A Christian group called Elijah Rising is up in arms about plans for a brothel in Houston. Here’s the twist: The comely workers in the proposed den of vice aren’t human. They’re real-looking, silicone, anatomically correct representations of young women, with various moving parts like lips, eyes, and fingers.
Such an establishment already exists north of Toronto, where…
… $60 buys a half hour alone with a life-sized doll that’s “warm and ready to play.” Customers take rented sex robots to a private room in a warehouse … before returning them for cleaning.
The owner of KinkySdollS told the Washington Examiner he will open a second location in Houston this month, with a goal of 10 U.S. locations by 2020.
I admittedly find the whole thing a bit squalid, but that’s just my own preference talking. It’s unclear to me who or what would be hurt by the KinkySdollS bordellos.
Elijah Rising, however, cites several concerns, none of which sound terribly convincing to me.
Dicey claim #1: Robot brothels “will not stop men from purchasing humans for sex.”
Here, immediately, the group adopts the language of human trafficking — women “purchased,” maltreated, cowed, and finally, sexually violated. The reality is that many Christian groups, and not a few feminists, habitually conflate sex work and sex trafficking. Despite the existence of physicians, nurses, therapeutic masseurs, physical therapists, and so on — people paid to touch us for our benefit — such trafficking foes just cannot conceive of a scenario where the touching is paid for, consensual, and sexual.
More to the point, let’s remember that these are lifeless dolls we’re talking about. “Purchasing humans for sex” is a phrase that glosses over that cardinal fact pretty spectacularly.
Dicey claim #2: Robot brothels will “increase demand for the prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and children.”
Note how casually the words “and children” got slipped into that sentence. For the record, no sex robot offered by KinkySdollS resembles anything but a female of eighteen years or older.
Also, it’s difficult to see how men whose sexual desires are routinely sated by a silicone mannequin will in addition visit human sex workers more frequently. The whole statement is a non-starter.
Dicey claim #3: “Like pornography,” these robot bordellos’ “literal objectification of women [won’t advance] women’s rights, or reduce violence towards women.”
The dolls won’t lessen misogynistic violence? Says who? It’s just as likely, if not more so, that a man who frequently gets jiggy with a silicone mannequin has blown off enough steam that he won’t have the urge to act out against flesh-and-blood women.
Just like the word “children” was used to mislead in the previous point, the word “violence” serves that purpose in claim number three. Absolutely, violence is awful, and illegal. But let’s get real: If bar fights occur predominantly in, well, bars, the solution is not to close bars, but to eject violent patrons and/or have them arrested. The same is true for aggressive johns in what we used to call houses of ill repute. (By the way, anti-prostitution campaigners tend to inadvertently promote violence, because their efforts drive sex workers underground into a black market where oversight is lacking.)
I must add that it’s a little startling to see an evangelical group champion women’s rights. Kindness dictates that we judge this concern as genuine and not as an attempt to co-opt a worthy goal as a matter of rhetorical convenience.
We see here, incidentally, that Elijah Rising’s objections to common sexual expressions comprise porn, because porn allegedly objectifies and victimizes women. I’ve always found this assertion a little puzzling, and not just because in straight porn, the female performers earn considerably more money than the male ones. Observe the male actors. Are they not typically reduced to semi-disembodied, faceless penises? Talk about objectification!
Speaking of disembodied cocks, it also seems to me that that if sex dolls objectify women, then dildos and vibrators do the same to men. Nowhere but in the great state of Alabama are sex toys actually banned. Maybe Elijah Rising would like to see Texas authorities crack down on (ahem) “marital aids” too? Let’s hope not.Dicey claim #4: Sexual abuse is sweeping through churches around the world. Christians’ use of porn is already “staggering,” and sex with bots will further normalize prostitution and human trafficking.
It’s nice to see some recognition of the sexual-abuse epidemic that makes churches objectively less safe than brothels — because in the latter, consent is key. But what does rape and assault have to do with sex dolls? And why implicate porn in this? My friend and fellow Patheos blogger Ben Corey, a progressive evangelical who wrote his doctoral thesis on human trafficking, put it like this:
Many faith-based anti-trafficking organizations [have] slowly blended trafficking and sex work together to the point where many are no longer exclusively anti-trafficking organizations. Instead, many have functionally become anti-trafficking, anti-porn, and anti-prostitution organizations (which is totally their prerogative, but let’s be honest and at least name it).
Concerned Christians and some women’s rights groups tell all kinds of quasi-virtuous whoppers about so-called sex trafficking. They’ll claim without a shred of reliable evidence, or an ounce of shame, that 50,000 women are sex-trafficked in the United States every year. False. (I’m doing my best Dwight Schrute impression here.) They’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that 100,000 children are forced to work in the sex trade in the U.S. alone. False. They’ll say that the average age at which victims are first sex-trafficked is 13. False. They’ll fib, year after year, that sex trafficking is especially rife around the Super Bowl. False.
In fact, sex trafficking is so rare that an experimental court in Delaware, set up to fight it, had to close for lack of victims. It is so rare that the U.S.’ own State Department, which for years maintained that victims of trafficking numbered 50,000 annually, has had to revise that estimate down to the vague and unsubstantiated “thousands.” It is so rare that the Guardian, a prominent U.K. newspaper that champions the oppressed, had to conclude as early as 2009 that sex trafficking barely exists:
The UK’s biggest ever investigation of sex trafficking failed to find a single person who had forced anybody into prostitution in spite of hundreds of raids on sex workers in a six-month campaign by government departments, specialist agencies and every police force in the country. …
Current and former ministers have claimed that thousands of women have been imported into the UK and forced to work as sex slaves, but most of these statements were either based on distortions of quoted sources or fabrications without any source at all.
With all this talk about trafficking, I realize I’m playing into the hand of Elijah Rising. Such is the debunker’s dilemma. The prayerful Houston activists have a clear interest in giving their neo-Victorian anti-smut sentiments a veneer of respectability by muddling up the important difference not just between sex trafficking and sex work, but between silicone dolls and actual women. I’m happy to call them out on their nonsense.
Men who want to get hot and heavy with a sex mannequin at KinkySdollS are more likely to be timid, love-starved schmoes than aggressive misogynist monsters. They’re not hurting anyone. Lay off.
P.S.: This kind of sexual recreation may be new to North America, but it’s been around since at least 2006 in some places in Asia.
(Screenshot via Fox 26)