If you want to bend your partner over and beat them with a leather paddle, or be tied to the bedposts with soft bondage rope, blindfolded and shagged, there are a shitload of things out there that you can buy. Companies will be clambering over each other to sell you beating implements, rope and blindfolds along with a tonne of other exciting stuff you can turn on, lube up, and shove in your twitching rectum.
Which, as someone who enjoys all of the above, is a delight and a relief. After my first hushed-whispers visit to a sex shop about twelve years ago, I’m delighted that so much more of the stuff I love is not only available but openly encouraged. No more hiding things in a paper bag and wondering why I have “DIY solutions” on my credit card receipt.
But regardless of how much more comfortable we’ve become with our kinks, buying the kind of products that would have made us blush twenty years ago, there are some things you’ll still rarely see in ads and toy reviews: sex dolls.
Male sex toys vs female sex toys
A while ago I kicked off about the weirdly judgmental attitude displayed in a Jezebel article, in which men who used masturbation sheaths were painted as ‘lonely fucks’ while women who bought rabbits and dildos were celebrated. It seems bloody odd, and not a little hurtful that what makes one person an empowered sex kitten makes another a miserable wanker, and at the time it didn’t occur to me that the stigma of the lonely may well attach to some toys more than others.
Marketing is clever, otherwise marketers wouldn’t get paid the big bucks, and so naturally there are certain male sex toys that seem cooler than the others. The Pulse (basically the sex toy that Batman would own) is slick and cool and space-age-y. Tenga’s textured masturbation sheaths are geometric and neat, like the kind of thing you’d put on a shelf in a minimalist apartment, just to highlight how empty the other shelves are. The Fleshlight, while more anatomical than these other abstract toys, still manages to market itself without implying ‘need’ – the kind of necessary, functional wanking that is the majority of my masturbatory life. In fact, Fleshlight even comes bundled in packs like the ‘stamina’ pack – the implication being that you’ll use it to build stamina for your performance with a partner. It’s not a toy to play with, it’s a serious workout, bro.
Compare and contrast with the way female sex toys are marketed: sure, they’re often sold as an enhancement to your sex life – something to use with a partner. But we’re just as frequently told to ‘treat ourselves’ or ‘have a bit of me-time.’ In short: a solitary woman wanking sells products, but conjuring an image of a solitary guy is something copywriters avoid wherever possible.
And so we come to sex dolls.
What’s wrong with sex dolls?
Sex dolls are often seen as weird and different. Even lower down the sex toy pecking order than masturbation sheaths, sex dolls are usually presented in one of two particular lights: a crutch for the incurably lonely or a comedy prop. The lovely Cara Sutra, queen of All The Sex Toys, wrote an interesting piece about sex dolls a while back in which she looked at all the reasons (practical as well as emotional) why guys might shun sex dolls.
It made me a bit curious – what do individuals actually think of sex dolls? I assumed most people would think they’re funny and/or pathetic, because of our tendency to steer clear from any toys that hit the ‘loneliness’ taboo. My gut instinct was that, because a doll is an (albeit cartoonish) representation of a person, its ‘loneliness factor’ is far higher than something abstract, so it’s perceived in a more shaming way.
The actual answer might be surprising - it certainly surprised the fuck out of me.
What do people really think of sex dolls?
SexToys.co.uk (who sponsor my blog, and occasionally get all interesting and nerdy with stats) have just released some info on sex doll attitudes. I should note that this was based on a survey of their site users, so naturally those who responded will already be down with the idea of sex toys. However, even given an already warm audience, the results were really interesting.
First thing to note is that sex dolls are pretty popular on the site,with the ‘sex dolls’ category page coming into the top 10 every single month. Of the survey respondents, 12% actually owned one. If sex dolls were such a niche and unusual thing, bought only by the very lonely or people planning a stag night surprise, I’d expect to see a few proud owners and a couple who’ve bought one as a joke. Not so: of the people who responded to the survey, 18% had bought one at some point, 3% had bought one ‘as a joke’ and a massive 47% said that they wanted to try one.
Here’s my favourite bit though:
When asked “What would you think if you found out a lover had/used a Sex Doll?”, 40% of people said “That’s fine!” and 26% said “Let’s use one together!”
Loneliness and shame
So what’s the problem? Well, although our attitudes towards sex dolls seem delightfully accepting – far more so than I’d have initially thought – people who use sex dolls may still have very valid concerns about how they’re perceived. If you hadn’t seen the stats above, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that your love of sex dolls was something shameful and wrong. That, while you can show a Tenga sheath to your partner or proudly present your drawers full of bondage equipment, your sex doll should be hidden at the back of a cupboard.
Because regardless of individual people’s attitudes, we’re still given a message that makes me want to smash things: an attitude that implies sex dolls are rarely used for actual wanking and, when they are, that’s somehow weird and wrong. That those who use them are the worst kind of perverts you can be: lonely ones.
My most prominent sex doll association is with Richie in the Bottom Live shows (Americans, please click that link and watch it and enjoy). He was the classic ‘lonely perv’ – it’s where 90% of the humour in his character came from. There’s nothing wrong with being a ‘Richie’, of course, but in reality, given how popular sex dolls still are, they aren’t just being bought by an army of people like him. They’re also bought by people who have partners, people who don’t, those who are ‘curious’ and those who are fans for a particular reason (they love the latex, for instance, or have a particular fantasy about dolls).
So I think what I’m trying to say is that, just as we’ve (I think almost successfully) crushed the narrative that if you own kink items you’re a weirdo, so we should challenge this idea that owning a sex doll makes you a particular type of person. You should no more be ashamed of owning a sex doll than you should be of owning a vibrator, or a wanking sheath, or an excellent spreader bar. Far from being a tragic necessity for lonely people, sex dolls are not only more popular than you think, but there are potentially a fair few people who’d be delighted to use one with you.
I’d certainly ask if I could watch.
Shameless plug: if you are tempted by sex dolls, or any of the toys and stuff I’ve mentioned in this post, you can get 10% off at SexToys.co.uk if you use the code GOTN10 when you buy ‘em. And if you do? Please please come back and tell me how it was in the comments. I am a massive pervert myself (sometimes lonely, sometimes not) and I thoroughly enjoy hearing stories about other people’s wanking adventures.
And because I am thorough, here’s some more info on the survey – it included responses from over 4000 participants, and was done through the SexToys website. Of the respondents, 84% identified as male and 16% as female.