

There's a community growing online, such as this forum, where people go to chat about anything from how to make a plaster cast of your model's face to lean your phone against or buy someone's used doll. Here's a short and charming tale of one man taking his doll to the office, to the bar and, eventually, to the bath. Here's one where a guy, tongue-firmly-in-cheek, talks about how the film My Fair Lady changed his life—now, with his two dolls, he can watch as much porn as he wants without a woman nagging him. Good on him, right?

Not exactly.

Going back to what Zang said, that these dolls can "satisfy the heart's most tender dreams and desires," I began to wonder if he was perhaps living on Cloud 9. In 2013, it was reported that 50 percent of the male population of China abuse their partners, and 20 percent admitted to forcing them to have sex. And here was a growing community of men who were actively opting to spend money on a doll rather than their family.

"Liu" from the Japan Times article makes the pretty threatening comments that "the only way" a doll is "better" than a woman is that a doll "won't resist, so people can do whatever they want with it." All this implies the presence of a fourth reason to buy these dolls: to extinguish much darker feelings. I managed to have a very brief chat with one user who wished to remain anonymous, who told me that he's "away from home for sometimes ten to 12 days in a row," and that he "keeps his doll in the city to stop him feeling alone."

But was he happy with his purchase?

"Very much so. It is better than sleeping with a woman who is not my wife. And I can do what I want."

A few days later I spoke with another user and creator named Chen Lichao. "I have studied all the first-class high-end dolls around the world and some of the less good ones," he tells me. "And, from this research, I developed the best dolls available myself. One is the most realistic looking but inside the skeleton has some limitations, so it's not very fit for hot sex; the other is very hot in bed, soft as a real woman when she's lost control. I love both. Anatomically correct high-end dolls are the only choice, because my desire is not a doll, but a sex daydream that I can't enact in real life," he says.

Related: Outtakes from our VICE on HBO episode 'Chinese Cockblock: The Sex Doll Factory.'


What this all means is that these dolls open the door toward a much larger social issue, which began in 1980 with the enactment of the infamous one-child policy. Initiated in order to stem the consumption of natural water and food, it's had the worrying effect of engendering people to not to want to bang—in case they conceive. At the end of the 80s, 84 percent of newlyweds in China were virgins.

Add to this that China's male-to-female ratio is drastically slanted toward male (at a ratio of 116 to 100), meaning that there literally aren't many other fish in the sea, so to speak. There are, potentially, a lot of frustrated men in China.

Playing the game of numbers here, imagine that, in ten years, China's population of 1.357 billion is divided precisely down that ratio and then, one day, for no reason whatsoever, other than to satisfy my desire to illustrate a point, China stages the world's greatest matchmaking game of all time where every woman is partnered with every man.

Of course, this would never happen for a multitude of reasons, like age, sexual orientation, and not to mention, the large economic cost of doing something so idiotic but, in the interest of science, let's imagine that's exactly what happened.

Put the sex-doll away and get the lube on ice because everyone's getting laid, yeah? Wrong. That's not how life works. Some 100,526,500 men would be left to their own devices with nothing but their hands for company. That's 100 million men scratching their ass and watching TV in their boxers. A hundred million men on the busiest pub dance floor ever conceived. Two hundred million sets of blue balls. Porn sales would go through the roof. There would be a worldwide tissue shortage; deforestation would increase a rapid rate. Global warming would triple in rate. Package brides to China would become a legitimate career path for women across the world. World War III would start—with women, rather than water, being the coveted resource.

If that sounds frightening to you—and it should—then luckily, this is just a game, so relax. It's not real. The balls are currently satiated. They are not coming for you. But the point is: These sex dolls actually serve a social function in China. If the gender imbalance continues to widen, then the prevalence of these sex goods certainly helps to defer the social, political, and sexual issues. Far better for the male population of China to make sweet love to a plastic doll than cause an international crisis.

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