Sex Doll Video: Dr. Craig Harper on the Psychology of Sex Doll Ownership

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Dr. Craig Harper on the Psychology of Sex Doll Ownership | Interview for SavageLoveCast

In this interview, Dr. Craig Harper talks to Dan Savage for the SavageLoveCast about new research into the science and psychology of sex doll ownership. We discuss why people might own dolls, and whether social stigma plays out in new data from people who own dolls.


all right we’re going to take a quick

break from your calls because every once

in a while we like to invite researchers

or scientists onto the show to share

with us the results of a new scientific

study that they’ve published for a

little segment we call what you got


joining us for this what you got dr

craig harper a senior lecturer in

psychology at nottingham trent

university in the uk hey dr harper how

are you

hi i’m good thanks how are you really

good thanks for jumping on the phone so

uh what do you got

uh we’ve been doing some uh some really

cool research actually i think um into

sex doll ownership so

um i guess we’re aware of kind of lots

of people who are having lots of kind of

uh emotive responses to things like sex

dolls and um associating it with risk

and having this idea of kind of people

who own sex balls being sexually deviant

and things like that

but there’s no evidence for any of this

there’s nothing at all we’ve got lots of

people advocating for kind of

criminalization things like that but

nothing no data whatsoever

so what we decided to do was to to test

some of these ideas we had three

different models that we were looking at


is it possible that sex dolls are

protective against sexual risk do they

increase sexual risk or are they just

as they’re described sex toys that

people use for sexual gratification

sexual enhancement and things like that

so we um yeah we’ve been testing some of

those ideas out with sexual owners and

comparing those scores to people who

don’t own sex dolls okay so quickly let

me jump in want to clarify uh the things

that people emote about a lot when they

talk about sex dolls are that they’re

going to contribute to

you know patriarchal misogynistic

attitudes that women are objects that

should do what you want them to do and

be right where you want them to be and

be used exactly how you want to use them

and that sex dolls if they take off and

they really you know we talk about sex

dolls a lot more than any of us i think

have encountered them in the wild but if

they were to take off it would make an

already bleak situation for women

culturally sexually romantically even


that’s what you meant by the emoting

people are doing about sex dolls

exactly yeah so that’s the um that’s the

key kind of driver i guess that’s

driving a lot of social discussions

about this but like i said there’s no

there’s no data that supports any of

that there’s no um research that that

supports that

and what a lot of these arguments are

doing is they’re arguing like you say

from emotion they’re thinking about kind

of the situation that women find

themselves in at the moment and think

about what the kind of slippery slope

could be if these dolls take off well

it’s a situation women have been in for

millennia and it’s a situation that

women today have you know for the last

century have fought really hard

to uh make less bad and people women men

myself included don’t want to see things

get worse although that does seem to be

the motto of the 21st century things get


all right so what did you find in your


uh well i guess i i suppose the

interesting thing really is that we

found very little so we

compared the scores like i said to of

sex doll owners we had 158

sex doll owners and we recruited a

comparison group of 135 people who don’t

own sex dolls these are all men and we

were looking at whether they differed on

things like their level of sexual

fantasizing what they fantasize about

their personality traits how well they

function emotionally their attachment


but importantly how they view women and

do they have these things called offense

supportive cognitions these kind of

pro-criminal attitudes that might be

associated at least theoretically with

uh with sexual offending and and like i

say in the main we found very few

differences we did see

the interestingly that people who own

sex dolls were less likely to report

being aroused by sexually aggressive

scenarios so we take that as an

indication of the literature as well

takes that as indication

of them being less likely to act on any

potential kind of offense supportive

fantasies that they might have but

interestingly people who didn’t own sex

dolls also had the higher levels of uh

beastophyllic fantasy so people who

don’t own sex dolls seem to have

slightly higher levels of

fantasies around kind of coercive sex so

again we’re seeing this idea potentially

and this is all kind of potentially at

the moment because this is relatively

small sample sizes but an initial look

at doll ownership of sex dolls being

maybe protective against sexual

aggression in terms of personality again

we found very few differences people who

own sex dolls were more likely to have

obsessive compulsive personality traits

so they have this kind of desire for

control or for order maybe and that

might be indicative of the fact that a

lot of the guys that were in our sex

doll owner sample had really poor

quality past relationships and we’ve

also got some qualitative data actually

some interview data

that seems to suggest that people seek

out sex dolls as

a form of sexual outlet a lot of the

time because of these past negative

experiences with with uh relationships

with with women we did also find that

men who own sex dolls have lower levels

of sexual self-esteem as well so

again kind of tapping into this idea of

poor quality

sexual histories may be kind of driving

people into using sex dolls

or owning sex dolls but we didn’t find

any evidence whatsoever that sex dolls

increase levels of sexual aggression


and you did find that in your control

group in the sample of men who didn’t

own sex dolls

more evidence of sexually aggressive

attitudes or

shitty shittier men were were in the

average in the media well

i i i guess that would be one way of

putting it so we should all go out there

we should be looking for guys women

should be looking for guys who own sex

dolls because they’re the safer bat well

the one the one thing i would flag is

that that particular variable was not

significantly different between the two

groups there was a slight difference but

but statistically indistinguishable so

i’d be i wouldn’t necessarily be saying

to women that should be going out

finding guys with sex dolls that

wouldn’t be the case but uh but

certainly from a from a policy

perspective from a kind of social

discussion perspective the idea that

dolls increase sexual aggression risk

doesn’t seem to be evident in our data

okay i mean there’s so much to think

about and attempt to unpack here

you know my hunch you know one of the

things when we talk about sex dolls

we’re also talking about sex robots and

usually that discussion about the coming

of the sex robots which always seems to

be 20 years 30 years out on the horizon

that gets sort of rolled into the

discussion of the sex styles that are on

the market



the attitude often is you know this is

going to take the place of

human relationships um that people might

have but my feeling you know one of my

takes on the coming of the sex robots is

it’s going to make a kind of

relationship possible for a lot of

people who are socially at a

disadvantage or socially maladapted in

some way not that they’re violent not

that they’re

aggressive or want to harm or control

women but just there are people out

there who want partners who can’t find

them who’ve tried and failed and it’s a

miserable experience for them and

this may be an outlet a way for someone

to have a partner who might not

otherwise have a partner and that seems

to be

you know that hunch of mind seems to be

borne out a little bit by your data or

by what you found

yeah definitely um so that does seem to

be the case in our well so there’s

there’s hints of that in our

quantitative data in this survey data um

there’s much more of that actually on in

our interview data so that that research

is currently being kind of reviewed at

journal so that was led by

my colleague rebecca lewsley um but


we’re seeing evidence of that in the in

the interview data as well so kind of

themes around kind of seeing deficits in

in themselves particularly among doll

owners in terms of interacting with

women but also seeing deficits in

in other people so thinking about kind

of what they have in their mind as being

the ideal relationship and and kind of

having living partners maybe not living

up to those expectations

me may be a driver for for some of these

guys in seeking sex dog ownership and

what i would say is that it’s really

important for us to not think about sex

doll owners as

kind of one group there are lots of

different motivators for why people own

or use sex dolls obviously for for a lot

of people for the vast majority of

people um they’ll be using these or

owning these items for sexual

gratification for others like you’ve

kind of alluded to it will be about

relationships about emotional support

for others we’ve got quite a lot of

evidence actually about some people just

owning sex dolls to have someone around

so not necessarily having a relationship

with that doll or having a pseudo

relationship with that doll but just to

have someone around equally for things


photography it seems to be quite common

for people to have

dolls for kind of artistic reasons as


so i think we have this idea in our mind

this kind of heuristic view of

why do people own sex dolls and we see

this through a kind of i don’t know a

deviant sexuality kind of lens where

actually there’s a multi-faceted there

are multifaceted reasons for people

owning these kinds of dolls it does seem

to me that if you regarded sextile as a

sex toy for men

that there are sometimes there’s

sometimes even in sex positive

communities even among people are

comfortable with

sex toys in general there’s this stigma

attached to sex toys

that you [ __ ]

a flashlight or

you know

an orifice and you know what a sextile

is is a flashlight attached to

a mannequin and

even among women i know who are

comfortable with the idea of there being

insertion toys for women vibrators

dildos they’re very uncomfortable around

the idea of there being insertion toys

for men that a fleshlight is somehow


creepier or grosser or more disgusting

for a person to use than

an insertable

vibrating dildo

and i find that disconnect uh and that

discomfort among some fasting but

actually we wanted two more questions

before i let you go and you’ve been very

generous with your time thank you where

did you find the sex doll owners who are

willing to participate in the study

so it’s a really good question there are

lots of different communities online um

of guys who who own sex dolls we we were

really keen not to identify people so

we’re uh with our kind of forums we were

very clear that we wouldn’t name forums

publicly of uh where we found these

these individuals because

naturally they are quite kind of

protective about their their identities

but there are kind of relatively high

profile forums online that you can kind


ask people to take part in this kind of

of research and and actually because of

the the stigma that is around sex doll


they are a little bit sometimes kind of

hesitant i guess we’ve tried really hard

to develop some of these relationships


uh with guys on forums really trying to

kind of learn what they’re about and why

they’re owning sex dolls and

and kind of really trying to to to tell

their story i guess as well as the story

that society is is trying to tell about

them and i think that that kind of

involvement of guys who use these these

sex dolls is really going to be

important as we kind of progress this

research over the next couple of years

so inevitably when you have these

conversations about sex dolls uh one of

the things that comes up is

sex dolls you know lumps of latex or

polystyrene or whatever that look like a


child sex doll

that makes people insanely uncomfortable

that makes me uncomfortable


other thing that makes people

uncomfortable is when you

ask you know if

pedophiles were less likely to rape

children if sex dolls were available

that looked like children

would that not be

for the good

as uncomfortable as the ideal of a sex

now that looks like a child makes all of


have you thought about that are you

doing any research in that area

uh we have yeah we do have data on on

childlike dolls um

i’m hesitant to talk about the the

results at the moment because we are

still having those data reviewed so we

do have a we do have a preprint if

people want to follow me on

on twitter i’m more than happy to to

share that i’ve shared that that

pre-print relatively recently actually

it sounds like you’re still collecting

your thoughts on it um but will you

please come back after that paper is out

100 yeah

all right where can people find you

online to learn more about your research

and where can people find the paper that

you’ve just released on sex dolls uh

well i guess the best way to uh to find

me online is through twitter so i’m at

craigharper19 that’s quickharper199

um and the paper on sex dolls is

published now in the journal of sex

research so if you go to their website

it’s available open access you just go

to their website search for sex doll

owners and psychology and you’ll find

our paper on the search bar dr craig

harper senior lecturer in psychology at

nottingham trent university in the

united kingdom thank you so much dr

harper for getting on the phone today

that was a fascinating conversation

thanks very much

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