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A fully customizable “woman” is just a few clicks and up to $30,000 away.

While she may not have an actual pulse, the latest sex doll, also known as a robot companion, comes pretty close to resembling a human being: she (the majority are women) is 98.6 degrees, and therefore warm to the touch; she moans when she’s touched in a sensitive area; and she can even simulate an orgasm. She talks, and she will adapt her responses to her user — so if you don’t like what she has to say, she can be calibrated to fit your needs and desires.

She’s not really a sex doll anymore. She’s more like a sex robot, and she may have wide-ranging effects on human relationships and the nature of sex work.

“The old dolls did not have any built-in sensors, and were not able to move heads, blink eyes or move lips on their own; the skin material was different and the skeleton material was different,” said Mike Chanowski, sales director with sex doll retailer Green Earth Robotics Inc., based near Toronto. “Now, in 2019, we made major upgrades with sensitive skin touch sensors and built-in heating systems to warm the doll’s body.”

Today’s sex dolls are made from silicone or medical grade thermoplastic elastomer, a substance similar to rubber. Features that cost extra include body heat, touch sensors, breathing simulation and more, Chanowski said. While he noted that consumers have their choice of bold or shy personalities and varying body types, along with a range of skin, eye and hair colors, most dolls on offer have light skin, lean figures and large breasts, resembling Barbie Dolls.

The sex robots powered by artificial intelligence — which have been in development for years — were first rolled in 2017, but every few months, a more developed doll (one who breathes or self-lubricates, for example), tops the previous versions.

Consumers are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars for sex dolls for a variety of reasons, experts says. Some struggle to navigate the world of dating, others don’t have sex with their significant others and use dolls instead — or they supplement intimacy in their marriage with use of a sex doll, said Alice Vaughn, co-host of the podcast “Two Girls One Mic: The Porncast.”

A person might have any number of toys or devices in their sexual toolbox, Vaughn said, “and sex dolls are no different. They’ll never replace human interaction, but will supplement certain fantasies and acts that you can’t otherwise create.”

Some men have been hurt by former partners, said Gina Covarrubias, a former sex worker, former adult website advertisement writer and owner of Provocateur West, a Las Vegas marketing company for the adult industry. (While there are a few male sex dolls, they’re usually used by men as well, Covarrubias said.) They see a sex doll as someone (or something) that won’t betray them. Others feel that sex dolls are the only female companionship they have available to them, or have fetishes they aren’t comfortable sharing with another person, Covarrubias added.

“A sex doll could be the perfect substitute for a man whose sadistic needs are something most sex workers will want to stay far away from,” Covarrubias said.

While she said she’s not worried sex dolls will take much business away from real-life sex workers (the dolls are too expensive), she is concerned that artificial sex partners could encourage violent sexual behavior.

In the early 2000s, Covarrubias said, mainstream porn took an ugly turn, becoming more misogynistic and violent, with trends like punching someone in the head (known as the donkey punch) and plugging women’s noses shut.

“Once that happened, it trickled over into real life,” Covarrubias said. “Once men are free to do whatever they’d like without an actual flesh-and-blood person to object, real-life sex could also take a turn for the worse.”

(Ultimate Fantasy Dolls)
(Ultimate Fantasy Dolls)

Some mental health experts fear that a reliance on sex dolls — particularly given the humanlike features of the newest models — could severely short circuit human connection.

“Sex dolls will unfortunately also change the future of sex, and not in a good way,” said Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist who treats intimacy and sex issues and author of “Bad Boys: Why We Love Them, How to Live With Them, and When to Leave Them” and “Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets.”

“Men and women have never been more isolated and out of tune with each other,” Lieberman said.

Still, the dolls do solve a problem, said Douglas Weiss, a psychologist who has written multiple books about sex and relationships. A person using a sex doll is looking for sex without real, interactive intimacy, Weiss added.

“They may struggle with intimacy anorexia,” which Weiss defines as actively withholding sex from a partner, “or have a sex addiction,” he said. Using a doll allows for sexual release “without a person or the entanglements or responsibilities of an intimate relationship.”

For better or for worse, the dolls could someday have a significant effect on the sex industry.

The latest models have been sold to existing sexual massage operators who are experimenting with using them as alternatives to sex workers in Germany, France and Spain, Chanowski said. And since it’s illegal in most countries to hire a sex worker, brothels filled with dolls have the potential to replace the traditional kind, he noted. Using sex dolls could circumvent existing laws against prostitution.

“In the actual definition of prostitution, it is assumed that both parties are human,” said Ralph Greco Jr., who writes the Sex Files, a weekly column for Short and Sweet NYC. “But if one is simply engaging an object for sexual gratification, is the act they engage [in] really considered prostitution? Seems more like masturbation than anything.” He wondered, “Would the user be arrested?”

It’s up to the state to decide, said Maurice Davis, a Detroit criminal defense lawyer. For example, in Nevada, there are legal brothels because prostitution is allowed by law in that state, while in Michigan, prostitution is illegal.

“Since sex dolls aren’t human, the state would have to enact a new law for these types of brothels,” Davis says.

If paying for sex with dolls is deemed legal, Greco Jr. expects to see doll brothels appearing in the near future. But their success is uncertain.

“Across the world, doll brothels are opening — and some are closing just as fast as they open,” Greco Jr. said.

The first American sex doll brothel was supposed to open last October in Houston, but the city counsel blocked it, arguing that people couldn’t engage in sexual activities with inanimate objects at a business.

Hong Kong’s first sex doll brothel, which opened in September 2018, closed the following month. The owner shuttered the shop after being arrested; police said the business publicly, illegally displayed sex toys for sale without covering them as required. A Barcelona brothel was also forced to close, and now is in a location only known to its customers, and a sex doll brothel in England was shut down following complaints from neighbors.

Chanowski’s vision for AI robots goes far beyond brothels.

“The programming allows new owners or even a corporation to program conversations or remember details about the product or company,” he said. For example, a doll could recall facts and spout them off at say, a trade show or retail store. He added: “All can be programmed by robot owners.”

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