Sex Doll Sales Surge In Quarantine, But It’s Not Just About Loneliness

Sex Doll Genie is seeing an increase in sales to couples who want to experiment in quarantine SEX DOLL GENIE
Sex doll sales have surged since quarantine began, to the extent that one company are looking to take on new staff to keep up with demand.

Sex Doll Genie has received “hundreds” more enquiries than usual in the last eight weeks, from both couples and single people. The company saw a 51.6% increase in orders from single men in February and March, with a 33.2% year-on-year growth in orders placed by couples in April.

“We have lots of products in stock but we can’t work fast enough to keep up with demand,” co-founder Janet Stevenson said. “We are hiring as quickly as we can and have created several new roles in fulfillment management and customer support in both the US and Europe.”

At first glance it seems obvious why this might be the case. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are quarantining alone or without our intimate partners. While it's easy to scoff, the idea that a doll could provide company in the absence of other people is not at all outlandish. As Dr Kate Devlin noted in her recent book Turned On: Science, Sex, and Robots, sex dolls tend to be associated with single men. But they are also frequently purchased by couples, people with disabilities, and parents whose adult children are socially excluded. 

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History also shows that people are surprisingly quick to anthropomorphize technology. One of the earliest examples of artificial intelligence was Joseph Weizenbaum’s 1966 language processor, ELIZA. By today’s standards it was a rudimentary conversation simulator, capable of only a short dialogue. Yet people were very readily drawn in by it, despite knowing full well it was a computer programme. Users were respectful and many said they preferred interacting with ELIZA to interacting with another human being.

British AI expert David Levy observed that humans form strong attachments even to technology without AI. In his book Love and Sex with Robots, Levy cites a study of owners of early versions of the AIBO robotic dog which found a significant number of them attributed real feelings and intentional behaviors to their robotic pets. “People actually want to perceive their AIBOs as real pets and therefore they attribute doglike emotions to the AIBO,” Levy wrote.

If people can find comfort in a robotic dog, or a seal such as the therapeutic robot Paro, why not a doll? True, the stigma around owning a sex tech product remains much higher than around other other kinds of tech products. But what about when you compare it to other adult products? If we were able to reframe  sex dolls as just another kind of sex toy, we could start to look at the sales increases a little differently.

Sex toy manufacturer CMG Leisure have also found themselves short-staffed as sales have risen during the coronavirus pandemic. Their wand vibrator retails at $112 so the surge could be attributed to people treating themselves to a premium product in a time when other sources of pleasure are limited. Similarly, a life-size, full body sex doll starts at around $800 (with high-end ones costing up to $8,000). Many people might have fancied trying one out before now but struggled to justify the cost. It’s possible that during quarantine, people feel more willing to splash out, either as a pick-me-up or simply at a time when they know they’ll get more use out of it.

At a sex doll factory employees work on the mannequins
Sex Doll Genie are now looking to take on new staff to keep up with demand for dolls SEX DOLL GENIE
It may also be straightforward curiosity. Many adult retailers who reported a spike in sales back in March said they thought the increase was down to a ‘try something new’ attitude. Stevenson says Sex Doll Genie is not just taking orders from single men and women, but also couples who are open to experimenting with something new while quarantined together.

“What’s interesting about this massive increase in demand is that we are also seeing a changing demographic which is very positive for the sex doll industry and speaks to changing attitudes at home,” she said. “The traditional stereotype of loners choosing  sex dolls as a last resort is totally inaccurate. What we are seeing now is doll use is going mainstream with men and women both enthusiastic about bringing a doll into their bedroom.”

Whether this will lead to a boom for the sex doll industry is debatable. A recent survey of its members by dating site Adult FriendFinder found that while 12% of respondants said they were “more likely” to consider buying an a sex doll during the pandemic, only 5% said they would “definitely” get one. Furthermore, 62% agreed with the statement that “self-isolation reminds me that there is nothing like the touch of another person. I'll never get one.”

In the conclusion to her book Devlin said she doesn’t envision mainstream appeal for  sex dolls “I lean more and more towards the opinion that the current hyper-realistic, hypersexualised gynoid is likely to constitute a small and niche market, most likely of interest to those currently buying companion  sex dolls, and those who seek novelty,” she wrote. 

Nevertheless, for that niche market, business is currently strong.