Sex Doll Brothels Are Here to Stay

Turns out the future of sex doll brothels might look a lot more like the film 'Her' than a free-for-all robot hump sesh, so get your head out of the gutter.

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Oct 5 2018, 3:15pm

Photo via screenshot of Bella Dolls website and Her. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

For a long time sex dolls were simply ignored by the majority of people in ‘decent society,’ but now—thanks to a rash of niche brothels opening in North America—we’ve been forced to look deep into the uncanny valley and reckon with the hard truth that some folks out there like to have sex with dolls and robots.

In the last month alone, a sex doll brothel stated it would be opening in Toronto at the end of the summer, another just recently announced its intention to open in Vancouver in the near future, and yet one more was just announced in Houston.

In some instances, the ‘brothels’ have experienced harsh backlash. In Toronto—despite there already being a sex doll brothel quietly operating for over a year—a neighborhood used a bylaw against adult entertainment to ban it. In Houston, lawmakers have vowed to do what they can to make sure the brothel doesn’t open. In Vancouver well, it’s Vancouver so people just kind of went with it.

All this leads us to the question of what’s going on here?

Jenna Owsianik, a sex tech expert and writer, is the co-author of the Future of Sex Report (and a similarly titled website.) The Future of Sex Report analyzes the current state of sex technology and offers detailed predictions of where we are headed to in terms of sex robots, augmented boning reality, internet connected dildos, and what not.

So, I decided to call up the sex futurist and ask her what the recent uptick in fuck doll news meant and where we might be heading.

VICE: So, sex dolls, they're all the rage these days, eh?
Jenna Owsianik: Yup, they sure are. I think part of the reason they're in the news a lot these days is just the progress being made with sex robots and sex dolls more generally so people are trying to capitalize on that. It's not really a new thing—brothels or rental services in Canada and the US are—but they've been in Japan for ages and are pretty popular in Europe.

What are your thoughts about these ‘brothels?’
What's interesting to me is that we don't have really great sex robots now, nothing like what we see in the movies, but what these new brothels are doing is giving us a kind of precursor into what we're going to see. In the next few decades, we're going to see people bringing their robotic partners around, even non-sexual ones. We're kind of testing the waters. They're a bit of thermometer to see how ready society is for these alternative relationships with technology and having it out in the public. We're seeing a little bit of what's to come down the line in terms of the media and public's reaction.

There are also the thoughts that some legal prostitutes are sharing about how using sex dolls in so-called brothels is going to further dehumanize sex workers. That's an important topic, how it might change sex work.

Do you think they're going to be popular?
Well, there isn't much acceptance and that stigma is so great—especially among single straight men. So when these guys try to go out and explore their sexuality they think 'oh they're gross, they're pervs' and it makes me wonder who would actually go into these brothels, who would be brave enough to actually try it?

I think they will be popular one day but I don't think there will be a surge in popularity in the immediate future.

What kind of misconception do people have about fucking dolls?

There is this misconception that the people who use these dolls are all lonely losers who are misogynist or can't get a woman. That’s not the case. Sexuality is diverse, it would be an oversimplification to suggest it's just sad dudes who can't get a woman. Some people are simply just attracted to dolls or robots. I've spoken to some men who are married and their wife is sick so she doesn't have sex with them and he doesn't want to cheat but still wants to have fun sexually. But still, these people didn't want to put out their real names because of the stigma.

You mentioned earlier one of the reasons they're so popular and so much interest is innovations with sex robots. What innovations have there been?
Well, have you heard of Real Dolls?

I sure have.
Well, the creator of Real Dolls wanted to do something different because he had been creating sex dolls for so long. So he started creating something a bit more sophisticated so he started going into robotics. For the last few years, he's been creating a robotic sex doll head [with a programmable personality] that can be placed on a body of a sex doll. So what's happened is that this year it actually went on sale and so we have these heads that can go on basic real doll bodies.

I have the app and you can kind of create like a Siri for sex. It's a type of companion. It's not the most intuitive thing right now, it's not as good as my Google Assistant. It's interesting though. A lot of people would kind of get creeped out by a humanoid-looking doll but they keep it looking like a doll so you don't get that uncanny valley kind of thing.

Wow... what do you do with yours if you don't mind me asking?
it's been a few months since the last time I tried one of these out. I'm not the market for these things because I'm a woman and most of their customers are male—so it would say things about me having male anatomy, which is fine but it's not quite... what I want. But it's interesting because you can pick different personalities traits. You're given, say, ten traits to pick from—one could be jealousy, others could be kindness, etc. So you can pick their personality and then in the app you can design how you want the doll or the avatar, if you're just using the app, to look.

So you can basically create this personality in this app and put it in your sex robot head so that technically, if you have the means, you could have the app and bring this companion with you just on your phone and put it back in the head when you get home. You can bring this anywhere.

Most of these dolls seem to be made for straight men, at least that's what is seemingly stocked up in the 'brothels,' are there any dolls or brothels that cater to other sexualities?
There are male dolls made, like of male bodies, but generally, in terms of real dolls, it's usually men that buy them. There are some women that get them but not too, too many. So women are not the norm when it comes to buying sex dolls but, in terms of what I know, they're the exception.

So it's mostly for men as is. There needs to be a little more, just a little more, catering to other demographics and not in a cookie-cutter approach of just bringing in male dolls either.

How important is cleaning to the process? How bad could it be if, worst case scenario, the person running the brothel didn't clean them?
You have to clean it. I think it's super important. You have to make sure you trust the place that's offering them. You can get STIs from unclean sex toys. It's interesting because these places aren't regulated so there is a lot of room for uncleanliness and unhygienic practices because how will they be checked and be held accountable if there aren't regulations.

If you're going to use one it's super important to make sure they're stored in the right place, and that they're regularly cleaned with the right materials. It's totally important. So sex doll rental services are totally under the radar. It's good to talk about it because the last thing we need to have happened is a scourge of STI outbreaks from this rise in sex doll services.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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