Naughty History

Sex Doll History: From La Dame de Voyage to Sex Robots

Sex Doll History - Sex Doll History Infographic


Sex Doll History

The most exciting history lesson you’ll read.

The history of sex dolls isn’t necessarily complicated, controversial, or even colorful. However, it is definitely interesting and worth learning about, especially if you own or are thinking about buying a doll.

Have you heard the phrase “Dutch wife”? Or what about “dames de voyage”?

Dutch sailors were the first to create sex dolls, though they weren’t the first to come up with the idea of sleeping with an object resembling a woman.

In fact, the concept of using an inanimate object for sexual pleasure has been around for centuries. The first recorded mention of anything resembling a sex doll had existed since 8 A.D. when Ovid wrote his epic masterpiece, Metamorphosis.

Curious to know more? Read on and find out how sex dolls got to where they are today.

Pygmalion’s Happy Ending

Even the briefest explanation of sex doll history wouldn’t be complete without including the story of Pygmalion.

We mentioned earlier that at the beginning of the first century, the poet Ovid wrote an epic poem (and it is indeed epic) about a sculptor who fell in love with his creation.

The artist, Pygmalion, carved a beautiful woman from ivory and named her Galatea.  He detested women, yet he fell in love with the marble beauty. He bathed her, fed her, and slept with her (both literally and sexually).

On the feast day celebrating Venus, he implored the goddess to bring his stone love to life. Taking pity on the man, Aphrodite used her powers to turn Galatea into a living, breathing woman. Then, the goddess married the two, and they eventually had a son together.

If you’re interested in reading the story, click here to read the English translation.

The Comically Bizarre Sheela-na-gigs

If you haven’t heard of sheela-na-gigs, you’re in for a treat. The Sheela-na-gig Project has a fascinating article about them, which you should definitely check out if you’re interested in learning more about them.

These small stone carvings were built into the sides of Romanesque churches between the 11th and 12th centuries.

Sex Doll History - Sheela-na-gig Carving


However, it is believed they are older than the buildings they adorned. Described as “quasi-erotic,” the carvings depict old women squatting and spreading their vulvas apart.

That’s right, these strange carvings of old women touching themselves are found on churches across Spain, France, Britain, and Ireland, which is where they are thought to originate.  

But what does this have to do with sex doll history? You’re about to find out.

The legends surrounding these statues claimed that caressing the large, exaggerated vulvas granted healing powers to those who touched them.

People flocked to these churches to cop a feel and perhaps do a little more than that. While these statues are boner-killing now, getting off on these rocks was their best option if they couldn’t get laid by a real woman.

The Rise of the Dutch Wife

The sex dolls of today are direct descendants of the Dutch wives of the 17th century. The Dutch in the 21st century seem vanilla and innocent, but once upon a time, they were an empire of traders and sailors. Sailors spent most of their adult lives at sea, so you can imagine that being away from women for months at a time could drive these horny sailors to dream up some imaginative solutions.

One idea was to sew together old rags and clothes into the shape of a woman. These early sex dolls had different names: “dame de voyage” in French, “Dutch wives” in English, and “dama de viaje” in Spanish.

The idea caught on and grew popular enough that a market for the dolls developed, especially in Japan during the Rangaku period. The Dutch had no trouble selling the dolls to the Japanese. To this day, “Dutch wives” sometimes refers to sex dolls in Japan.

History of Sex Dolls - A Painting of a Man with His Creation Coming to Life

Pygmalion and Galatea, 1890
Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Stone Cold Love

Over the years, “Pygmalionism,” a form of erotomania where one falls in love with a statue, have been conducted. Throughout history, there have been multiple accounts of this happening, though of course, there is always speculation about the validity of these incidents.

But, there are still stories based on facts that can be proved through historical records. In a study analyzing the psychology of sex, the author cites several examples. A young man from St. Petersburg was arrested for trespassing. He was caught paying a late-night visit to a nymph sculpture he fell in love with. Similarly, in 1877, a French gardener fell in love with a statue of Venus and tried to have sex with it, only for authorities to stop him as well. 

Progression of Sex Doll Tech

Sex doll history progressed, albeit slowly. At the turn of the 20th century, creators of sex dolls started thinking of new ways to make them feel more lifelike. Still, realistic sex dolls wouldn’t emerge until many many decades later. However, these new technologies were a considerable improvement from stone statues and old clothes.

We find the first written record of a manufactured sex doll in 1908. Check out this quote from Iwan Bloch’s The Sexual Life of Our TIme:

“In this connection, we may refer to fornicatory acts effected with artificial imitations of the human body, or of individual parts of that body.

There exist true Vaucansons in this province of pornographic technology, clever mechanics who, from rubber and other plastic materials, prepare entire male or female bodies, which, as hommes or dames de voyage, subserve fornicatory purposes.

More especially are the genital organs represented in a manner true to nature. Even the secretion of Bartholin’s glands is imitated, by means of a ‘pneumatic tube’ filled with oil.

Similarly, by means of fluid and suitable apparatus, the ejaculation of the semen is imitated. Such artificial human beings are actually offered for sale in the catalog of certain manufacturers of ‘Parisian rubber articles.'” [i]

Sex Dolls As Companions

Then, in 1916, an Austro-Hungarian artist named Oskar Kokoschka got dumped by his girlfriend, Alma Mahler. We want to think he took it well. Maybe give himself a few weeks to mourn the end of his relationship, find a few good rebounds, throw himself into his art, and move on.

Of course, that’s not what Kokoschka did. After the breakup, he commissioned a sex doll in the likeness of his ex. We may never know if he expected his “ex doll” to look like Alma, but we do know what the result was.

Despite resembling a fuzzy animal rather than his ex, Kokoschka insisted on keeping the doll. In the artist’s words, he had “lost all desire to go through the ordeal of love again.”

Sex Doll History in the Mid-20th Century

Sex Doll History - Blow Up Doll


After World War II, sex dolls started to ramp up in underground popularity. The heightened demand caused the quality to improve over the years vastly. We could honestly write an entirely new article about sex dolls in the modern era, as developments took off during this time.

In 1968, the first ads for sex dolls appeared between the pages of porn magazines. This was the same year that legalized the shipment of sex toys in the mail.

Using vinyl, latex, and silicone for sex dolls started in the 1970s. Silicone became the choice material for sex dolls. With silicone, the dolls had a much more realistic feel and could create more beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing dolls. Despite better-looking and more practical materials, blow up dolls remained common, probably because of their affordability.

By the 1980s, blow up dolls were all over sex shops, despite looking as comical as sheela-na-gigs and only usable for a short time. Blow up dolls became a joke, a prop, or a gag for laughs.

Sex Dolls for All

Even though silicone and other materials improved the feel and appearance of sex dolls, they still seemed off. Sex dolls had a reputation and a bad one at that. Blow up dolls didn’t do anything to help that reputation, either.

That all changed in the late 1990s. Enter Matt McMullen, the future founder of the first significant sex doll company in the world, RealDoll. McMullen, an artist, set to work making a female mannequin and documented his progress online. Of course, he received numerous inquiries about its genitalia. While his dummy didn’t, his followers’ curiosity gave him an idea.

History of Sex Dolls - A Photo of Matt McMullen

Matt McMullen, CEO of RealDoll

McMullen got to work crafting a realistic silicon doll that could be used for sex. He started selling his sex dolls, though business was slow and not many people knew about his product.

The turning point in sex doll history came when Howard Stern hosted McMullen and one of his dolls on his radio show. Allegedly Stern fucked the doll on his show and attested to its realism. This episode spurned a boom in McMullen’s business. Other companies saw a mostly untapped market and dove headfirst into the sex doll industry. 

Now, there are many countries all over the world selling and manufacturing sex dolls. Sex dolls are rising in popularity and becoming more common in discussions about sex.

For most of the history of sex dolls, people looked down on those who used them. However, peoples’ views of sex dolls and those who use them are changing. Shows like West World have started a dialogue about sex dolls that goes beyond their use as a toy.

Sex robots and AI-infused dolls are already here, and they will only serve to create more discussion about consent, morality, and sexual health. We have come a long way since Ovid’s epic poem and cloth dolls. In the world of sex doll history, it is only just beginning.

Curious for More?

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[i] Bloch, Iwan (2015) [1910]. The Sexual Life of Our Time in its Relations to Modern Civilization. p. 660. ISBN 1-4510-0357-9.

8 thoughts on “Sex Doll History: From La Dame de Voyage to Sex Robots

  1. rowdy_ryan says:

    Nasty Nax… lol…. poor ladies. Glad to see they have some better looking dolls for them nowadays

  2. zanyzeller says:

    God dang I’m glad guy dolls have come so far… very interesting read, I had no idea

  3. Cool stuff. I’d like to see a little more in-depth work about early sex dolls

  4. a-a-ron says:

    Wow how interesting. I’d love to read more about sex dolls in this factual kind of context.

  5. I’d like to see a more in depth look at sex dolls in Japan because they seem to be the leaders in all of this.

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