Who Made Sex Dolls? A Comprehensive History of the Sex Doll

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Who Made Sex Dolls? A Comprehensive History of the Sex Doll


For as long as human beings have been sexual, they’ve used different representations to help them with that sexy feeling (did someone say paleolithic sex toy?). These days, whether it’s a sex robot, inflatable sex doll, or silicone doll, there are lots of ways sex doll owners can get their rocks off. 

But did you ever wonder what things were like before we had such realistic love dolls, some of which now even come with a detachable vagina? It’s a curious and exciting sex world out there, and dolls have progressed immeasurably from their humble beginnings. Let’s talk about those beginnings now, shall we?


Ancient history of sex dolls

For the most part, from the very beginning, sex dolls have been hetero-male-centric — as in, men who have sex with women have made female dolls to play with. And when we say “play,” we aren’t talking about board games. 

The truth is, any time there are people with penises stuck somewhere without a whole lot to do or even just without a sexual partner of some kind, sexual frustration tends to rear its ugly but reasonable head. In 8 AD, for example, Ovid wrote a myth about Galatea, a woman Pygmanlion sculpted from ivory. He eventually became so obsessed with her that Aphrodite, sick of watching him bathe, “feed,” and of course, have relations with her (side note: what’s a marble vagina like?), made her into a real woman. (Is anyone else reminded of the 80s movie where a mannequin becomes a real-life woman? Perhaps Aphrodite was involved there, too.)

In the 11th and 12th centuries, going to church in the UK was a lot more fun. While they weren’t silicone sex dolls, there were naked women called “Sheela-na-gigs” carved into the sides of churches in England and Ireland, supposedly to ward off evil spirits. Churchgoers were encouraged to caress them, and it was said that doing so gave you the ability to heal others. Yes, outsized vulvas (again made of marble) were stroked to no end in that part of Europe. 

Across the world, China was getting just as down and dirty. Archaeologists have found strap-ons in the form of bronze dildos (among other sex toys), which were used during the Han Dynasty. According to Fan Zhang, curator at Yangzhou’s Yizheng Museum, the dildos, found in tombs, were likely strapped on with leather or silk thongs. Plus, get this: hollow jade dildos were also found in these tombs, suggesting that they actually released liquid to mimic ejaculation. Next-level dildo-ology, right? 

No discussion of ancient sexual pleasure and mastery would be complete without a shout-out to the Kama Sutra, either. This 4th century AD compilation text is not only the world’s oldest book on sex and its pleasures, but it’s one of those books absolutely mired in references to sex toys. The Kama Sutra has a whole bunch of graphic accounts of the shapes and sizes of different kinds of sex toys, from things like rounded sticks to curved sticks and more. 

One particularly relevant section for this discussion was titled Aupanishadika (occult practices) and went into detail with respect to the various apparatus (apadravya) available at the time to be used for sexual intercourse. These dildos or other kinds of sex toys were made of a bunch of different materials — wood, rubber, gold, silver, copper, ivory, or even animal horn. And at one point — wait for it — the Kama Sutra says directly that when men had no sexual partner, they would satisfy themselves “with dolls.”

What kind of dolls, you ask? And how did penetration actually work? Well, in a pretty wild ancient version of the movie American Pie, there’s text in the Kama Sutra that talks about artificial sex organs made of “hollowed-out pumpkins” or “bamboo moistened with oil and ointment.” 



Modern sex dolls 

Fast forward to the 17th century, and you find French and Spanish sailors all alone with themselves on long voyages across oceans. These would last for weeks if not months on end (part of the reason scurvy was a thing), which left plenty of time for sailors to get lonely. Looking for female companionship with no real women around, sex dolls at the time were made from old fabric and sewn clothing, stuffed to resemble full-bodied women (a somewhat questionable side note: we’re guessing a cloth vagina is a whole lot less hygienic than a marble one … especially on a long voyage at sea). 

Around the same time, Dutch sailors had versions of these cloth-made sex dolls, and traded them with the Japanese. Japanese sex doll owners started calling the dolls “Dutch Wives” — a slang term that’s still used on occasion by sex doll owners  for modern sex dolls to this day. 

And what do sex dolls have to do with Nazi soldiers? Well, first off, we can dispel a common myth. Hitler is said to have enlisted the help of SS chief Heinrich Himmler to help German soldiers combat syphilis (one of the greatest dangers to Nazi troops at the time) by giving them sex dolls instead of having them visit French whores. Supposedly known as the Borghild Project (or Borghild Field Hygiene Project), this is a hoax; despite claims in books like Mussolini's Barber, Nazi sex dolls were not a thing.

So what kind of modern sex dolls were a thing? Well, the first commonly-available sex dolls were the extremely cost-effective blowup doll, the resemblance of which to a real human would be best characterized as a “suggestion.” Despite their lack of realism, these dolls are still very much in the cultural zeitgeist today, sometimes given as gag gifts (or used to help you not get a ticket in the carpool lane).

One exciting feature of blowup dolls  that might be often overlooked, however, was happily exploited by the citizens of Russia with their Bubble Baba Challenge. That’s right; they took advantage of the fact that a inflatable sex doll does really well in water — they can provide much-needed flotation aids. No kidding, the Bubble Baba Challenge is a yearly float down the Vuoksi River, providing a whole new way to ride a inflatable doll. The challenge was unfortunately suspended in 2013 on “health and safety” grounds, but sex doll floaters were back at it again as of 2021. Who knew an inflatable doll could double as a raft?


Sex dolls in the 20th century

So, what does a sex doll feel like in the modern day? By the 1970s, materials like vinyl, latex, and silicone started making their way into sex dolls, creating an opportunity for far more realistic dolls, complete with real-looking faces and wigs, not to mention highly-realistic vaginas, anuses, and mouth channels. Sex doll manufacturers have gotten really good at producing sex dolls that look and feel real, and with the advent of virtual reality, the possibilities are expanding almost daily.

However, as sex dolls have approached more and more realism, so have legal fights against their existence. For example, a company out of Canada tried to open a sex doll brothel in Houston, Texas, in 2018 but was rebuffed by a unanimous change to local ordinances to expand the meaning of adult arcades to include “anthropomorphic devices” — thus not allowing sex doll “sex workers” to operate. 

That said, sex doll brothels are a thing and will likely only expand in their reach. And why not? It’s arguably a great way for those interested in possibly purchasing a love doll to try one out, and also a way to help people get their sexual needs met without some of the risk associated with sex work (particularly illegal, unregulated sex work that can be risky for both the sex worker as well as customers).

Issues around likeness, privacy, and consent are an active battle right now, as well. In 2019, a European sex doll company produced a sex doll based on Israeli model Yael Cohen Aris, without her consent. The ability to make sex dolls look like real people without their permission is just plain wrong, and a disturbing and ongoing concern that has yet to be put to rest.


The future of sex dolls

The modern sex doll is quickly approaching the ultra-realistic, and will only continue to do so as time goes on. With the advent of materials that increasingly mimic flesh and muscle, sex dolls will look and feel more and more realistic. In an interesting twist of fate, some sex dolls and their orifices will soon have standard features that even outstrip genuine human beings, such as internal heating and vibration that actual real body parts will have trouble mimicking.

Sex dolls in the medium- to higher-end price points already have quite a bit of realism, and many are beginning to have movement and communication integrated, as well. Entrepreneuring sex doll manufacturers are hard at work rigging up robotic mobility, facial movement, and communication. To the future!

If you have more questions about sex dolls like, how to use a sex doll, how much is a sex doll, how to clean a sex doll and what are the best sex dolls, read our linked blogs! 


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