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Valley of the Real Dolls

Valley of the Real Dolls
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Things that look human but aren’t, are creepy. Or loveable, depending on your capacity for anthromorphism. Or beautiful, depending on your aesthetic. Or perhaps a bit of all three at once, which explains the American public’s conflicted fascination with life-sized sex dolls and even the first impressions of doll users themselves.

  A Different Kind of Monogamy

“Phil,” a retired Navy man in his 40s, bought his first doll only a year and a half ago, while in a relationship with his current girlfriend. “My dolls help me resist the urge to stray,” he says, “because my RG (real girl) and I have drastically different libidos.” He describes their relationship as “monogamous, loving, stable, and healthy.”

“Midiman,” married and “out” in his community as a doll owner, maintains several sites related to dolls and owns a total of 13 with one more on the way. (There exist many brands besides the famous Real Doll, including the lighter weight BoyToys and the softer, less realistic TeddyBabes.) “I am happily married. And I very much appreciate the beauty and sexuality of women,” he said. “[The dolls] help to balance libido without introducing a third party.”

Midi, like Szalinski and Phil, never indicated that he believed he was in some type of relationship with his dolls. He explicitly referred to them as “masturbation device[s],” even while explaining some are better for cuddling while others are better suited for sex.

Cupidon disavowed the notion of a doll partner flat out: “I can’t imagine a relationship with a doll being as fulfilling as a relationship with a woman. I’m not sure I could have something that I’d call a ‘relationship’ with a doll.”

Dolls not bought primarily for sex or companionship are often intended for use in pictures. This is how Szalinksi first came to own one, and while he has used her sexually on occasion, his primary concern is keeping her in pristine condition for pictures and “that means setting limits.”

  Pop Culture And Pop Culture Backlash

Even professional photographers, like Anoush Abrar, are channeling Hans Bellmer with their work with contemporary sex dolls, though none does a better job than fashion photographer Stacey Leigh. In Leigh’s images, dolls are dewy and flawless, fully or nearly nude, and sometimes, as was the case in her recent recreation of a Helmut Newton shot, one can pass entirely as human.

That photogenic allure inspired Caroll, a 40-year-old Australian woman, to buy a doll of her own about a year and a half ago. Though she didn’t explore her doll sexually until several months after it was delivered, she found the experience “very satisfying.” She’s currently single, but Carroll says her dolls have never provoked a negative reaction from her girlfriends.

Yet negative reactions still abound online, where commenters don’t hesitate to suggest that doll designers and owners be “publicly impaled” because they are “nasty” and “”perverted.” Such extreme reactions, sadly, have been exacerbated by irresponsible social commentary. In 2005’s Still Lovers, Elisabeth Alexandre writes that she and photographer Elena Dorfman specifically sought out men who preferred their dolls to actual women rather than establishing first if this was representative of the doll-owning majority.

She closes with the point that while Real Doll owners are “harmless,” they share the “cheap misogyny” of “women killers and flesh eaters.” With fellows like doll “husband” Davecat, who once said that just as those allergic to flowers can enjoy artificial blooms, “artificial women serve the same purpose for men who are, in whatever way, allergic to real women,” it’s no wonder misogyny earned a mention. (The line about cannibals, however, still seems just a smidge over-the-top.)

Several of Still Lovers less-than-charming subjects were subsequently contracted to appear in the 2007 British documentary Guys and Dolls, thereby assuring that that specific sampling would be reinforced as the norm. Yet if what I found was any indication, the doll-as-complete-human-stand-in phenomenon has been wildly overhyped and wildly over-criticized. We’ve all felt some affectionate toward, affinity for, and even, impossibly, empathy for inanimate objects, be it a stuffed animal, a Precious Moments figurine, or a car. While most of us might not go as far as to make such a connection the centerpiece of our lives, it doesn’t seem in any way indicative of a tendency to kill living beings. Wouldn’t we have an awful lot of murderous children, plastic toys in tow, if it were?

When Meghan Laslocky covered dolls for Salon in 2005, she furthered this silly association by writing about the “horror film” circumstance of one man finding a dismembered Real Doll in a dumpster—apparently not taking into account how difficult it would be to dispose of a Real Doll should an owner no longer want it. This raises the question: Are doll owners dysfunctional weirdoes for caring about their toys in the first place, or are they sociopaths for not affording the doll a human’s burial once it’s no longer of use?

  The Real Deal

With less than 4,000 Real Dolls in circulation worldwide, there’s little evidence that dolls are positioned to become commonplace as masturbation aides, let alone common as life partners. When people, usually women, panic about the idea of dolls replacing living females, they display an alarming lack of faith in the joy of human interaction. A speechless, thoughtless silicone lump isn’t satisfying anyone’s desire for true companionship; either the desire for real human company wasn’t there in the first place, or a doll is an unsatisfying substitute. All of the people I spoke with thought the dolls were amusing diversions or simply well made tools, not improved versions of human beings.

Some women also fret over the notion that dolls reinforce an unattainable beauty standard. While there are undoubtedly some individuals who would stick with “perfect” artifice over “imperfect” reality, be that artifice found in a doll or online porn or an anime poster, they’re far from being the majority. And sex and romance on the whole would be a less volatile arena if women could do men the good service of not assuming their default mode is emotionless, thoughtless, and superficial. Cupidon, who one day hopes to marry and have children, put it beautifully:

“[With a human partner], I don’t care much about age, skin color, or breast size. It’s the whole woman who creates the attraction.… A doll doesn’t have a personality, she can’t talk, can’t think, can’t be nice or funny, she can only be pretty. So she’d better be damn hot, since it’s the only thing she has. I know that dolls are just objects, and that human women deserve a lot of respect, so just the idea of comparing makes me uncomfortable. We compare them [only because] the goal of a sex doll is to make you think you’re having real sex.”

For Midiman, the soon-to-be owner of 14 dolls, it’s all pretty clear-cut: “No doll can hope to emulate a real female.”


(Editor's Note: A real female can emulate a doll, however. The above pictured woman is flesh and blood, not a replicant.)

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Comments

Hetaira  

Interesting article!
A small quibble: I know Davecat and Everhard somewhat and both are actually quite charming. I can't help thinking that Davecat is having a private horselaugh on us all by slipping into his well-practiced doll-husband shtick whenever a reporter shows up. And Everhard's cool, thoughtful intelligence always analyzes the reporter and her audience as critically as ever they do him.

06/04/2010

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