Sex doll tourism playboy

Tourist Attraction

An unusual form of sex tourism wants to set up shop in the States. Can our country handle it?

Emma, Courtesy of Los Angeles' Vivant Dolls

On a quiet street in northern Toronto, among well-kept yards, luxury cars and a small Christian-owned business, sits a five-bedroom stone house. A neatly coiffed woman drives by in a Mercedes, likely unaware of the home’s inhabitants: six bare Barbie proportioned life-size silicone dolls available for rent by the half hour or the hour. All day, every day, while life and oxygen and men move around them, the dolls lie stock-still on white sheets, their anime-esque eyes staring vacantly at the building’s stately high ceilings. This is the headquarters of Aura Dolls.

Opened in September 2018, Aura Dolls is one of the first sex-doll brothels in North America. It charges patrons 120 Canadian dollars for an hour with one of its “classy, sophisticated and adventurous ladies.” Aura’s owners—anonymous Canadian entrepreneurs—came up with the attraction when they discovered similar successful establishments while vacationing in Japan. In the past two years, sex-doll brothels have popped up in countries throughout Europe, including Spain, France, Germany, Denmark and Austria, and have now begun to roll into North America—but not without public outcry.

Last year, another Canadian-based company, KinkySdollS, attempted to open the first such brothel in the United States, in Houston. Before KinkySdollS could even hang new signage, Houston’s city council blocked it by updating a local ordinance to ban citizens from partaking in sex at a business with any device that resembles a human. “I know there’s some people that will sit there and say, ‘What does the City of Houston have to do with any of this?’ ” councilman Greg Travis told USA Today  at the time. “And the answer is we’re not getting into your bedroom, but don’t bring it into our district. Don’t bring it into our city. This is not a good business for our city. We are not Sin City.”

Beyond triggering neighbors, sex-doll brothels have raised serious questions about sexual ethics and power dynamics. In 2017, the world’s first known such brothel, Barcelona’s LumiDolls, was reportedly bombarded with requests for childlike dolls and bedroom scenes glorifying rape. Last fall, Vancouver’s BellaDolls was blasted for encouraging customers to “forget the restrictions and limitations” that accompany “a real partner.” And Aura marketing director Claire Lee tells me the company’s workers have found dolls “all bent up” after sessions and have even had to ban one customer who showed up with fake blood.
Despite these disturbing stories, brothel owners argue they’re not doing any harm—and may actually be providing a valuable service to society. Lee claims the majority of Aura’s patrons aren’t miscreants but people whose sexual needs aren’t being met elsewhere, such as those diagnosed with autism or suffering from social anxiety, men with uninterested wives and widowers seeking companionship. One of the brothel’s most frequent customers, she says, is a man in his mid-30s who comes in several days a week, several hours at a time, to have sex, cuddle and watch TV.

It may be easy to imagine Aura as a cross between a seedy massage parlor and a realized Westworld, but it’s quite the opposite. There’s no bar and no flirting. Instead, the entire experience is designed to eliminate human interaction. After arriving, patrons text Aura’s control room, which remotely unlocks the front door. (Before leaving, they’ll text again to ensure they won’t run into anyone on the way out.) A small sign instructs visitors to “remove shoes and leave payment,” and the interior lighting is dim and romantic, with white fabric enshrouding the windows. During my visit, I meet Anna lying on an unremarkable bed.

Anna, I’m told, is the most popular doll, and she proudly flaunts a 32H bust. With no blood flowing through her, a space heater whirs in an attempt to keep her warm. Her makeup looks fresh because it’s reapplied every day. Her fake eyelashes are secured with heavy-duty Gorilla Glue.
One of the brothel’s most frequent customers, she says, is a man in his mid-30s who comes in several days a week, several hours at a time, to have sex, cuddle and watch TV.
Across the hall in another room sits Yuki, an underage-looking “Korean” doll whose touted personality traits—including “submissive” and “innocent”—conjure racial stereotypes. Within arm’s reach is everything you’ll need to get to know her: three LifeStyles condoms, paper towels and a bottle of K-Y Jelly. A remote control sits on the side table, encased in a plastic bag. When maneuvered, it lights up a television screen with Pornhub’s home page.

Down a spiraling staircase is more silence and silicone. Inside room number three I meet Scarlett (ethnicity: “American”). When the door shuts, her manicured fingers jiggle, and I can’t help but think of the 1998 animated movie Small Soldiers, a PG-13-rated version of Toy Story in which the Barbie dolls are far more violent than you’d imagine. As with the other dolls, conversation isn’t Scarlett’s strong suit. Her fans likely come only to enjoy one of her three holes, each of which features “different yet unique textures, ridges and tightness.” Scarlett’s skin is velvety, if not exactly warm, and her ­accoutrements feel surprisingly real. The entire time I’m there, her eyes remain wide open, unblinking, glassy, ready to experience what people pay to do to her. She will never say no.

Of course, when you’re inanimate you can’t say “Keep going” or “Stop.” No “Is this okay?” or “Does this feel good?” Even the most advanced sex dolls on the market—equipped with artificial intelligence, self-lubrication and heated skin—can’t hold a conversation. This has attracted scrutiny in the #MeToo era, as it effectively means they can’t give or revoke consent. Matt McMullen, founder of sex-doll manufacturer Abyss Creations, calls the consent debate “severely premature.” He recently launched Harmony, a doll equipped with an artificially intelligent head that fits onto his company’s voluptuous bodies. Harmony can answer basic questions about her favorite movies and remember facts about the user. Although intelligent, she’s certainly not conscious—nor should she be, as that’s her main draw.
“I don’t think a sex doll or robot should have the ability to say yes or no any more than my toaster,” says McMullen. “When we’ve created an AI that’s truly self-aware and fully capable of experiencing the things human beings experience—such as pain, rejection, abuse—they would no longer be simple machines.” That, he says, is when the issue of consent should come into play. McMullen doesn’t believe men’s behavior with robots will bleed into their behavior with women, as “most stable-minded humans will know the difference.” He points to video games, in which players gleefully steal cars or jump off buildings but would never do so in real life.

Christa B. Daring, executive director of the U.S. chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, also thinks of sex dolls—even ones with AI—as toys, not stand-ins. “There’s no requirement to gain consent, because it’s an object,” Daring says. “I don’t gain the consent of the vibrators I use. I don’t think that depletes my ability to gain consent with humans.” On the same page is Barbara G. Brents, professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “We learn our behaviors from a wide variety of sources,” she says. “To think a few sex dolls are going to dramatically remake gender relationships and the notion of consent is kind of ridiculous.”

The United Kingdom’s Campaign Against Sex Robots views the issue differently. On its website it states the machines “are potentially harmful and will contribute to inequalities in society” for reasons including the sexual objectification of women and children, the reduction of sex workers to “things” and the diminishment of human empathy. The founder, stating that “Playboy promotes and profits from the dehumanization of women,” declined to comment for this article.
As for the sex-tourism industry in general, experts don’t imagine these dolls will create new tourist economies anytime soon—at least not until the technology has advanced significantly. Brents cites her research on sex workers, which found that only half the respondents list “sexual gratification” as their primary reason for paying for sex. The rest seek intimacy, connection and communication. “Most females and males want a human on the other end of that genital,” she says.

When more realistic, “thinking” robots are inevitably created, University of British Columbia economist Marina Adshade says, they could render human sex workers obsolete altogether. A frequent writer on robots and relationships, Adshade sums this up as “technology replacing labor. And I think it’s inevitable.”

After I leave Aura, I stroll past a row of elegant houses. A woman stands at an upstairs window. She pulls the curtain back and, while speaking to someone on her phone, glares at the brothel. The future is just beyond her doorstep, and she’s not happy about it.

If you'd like to rent our model Emma for a tour of Los Angeles, visit Vivant Dolls to reserve her for $119 per hour or $1,299 retail.

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