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A history of sex dolls

As shown by this comparison between a primitive blow-up doll and Jenna, one of DollsClub’s ultra-realistic sex dolls, huge progress has been made over the years.

Today, the sex doll industry is bigger and more advanced than ever, with a huge choice of extremely lifelike dolls on the market. But how did we get to this point? How did sex dolls originate and how did they develop to today’s highly sophisticated models?

Ancient history - or a Dutch wives’ tale?

Some trace the history of sex dolls back over 2,000 years to the Roman poet Ovid, whose collection of poems and myths Metamorphoses, published in 8AD, included the story of Pygmalion. 

In the story, Pygmalion, a Cypriot king and sculptor, carved a statue of a woman he named Galatea who was so beautiful that he fell in love with her and wished she would come to life. His wish was made true when Galatea was brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite and Pygmalion was able to make love to her.

Others point to Dutch sailors in 17th century as the first pioneers of true sex dolls. Looking for companionship during long and lonely voyages at sea, the sailors would make primitive dolls from clothes and rags. It’s fair to say sex dolls have come a long way since then! 

This was also the origin of the old phrase ‘Dutch wives’ which is still sometimes used to refer to sex dolls, though terms such as ‘love doll’ and ‘real doll’ are more common today. 

While historians disagree as to whether Ovid’s poetry or Dutch sailors was the true origin of sex dolls, what is clear is that people have lovingly recreated beautiful women and men for companionship for centuries.

20th Century: Start of the Modern Era

The first reference to manufactured sex dolls came in 1908 in a book by German psychiatrist Iwan Bloch, who wrote of both male and female dolls made from rubber that were available in Paris around the turn of the century. Each was individually manufactured by a doctor known only as ‘Dr P’.

The German surrealist artist Hans Bellmer has been described as “the father figure of the modern sex doll” for his sex puppets in the 1930s whose more realistic models moved sex dolls further into the future. Bellmer made three dolls, increasingly sophisticated in design, which also made waves in the international art community.

Around this time other manufacturers began to use vinyl and latex to create more lifelike dolls, but the making and selling of sex dolls remained an underground practice. Advertising of sex dolls for sale was limited to word-of-mouth and the secretive distribution of catalogues in male-only environments such as barbershops, pubs and bordellos.

This all changed when sex dolls were advertised in American pornography magazines for the first time in 1968, where they could be purchased by mail order. High-end sex dolls were advanced further by the use of silicone from the 1970s onwards.

By the 1980s, the secrecy around buying sex dolls had been largely removed; they could be found in adult stores across the U.S. and in red-light districts in Europe. However, these readily-available dolls were mostly limited to primitive blow-up dolls, with premium models still difficult to find.

More sophisticated sex dolls were finally made available in the UK in the late 1980s when the government changed regulations to allow adult items to be imported.

Sex dolls as we know them

The industry took a further step forward in terms of sophistication in the 1990s, when artist Matt McMullen created what is arguably the first truly modern sex doll - one that closely resembles sex dolls today.

Sex dolls leapt into the spotlight in the U.S. when radio presenter Howard Stern allegedly had sex with one of McMullen’s dolls live on air in 1997. Stern claimed it was the “best sex I ever had...better than a real woman!”

However, the decade’s biggest contribution to the development of the sex dolls industry was the invention of the internet. Suddenly, sex doll buyers and manufacturers from all over the world were connected, allowing buyers to see the latest dolls on the market and providing an online community for sex doll owners and enthusiasts to meet and talk.

The internet also made the process of buying a sex doll online much more convenient while giving customers access to a much wider choice of dolls.

Since the millennium sex dolls have seen significant media coverage as the stigma around the subject continues to disappear. In 2007, the film Lars and the Real Girl, starring Ryan Gosling as a man who falls in love with his sex doll, was released and received overwhelmingly positive reviews.

In the UK, recent years have seen documentaries on sex dolls from the BBC, Channel 4, Vice and more as the general public’s interest in adult dolls continues to grow.

Today, sex dolls are more realistic than ever before, with premium dolls such as those stocked by DollsClub boasting incredibly lifelike skin and available in a wide range of races, hair colours and outfits.

Customers now even have the ability to create custom sex dolls from scratch according to their personal tastes.

Can you imagine what the Dutch sailors of the 1700s would think...?!

Blow-up sex doll image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user DF5KX; no changes made.