The Controversial Doll Houses

In 2015, upset at how human-machine sexual relations were being normalized in society, Kathleen Richardson and Erik Brilling created the Against Sex Robots campaign. They argue that robots encourage the objectification of women and children, as well as not respecting the concept of consent. They still fight for the abolition of sex dolls made in the image of a woman or a child.

By Mélodie Nelson

Photo: Aura S Dolls

In 2018 it was Elijah Rising, an organization that campaigns against sex trafficking, that launched an internet petition targeting a Houston establishment that offered relations with dolls and robots. Their prediction: that this practice would lead to an increase of sexual exploitation of women and children.

According to their detractors, sex dolls are passive objects that allow people using them to forego the notion of consenting relations. That’s the argument used by pressure groups again and again when they try to force the closing of sex doll houses.

In Japan, these services have been firmly implanted since the beginning of the 2000’s. Slowly, they are making their way to North America.

In 2018, Belgium saw a steep rise in the number of establishments offering relations with silicon sex dolls, including the Sex Doll House. Their internet site promised six dolls “waiting for customers in whatever dress and position they want.” But in France, Communist Party officials demanded the closure of a similar establishment in Paris, as the nature of the act evoked the rape of a passive person. The Mayor’s Office did not think this amounted to prostitution, but Xdolls folded up their Paris operations anyway and moved outside the French capital.

That same year of 2018, despite protests, Aura Dolls announced their intention to open in an Ontario shopping centre, proclaiming itself the first such bordello in North America. They eventually opened their doors, discreetly, but are now closed due to Covid-19.

In Vancouver, Aura S Dolls argue they can reduce violent crime by renting out their dolls for $250 a night. “A lack of sex can lead to aggressiveness, depression, cancer, diabetes and even suicide,” says their promotional material. “Science gives us several reasons to undertake sexual relations, tonight: it increases longevity, preserves marriages, helps fight colds and flu, reduces stress, aids sleep and memory.” 

This is a truly unlegislated field in Canada, with no rules covering the upkeep of dolls, or the safety of users. Doll houses may be dirty and permit unhygienic practices, says Jenna Owsianik, a sex technology specialist, in an interview with Vice. “It’s important they be regularly cleaned, with the appropriate materials.”

If dolls and robots are becoming more popular, regular prostitutes do not law awake at night in fear of their trade becoming yet another industry taken over by robotics. “I think it’s sad that feminists compare us to dolls,” says Jasmine, who started in the industry as an erotic masseuse and has branched out into independent sex work. “I don’t think I’m replaceable. I can tell the difference between a dildo and a real penis. Men who want a real experience with a real escort aren’t going to go to a doll brothel.”

Jasmine isn’t thrilled by the attention sex dolls and robots are getting. “Instead of focusing on objects that don’t feel anything, why not ask me what can be done to make my work safer?”

In the Paladyn Journal of Behavioral Robotics, in their 2020 article “Sex care robots,” researchers E. Fosch-Villaronga and A. Poulsen examine the educational use of these technologies. Some older people and people with disabilities could use sex robots as a teaching tool in a safe environment, they argue.  

First published in Reflet de Société magazine, vol. 29, no. 4, May 2021, pages 20-21

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