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Inside the Minds of Men Who Buy Sex Dolls

First-of-its-kind research some may find hard to believe.

Key points

  • Sex doll ownership is an increasingly discussed social issue.
  • A new study compared doll owners to a sample of non-owners in relation to personality types, attachment styles, and offending risk.
  • Few differences emerged, calling into question social beliefs about the nature and effects of sex doll ownership.

The ownership of hyper-realistic sex dolls has become an increasingly controversial social issue over the last five to ten years. Many in society feel a sense of revulsion towards these dolls, which, in the main, resemble overtly sexualized versions of the female form. Legislators have called for the banning of some types of dolls (such as those resembling children), while others in academia equate sex with a doll to the sexual assault of living women.

At the root of these calls is the implicit (and often explicit) assumption that sex doll ownership contributes to increases in negative social attitudes towards women, and sexual offense risk among doll owners. However, there are yet to be any empirical examinations of these claims. That is, until now.

According to new research published in The Journal of Sex Research, of which I was a co-author, you might be surprised by how ordinary men who own sex dolls actually are. Our research team spent months surveying 158 men who own sex dolls and compared them to 135 men who did not. The groups were compared on a range of measures, including personality traits, emotional functioning, attachment styles, and tendencies for sexual aggression. Our aim was to conduct a direct examination of the accuracy of social beliefs and perceptions about sex doll ownership.

The results were interesting. Overall, there were very few differences between doll owners and those who did not own a doll. In contrast to societal stereotypes and beliefs about doll ownership, those who owned a doll scored lower than controls in relation to sexual aggression proclivity. This means that, on average, they were less likely to express sexual arousal or anticipated enjoyment when reading hypothetical sexual crime scenarios.

Doll owners were, however, more likely to see women as unknowable, the world as dangerous, and have lower sexual self-esteem. They also had more obsessive and emotionally stable personality styles. It may be that these trait clusters interact in some functional way, with obsessively controlling one’s environment helping to maintain a sense of emotional stability.

A similar interacting relationship might be at play in relation to beliefs that women are unknowable and that the world is dangerous, particularly in the context of both histories of poor-quality relationships. That is, it is plausible that a history of relationship breakdowns leads doll owners to have a lack of understanding of female psychology, leading to the belief that women are fundamentally unknowable and possibly threatening.

In one passage of our discussion, my co-authors and I wrote:

In general, our data are suggestive of the fact that men who own sex dolls are not notably different to non-owner comparators in many important ways. Although we set out to specifically provide preliminary data about personality profiles and risk, is it interesting to note this lack of differences, particularly when we might expect some of these variables to vary between the groups. For example, some theorists have posited that issues with attachment style might lead some men to withdraw from dating real women and instead focus on obtaining sexual and relational pleasure from dolls (Ciambrone et al., 2017). We found no effect of attachment, calling this conclusion into question.

Nonetheless, research of this kind calls into question societal wisdom about atypical sexual practices and the effects of articles such as sex dolls on owners’ attitudes and behaviors. It remains possible that dolls might play an important role in mental health and sexual dysfunction treatment contexts, as well as in work designed to prevent sexual abuse from taking place. This is an exciting research area that is sure to develop further over the coming months and years.

Facebook image: Fossiant/Shutterstock

References

Harper, C. A., Lievesley, R., & Wanless, K. (2022). Exploring the psychological characteristics and risk-related cognitions of individuals who own sex dolls. The Journal of Sex Research. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2022.2031848

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