ATSA 2019 Updates: Understanding Sex Doll Ownership

As a clinician, I live at an intersection between three worlds.  Sex Addiction Therapy, Sexual Offender Therapy and Sex Therapy.  These are often conflicting worlds.  The sex addiction world can (used to) tend to think all non-normative sexual practices are an addiction.  The sex offender treatment world can tend to label out of the box practices “deviant” and the sex therapy world thinks that all consensual sex practices are pretty much just fine.  It is probably safe to say that these three different (but connected) worlds all likely have different thoughts about sex dolls. 

Sex doll use and sex doll ownership is something that is seriously stigmatized in most arenas.  People who own sex dolls can be labeled perverts.  Many people think that there is something really wrong with someone who might want to own a sex doll.  And many people think that if a minor attracted person has a sex doll it will increase his likelihood to sexually molest a child.  This can be attested to by countries or states enacting legislation about importation and/or ownership of sex dolls as well as a recent controversy in Texas about the opening of a sex doll brothel. The reality is that most of these statements are either stigmas or assumptions as it is a topic that is little researched.

That is why I was so excited to see a session at this year’s ATSA conference dedicated to research about sex doll ownership.  Dr. Craig Harper and Jeremy Malcolm presented preliminary research regarding sex doll ownership.  The first study that was presented was a qualitative study about the motivations for sex doll ownership.  The proviso here is that the sample size is still small (6) but is growing as the research is ongoing.

So why do the men in this study own sex dolls?  Two themes emerged.  First was that of the “perfect partner’ and the second was about sex.  The owners of the dolls identified deficits on real people or themselves that made relationships difficult.  The men in the study cited things such as a doll not always being critical as a reason to have a doll versus a real relationship.  Some men cited their own personal deficits as reasons for having a doll.  They suffered from great anxiety when interacting with others and found it easier to have a sex doll.  In these cases, the dolls took on emotional significance as well.  Another reason to have a sex doll is that you can create the perfect partner.  We all know that real people have flaws.  When creating a sex doll, it is totally customizable and can be created to perfectly match a person’s arousal template.

The second study was quantitative and looked at whether or not doll ownership predicted sexual aggression.  This is a topic of great importance as many people hold the belief that having a sex doll (particularly when you are talking about child sex dolls) will increase a person’s likelihood to offend against a real person (or child).  This study only looked at adults with adult sex dolls.  This study had both doll owners and a control group take a survey that looked at many variables.  Without digging into all the results, I will summarize.  Owning a sex doll did not increase the likelihood endorsing sexual aggression.  There were no differences between doll owners and non-doll owners on measures of sexual assault proclivity or paraphilic interest.  There were also no differences between doll owners and non-doll owners on the emotional factors studied nor in attachment style.

The study did find that doll owners scored higher in some of the implicit rape theories endorsements.  Particularly, doll owners scored higher on hostility toward women, seeing women as sexual objects, seeing women as dangerous and sexual entitlement.  It should be noted that the study did not look at causation.  Therefore, you cannot say whether owning a doll increased these scores or that people with these attitudes are more likely to get a doll.  We can just note a difference.

Again, as a reminder, this is preliminary data.  The second study has 70 doll owners and 90 controls at present.  However, the research is a step in the right direction as it is empirically looking at doll ownership.  The second study found preliminary evidence that owning a sex doll is not associated with an increase in sexual aggression. 

Some people might ask why this is important research.  Laws in states and countries are being enacted regarding sex doll ownership.  These laws are being proposed without research to back up whether or not bans would be effective.  It is easy to pass a law about sexual behavior on an emotional basis.  However, if the science ends up saying that the law is unhelpful or even harmful, it is nearly impossible to get these types of laws overturned. 

Book Review: Assisted Loving: The Journey through Sexuality and Aging

The second gem of a book I found while planning for my graduate human sexuality course last fall is Assisted Loving:  The Journey through Sexuality and Aging by Ginger Manley.  It is really easy to find books on most sexuality topics, such as sex addiction, sex therapy, general sex education, teens, pornography, etc.  What does not exist is a lot of good quality resources for sexuality of seniors.  Our world seems to forget that seniors have sex too!

Ginger Manley is a nurse practitioner and a certified sex therapist.  She has been doing this work since the 1980’s.  She also wrote a column in Mature Lifestyles magazine where people could write in to ask advice about sex, sexuality and aging.  She has also taught sex education classes at Vanderbilt University specifically for those over 60 years of age.  This book is a compilation of her columns that cover everything from relationships to medical issues.

So, what makes this book special?  It specifically addresses the issues that most other sex therapy or sex advice books do not.  When discussing relationships, most books do not tackle topics such as dating after the death of a spouse, how to date online when you are in your late 60’s or how to talk to your adult children about your new love interest.  The fact that these are real questions from real people make the book very relatable.  Ginger Manley’s frank and humorous style make the book fun.

I will relate a short story related to this book.  I am the type of person who just reads my books related to work wherever I am, be that on an airplane, etc.  If people ask me what I am reading I will show them.  I was in a tire shop, waiting on my new tires, reading this book.  A lovely older gentleman sat down next to me.  He got a flat on the way to his church’s men’s group that needed to be fixed.  He asked me what I was reading.  I replied with a “do you really want to know?”  And off we went.  Turns out he was 83 years old and happily married for well over 50 years.  We had a wonderful, long conversation about sexuality in older people, his own relationship with his wife and a million other things related to sex.  Never in a million years did I think I would be having such an open and honest conversation about senior sex in a tire store with a man I never met!  I relate this story because I think it shows that people want and need to talk about relationships and sexuality no matter the age.

So what are some of the issues that this book addresses?  It is divided into four sections.  The first focuses on relationship issues.  Many of the issues that seniors face in their relationships are the same as the issues faced by younger couples.  There are issues of communication, lack of sexual interest, and dissatisfaction in the bedroom.  Other issues that are more frequent in older couples involve starting new relationships after the death of a spouse and how to navigate online dating when you are older.

The second section focuses on male issues.  Not surprisingly, many of these focus on erectile issues or lack of sexual interest.  Using both her sex therapy background and nursing background the author delves into issues of ED, low T, sexual functioning after prostate surgery and TURP (Transeurethral resection of the prostate).  Section three turns to women’s issues.  Again, the author’s role as a nurse is helpful in working through issues that come with aging including hormonal changes and incontinence issues.

The final section is devoted to other medical issues.  The issues in this section are those that are not most commonly brought to the clinical office and I assume are not frequently brought to the medical doctor as well.  She covers topics such as resuming sex after joint replacement surgeries, dealing with added weight or things such as blood pressure medications.  Additionally, and much less talked about in general, are topics of Parkinson’s symptoms and sexuality as well as how to manage sexual activity when one spouse has early stage dementia.

If you work with sexuality issues in your practice, or if you are a senior who wants to get questions about your health and/or sex life answered, this little book is for you.  It is a fun but serious look at how aging affects our sexuality and offers great advice to help us to enjoy a healthy sense of sexuality no matter our age!

Dr. Weeks is the founder and director of Sexual Addiction Treatment Services. For more information on her practice, check out the website at www.sexualaddictiontreatmentservices.com