Prostitution and Sex Doll Brothels: the failures of the ‘sex-work is work’ model

This article contains discussion of prostitution and sexual exploitation.

A brothel is a place where men can pay to access the bodies of prostituted women. A sex-doll brothel is a place where men can pay to access the bodies of dolls that look like women and are marketed as though they are women. Europe’s first sex-doll brothel opened in Barcelona in 2017 by Lumidolls, an international manufacturer of sex-dolls, and they can now be found all over Europe as well as in Russia, Canada, Japan and China.

Marketed with names, the dolls come with backstories and a varying degree of features such as voice mechanisms, synthetic skin which is warm to the touch and multiple holes for penetration. Take Reya, she’s “shy and insecure [is] not a social butterfly and most of the time when I’m with people I’m silent. Sometimes deep melancholy grips me, and I can’t get out of it.”

Sex-doll brothel in Paris

The dolls are marketed in similar ways as prostituted women.


This continuous anthropomorphism of dolls in the form of women is highly troubling as is yet another way (along with pornography and prostitution) of normalising male privilege, saying men can buy what they want, when they want. In the activities of men who visit brothels, whether she is human or an object only matters to him as far as his sexual fetish goes.


“Sex is part of a person, in their body, and is mediated between people inside relationships.”


There are some who would argue that sex dolls brothels do a service to society as the less contact abusive men have with women, the better. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that simultaneously providing a commercial industry for male fetishes has seen any reduction in harm to prostituted women. If anything, it has continued the repertoire of paraphilias, ‘agalmatophilia’ being the clinical term for an interest in dolls (noted in the APA_DSM-5-Paraphilic-Disorders (DSM-5)).

Sex dolls companies and the ‘sex-work is work’ lobby both argue the same attitude towards the female sex: she is a sexual commodity for male pleasure and her interiority is less important than the euro/dollar/pound or yen which she gets in return. In the realm of prostitution, mutuality has no place.


If ‘sex-work is work’ then prostituted women can be replaced by tools, machines or robots.

Society is organised through relationships between people that are managed and balanced out through rights and responsibilities. It is illegal to buy a person, or to use them as property, in whole or part. No person can be property and societies have protected people with civil rights, so that people can engage in civil relationships with each other.


“Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that simultaneously providing a commercial industry for male fetishes has seen any reduction in harm to prostituted women.


But the buyer of sex, (normally a man with monetary resources) can buy access to a prostituted person that in any other circumstance is illegal. Love and friendship, for example, are voluntary relations between people that are inalienable and not transferable. This is exactly the same with sex.

Sex is part of a person, in their body, and is mediated between people inside relationships. Relationship between people is the only arena we value as off-limits to the market, by our revulsion to slavery. This relationship may be fleeting and only take the time to complete the sexual encounter, but sex cannot exist outside of this interpersonal relationship.


De Wallen area of Amsterdam where access to women’s bodies are for sale

The ‘sex-work is work’ lobby has succeeded in arguing the contrary and in the process has depersonalised prostituted women’s bodies, sex and sexuality. Women are traded as sexual property each and every day in the commercial sex trade. This form of sexual slavery takes place in towns and cities across the world. In Germany, the horrors of the legalized prostitution trade have led the advocacy group Trauma and Prostitution to call Germany ‘Hell on Earth’. Prostitution there generates 14.6 billion Euros with a staggering 3500 registered brothels (and many more unregistered.) For a flat rate of 70 EUR (78$ or £65) some brothels offer  ‘a beer, a sausage and unlimited women’.


AF = Algierfranzösisch (Zungenanal) – Tongue anal

AFF = Analer Faustfick (die ganze Hand im Hintereingang) – Anal Fist Fucking

AO = alles ohne Gummi – everything without rubber

Braun-weiß = Spiele mit Scheiße und Sperma – play with shit and sperma

DP = Doppelpack (Sex mit zwei Frauen) oder: double Penetration (zwei Männer in einer Frau) – Sex with 2 women or double penetration (2 men in one woman)

EL = Eierlecken – licking the balls

FFT = Faustfick total – Fist Fuck totally

FP = Französisch pur (Blasen ohne Gummi und ohne Aufnahme) – blowjob without rubber

FT = Französisch total doppeldeutig: Blasen ohne Gummi mit Spermaschlucken und seltener: Blasen ohne Gummi bis zum Finale – Blowjob without condom and with swallowing the sperma.

GB = Gesichtsbesamung (manchmal auch Gangbang, also Gruppensex, aber mit deutlichem Männerüberschuss) Ejaculating in the face.

GS = Gruppensex – Group Sex.

Kvp = Kaviar Passiv (Frau lässt sich anscheißen) – Man shits on woman

SW = Sandwich, eine Frau zwischen zwei Männern – one woman between 2 men

tbl, = tabulos, ALLES ist erlaubt – without taboo, everything is allowed.

ZA = Zungenanal (am / im Hintereingang lecken) – lick the anus.

A list of paying rapes and sexual assaults for sale at a German brothel! Courtesy of Trauma and Prostitution


For the sex-buyer who is encouraged to view intimate sexual contact with women as a commercial product, sex dolls and prostituted women are both sexual appliances. In his work, pro-slave philosopher Aristotle categorised tools as both animate (slave) and inanimate. The prostituted person and sex doll are offered as interchangeable to the male sex buyer as both animate and inanimate.


“sex dolls and prostituted women are both sexual appliances”


Sex dolls brothels won’t stop the sexual exploitation of women. Sex dolls aren’t some magical technology that once introduced will ‘free women’ from ‘sex-work,’ no matter how much technology is introduced into the dolls to create an illusion of animacy. Prostitution has never been a form of work. It is state sanctioned male violence against women. And the brothel is a place where this enactment of male power over women is carried out in full sight – for the men who use them, woman and doll are openly interchangeable.


We urgently need to debate the growing normalisation of sex dolls and sex robots and build a feminist response to this attack on what it means to be a woman!

Join us on July 4th 2020 for our first international FREE workshop [online]

Sex Tech, Robots & AI: A feminist Response

9:00 – 14:30 (British Summer Time)


Professor Sheila Jeffreys, author and activist,

Caitlin Roper, PhD candidate and campaigns manager Collective Shout,

Dr Sasha Rakoff, Not Buying It!,

Raquel Rosario Sanchez, FiLiA 

Jo Bartosch, Click Off,

Dr Heather Brunsksell-Evans, Object!

Yagmur Uygarkizi, RadicalGirlsss

Kate Davis, CASR


Professor Kathleen Richardson, CASR

Register HERE