Sex Dolls & Sex Toys

A friend passed on this article today: A (Straight, Male) History of Sex Dolls and I think it’s worth a post.

Female-bodied folks use toys to get off: vibrators, butt plugs, dildos, nipple clamps… there is even the Sybian rider (aka the fuck machine) and a Hitachi attachment for the Sawz-all. There’s some intense stuff out there, all to help women feel good and get off, with or without the help of a partner. Male-bodied folks use toys too, and they have a similar range of intensity. There are various kinds of masturbation sleeves and ass/prostate toys and synthetic vaginas and mouths and asses, among many others. And, there are dolls.

And like the article mentions, both men and women buy and use dolls, and 10% of the market is male dolls. However, this leaves the vast majority of dolls female, as well as the vast majority of buyers and users male.

My main question:

Do sex dolls objectify people, and women in particular (since the majority of dolls are female)?

Do sex toys in general distance people from human interaction?

Do sex dolls, toys, and other sexual aids (I’m thinking here of simulated child porn) help or hurt sexual health, equality, and consent?

I think toys in general are awesome. Like birth control, they help people own their sexuality and sexual health, taking responsibility for pleasure and sexual satisfaction. They also are awesome to use with partners and expand a couple or group’s sense of sexual variety, exploration, and intelligence. They aid in personal and relationship awareness, communication, and growth. And for that, I am all for toys.

Are people who own sex dolls patriarchal misogynists with an inability to connect to real people? Or are they simply acting on a kink in a safe way?

I think, with most things, there is probably a spectrum of folks out there using dolls, for a variety of reasons that I would and would not agree with.

For sure, I would rather see someone who gets off on violence against women acting on those desires with a doll than a real person. Similarly, I would rather see a pedophile masturbate to simulated child porn than assault a child.

I also think that dolls are probably a great aid for people who are isolated or have disabilities that make sex with a person difficult or impossible.

And, like several interviewees in the article, there are obviously folks who truly seem to enjoy sex dolls purely because they are dolls. In this way, it just comes across as a kink.

I think the rub comes for me when someone who doesn’t typically or superficially ascribe to patriarchal ideas, like ownership over women’s bodies, uses a doll because of how that relationship could shape that person’s beliefs and attitudes about women in general. Could owning a doll and having sex with it and not having to relate to the doll in ways that one would with another person influence how the doll-owner later interacts and treats women?

And how is a man having sex with a doll different than a woman getting off from a cock-like dildo? I think the difference for me is that doll-owners reportedly “have sex with” their dolls; I’m not sure if I would ever say I had “sex with” my dildo. I got off, I masturbated, I came. But I didn’t have sex with it. The relational aspect of doll ownership and doll sex, and the ownership itself, is what is thought-provoking and potentially concerning.

I don’t have as strong of an opinion as the article’s author does;  I don’t think sex dolls are anti-feminist or immediately objectify and degrade women. Having sex with inanimate objects that resemble women has a long history, and a certain population’s desire for that doesn’t seem likely to go away. Having a healthy outlet for that desire should be available to people, although I feel as cautious about look-alike dolls as I do about simulated child porn. And really, I think my caution has more to do with the fact that it’s difficult to acknowledge that people have desires that create discomfort for me: it’s difficult to acknowledge that people are attracted to inanimate objects and children and even more difficult to say that people with those desires deserve healthy outlets, not only so they don’t hurt people but so they too can have sexually healthy lives.


Women in Crossfit

Last week I was at the gym and was completely captivated watching the women crossfit games on the TV. It was like something shifted deeply inside my gut watching buff, strong, muscle-y women lift weights, run, and be all-around bad asses. I am so used to the small and petite women gymnasts, ice skaters, cheerleaders. While I know buff women athletes abound during the Olympics, it’s something different to watch women do typical “manly” exercises like lift massive amounts of weight versus running around a track or swimming. I just loved watching these super fit, but not tiny, women compete with one another. That whole mantra, Fit is the new skinny, could be the tagline for crossfit. It’s not just “fit,” though- it’s “built.” It was inspiring.

Another experience from the week that I felt was worth sharing: I didn’t wear a bra to work one day. I don’t have large breasts, and so I know it’s far less noticeable, but I felt self-conscious the whole day. Upon telling J this via text, he responded with the best thing: “Just treat it like a feminist thing and be proud! You shouldn’t have to wear a bra to make other people comfortable.” When I read that, I sat up a bunch straighter, and felt immediately better. Yeah! Thanks J!

And, for the second very noticeable time in the past couple of weeks, I had an experience that is hammering home one of my most salient personal lessons right now: I’m not the center of attention all the time. I know that sounds juvenile and dumb, but that’s often where personal insecurities lie at their root I suppose. They are complaints from being two years old that have never quite grown up. Realizing that a new love has other new loves and isn’t as interested in creating something deep, and realizing that a new flame has other connections right now- examples of experiences that are hard for me to digest. But the simplicity of being honest about these feelings has helped immensely. I have just felt for moments here and there like this: What? What about me? Pay attention to ME! Hey, come on! I’m not the center of your world?! And then moments later, I snap out of it. It’s embarrassing, but it’s the truth. It is helpful to meditate on the scarcity versus plenty model of life, but only after I’ve snapped out of it.

Besides all that, my fabulous weekend consisted of yummy, hot casual sex, seeing friends, painting, dancing for buku bucks, and beaching. Thank goodness for ten hours of sleep last night!

Nonmonogamy research, gender, self care, and HIV

Links to share:

This is a pretty fascinating summary of research done on the perception of different types of nonmonogamy; spoiler alert, poly folks were perceived to be more moral while swingers were perceived to be more adventurous.

A pretty awesome piece written on the lessons to be gained from dating someone in an open relationship

A fun compilation of vagina facts

Ginny on using language to be more gender-inclusive

The Gottman blog on self care, autonomy, closeness, and relationship interdependence

Interesting ideas on why childfree couples seem to cheat less than their counterparts with children

I love this infographic from The Lancet on HIV and sex workers:

Lancet-sex-work-infographic_930px (1)

Femme, Breakups, and Trans* Prisoners

Some media for you, that particularly intrigued me this past week:

Photo Series Explores The Sad Beauty Of Breakups

What Does “Femme” Look Like?

If “Real Men” Posed in Underwear Ads

Penned In: Letters Reveal the Lives of Transgender Women in Prison

Dan Savage on gender politics: ‘We all get to stand up and scream and yell’

Breast Bikini Ever

I’m sure many people have seen this, but I needed to share it myself. It’s so awesome: The TaTa Top

Also, it was a crappy week for women’s reproductive rights.

The abortion ruling from SCOTUS


The Hobby Lobby ruling from SCOTUS

I enjoyed this post from the Gottman blog on emotional attraction

Any news-y news you want to share?

End of Week Links

Honorary degrees for legendary pornstars

St. James Infirmary: I am in awe of this organization. I wish I had known about it sooner! It is an occupational safety organization for sex workers. They have an amazing handbook for workers, they employ workers on their staff, they do harm reduction and outreach services, and provide free healthcare to workers… all in SF. It would be so amazing to have something like this in Portland.

Beware the Kerkeslager Effect

What Happened When One Woman Had Her Picture Photoshopped In 25 Different Countries

Lessons from My Equity Reading

I LOVE that one of my books for school actually correctly differentiates between sex and gender. I get so frustrated when even professors and other academics conflate the two. So, for everyone’s benefit ( I don’t want to assume that those who find/read my blog know this), here are the definitions I ascribe to (pulled from the UC Berkeley’s Gender Equity Resource Center website):


“A person’s sex refers to one’s biology – specifically, one’s chromosomes, external genitalia, secondary sexual characteristics (development of breasts, pubic hair, etc.), and internal reproductive system. Sex is a term used historically and within the medical field to identify genetic/hormonal and physical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female, male, or intersex… Sex is a legal assignment at birth. How sex is determined is socially constructed and historically and culturally variable.”


“Gender is a set of socially constructed, assigned behaviors and identity patterns which are often perceived to be intertwined with and/or equivalent to one’s sexual biology. In fact, gender is constructed and fluid, having multiple meanings across cultures, geographies, communities, and individuals. Although society promotes the dualistic concept that people are either a woman or a man, there are more than two genders… Gender can be understood as having several components, including “Assigned Gender,” “Gender Expression,” “Gender Identity,” and “Gender Role.” “

A lovely sentiment from my book about the interplay between sex and gender: “Shortly upon receiving that information [of sex], the culture surrounding each human begins to construct the roles of gender on the scaffolding of biological sex” (Brown, 2008, p131).

Here are some other points from my reading I thought were worth sharing:

“Exclusion is not necessary when inclusion is not protected” (Brown, 2008, p176)- in reference to sexual orientation trauma

“Even nondisclosure can have negative outcomes arising from the strategies of distancing and disengagement from families used by many LGB people in attempts to conceal their sexual orientation from family, something Pharr (1988) referred to as ‘internal exile'” (Brown, 2008, p171)

[I know about that for sure. I am glad, on the one hand, I came out to my parents because I had certainly grown distant from my keeping our relationship and my sexual orientation a secret. The same had happened with J’s parents. But now we have the ambiguous/sort-of-weird situation that arises when my parents know, but don’t really want to know about my life. Such as when I informed them I am going to HUMP this weekend. Their shock and embarrassment tells me they don’t really want to know about the sex positive community I associate with.]

“…considerable scholarship would suggest that even good parents who are themselves traumatized may have difficulties in parenting their children in such a manner as to offer sufficient support in the development of self-capacities. Parenting is an excellent example of a normative developmental milestone that can be compromised by earlier trauma exposures. Clinically, as adults these children may present with very different sets of concerns. When the traumatized parent has conveyed to the child her or his lovability and can assist the child to cognitively appraise that what is happening with the caregiver is not the child’s fault, outcomes are best, and it may require careful history taking by a psychotherapist who is aware of age-related trauma dynamics to uncover the possible contribution of parental trauma to a now adult’s difficulties with normative developmental strivings. This appears to be a more common result of situations in which a functional caregiver-child relationship is disrupted midway by a trauma such as a natural disaster or social upheaval that temporarily impairs the adult’s caregiving capacities but does not affect her or his basic love for the child or awareness of the child’s developmental needs…Somewhat more problematic appears to be parenting in which the caregiver is affected by trauma in her or his own history that has not been adequately dealt with by the caregiver” (Brown, 2008, p122-3).

[Long quote, I know, but related to my own musings about the intergenerational transfer of trauma that, in my opinion, inevitably happens, even when the previously traumatized parent has healed from the trauma. I think it can be immensely comforting to recognize that we are not born and evolve in a vacuum, but that we develop in the midst of complex family stories and narratives and we don’t have to take on the family’s burdens all by ourselves. For me, this is related to the sexual trauma my mom and her siblings endured, how that has been transferred to my sister and I, and how I have mediated that trauma in my own empowerment framework of sexuality to reclaim my sexuality.]