In the most famous scene from the teen sex comedy American Pie, the main male protagonist Jim Levenstein, a high school virgin, engages in sex with an apple pie, and is caught in flagrante delicto when his father walks in on him. Something very similar happened to a sex doll owner who was raided by police in Kentucky last year. "There's no doubt what this fellow was up to," said Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Rob Sanders during a February 2019 Judiciary Committee hearing on a bill to close the "loophole" that prevented the man from being convicted of a crime for masturbating. "He was in the middle of using the doll when Kentucky state police kicked his door in."
We may find the idea of such a doll being used to be disgusting, particularly when the doll resembles a minor. But lots of sex acts seem disgusting to others—should this one also be illegal, because of its mental association with child sexual abuse? In our view, no sex act that you perform alone in a bedroom justifies your door being kicked in by armed police, whether the object of your fantasy is a warm apple pie or a latex sex doll.
But what do experts think—does doll ownership lead to the sexual abuse of real children, or does it provide owners with a victimless alternative to sex with a partner who could never consent? We don't have a solid answer to that, because the necessary research hasn't been completed. During last week's Moore Center Symposium on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, the panelists at the closing session acknowledged this lacuna in our current knowledge—though they frankly seemed rather uncomfortable talking about it.
As uncomfortable as it may be, we don't think it's too much to ask that we need to get our facts straight before instituting any sex doll bans. Prostasia Advisor Dr Craig Harper is currently conducting some research on this topic, and one of our other Advisors, Dr James Cantor summarized the current state of knowledge in this month's episode of our podcast series. He said, "it's easy to imagine that just having a sex toy… [could] take the edge off of sex drive enough for these people to, you know, make it easier for them to control themselves."
But lawmakers aren't waiting for the evidence to come in. Laws to ban sex dolls that have "features resembling a child" are about to be passed in three states. Richard Siegel from Modern Sex Therapy Institutes recently spoke to the press about the pending Florida law, and he spoke again to us exclusively for this newsletter.
"Who’s gonna stand up and say they oppose [this law], that they’re in favor of child sex dolls that look like children? Because it gets swept up into the dragnet of child pornography, and certainly no one is pro child pornography," Dr Siegel said. Drawing an analogy between sex dolls and pornography, he also spoke about the impacts of the availability of pornography on rates of sexual abuse in society:
"We had the pleasure of hosting the great Marty Klein at our institute this weekend and he talked a great deal about how we’ve just witnessed, with the 30th anniversary of the Internet, what 20 years ago people were talking about, was going to be the effect of the availability of 24/7 access to porn and streaming. … Marty Klein made this point in our lecture, not to claim any causation as a good social scientist, but while we have seen this rapidly increasing access to unbridaled, unlimited amounts of 24/7 streaming porn, there have been steady declines in rates of sexual assaults."
So if a ban on sex dolls isn't going to reduce the incidence of sexual offending against children, are there other measures that have a better chance of doing so? We asked Dr Siegel, who replied, "With my educator hat on, the best hope for preventing sexual abuse, is raising sexually healthy kids who know what constitutes appropriate touch and inappropriate and to be able to speak about it, right?"
"Not only have we been fighting the absurd sex ed wars for 30 years and not really getting anywhere, but sexuality education continues to be poor if not completely lacking. The last time I proposed a program before the school board, it was a program for middle school boys primarily. And just because it was political because I worked for Planned Parenthood, they would not approve a program. Instead they approved a program for high school girls on basically who to call when you’re raped, and rape awareness hotlines, crisis numbers, and so on. Silly me, go figure, I thought maybe we could talk to middle school boys about how not to rape instead of telling girls about how not to get raped. It’s really about the fact that sexual abuse prevention is a men’s issue. That men are so used to hearing phrases like 'sexual and reproductive health' and immediately rolling their eyes and thinking 'ugh, women’s issues, lady plumbing parts' and checking out. Where sexual health is obviously critical for all people, especially when we’re talking about these aspects of sexual health like consent and boundaries, and respect, and protecting children."
"Then on the clinical side, more therapists need to have sexuality training. I know I’m biased because I’m in the business of training therapists, but it’s just appalling to me, the number of therapists who become licensed without even a basic undergrad sex ed class and have little to no understanding about what is healthy sexuality but yet, they are primed and at the ready to diagnose unhealthy sexuality."
"I don’t remember which Supreme Court justice, but one of those old, dead, white guys, said that we define obscenity by saying, 'I know it when I see it.' I know it won’t fly, but I think we have to be adults about this, to understand what constitutes a real threat, what crimes have victims, and when we are outlawing private conduct, that could in fact, have therapeutic benefits if not just simply recreational benefits."