Never before has the United States Congress specifically banned a sex toy. But for the first time, the CREEPER Act (reintroduced for 2021) will do exactly that. Because the law is said to be targeted at sex dolls “with features that resemble those of a minor,” it swept through the House of Representatives in 2019 on a voice vote, from members disgusted at those who would import such dolls for their own use. But there are two reasons for caution before allowing our government to ban such sex toys.
First and most important, this bill could inadvertently harm children. In debate on the original bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte claimed “Science has shown that dolls normalize pedophilia behavior rather than discourage pedophiles from acting our on their urges or aggression.” But Dr Craig Harper, an Advisor to the Prostasia Foundation, has described this as speculation, saying that it is “unsupported by any psychological research evidence.”
Dr Harper is just one of a growing number of scientists who believe more research is needed into whether such dolls could actually act as a harmless outlet for those who have a sexual interest in minors, which could steer them away from committing child sexual abuse (CSA). Prostasia Foundation was recently formed to promote an evidence-based approach to CSA prevention, and funding this sort of impartial, academic research is part of the Foundation’s mission.
But a secondary reason to be cautious about the CREEPER Act, even apart from the possible positive effect sex dolls may have in reducing CSA, is the risk that by allowing Congress to tell people how they are allowed to masturbate in private, this will open the door to the regulation of other private and consensual sexual behaviors. In Australia, the official censor has banned adult movies that feature adult women with small breasts. Will small-breasted sex dolls be counted as having features that “resemble those of a minor” under CREEPER?
Consider also that there are adults who engage in a type of consensual sex play called ageplay in which one party (or both) role plays as a minor. For most ageplayers, this kind of sex game does not correspond with any actual sexual interest in children — yet how can we criminalize the use of a sex doll in the role of a child, without opening the door to criminalizing the use of a consenting adult human being in exactly the same role?
The last time that such issues were considered was in the case of Reliable Consultants, Inc. v. Earle, [PDF] in which the U.S. Federal Circuit court for the 5th circuit struck down a Texas law that banned sex toys; a law that the government had sought to justify on the ground that the ban was for the protection of minors. The court gave short shrift to this argument, saying, “the State’s generalized concern for children does not justify such a heavy-handed restriction on the exercise of a constitutionally protected individual right.”
The court concluded by referring to Lawrence and Garner v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down bans on consensual gay sex:
The case is not about public sex. It is not about controlling commerce in sex. It is about controlling what people do in the privacy of their own homes because the State is morally opposed to a certain type of consensual private intimate conduct. This is an insufficient justification for the statute after Lawrence…Whatever one might think or believe about the use of these devices, government interference with their personal and private use violates the Constitution.
If this was the only reason to oppose the CREEPER Act, we should oppose it. But given the fact that leading scientists sincerely believe that the availability of sex dolls or robots may also prevent some real children from coming to harm, it would be even more morally abhorrent for us to pass a law banning such devices until more evidence of their possible therapeutic effects becomes known. Read more in our letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.