The topic of sex doll ownership, or sex dolls, is becoming an increasingly debated issue from a social and legal perspective. This study was designed to examine the credibility of the existing psychological, sexological and legal literature in relation to their ownership.

Recent findings

Across the spectrum of potential socio-legal positions regarding sex doll ownership, there are many opinions. However, there is a near absence of empirical analyses of the psychological characteristics or behavioral consequences of realistic doll ownership. Rather, existing arguments represent the philosophical positions of scholars without objective evidence. 

Realistic sex doll ownership

sex doll ownership

The sale of realistic human imitations in the form of sex dolls for sexual play is supported by a multi-million dollar global industry. Some models include artificial intelligence and the ability to feign communication with their owners and are referred to as sex robots.

This has led to increased academic, social and legal attention. The law also deals with dangerous child sex dolls. A 2020 study (Craig A. Harpercor and Rebecca Lievesley) discusses the motivations for owning sex dolls. Its authors ask interesting questions.

Who are the (potential) owners of sex dolls

At present, these artificial objects appear to have a predominantly sexual function, which may limit our understanding of the motivations behind the desire to own them. Around 70% of sex doll owners report sexual gratification as the main function of their doll, but others report that their dolls function as a form of companionship and a substitute for company.

Even among those who indicate that the primary purpose of their doll is sex, sex doll ownership was accompanied by other functions in over 80% of cases. It is the illusion of intimacy that forms the basis of the close bond between them and their robots.  

The alleged consequences and effects of sex doll ownership

Researchers in bioethics, sociology, robotics and legal studies have cited concerns that sex dolls and robots promote the sexual objectification of women and exacerbate traditional standards of beauty and perceptions of attractiveness.

The impact is a loss of human intimacy and connection when it comes to sexual interactions. At the extreme, sex doll ownership leads to the promotion of sexual violence against women and child sexual abuse and paedophilia.

The programmable nature of sex robots allows their owners to essentially practice rape. However, sex doll ownership has not been shown to lead to sexual aggression. This also leads to the consideration of whether raping a robot is a crime. 

Investigating the negative impact

sex doll ownership 1

It is reasonable to assume that interaction with child sex dolls could increase the likelihood of child sexual abuse by desensitizing the doll user to the physical, emotional, and psychological harm caused by child sexual abuse and normalizing the behavior in the mind of the abuser.

At the same time, however, there is no evidence of therapeutic benefit in the use of child sex dolls. This can also be applied to relationships with women. Thus, neither the negative nor the positive effect of sex dolls has been proven yet, as it has not been researched. 

Research on the positive impact

In addition to the potential risks associated with owning sex dolls and with robot owners, research has also explored positive effects. Controlled access to dolls in a sex and relationship counseling setting will allow exploration of the effectiveness of dolls in alleviating sexual dysfunction.

Controversially, studies of child sex dolls in settings aimed at preventing sexual abuse in individuals who are sexually attracted to children can be considered.

Case study evidence of this practice should be evaluated to address controversy and unanswered questions. Sex dolls and robots may play a potential role in medical and psychotherapeutic settings in alleviating feelings of social and emotional isolation as well as treating sexual dysfunction.

Conclusions of the study

The aim of this study was to map the development of arguments emerging within the existing literature on the motivations and effects of owning real dolls and sex robots. It then went on to map the lack of empirical research on the topic using findings from social, cognitive, and evolutionary psychology and current theorizing on the etiology of sexual offending.

Current conclusions are based on ideological starting points that are at odds with the oft-cited risks. Social and legal professionals should proceed to more empirical research on this increasingly contentious social issue.


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