The Buzz Around the Sex Doll Shop Opening in Houston

The Buzz Around the Sex Doll Shop Opening in Houston

10/2 UPDATE: The City of Houston has halted construction of KinkySDolls for the time being, citing that the company does not have the proper permits for demolition. Source: Houston Chronicle

10/3 UPDATE: "We are not Sin City." Greg Travis, Houston City Council member for District G said. Houston City Council voted on Wednesday 03 October in favor of blocking KinkySdollS from operating their shop as a brothel. Dolls can still be purchased however. “I’ve already got cameras lined up that, if ever this occurs, I’ll be out there 24/7 with cameras filming everyone that goes in and everyone that goes out. We’ll post it on social media so people can see who's using it because I don’t see any good in any of this,” Travis said.

 “Huston” actually has a nice ring to it.

“Huston” actually has a nice ring to it.

A sex doll brothel is set to open somewhere in Houston sometime this week.

Questions abound. When does it open? Where in Houston? Who the hell is running it and why? Is it legal? Is it ethical? Are these sex robot prototypes, or glorified blow-up dolls? Will they displace human sex workers?

And most pressing: Who the hell is going to clean them?

I got KinkySdollS (pronounced "kinky-ess-dolls") on the phone and (allegedly) spoke with the owner, Yuval Gavriel. He assured me that this past week they'd be revealing the date, location and specifics of their Houston establishment.

I'd love to say this is another example of Houston being at the cutting edge of the cyber-punk technodystopian world (in North America at least). But Canada (and Las Vegas, see below) got there first.

Back in May, KinkySdollS popped up in Toronto with their first brothel, apparently a rival company to Aura Dolls, who tried to open a brothel in Ontario (allegedly the city recently blocked them for opening a sex-retail shop in a non-industrial area).

Both businesses claim the title of principal sex doll brothel in North America, but who came first (no pun intended) is minor compared to the subject matter: Private-time with silicone dolls. 

"Our vision is to bring you an exciting new way to achieve your needs without the many restrictions and limitations that a real partner may come with," Aura's website reads. 

 The dolls offered by Aura Dolls have their own names and (somehow) personalities.

The dolls offered by Aura Dolls have their own names and (somehow) personalities.

You set up an appointment, pop into the entrance (again, no pun), do your business, exit out the back of the shop, and deal with little to no human interaction. 

Aura Dolls stressed their dolls are "thoroughly sanitized", though the use of condoms is "highly recommended" as opposed to mandatory. 

That's Aura Dolls’ situation at least. So what should Houston's Johns expect from KinkySdollS' silicone sex workers?

When I spoke to Gavriel, he seemed rushed. Aside from assurances that yes, they were indeed coming (once more, no pun) to Houston and yes, it will be their first US location, Gavriel said he'd provide all the details on Monday, 24th of September. 

No dice. 

Despite repeated attempts, KinkySdollS and their owner haven't answered phonecalls emails/tweets/instagram messages in more than a week. 

The opening is (allegedly) days away and they've yet to say where. So I reached out to Houston’s sex scene.

"They're probably worried that people are going to protest outside the storefont," Houston fetish model Emily Snow told me as we discussed the topic over sushi and Kobe beef skewers.

Snow was one of several people I contacted for this story. Like many others, my info was the first she had heard of it.

And she was right. Aura Dolls is already feeling the heat in Ontario. Houston is a drop of blue paint in a can of red, and Texas is a bible-belt horse of a different color when it comes to coming.

Our elected representatives love guns but hate dildos. We had anti-sodomy laws that weren't struck down until 2003, and standing laws against the sale or promotion of "obscene objects". We also have a huge sex trafficking problem so anyone with the word “brothel” in their business model is going to have a hard time (these are extremely accidental puns).

In case you're wondering about the numerous Houston shops vending dildos and butt-plugs, those aren't sex toys meant for placing inside humans, they're "adult novelties". 

Back to Snow's point: The sudden radio silence from KinkySdollS could be a reaction to the backlash from Houston's politician's and the religious community, both of whom reacted to the news in a less than optimistic fashion. 

Mayor Sylvester Turner said it wasn't the kind of business Houston is looking for (though there's no law or ordinance stopping KinkySdollS, yet). 

Houston's Elijah Rising, one of several anti-sex-trafficking advocacy groups, also spoke out against KinkySdoll's opening a shop in Space City. 

Maybe you're surprised by that stance. Maye you thought sex dolls could help cut down sex crime. Wouldn't the anti-sex-traffickers be in favor of that? Not really, given Elija Rising is against sex for money in any form, be it legal, illegal or silicone. 

"Sex robots will not decrease sex trafficking in Houston, it will only encourage more men to become sex buyers," the group said in their Change.org petition against KinkySdollS' Houston efforts.

sexpetiton.jpg

Elijah Rising cited a study by Dr. Kathleen Richardson, senior research fellow in ethics of robotics at De Montfort University in England.

According to the study, new technology supports the expansion of the sex industry. 

There you have it, the expansion of the sex industry is bad. God forbid someone bust a nut outside of wedlock, especially if it wasn't meant for the sole purpose of procreation.

"The arguments that sex robots will provide artificial sexual substitutes and reduce the purchase of sex by buyers is not borne out by evidence," they said. "If an artificial substitute reduced the need to buy sex, there would be a reduction in prostitution but no such correlation is found." 

The study cites evidence that technology in the sex trade increases demand for human bodies. 

Porn (especially internet porn) leads to strip clubs, apparently. Which leads to prostitution. Sex dolls lead to rape, pedophilia and all the other sex crimes. 

This morally righteous argument is one that Ms. Maggie Mayhem is more than happy to debate. She and other sex work advocates also have studies, data and evidence. In a nutshell, criminalizing sex work online and offline has helped human traffickers, hampered law enforcement and endangered sex workers. 

Attempts to contact Dr. Richardson were unsuccessful, but considering she's also a director for the Campaign Against Sex Robots, I'm guessing her sentiments would be in a similar vein to Elijah Rising. 

The study also cited the shutdown of robot brothels in other parts of the world, allegedly linked to the "public health risk posed by the serial rental of sex robots".

"There is no proven safe way to handle the disinfection of the humanoids," the study read. 

Luckily, toilets aren't humanoid so disinfectants like bleach will work on your commode assuming you haven't slapped a pair of googly-eyes on it. 

Elija Rising’s spokeswoman Micah Gamboa was a little more blunt when she was quoted by a different publication.

"Our biggest concern is that this sex brothel with robots is gonna train men to become rapists," Gamboa said. "What's next? Is it child robots? Where's the line? Where is the boundary?"

Skip right over the “think of the children" slippery slope fallacy and note the language: Sex robots. Robot Brothels. Which begs the question:

Is a sex doll a robot? 

 “In my mind it fits the definition from google of ‘a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.’ - NotMedic via  Twitter

“In my mind it fits the definition from google of ‘a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer.’ - NotMedic via Twitter

"I would say no in both the strict sense and the general sense," BluKnight, organizer of Skytalks at the hacker convention DEF CON, told me via message.

As BluKnight pointed out, strictly speaking, a robot is a “machine that resembles a living creature in being capable of moving independently (as by walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions (such as grasping and moving objects)”.

Based on appearances, the brothels are using RealDolls, a product of Abyss Creations in California. They've been making sex dolls since the mid 1990's, and they are becoming increasingly efficient at it. Despite dabbling with bells and whistles like voice activation, they've yet to create a doll than can perform the complex action of cranking you off.

"Unless you're getting into wacky concepts like steampunk, a non-electronic sex doll, even a 'RealDoll' doesn't fit the bill," BluKnight said. “I personally haven’t encountered a fully (or semi-) animatronic sexdoll.”

There you have it. Robot strippers exist. Robot prostitutes do not.

Pop into Erotic Cabaret, Adam and Eve, Katz, Cindie’s or any of the off-brand shady 24-hour xxx video shops selling adult toys. You’re going to find blow-up dolls. You’ll find silicon breasts. You’ll find IoT vibrators and the latest in pleasuring yourself. You won’t find a sexbot.

Back to Snow, who has worked at sex shops in Houston. She knew damn well there aren’t any sex robots on the market. But she did wonder what KinkySdollS was offering. 

 Indeed they do. Source:  AF Sex Doll

Indeed they do. Source: AF Sex Doll

"Do they have any with a penis?" she asked.

Snow wanted to know about the customization and specification. These aren’t Blade Runner replicants, but these also aren't your old man’s mail-order blow-up dolls.

As the RealDoll website showcased, you can order male or female dolls, with or without a penis. Or you can build on a budget and buy a strap-on. Customization includes everything from proportions to hair color, as well as age (a particular topic of debate since there have been several instances of people online showing off dolls made to look underage).

Customization aside (and at the risk of disappointing robophiles) the sex dolls aren't robots. But it's one more step in the timeline. 

And as sex doll technology advances, it will eventually dredge up a discussion that has been on the edge of mainstream debate for years: Is it socially acceptable for people to engage in sex with humanoids as opposed to the old-fashioned way? 

The argument is a staple of science fiction. Think Asimov. Blade Runner. Chobits. West World. Think that one episode of Futurama where Fry dates robot version of Lucy Liu.

You could spend hours online looking up this philosophical query. Everywhere from 4chan to Reddit to IRC rooms at 4 am people debate where this is headed.

 And then there’s this asshole.

And then there’s this asshole.

Will sex robots lead to the elimination of human prostitutes? Will sex robots replace women at large? Will society accept sex with robots, or is identifying as robosexual the next hill to climb over?

Participants in these debates tend to be straight males, and inevitably the topic digresses into the unfairness of sex toys. It goes something like this: "If a woman has a vibrator society says she's empowered, if a man has a fleshlight, he's a loser." 

The discussions imply the feminist movement is against sex dolls (as well as sex robots) as it removes the bargaining chip of sex and sex appeal from male-female relations. 

 Source:  Know Your Meme

Turns out those armchair psychologists on the internet jumped the gun. The vast majority of feminists, sex workers and people interviewed for this story didn’t seem to find sex dolls or sex doll brothels much of an issue.

I hardly conducted a statistically significant poll, but who is more likely to support your right to have intercourse with a humanoid: Advocates of sexual freedom, or bible thumpers trying to throw sex-ed out of schools? 

"I would totally fuck a sex doll just for the experience," said Phoenix Divina, a courtesan formerly of Sherri’s Ranch in Nevada. "People should be free to have whatever kind of sexual experience they want, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone of course.”

Human harm seems to be the crux of the debate. But data on how many people went out and committed rape following sex with a doll was hard to come by.

Data on the human workforce getting displaced by technology however, is all over the place.

Make no mistake, we're looking at another example of technology fulfilling what was previously a human role. But will these (not walking, not talking) sex androids lead to a reduction in the employment of sex workers? It's doubtful.

“Though sex dolls will attract a niche crowd, I doubt they’ll have an overall impact on the sex trade,” Mayhem told me."A sex doll can offer pleasure but it is yet to be known if it will offer companionship beyond those who genuinely prefer inanimate objects as partners." 

It was a sentiment shared by Phoenix.

“I think it will probably remain a niche market, especially considering the current price tag associated with sex dolls and robots," Phoenix said. 

Mayhem also pointed out that this is hardly the first time someone has offered this particular service in the US. 

“In SF (San Fransisco) there used to be a guy with a limo and a real doll,” Mayhem said. “He charged by the hour to drive folks around with the doll and insisted on condoms."

The sex-doll limo service was a short-lived business venture, she added. 

There's also Vivant Dolls, a Las Vegas business that allows the rental (and delivery) of sex dolls. 

That example is particularly interesting because legal prostitutes in Nevada are speaking out against Vivant Dolls.

 Everyone wants to showcase that they’re in the vanguard of sex dolls, apparently.

Everyone wants to showcase that they’re in the vanguard of sex dolls, apparently.

Some of the sex workers at Sherri's Ranch (Phoenix not being counted among them) were quoted as being against the sex doll businesses, with one saying it was an "insult to sex workers”.

One of the legal courtesans said the idea women should be like dolls "unresponsive and lethargic during sex" was dangerous. At this point I wondered: Who the hell had that idea? 

Aside from necrophiliacs and people with a dollification fetish (you've been warned) it's hard to imagine the average person prefers their sexual partner do 0% of the work. There's even negative slang for a person who is passive in bed: starfish.

Another interesting comment from one of the legal sex workers was that sex dolls promoted "rape fantasy" and would warp how a man treats a woman. Ironic that the religious anti-sex-trafficking (let’s be honest, anti-sex) advocates use that same criticism against human prostitutes. 

Anti-sex traffickers and pro-sex-work advocates have additional common ground on this issue: the creation and consumption of sex dolls (and by extension, sex doll brothels) is an example of how sex workers are objectified by the world at large. 

“I do think the way sex doll brothels are presented reveals the stigma that sex workers face," Mayhem said. "That they are perceived as mere receptacles rather than individuals who deploy a variety of skills." 

Mayhem said the increased use of humanoid dolls could be a symptom of a larger issue. She noted a trend cited by health experts, that the US population (if not the developed world) is facing an "epidemic" of loneliness which is impacting health in several ways. 

"The more our society is automated and the more isolated people feel, the more likely the sex trade will flourish because of its unique ability to provide touch, eye contact, active listening and intimacy," Mayhem added.

Nevada's legal sex workers didn't outright say it, but they're concerned Las Vegas' sex doll service will elbow into their territory. Fact is, the dolls range from $60/hour to $160/hour. The professionals at Sherri's Ranch charge anywhere from $1,000/hour to $3,000/hour. Those are two very different tax brackets, I doubt the dolls and humans will have an overlapping customer base.

Based on my interviews with Houston's sex workers and kink community, virtually no one sees KinkySdollS prospective presence as a threat. 

"The kind of people that want to fuck dolls aren't the same ones who want to fuck a human," Snow said. 

She noted that sex dolls have been available to purchase online for years, and a rental service was just the next iteration. The sex doll brothels are essentially offering a "try before you buy" service.

 One of the dolls for sale at KinkySdollS. No word on whether they’ve been previously serviced.

One of the dolls for sale at KinkySdollS. No word on whether they’ve been previously serviced.

"Affordability is a definite factor," Mayhem said. "Real dolls are certainly not cheap and they require maintenance." 

It also saves people the trouble of where they would store their own doll. Mayhem pointed out that stashing a vibrator, onahole, anal plug or fleshlight is a hell of a lot easier than literally hiding a body. 

"Someone may not have the space in their home to maintain one and may fear discovery," she said. 

Mayehm also said that RealDolls tend to fare best when they hang from a hook while resting. The lifeless silouhette of a sex toy hanging from a hook would probably be a jarring addition to most people's feng shui. 

Sex dolls maintenance issues aside it's a matter of time before someone collaborates with Japan's robotics industry. So anyone waiting for the kind of sex doll that reciprocates (and has a self-cleaning function) can probably hold their breath.

For now, sex doll brothels aren't offering anything more than a pimped-out (for the final time, not intended as a pun) fleshlight. An ersatz human-shaped wad of silicone wrapped in lingerie.

Case in point: Sometimes a doll is just a doll.

"Dolls have provided humans comfort and inspiration for thousands of years," Phoenix said. "I’m excited to see how the relationship continues to mature."

nodyaH has been reporting in Houston since Hurricane Ike. When not conducting journalism, he can be found in dive bars scribbling on cocktail napkins. nodyaH focuses on underground culture.

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