South African men are fast catching on to the sex doll craze.
Although they come with a pretty hefty starting price of R16,000 ($ 1,349) according to Luvland operations manager Patrick Meyer, demand is booming.
For Sorika de Swardt, a social worker who specialises in mental health, addiction and complicated marriages, sexbots, or robotic sex dolls, may be as common as a vibrator in the bedside drawer in the next few years.
“It was only a matter of time until we would want to try out the next best thing, and it arrived in the form of sexbots,” De Swardt said.
They look like us, talk like us and even feel like a real woman, “only better because they always look perfect and never age”.
Last year, Luvland became the first adult store franchise to bring the life-size JY Dolls to the local market.
Meyer brought six into the country and they sold out in 10 days. Recently, he ordered 100 more.
“It’s a big market and they cost between R16 000 and R25 000. It’s basically like a love doll and is built or moulded on real women weighing about 60kg.
“It’s like having someone to communicate with. Some people put them in their kitchens or lounges and have conversations with them,” he said.
But for all their advantages – such as looking exactly the way you want them to and being “great listeners” who never talk back – there are concerns about how they will change the dynamics of human relationships and our ability to become involved in real-life relationships.
De Swardt says no one knows how these dolls will change the way we interact with others.
“We are already making more eye contact with our smartphones than with our partners and children.
Experts worry about our ability to form and maintain strong attachments and meaningful connections with real human beings,” she said.
But could sex dolls be the beginning of a trend in which people prefer sex with robots over humans?
“Our sexual egos are fragile things. The moment we take our clothes off in front of someone, we also expose our vulnerability.
“We want to please and be pleased, but many of us struggle to verbalise what we actually want from the sexual experience,” De Swardt said.
“As a result of this lack of open and honest discussion around intimacy, relationships and sex in the real world, we tend to opt for any easier way to get our needs met.”
But Meyer says the advantages of sex dolls outweigh the disadvantages in certain sectors of the population.
“For men who are disabled, for instance, it’s a way for them to have a sex life, or for men who are more socially withdrawn and lacking in confidence – they seem to be the ones who are most drawn to sex dolls.”
De Swardt says another drawback is that owners of the dolls can treat them any way they want to.
“There will be no consequences for the owner who abuses or degrades the sexbots. We can already see the objectifying trend when we look at social-media responses [about the doll].”
The conversations and debates may be borderline flippant on social media, but they are conversations that expose a growing interest in the generally taboo world of sexual expression.
De Swardt says that, whether we like it or not, the dolls are here to stay and all we can do is to try to talk about ethical use and the options of having real-life relationships.
“While still flooded in controversy, sex robots are a natural evolution of the plastic sex doll industry, and of the combination of sex and technology,” De Swardt said.