The rise of sex doll brothels: the good, the bad, and the ugly

By Maya Khamala

Sex dolls. To many, they’re just for pathetically creepy men who can’t get a date, right? But in our ever-evolving sexual and technological landscape, shit happens. I mean, change. Change happens. Welcome to the future, babies. While sex dolls have been around a long time, it looks like we’re dealing with a newfound spike in their popularity, with a rise in sex doll brothels popping up, slowly but surely, around the globe.


The worldwide joyride 

Clients of Aura Dolls in Toronto would have been able to pay $120 an hour and an additional $90 per half-hour to do whatever their hearts desire to the six dolls on staff—as long as they didn't “make any extra holes” in them—no F-ing joke. It never actually opened, but the actual human brothel employees would have had to clean up the dolls between appointments to prepare them for the next client (this, to me, is the gross part). Each doll is a hunk of silicone worth approximately $6000. And Aura was far from the first: there are similar brothels in Barcelona, Moscow, and Turin, Italy. But, there has been significant opposition. Hong Kong’s first sex doll brothel closed shop after just two months, and the owner was arrested not for the sex doll business but for publicly displaying sex toys without properly covering them. The Barcelona brothel was forced to move to a location known only to customers. A similar business in England was forced to shut down after a month due to complaints from neighbors. In France, the first sex doll brothel has been accused of encouraging rape and a motion calling for its closure has been put forth. And plans to open a brothel in Houston were scrapped after the city council decided to disallow sexual congress with inanimate objects. Not sure where that leaves regular sex toys…and not sure if I want the answer.

The fact is, sex dolls, legally speaking, exist in a sorta...grey area. Even though they don’t technically break most state prostitution laws, the intense moral opposition to any sex work at all in the US is intense, which in and of itself, is a barrier. So, unsurprisingly, even though sex doll brothels are far from common, there’s been a major outrage over the very idea of them, particularly in the legal sex industry in the United States. (FYI, sex work is illegal in the US except for in a select few, highly regulated counties in Nevada.)

Putting sex-workers out of work?

Many sex workers’ main beef with sex doll brothels isn’t moral, but economic. Apparently, robots could replace human workers by 2030, and sex workers don’t wanna be the first to be displaced. Unlike legal brothels, which are not allowed to openly advertise, sex doll brothels would potentially be able to go full throttle and advertise on billboards, like one Vancouver establishment recently did). Also, because the cost of an hour with a doll is less than the cost of an hour with a live human sex worker, competition is a concern. Of course, sex workers and sex dolls hardly provide the same service. In a world that teaches men to bottle their emotions, it’s quite common for sex workers to play the role of therapist, offering many clients a form of nonsexual intimacy they may be incapable of accessing elsewhere (think talking and cuddling). So is the concern over being replaced well-founded? Can we have faith that the burgeoning sex doll industry won’t act as an emotional crutch for men who refuse to emote? The jury may be out to lunch for a long time on that one.

The consent issue 

Sex dolls simply can’t consent and have no limitations, and there is concern that some clients may begin to view this as normal, which in turn would propagate some pretty problematic and inaccurate views of human women. The founder of a California-based spiritual group called UNICULT, however, thinks that with the help of advancements in AI robot tech, sex robots can change how humans perceive sexual consent. Still with me? The group's proposed robot brothel is set to open in West Hollywood any time now. In response to the notion that only sentient beings are capable of giving consent, UNICULT is proposing a model where customers would show their respect for their robot sex doll by either earning “conversational points” in advance through an app or spending 30 minutes connecting with the doll’s avatar in person before sex. I’m not convinced on this one. How ‘bout you?

Still…the best option for many 

Still, others have argued that for (would-be) clients afflicted with social anxiety, or disabilities, the service would be invaluable. Aura Dolls in Toronto, for example, has apparently received a number of inquiries from the visually impaired and the hard of hearing. Sex dolls might also serve as an outlet for people with a taste for violent or nonconsensual sex who don’t want to harm a real person, or even people in monogamous relationships who want to experiment without actually cheating. So it’s possible that not all who might access a sex doll brothel are raging misogynists ready to unleash their rapey urges. (Maybe just some of them?).

It will likely be a while before sex doll brothels become mainstream (if they do). Still, as technology around AI improves and sex dolls that can replicate human sexual responses become a thing, it’s not impossible that sex dolls might one day enjoy the same level of relative “respectability” as vibrators and other sex toys.

Personally, I’m waiting to see if male sex dolls ever become a thing. 


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