The Current

Sex doll brothel turns 'women into objects,' says critic

A critic of Toronto's proposed 'sex doll brothel' says the dolls teach men dangerous lessons about sex with women.

Using sex dolls can encourage men not to have empathy for women, says Meghan Murphy

A silicone sex doll is displayed in a 'brothel-like' establishment in Paris where customers can pay for sexual intercourse with dolls, the first of its kind in France. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

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A new sex doll brothel that was slated to open in Toronto in early September dehumanizes women, a critic of the proposed business said.

"This does literally turn women into objects," writer Meghan Murphy told The Current's guest host, Connie Walker on Thursday. Murphy is the founder of The Feminist Current, a Canadian website. 

"When you turn something, or someone, into an object it becomes much easier to harm that person, or thing, or to treat it as though it doesn't have feelings," she said.

Murphy says that setting up erotic dolls to be sex workers can lead to the normalization of male dominance over women.

The brothel, Aura Dolls, planned to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was set to open Sept. 8 in the city's North York neighbourhood. City councillor John Filion confirmed with city staff that the business would be in violation of a zoning bylaw and wrote on his Facebook page that the staff confirmed the lease would be cancelled. 

However, a similar business called Kinky S. Dolls has has been in operation in Toronto, also in the North York area, for more than a year.

Doll maker strives for realism

But for Matt Krivicke, the business of making sex dolls is far from objectifying — it's an art form.

He started his business in L.A. in 2011, making highly realistic dolls that customers use for erotic and non-erotic purposes.

"It's a business where I can really infuse all of my art ability to create a product that looks like it has personality," he told Walker.

"When you look at the doll, I want it to feel like the doll is looking at you."

Krivicke said clients enjoy the realism he provides with each doll, with options that include choosing between four different female body types, 12 different heads and 13 different skin tones. Male dolls are also available.

Toronto councillor John Filion says a sex doll brothel that is set to open in September breaks city bylaws. (Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

He believes his erotic dolls do not objectify women, but rather celebrate the human form with lifelike features such as stretch marks, tan lines and freckles.

In fact, Krivicke argues women objectify men when they use sex toys that resemble the male phallus.

"They have stripped the entire body away and they only have the penis, which I think is way more objectifying of a male body because what they're signifying is that they don't need any other aspect of the person," he told Walker.

Dolls don't teach men 'healthy things,' says critic

But Murphy doesn't buy his argument because, she says, "masturbation isn't dehumanizing."  The real issue is the fact these lifelike dolls are given "personalities" and are sold at a brothel as though they are prostitutes, she said.

"I think that really differentiates these dolls from tools that people might use to masturbate in the privacy of their own homes," Murphy said. 

As for the argument that men are relying on the lifelike dolls for companionship, Murphy said it's the same defence people use for prostitution and it obscures what drives men to seek a prostitute for sex.

The idea of a sex doll brothel reinforces patriarchy in our society and dehumanizes women, says Meghan Murphy, founder of The Feminist Current. (Vincent Kessler/Reuters)

"The reason that men go to prostitutes is because they want to be in a position of dominance and because they don't want to have to care about the person on the other end of the exchange," Murphy explained. It's the same reason men would go to a sex doll brothel, she said.

"He doesn't want to have to feel empathy toward someone else ... he doesn't want to think about what she needs. He doesn't want to think about if he's hurting her or not," she told Walker.

"I don't think that's healthy. I don't think that teaches men healthy things about sex and sexuality and women."

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

Written by Lisa Ayuso. Produced by The Current's Julie Crysler, Samira Mohyeddin and Danielle Carr.