With the recent push to
criminalize child-like sex dolls, a lesser known subcommunity among
doll owners is being neglected. People choose to purchase dolls for a
variety of reasons, and not all of them are inherently sexual.
For example, the “reborn doll” community has been around for quite some time. Members of this community create or collect realistic infant dolls. It is common practice for doll artists to buy kits containing pre-molded vinyl doll body parts and then apply paint and hair before selling them to buyers. Completed dolls can be purchased in a variety of places such as eBay, Amazon, Etsy, or individual websites. Consumers of reborn dolls have typically been older women for collecting purposes, but a small audience (estimated around 10-15%) use the dolls for emotional support after an event such as the loss of a child. Regarding the latter, with the right mindset (i.e. not treating the doll as a replacement for a lost child but rather as a form of remembrance) reborn dolls can help ease such parents through troubled times. Additionally, just as oxytocin is released when women hold a real child, it is theorized that the same effect may occur when holding a reborn doll. Some reborn doll owners even refer to owning dolls as “cuddle therapy”. Overall, owning a reborn doll seems to be a positive experience for the owners, and there are numerous forums and social media pages devoted to reborn doll owners sharing photos, tips, and experiences with their dolls to confirm this.
Dolls intended for collecting and emotional support are not limited to only infant sizes but also to larger dolls resembling children up to about 7 years old. Popular artists for dolls of these types include Monika Levenig, Monika Peter-Leicht, and Annette Himstedt. The first two individuals have collaborated through a company called Masterpiece Dolls. Periodically, runs of 350 units of various dolls are released that, like reborn dolls, are made of a vinyl material but can be as tall as four feet. Masterpiece Dolls has released numerous types of popular dolls in the 2010s, which are still being resold through various sites. Himstedt also has a long history with dolls – over 20 years – and even opened her own doll “manufactory” which closed in 2008. All three creators, and numerous
More recently, Chinese companies such as Catdoll and Dollhouse 168 have manufactured dolls not of vinyl but of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) or silicone. The primary audience for these dolls is not women but men. These dolls are anatomically correct and generally marked as sex dolls. Upon first thought, these dolls appear to serve a much different purpose than the dolls discussed above – and for some people they do, but that is not always the case.
It is all too easy to assume the worst and dismiss the fact that a man would buy a doll like one of these for any purpose other than exhibiting abusive tendencies towards children, but such blanket statements cannot be made.
Via online forums, it has become apparent that men can find comfort in dolls in a non-sexual manner. Dressing, holding, and cuddling with dolls can alleviate tension built up throughout the course of a day. The feeling of taking care of a doll can provide a sense of selflessness and tap into paternal instincts. Not all men want real children, for a variety of potential reasons, and a doll – while not a real human capable of two-way interactions – can still induce positive feelings in a man’s life similar to the way a child would. These views are common-place among owners, and the large majority show a deep sense of care for their dolls that should not be dismissed as being abusive.
One may argue that if the purpose of purchasing a child-like doll is not sexual, then why purchase an anatomically correct (AC) doll? One possible answer to this is that there are no currently available alternatives made with the same quality as modern TPE or silicone AC dolls. Non-AC child-like dolls (like Masterpiece Dolls) are made of a hard vinyl, which does not result in a “human-like” feel as does TPE or silicone. Additionally, non-AC dolls are much less available since, for example, Masterpiece dolls had limited runs and there do not seem to be plans for more runs. If a new company (or an existing company that has changed audiences) manufacturers non-AC TPE or silicone child-like dolls, then it seems likely that these products would be purchased by doll fans who fear misguided stigma and potential legislation aimed at those who own AC child-like dolls. These fears aside, many doll owners prefer AC dolls for their increased realism, and this preference does not necessarily imply sexual intent. AC doll owners prefer realism just as reborn doll owners do, as it further enhances the experience of owning a doll.
Further arguments can be made that even if an AC doll was purchased for sexual intent, then such an act would be a victimless crime. There have been no studies showing that AC child-like dolls are a “gateway” to actual child abuse, as is commonly stated by opponents – but those are arguments for another article.
Taking everything into consideration, there are valid non-sexual reasons for owning AC child-like dolls. As explored above, dolls enrich many people’s lives in many ways, and these benefits extend to men as well. Legislation aimed at criminalization of these dolls is misguided and would violate the personal freedom of those who own a product that causes no harm to others. Protecting children is a prime goal to base legislation on, but laws criminalizing child-like dolls is not the path forward which would accomplish this.