Question: If a vibrator is to women’s sexual liberation as Gandhi is to India, what then is a sex doll to male sexuality?
A division exists between the way we view women’s masturbatory sex toys and men’s. A woman with a vibrator or a dildo is “sexually emancipated;” a man who needs more than a dirty photograph and his hand to jerk off, however, is often seen to be falling short of an Alfie-style masculinity.
Blowjob imitators, fake vaginas, the fleshlight, and sex dolls are all objects of ridicule. Weird and creepy pervs have them; real men don’t. Men who resort to artificial implements for sex just don’t seem to have that natural magnetic masculine sexual energy the likes of James Bond. Or maybe they just don’t buy Axe deodorant.
A lot of this has to do with the way masculine sexuality is constructed in mainstream society – as insatiable and uncomplicated, needing only a hole and some lube to get off. Society does not think men require an emotional connection. Emotion? Pfft, that shit’s for women, alright?
This view is reinforced in all sorts of silly ways in society, porn being one of the main playas. For example, porn, marketed to men, focuses mainly on fucking and usually ends in more fucking. Erotica, on the other hand, which is marketed to women, generally focuses on relationships and ends in marriage. If men are taking their sexual cues from porn, then intimacy and sex don’t belong in the same bedroom. Intimacy is for girly girls; straight-up sex is for manly men.
Feminist arguments aside, if a blow-up doll is being used simply as a fuck toy, why do some think it’s so much creepier than a dildo, which basically reduces men to a cock? The fact is that owners of sex dolls often aren’t just using their lovely ladies for sex; many form intimate relations with them. This is much more problematic from the mainstream masculine point of view. Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling, is the story of a lonely man, his sex doll, and his emotional attachment to the intimate object. In the movie, Lars and his doll never consummate their relationship, but Lars still grows emotionally close to her. It’s supposed to be a heart warming story, yet Lars and the Real Girl parodies a real-life phenomenon where men do grow attached to their sex dolls, where they give them names, call them their girlfriend, and keep a picture of “her” in their wallet.
RealDoll is a California based company that manufactures life-sized, realistic looking sex dolls that are made out of silicone and come with a US$ 6,500 price tag. From RealDoll’s web site, a client may choose their doll’s hair style, breast size, pubic hair, makeup, and skin tone. The skin tones range from “fair” to “Light African.” Only “ethnic” tones like “Asian” are labeled by their nationality – Dark African or, say, South-East Asian are notable omissions. The FAQ on the site has tips for maintenance and care of the dolls, such as the proper way to brush and style the doll’s hair, how to protect their fingers, what makeup best suits the doll, and if it can be posed for doggy style. Apparently, just like children’s dolls, sex dolls require some tender loving care and affection.
Obviously, the sex doll is disturbing when being viewed from a feminist perspective, whether or not they’re being used as a substitute girlfriend. These arguments aren’t hard to draw out. Wait, your ideal woman is one you created yourself? Who has no opinion and never talks back? Who has a personality you not only created but also control? This is all not to mention the Barbie-like proportions of the doll (Barbie herself was originally created as a German sex doll, and in RealDolls her legacy seems to have come full circle), and the binary assumptions of gender and sex inherent in RealDolls. Did I mention that their male doll is out of production? RealDolls does offer a penis attachment for female dolls, but they problematically dub dolls with this addition “She-Male Dolls.” To me, this seems more like trans-fetishism than a queer-friendly option. The point is that all the aforementioned concerns are valid, and in this light, intimate relations with sex dolls are decidedly creepy.
But let’s put those thoughts aside for a moment and think about men cuddling their RealDolls in bed. There is no doubt that RealDolls, with their hairless bodies, vacant expressions, and open suggestive pumped-up lips mirror the female body emulated by the mainstream porn industry. However, the relationships many men cultivate with their RealDoll do not. As stated before, masculine sexuality is supposed to be about fucking, not cuddling. Yet men who love their dolls, self-titled “iDollators,” are not only bringing intimacy into porn on their own terms, but are also performing supposed acts of femininity – dressing their dolls, styling their hair, and doing their makeup. On one level this operates as the ultimate heterosexual male fantasy, wherein men have complete control over women. In doll world, women aren’t just objectified, they are objects. Yet this hyper-heterosexual fantasy is undercut by the erotic intimacy necessary to maintaining such a relationship. These acts are performed out of a strange sort of love for their doll. It seems that the men who love their dolls find that a wet hole isn’t enough to get them off, which leads them to give a personality to their sex toy.
What sort of culture do we live in where some men seek intimacy from dolls as opposed to people? Often in popular culture, women are seen as domesticating forces, attempting to marry and settle the Eternal Bachelor character. The “iDollators” narrative counteracts this; here men are domesticating themselves. As creeped out as I am by RealDolls (just looking at the site totally gives me the heebee jeebees), I think the phenomenon has some interesting implications. Just as vibrators have become symbols of women’s liberation, perhaps, by some twisted sense of logic, RealDolls are being used to liberate straight guys from the constraints of classical masculine sexuality, giving them a foothold on sexual intimacy. Maybe it’s even something along the lines of a good thing?