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Better latex than never: A beginner’s guide to ‘rubberdolling’

In previous blogs I have looked at doll fetishism (i.e., individuals that derive sexual pleasure and arousal from dolls and doll-like objects) and the ‘reborn baby doll’ phenomenon (i.e., individuals who collect and look after liefelike baby dolls). Today’s blog examines the world of ‘rubberdolling’ – the practice of individuals dressing up head-to-toe as a rubber doll. As far as I am aware, there is no academic research on rubberdolling although there are clearly psychological and behavioural overlaps with other more academically researched areas including transvestic fetishism, rubber/latex fetishism, and sadomasochism. In fact, many people might view such activity as ‘extreme cross-dressing’ where men (but occasionally females) transform themselves into walking talking dolls, completely concealing their real identities. According to the Latex Wiki entry on rubberdolling:

“A doll (a.k.a. Rubber doll, rubberdoll, rubberdolly, v. dolling, v. rubberdolling) is a latex fetishist whose desire is to acquire the appearance of a doll, usually a female doll, through a mostly latex costume that completely covers the face and skin… A doll’s suit is often a catsuit, which might have been specifically designed to mimic a store mannequin or a blow-up doll. Common colours thus include approximations of skin tones, white and black (for a Heavy Rubber look)…For nude (a nude doll, that is) applications the suit may feature blow-up-doll-like openings with insertable pouches. Some manufacturers offer catsuits designed to look like a blow-up doll. These might include inflatable bosom, hips or other regions to enhance the visual effect of an artificial doll – or to give a male wearer the shape of a female”.

Rubberdolling is relatively new phenomenon that has come to the fetishistic fore over the last two decades. Most rubberdollers attribute the rise of rubberdolling to the work of German fetish photographer Peter Czernich who started the fetish magazines Marquis and Heavy Rubber. Rubberdollers are typically encased in latex rubber with exaggerated and accentuated Barbie-type female features (i.e., huge breasts, incredibly small waists, exaggerated thighs and hips, elongated fingernails, extra long eyelashes, bright and excessive make-up, etc.). Typically, the only areas of human flesh that remain uncovered are holes for the eyes, nose and mouth. According to an article on rubberdolling at the Rubber World Rendezvous website, there are four basic categories to which rubberdolling can apply:

  • Submissive dolls: This is where individuals dress up as a rubber doll as part of a submissive role within a sadomasochistic relationship. Here the doll acts as a service submissive/slave and is utilized by others (usually the dominant partner) for their own sexual entertainment purposes. The dominant partner controls everything that the doll does and the costume often restricts the doll’s movements. The doll essentially becomes totally objectified and is at the total mercy of their dommes or mistresses. Here, rubberdolls may also be engaging in the behaviour as part of an encasement and/or rubber bondage fetish.
  • Sissy dolls: This is where individuals dress up as a fetishistic ‘sissy’ rubber doll within the transgender and transvestite community. The activity may also be part of ‘cosplay’ (i.e., costume play). As the article at the Rubber World Rendezvous website claims, these people use “the rubber doll theme as a vehicle for play, disguise, sissification, cross dressing…This generally follows a common theme of Forced Femme or being turned into a female doll animate or inanimate. Again shape altering garments and female masks figure in this identity change. Many equate this to being turned into a Barbie Doll. Many [transvestites] who like shiny materials are now dressing in Latex and rubber as part of their look and while not wearing masks they are considered a rubber doll”.
  • Show dolls: This is where individuals dress up as a rubber doll for exhibition purposes and may be part of either the BDSM and/or transvestite and transgender communities. In sadomasochistic relationships, show dolls are made to look as pretty as possible by their dommes or mistresses to show off to others in the rubberdolling scene (e.g., at fetish balls). Here, the dominant partner may actually play with the submissive as if it was a real doll. Show dolls are typically female in appearance, and the female form is accentuated and exaggerated.
  • Art dolls: This is where individuals dress up as a rubber doll as an art form or art statement (i.e., a piece of ‘living art’ or ‘street theatre’) and may have nothing to do with sex or fetishistic sex (i.e., it is purely about seeing the doll from an aesthetic perspective). Such dolls may also be used to feature in fetish photography magazines (of which there seem to be a growing array based on what I came across while researching this article).

So how does someone actually transform another person into a doll? The Rubber World Rendezvous claims:

“This is done through dressing the subject in latex rubber garments and specialty items to change their form and look. Generally the basis for all of the forms of rubber doll is the female type cat suit which has a tight waist, bust cups for breast forms or attached inflatable breasts. The cut of the suit is usually female. Add to this the bra, breasts and padded hips along with a female mask and wig (if required) you have a basic naked doll. From here one dresses the doll however you desire to achieve the look you want”.

The Latex Wiki entry on rubberdolling claims that some people attempt to use (“and have variably succeeded”) the outer shells of blow-up sex dolls as full body suits. However, it then goes on to say that most inflatable dolls are too small to totally engulf someone, but that some varieties are reasonably life size. Blow-up dolls are usually made from materials such as PVC and latex, and therefore are not always sufficiently flexible for comfortable wear. The same article also claims that looners (i.e., balloon fetishists) may use heated air to stretch various plastic inflatables whilst retaining the proportions of the object close to original.

There is little in the way of an established literature on rubberdolling although there are quite a few rubberdollers that have their own webpage. One of the more interesting (and in-depth) ones is the Swedish Rubber Puppett site. The site’s owner is very open and reflective about his rubberdolling and I reproduce here what he has to say in his own words:

“I am a rubberdoll from the very south part of Sweden with a deep love for latex. I created this site to be able to reach out to other latex lovers and to make new friends all over the world. The rubber scene in Sweden is quite limited, especially if you are into dolling. I have been into latex and anything tight and shiny for as long as I can remember and some time ago I dressed up as a doll and I instantly felt this was my ‘thing’…Many people think of a rubberdoll as something passive and submissive, which is often the case. However, I am neither passive nor submissive and do this for entirely different reasons. For me it is all about dressing up and [transforming] myself into a different character. Perhaps this is similar to people who are into cosplay…Like an exhibitionist I love the way people turn their heads and look at me, some with fascination and some with fear in their eyes”.

Arguably the most interesting part of Rubber Puppett’s account is where he talks about where his love of dressing in rubber came from. He reported that:

I have been into rubber, latex and all shiny and tight things for as long as I can remember. As a young child I loved to dress up in rain clothes. I can remember the nice feeling I got the first time I tried a couple of waders. Now I am more focused towards latex, but I am still quite fond of those things, especially rubber boots. It wasn’t until I left home to study that I came into contact with latex…I did like the look of it and I decided to buy some simple garments for me and my girlfriend. I instantly fell in love with the tight feeling of the rubber clothes, the smell and the look of them. I soon ordered some more latex clothes such as hoods, stockings and dresses. When I first saw myself in the mirror wearing a hood I was instantly hooked. Since that day I have worked on my rubberdoll persona to create my fantasy woman”.

Based on what I have read elsewhere, I wouldn’t describe this account of rubberdolling as typical (and neither does he). Whether any academic research ever gets carried out on the topic remains to be seen, but it’s certainly an area that is of psychological interest.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Latex Wiki (2011). Doll. Located at: http://www.latexwiki.com/index.php?title=Doll

Rubber Puppett (2012). About Rubber Puppett. Located at: http://rubberpupett.com/about.html

Rubber World Rendezvous (2013). Frequently asked questions. Located at: http://www.rubberdollworldrendezvous.com/faq.php

A range of air styles: A brief overview of inflatophilia

According to the online Opentopia encyclopedia, inflatophilia refers to a sexual fetish in which individuals derive sexual attraction to (or are sexually aroused by) inflatable objects and/or toys. Most people’s conception of an inflatophile may be rooted in fictional characters from popular culture. For instance, I remember very vividly listening to the track Be My Girl – Sally on The Police’s debut LP Outlandos D’Amour about a man who fell in love with an inflatable doll.

And then by lucky chance I saw in a special magazine

An ad that was unusual, the like I’d never seen

“Experience something different with our new imported toy

She’s loving, warm, inflatable and a guarantee of joy.”

She came all wrapped in cardboard, all pink and shrivelled down

A breath of air was all she needed to make her lose that frown

I took her to the bedroom and pumped her with some life

And later in a moment that girl became my wife

And so I sit her in the corner and sometimes stroke her hair

And when I’m feeling naughty I blow her up with air

She’s cuddly and she’s bouncy, she’s like a rubber ball

I bounce her in the kitchen and I bounce her in the hall

And now my life is different since Sally came my way

I wake up in the morning and have her on a tray

She’s everything they say she was and I wear a permanent grin

And I only have to worry in case my girl wears thin

A more literary (but ultimately similar) account was provided by Bryan Ferry when he sung on Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartache (and featuring the seminal concluding lyric “I blew up your body/but you blew my mind!“). However, inflatophiles are not restricted to blow-up dolls but may be sexually aroused and excited by one or more inflatable objects such as beach and swimming pool inflatables (beach balls, swimming rings, air mats, lilos, etc.) and animal inflatables (e.g., blow up dolphins). The Opentopia article claims that inflatophiles are most attracted and turned on by inflatables that are animal-shaped (although there is no supporting evidence for the claim).

The fetish appears to have psychological and behavioural overlaps with balloon fetishism (that I covered in a previous blog), and like ‘looners’ (i.e., balloon fetishists), inflatophiles have been categorized into one of three sub-types. According to the Opentopia article, these three groups are based on the activity preference related to the inflatable object(s) and comprise:

  • Poppers: These individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from ‘popping’ (i.e., puncturing) their inflatable objects and/ or trying to re-inflate the inflatable that has popped.
  • Inflators: These individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal while their inflatable objects are filled with air while sitting or lying on top of them.
  • Deflators: These individuals derive their sexual pleasure and arousal from releasing the air in their inflatable objects while sitting or lying on top of them.

These groups are not mutually exclusive and inflatophiles may belong to one or more of the three sub-types. The inflating or deflating may be carried out by the inflatophiles themselves or may be done by others (e.g., their sexual partners). The Opentopia article is the only article I am aware of that tries to theorize about the origins of inflatophilia. Personally, I feel that the behaviour is best explained through various behavioural conditioning processes that occur in childhood and/or adolescence (most notably, classical conditioning), but the Opentopia article claims:

“Likings for inflatable objects are generally both Freudian and Proustian and arise from an early age linked to associations with innocent happy experiences. These can extend as far as the first experiences of babyhood and childhood, associated with senses of texture and smell. The associated senses include the feel of mother’s skin, feel and smell of materials in early childhood (of blankets, sheets, satin, vinyl linings of perambulators), birthday parties with balloons, happy holidays at the beach, distinctive smells of inflatable toys merged with smells of brands of skin care worn by the mother. These take on a new meaning during puberty when other outlets for sexual needs are unavailable and preferences of interaction with inflatable objects develop”.

To me, the associations listed in the above quote could still form the basis of classically conditioned responses rather than some psychoanalytic explanation (in fact, I’m still not sure where the Freudian or Proustian perspective is in the quote as to me, it reads like classic associative learning). The Opentopia article also speculates on the differences between the sub-types of inflatophile. The article claims that”

“[The] division between ‘poppers’ and ‘non-poppers’ probably derives from associations of the event at which balloons were enjoyed or not enjoyed, or whether they were burst and caused excitement or whether they survived the party and were enjoyed for their ‘skin feel’ at a later time afterwards. The associations with memories of former happy experiences coupled with the intense pleasure of first sexual experience is a potent recipe for a lasting impression which will be carried forward into activity throughout adulthood. Many comment that the bouncing or changing shape of a balloon when squeezed, or other types of inflatable, gives the illusion of the object being ‘alive’ in some way, so the object is not merely inanimate. A predisposition to the fetish is enhanced by the packaging of lilos or beach airmats with photographs of attractive semi-naked bikini clad women displaying the object. This reinforces the concept of femininity with the object and allows a fantasy of substitution in the fetishist’s psyche in the absence of a real female”.

Again, the theoretical underpinning for the sub-types of inflatophile appears (from the above description at least) to be rooted in classical conditioning (i.e., associative pairing). Finally, the article also claims that inflatophiles are “usually open to non-fetish sexual activity, so their fetish does not generally get in the way of their involved relationships”. It also claims (without any supporting evidence) that:

“Partners of inflatable fetishists are more secure in the knowledge that their partner has a satisfying outlet for excess sexual needs during times of sexual unavailability of the partner rather than seeking additional or other partners. For this reason they usually make reliable and well-balanced life partners”.

After reading about inflatophiles, I went in search of inflatophiles online and came across numerous self-confessions to engaging in the fetish. Here are a few typical examples that seem to confirm some of the claims made in the Opentopia article:

  • Extract 1: “Anyone else have a Inflatables fetish? [Such as] riding or having sex with inflatable things like vinyl pool toy animals, blow-up dolls, kids’ swim floaties, etc. I am one of these fetishists, how many of us are there?”
  • Extract 2: I have been humping beach balls since I was a kid I have humped the head rest of inflatable rafts also. If we went swimming at someone’s house and they had a beach ball I would always sneak off with it, hump it and never got caught though the possibility of getting caught was part of the thrill. I also have an exercise ball that I have humped. Next is a blow up doll. I just have a fetish for inflatables”.
  • Extract 3: So all of you men help me out here, my husband has this fetish and I’ve done my very best to go along and have fun with it to excite him the best I can…but I know that he had dolls in the past and wants one but has made me feel like he enjoys the feel of a doll or inflatable more than me??? He’s actually very shy about it, I even asked for suggestions. Is there a way I could make myself feel like the doll does??”
  • Extract 4: I’m a teenage guy and inflatable stuff feels like heaven to me! Anything soft and shiny, pool toys mostly. Beach balls, air Mats, inner tubes, when my body comes in contact with it I get all aroused and hard and can really get freaky with them. I also like inflating and deflating them…I know weird”

Another article that explored inflatable fetishism was a journalistic account by Daniel Rolnik in the Los Angeles based After Dark magazine. Rolnik wrote that:

“My discovery of this strange sub-cult [of inflatable fetishism] began when I innocently favorited a photo of an inflatable horse toy on a popular art website. I simply thought it looked hilarious and judging by the user’s other pics, it didn’t seem like anything “alt” was going on. But that all changed when I got a message from the photographer featuring a link to the blog Hollow Paws, which had a discrete sentence in the upper right hand corner that made it all clear: A website for furries who love inflatable critters…I asked the blogger what people exactly did with the inflatables featured in [the featured articles]…Moments later I received an answer: ‘…Sometimes they hump them’. Horrified, yet intrigued, I began to uncover a secret world of anonymous patrons who do everything from wear full motocross gear and aggressively hump vinyl Shamu pool rafts until they explode, to fabricators who design prosthetic vaginas for plastic dolphins”.

Rolnik also observed that inflatophiles can be differentiated into sub-types (‘poppers’ and ‘non-poppers’) but claimed the two types “detest” each other based on the very specific online forums devoted to various inflatable fetishes (such as the Blow To Pop website). Rolnik also interviewed psychiatrist Dr. Soroya Bacchus about the psychology of inflatophilia, and Dr. Bacchus was quoted as saying:

“When I heard about this fetish, they didn’t seem too different from the people who have intercourse with blow-up dolls. They both suffer from a sexual function disorder that is categorized in the realm of paraphilia — meaning a love of some object, whether it’s an inanimate one or a non-consenting partner. The basic component is arousal, so sometimes there might be actual ejaculation on the toys, but oftentimes in cases of paraphilia it happens afterwards during masturbation. These kinds of disorders tend to feed on themselves”.

Dr. Bacchus appears to castigate all inflatophiles as suffering from sexual function disorder. However, my anecdotal reading suggests that most inflatophiles use inflatables as an adjunct to their ‘normal’ sex life rather than as a replacement. If this is the case, I personally don’t see the person as suffering from a sexual function disorder. As with many idiosyncratic fetishes, there has been no empirical or clinical research on inflatophilia, so nothing is known about how prevalent the behaviour is. The existence of more than a sprinkling of dedicated online forums and websites certainly suggest there is a small and committed inflatophile community. It would appear that the fetish is relatively benign and of little problem to its participants, which probably explains why there has been little interest from psychologists and clinicians.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Abel, G.G., Coffey, L. & Osborn, C.A. (2008). Sexual arousal patterns: normal and deviant. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 31, 643-655.

Brundage, S. (2002). Fetish Confessions: Telling loved ones about your fetish is as easy as solving fractured quadratic equations. The Wave Magazine, July 31. Located at: http://web.archive.org/web/20071110095616/http://thewavemagazine.com/pagegen.php?pagename=article&articleid=22026

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Malfouka (undated). So hot and ready to pop: The world of looners. Maximum Awesome. Located at: http://www.maximumawesome.com/pervfriday/looners.htm

Rolnik, D. (2012). Exploring the looner fetish – People who f*ck inflatable pool toys. After Dark LA, July 17. Located at: http://blogs.laweekly.com/afterdark/2012/07/people_actually_hump_inflatabl_1.php

McIntyre, K.E. (2011).  Looners: Inside the world of balloon fetishism. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, 27 April. Located at: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/40c3h6kk

Opentopia (2013). What is inflatable fetishism? Located at: http://encycl.opentopia.com/term/Inflatable_fetishism

Wikipedia (2012). Balloon fetish. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balloon_fetish

All dolled up: A peek into the surreal world of reborn baby lovers

Yesterday, my family and I went to a doll and teddy bear fair at Kelham Hall (near Newark). We went to see my relatives who had a couple of tables at the fair selling both dolls and teddy bears (my uncle Frank Webster is a renowned bear maker here in the UK). The reason I mention this is because I witnessed something I have never seen before – the sight of grown adults pushing around prams with one or more ‘reborn’ baby dolls. Although my late mother was a doll collector, I had never seen ‘reborn’ baby dolls before. In fact, there was one whole dedicated room at Kelham Hall just for reborn bay dolls. One of the stalls (Fairytales Reborn Nursery) featured baby dolls that looked so real that I even picked up their business cards and postcards featuring their products. However, it was the sight of middle to older age women (and one older aged couple) pushing around and playing with ‘reborn’ baby dolls that really caught my eye. I asked my aunt (who was there helping my uncle sell his bears) if this was unusual and they told me that ‘reborn mothers’ were a common site at such events.

I am well aware of men who have a sexually paraphilic interest in lifelike adult dolls (that I examined in a previous blog on doll fetishism), but I had never come across a non-sexual interest in lifelike baby dolls among (what appeared to be mainly) women. In fact, my only real “experience” of women treating babies as if they were real was Dawn French’s portrayal of the midwife Joy Aston in the weird but wonderful BBC comedy thriller series Psychoville. In the television series, Aston had a son who died of a cot death. As a way of coping, Aston treats a baby doll (‘Freddy’) as if it is her own child son, forcing her on-screen husband George (played by Steve Pemberton) to help her look after their ‘son’. My partner (jokingly I think) said that the topic of ‘reborn’ baby doll parents would make a good blog, so as soon as I got back home from the doll fair, I was straight onto the internet looking at what was out there on the phenomenon.

The first thing I came across after finding dedicated magazines to lifelike dolls (such as Lifelike Doll Magazine), highlights how realistic the reborn baby dolls look. In Australia, a story in The Courier-Mail reported ‘Frantic rescue effort saves doll, not baby’. The story recalled how Australian police had smashed in a car window in the region of Gympie (Queensland) to rescue what was thought to be an unconscious baby locked inside the car but turned out to be a lifelike doll. A similar incident occurred in the US. The Australian news report said that:

“Selling for up to $1000, the painstakingly hand-painted dolls were so lifelike with eyelashes, fingernails, milk spots and wispy hair that they were constantly fooling people…They’re even weighted to feel like a baby’s weight and they flop like a baby. The dolls can even come with umbilical cords, cord clamps and their own birth certificates. They are so realistic, people do become attached to them”.

The Wikipedia entry on reborn dolls notes that:

“A reborn doll is a manufactured vinyl doll that has been transformed to resemble a human baby with as much realism as possible. The process of creating a reborn doll is referred to as reborning and the doll artists are referred to as reborners. Reborn dolls are also known as living dolls or unliving dolls. The hobby of creating reborn baby dolls began around 1990 when doll enthusiasts wanted more realistic dolls. Since then, an industry surrounding reborn dolls has emerged. Reborn dolls are primarily purchased on the internet but are available at fairs”

Another 2008 story entitled ‘Bogus baby boom: Women who collect lifelike dolls’ was reported by NBC News. The article featured an interview with Lynn Katsaris, an artist who had created well over 1,000 reborn dolls and then sold them to women around the world. Since being created in the US the article claimed that the reborn baby dolls were being sold on eBay for between $500 to $4,000. The article reported:

Some people find the lifelike dolls downright creepy. But collectors, some of whom treat the dolls as real children, feel there’s nothing unusual about their passionate hobby…The vinyl dolls don’t just look exactly like real babies – they also feel real. Their bodies are stuffed and weighted to have the same heft and a similar feel to a live baby. Mohair is normally used for the hair and is rooted in the head strand by strand, a process that can take 30 hours. A magnet may be placed inside the mouth to hold a magnetic pacifier. To add realism, some purchasers opt for a heartbeat and a device that makes the chest rise and fall to simulate breathing…Some customers order special dolls that are exact replicas of their own children who died at birth or in infancy. These are individually made from hand-sculpted clay forms made from photographs of the child. The customers are almost all women. Some buy them because they collect dolls. Others buy them as surrogates for children that were lost or have grown and left the home. Some women dress the dolls, wash their hair, take them for walks in strollers and take them shopping”

A lot of the coverage of the reborn baby doll phenomenon relates to the television documentary My Fake Baby (that was first aired in the UK on Channel 4 back in January 2008, and directed by Victoria Silver). The programme examined what made grown women spend so much money on the lifelike dolls that although bizarre to some, brings great rewards to the women involved”.
The programme showed that some of the reborn dolls have tiny veins, beating hearts, and milk spots. The documentary showed case studies of women who loved the reborn dolls as if they were real babies (e.g., cuddling them, taking them for walks, changing their nappies, etc.). Women in the programme who bought the dolls included women with grown-up children, grandmothers living away from their grandchildren, and women who have left it too late to have their own babies. For instance, one of the women featured (Sue) is a self-confessed perfectionist who says she would love to have the perfect baby but knows that the real thing can be “messy, noisy and unpredictable”. Sue is seen buying designer clothes from Harrods especially for her reborn baby doll. Another woman (Christine) has a reborn baby created in the likeness of her grandson Harry. Harry lived thousands of miles away, but Christine longed for the days when she cared for Harry a newborn. Reaction to the programme (positive and negative) can be found from doll collectors (such as those on Our Doll Community website) and new mothers (such as those on the Baby and Bump Momstastic website). Other case studies of ‘reborners’ were featured on the US show Dr. Phil. There are even reports of reborn baby dolls being made to order into vampires and zombies (check out the story by Today if you are interested).

Academically, there doesn’t appear to be much written or researched on the phenomenon. A.F. Robertson wrote a whole book on dolls (Life Like Dolls: The Collector Doll Phenomenon and the Lives of the Women Who Love Them), but concentrates on porcelain dolls rather than reborn baby dolls. Michele White wrote an interesting chapter entitled ‘Babies who touch you: Reborn dolls, artists, and the emotive display of bodies on eBay’ in the 2010 book Political Emotions. The chapter describes the phenomenon via an analysis of over 300 listings of reborns being sold on the online auction site eBay. She notes that:

“Individuals use the terms ‘reborn’ and ‘reborning’ to describe the processes of making dolls alive, or life-like. This is related to the tendency among doll collectors, as Alexander Foster Robertson suggests of treating the object ‘as a real little person’. The people involved in reborning describe themselves as artists and mothers, indicate that their dolls are ‘adoptions’ and do complicated work in remaking the meaning and values of these objects”.

In her conclusions, White also makes the observation that:

“Women produce an intense and supportive reborn culture but their practices are often denigrated in blogs and Internet forums. Women are labeled as ‘sick’ and ‘morons’, and equated to pedophiles…Victoria Silver’s My Fake Baby (2008) documentary, which made the processes of reborning better known, often informs people’s negative reactions, for the director also unsympathetically depicts participants choosing the cleanliness of reborn babies over the messiness of corporeal babies, presenting their reborn dolls as children, and replacing an absent grandchild with a reborn replica. Reborn dolls trouble understandings of the human because they are often misrecognized as babies when left in cars and other places, women describe them as babies, the boundary distinctions between mother and child are not maintained, and women purportedly deviate from human behavior in mothering them”.

I’m sure the blog I have written here feeds into the negative stereotypes that White talks about in her book chapter. (However, in my defence, there are other blogs that are far more negative than mine such as those on the Stroller Derby website). Amanda Edwards in a recent January 2013 article for Voxxi went as far as to assert:

“A rising number of women around the world are succumbing to the strange addiction of collecting and caring for dolls that look eerily like newborn babies…In the field of mental health, to summarize plainly, a hobby brings joy while an obsession brings destruction…Collecting dolls is absolutely an acceptable hobby, one that dates back hundreds of years and provides work and fulfillment for many people. The fascination with the reborn doll movement is that it’s not simply about collecting and creating these dolls as a hobby, it’s about providing care for them, nurturing them, and sometimes, choosing them over family…Recently, Voxxi reported about Alice Winston, a woman that collects these dolls and has lost her husband in part due to her emotional connection to her “babies.” Despite having five children of her own, she stated that, ‘No relationship will ever come between me and my babies, and I wouldn’t give them up for my children’. Clearly, a woman who chooses her doll collection over her relationships with her husband and children has an obsession”.

Based on what I have read, none of the most extreme cases appear to be what I would define as an addiction, but that doesn’t mean that no-one has ever developed a problem. At the very least, I can now visit doll fairs and call it research!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Celizic, M. (2008). Bogus baby boom: Women who collect lifelike dolls. NBC Today News, January 10. Located at: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26970782/site/todayshow/ns/today-today_news/t/bogus-baby-boom-women-who-collect-lifelike-dolls/#.USEZMqk72fR

Edwards, A. (2013). Reborn dolls: When a hobby becomes an obsession. Voxxi, January 17. Located at: http://www.voxxi.com/reborn-dolls-hobby-obsession/

Green, G. (2008). Frantic rescue effort saves doll, not baby. The Courier-Mail, July 15. Located at: http://www.news.com.au/national-old/frantic-rescue-effort-saves-doll-not-baby/story-e6frfkwr-1111116912747

O’Reilly, A. (2008). My Fake Baby. The F Word. January 4. Located at: http://www.thefword.org.uk/blog/2008/01/my_fake_baby

Robertson, A.F. (2003). Life Like Dolls: The Collector Doll Phenomenon and the Lives of the Women Who Love Them. London: Routledge.

White, M. (2010). Babies who touch you: Reborn dolls, artists, and the emotive display of bodies on eBay. In J. Staiger, A. Cvetkovich, & A. Reynolds (Eds.), Political Emotions. London: Routledge.

Wikipedia (2013). Reborn doll. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reborn_doll

At the front of the Barbie queue: A brief peek into the bizarre world of doll fetishism

In a previous blog I examined agalmatophilia, a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from an attraction to (usually nude) statues, dolls, mannequins and/or other similar body shaped objects. In today’s blog I take a more detailed look at doll fetishism as most of my previous blog on agalmatophilia concentrated on statues being the erotic focus.

Doll fetishism is a type of sexual fetishism where individuals are sexually aroused and attracted to dolls and/or doll-like objects (e.g., figurines). The attraction can take many different forms and can include one or more of the following: (i) actual sexual contact with a doll, (ii) sexual fantasies involving an animate or inanimate doll, (iii) sexual fantasies about two or more dolls having sex with themselves, and (iv) sexual fantasies from thoughts about being transformed or transforming another into a doll (the latter of which is part of a wider set of transformation fetishes that also includes furries and techno-fetishists). There is also a virtual form of doll fetishism where such fantasies can be acted out online and in virtual worlds via self-created doll avatars. In addition, some doll fetish sites feature films and/or animated pictures of humans getting their sexual gratification by use of dolls. Such animated films have some crossover with those into toonophilia (i.e., individuals that derive sexual pleasure from cartoon characters).

In his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India) notes that doll fetishism can be a transformation fetish:

“Examples are animal transformation, fantasies, and doll fetish…Doll fetish is a transformation fetish of being transformed into a doll or transforming someone else into a doll. It is often played out as role-play between two or more people. One partner – often the female – is dressed to look like a Barbie doll in shape with bold hair, enhanced breasts small waist, high heels, and a very revealing outfit made from rubber, latex or spandex”.

For doll fetishists, the doll in question can be either male or female (but is more often female). For those into female dolls, there appears to be a preference for those with “Barbie” type figures (long blonde hair, large breasts, ultra-thin waist, shapely bum). For adults who are dressed to look like a doll, there are a number of accessories that might have to be used including blonde wigs, padded bras, tight corsets (to minimize waist size), skimpy dresses (typically latex, leather or spandex), buttock pads, and a strap on vagina if the human is male.

Matteo Bittanti, a media practitioner/theorist who investigates the intersection of art, technology, and popular culture through critical writing noted that:

“In Japanese mythology, the doll is a soul bearer. It is linked to the dream world: it can both reassure and scare us. The doll embodies the perverse exchange between the living and the artificial, the human and the simulation. It subjugates man and traps him into the realm of the fantastic. The doll disguised as fetish, as Marx and Freud realized many years ago, is the manifestation of a pathology”.

Staying on the Japanese theme, an interesting paper by Maryellen Mori (Santa Clara University, US) in the Japan Review examined the writings of the Japanese writer Edogawa Rampo who has written at length on doll-love. She wrote that:

“An essay by Rampo entitled ‘Ningyo’ testifies to the author’s lifelong fascination with dolls and his belief in their supernatural abilities, and it sheds light on some of the underlying reasons for this fascination. It confirms Ranpo’s view of the doll as the ultimate fetish in various senses of this term: an erotic stimulus or partner; an object of veneration imbued with magical powers; and a vehicle for expressing hidden, transgressive desires, particularly cross-gender impulses. The essay begins, ‘Even those who cannot love another human being can love a doll. A person is but a shadow in this transient world, but a doll is immortal…Perhaps [my fondness for dolls] is a kind of escapism. Perhaps I have a slight psychological tendency to necrophilia or fetishism’…He proceeds to elaborate on the uncanny power of dolls, a power that can be traced, it would seem, to their liminal nature: dolls blur the boundary between the animate and the inanimate…The doll functions to lure men away from normative heteroeroticism toward a realm variously portrayed as a primitive, sometimes grisly, domain of infantile eroticism, or on the other hand, a higher spirtual plane characterized by love surpassing the ordinary love of men and women”.

There are also clear sadomasochistic elements for those who wish to transform into a doll (so called “dollification”). In a 2011 paper published in Counselling Australia, Dr. Angela Lewis wrote a paper on ‘age play’ among adults but also included a paragraph on doll fetishes. She wrote that:

“Dollification is about the process of a woman evolving mentally and physically into a ‘living doll‘ and the partners enjoying the process of objectification and transformation. The nature of this interest means it is very much based on a Master/slave/ or Dom/sub relationship. The man is known as the Owner or Dollmaster, as he directs the way the woman transforms into a doll. Accessories include but are not limited to corsets for a tiny waist and accentuated hips, heavy mask-like makeup (if not an actual mask), doll-like wigs, false eyelashes and the use of rubber, vinyl or plastic outfits. The role also requires the woman to have no ability to speak and no free will in how she moves or positions her body, so the Dollmaster acts somewhat like a puppetmaster. The doll also commonly shows no emotion, pain or enjoyment during play and is expected to remain silent”.

In 1996, RealDolls were sold commercially for the first time. RealDolls are life-size sex dolls and made by Californian company Abyss Creations and now sold globally (now costing around $5000 per doll). RealDolls (as you can guess from the name) are incredibly life-like thanks to a PVC skeleton with steel joints and covered in life-like silicone skin. It is advertised as “the state-of-the-art for life-like human body simulation” (and includes three “realistic” orifices – mouth, vagina and anus). The company also makes male dolls to order based on what the customer wants. In 2007, the BBC made a really good television documentary directed by Nick Holt called Guys and Dolls that followed the lives of four men who live with RealDolls. There are now many other varieties of dolls created including Boy Toy and Wicked Real Dolls. In 2001, The Doll Forum (TDF), an online discussion site for individuals who use Real Dolls was created.

A recent 2011 Masters thesis by Meaghen Boiteau (University of Manitoba, Canada) noted the TDF now had 32,000 registered users. Boiteau’s aim was to explore the ways in which members of TDF engage with discourses of gender, sexuality, and relationships in their discussions of their use of Real Dolls. She wrote:

“While the use of Real Dolls is a form of sexual behaviour that is quite distinct from those constructed as ‘normal’ and acceptable within society, this community represents an effort to expand the definitions of accepted sexual behaviour, reflecting the fluid nature of sexuality. Members are quite aware of the fact that their behaviour is not readily accepted as ‘normal’…Real Dolls represent youthful, flawless, images of femininity that require a great deal of work to maintain. Despite the fact that women are tasked with the maintenance of feminine appearance, within The Doll Forum it is the users who are responsible for this performance of femininity… The fact that members of The Doll Forum can represent Real Dolls as feminine expresses the performativity of gender, as gender is made known based upon the various clothing and appearance signifiers, as well as discourses with the forum, that users apply to their Real Dolls”.

There has been little research into doll fetishists but there is a lot of speculation that those into this fetish have a fascination about being in control. One online essay speculates that:

“For many, the control seems to involve a kind of Startup/Shutdown behaviour as well as the immobile and pose-able aspects. The idea is that someone has exerted control over another person’s body or mind, rendering them into an artificial seeming being or object. For others, the idea of stripping a person of their will and/or personality into a mindlessly obedient and programmable “robot” generates the highest forms of arousal”.

I’ll leave you with some interesting observations by Jennie Olofsson from a 2007 Finnish conference paper entitled The doll and the monstrous human being”. Citing from Max Weber’s thinking on fetishes, she concluded:

“Judging the doll as merely a bodily phenomenon, an object or an artefact would be a mistake. Scrutinizing for instance Barbie, one understands how she and, I stress, the doll in general can be said to go beyond being defined as toys and objects. Max Weber for instance, argues for the use of fetish. Everything, he claims, can become a fetish, but what is preferred is human shapes. Fetishes can also be understood as objects with charisma and being fetishised, dolls are standing for ‘a provocation to desire and possession’. Moreover, the doll, I would claim, is certainly not limited by these designations. As the ethymological translation suggests, within the doll, there lays a sense of humanity, or to challenge further, within the human, there lies a sense of dollness”

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Bittanti, M. Prolegomena: Good luck. Located at: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.118.3867&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

Boiteau, M. (2011). “I know just what she wants”: Constructing gender, sexuality, and relationships on The Doll Forum. Master of Arts Thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Manitoba, Canada.

Lewis, A. (2011). Ageplay: an adults only game. Counselling Australia, 11(2), 1-9.

Mori, M.T. (2000). Three tales of doll-love by Edogawa Ranpo. Japan Review, 12, 231-246.

Olofsson, J. (2007). The doll and the monstrous human being. Located at: http://www.helsinki.fi/genderstudies/3rdchristinaconference/pdf/Olofsson_doc.pdf.

Rogers, Mary F, 1999. Barbie Culture. London, Thousand Oaks & New Dehli: Sage Publications

Stupid My Cupid (2010). Agalmatophilia: Love in the age of silicon. May 20. Located at: http://stupidmycupid.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/what-is-agalmatophilia-agalmatophilia.html


Statue of limitations: A brief overview of agalmatophilia

In March 2012, the Daily Mail reported the story of Reighner Deleighnie, a 40-year old woman from London who claimed that she had fallen in love with a three-foot statue of the Greek God Adonis that she bought for £395. It was reported that:

“She enjoys reading and talking to her companion, and keeps him close by when she watches television and eats dinner. She also kisses and caresses him, imagining the pair of them walking through meadows of wildflowers or at the seaside. She shares the condition with Amanda Whittaker, a 27-year-old shop assistant from Leeds who has fallen head over heels for the Statue of Liberty”.

Agalmatophilia is a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual arousal from an attraction to (usually nude) statues, dolls, mannequins and/or other similar body shaped objects. It is also part of a wider condition known as ‘object sexuality’ (i.e., those individuals who develop deep emotional and/or romantic attachments to specific inanimate objects or structures) that I wrote about in a previous blog. The behaviour can manifest itself in many forms including actual sexual contact with the body-shaped objects, fantasies of having sexual encounters with the body-shaped objects, the act or sexual fantasy of watching encounters between the body-shaped objects themselves, and/or sexual arousal from thoughts of being transformed or transforming into a body-shaped object. (Because of this latter variation, some commentators have noted there are elements of transformation fetishism that I examined in my previous blog on Furry Fandom). It has also been claimed that for some agalmatophiles, the idea of immobility or loss of control can be arousing. For other agalmatophiles, there may also be fantasies about paralysis that may cross over into hypno-fetishism and/or robot fetishism.

Agalmatophilia can also include “Pygmalionism” that is usually defined as a state of love for an object of one’s own creation. Pygmalion was a Greek sculptor and misogynist who fell in love with a statue he had carved. In Greek mythology (and according to Ovid), after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves, Pygmalion lost all sexual interest in women. The legend has it that his carved statue was so realistic that he fell in love with it. He prayed to Aphrodite (the Greek godess of love) to bring the statue to life. Aphrodite eventually granted his wish and Pygmalion married the once statue. (I feel duty bound to point out that this view is not universal. A 1978 paper in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences by two New Zealand historians, Dr. A. Scobie and Dr. J. Taylor, state that Pygmalionism is not – and shouldn’t be confused as – a form of agalmatophilia).

Most of the academic writings on agalmatophilia are either case studies and/or historical writings (which are hard to confirm). For instance, Dr. Brenda Love in a 2005 book chapter entitled “Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing” said that Clisyphus allegedly “violated the statue of a goddess in the Temple of Samos, after having placed a piece of meat on a certain part”. Dr. Love also reported that having sex with statues was commonplace among worshippers of Priapus where virgins were first penetrated by him. (For those who don’t know, Priapus was a fertility god, and protector of fruit, gardens, livestock, and male genitalia. All illustrations of Priapus accentuate his oversized, permanent erection that has given rise to the painful medical condition ‘priapism’ in which the penis remains erect for long periods). Even in the twentieth century, Dr. Love reports that young Indian female virgins have been documented as making love to statues as a way to break their hymens.

Arguably the first academically documented case was by Richard Von Krafft-Ebbing in his 1877 text Psychopathia Sexualis. Here, Krafft-Ebbing recounted that case of a male gardener who fell in love with a statue of the Venus de Milo and was discovered attempting to have sexual intercourse with it. In a 1978 issue of the Journal of Sex Research, Murray White, a psychologist based in New Zealand, examined the clinical and literary citations relating to agalmatophilia. Although making reference to case studies outlined by Krafft-Ebbing and Havelock Ellis, he found found only one “single documented instance where this condition existed as part of a complex manifestation of symptoms but a number of instances where it occurred as a pornographic fantasy”. Despite the rarity of the condition, White did at least conform that the condition was a bona fide clinical entity.

More recently, Dr. Brenda Love in her 2005 book chapter outlined two more case studies (one of which I think was originally in Robert Tralin’s 1969 book The Sexual Fetish). The first case was the case a 34-year old man who at the age of 12 years became obsessed with a life size museum statue. He subsequently bought two small statues he spotted in a shop window and began regularly masturbating with them. At the time of the report being written, he had been masturbating with the aid of the statues for 22 years and was still doing it even though he was now happily married.

The second case involved a window dresser who developed overwhelming urges to masturbate every time he saw a naked mannequin. This appeared to be related to his first sexual experience when he was forced to perform fellatio on a man while sitting on mannequins. As time went on, he also developed desires to rub up against mannequins and also liked other men to watch him do it.

There are also cases of what could perhaps be described as ‘pseudo-agalmatophilia’. For instance, Dr. Brenda Love noted that in the sado-masochistic community, some masochists are ordered by their sexually sadistic partners to become a statue and not move while being fondled. There is nothing in the empirical academic literature outside of case studies although one website essay on agalmatophilia claims men who participate in these fetishes outnumber women 10 to 1, but that there are many women who participate as well. It also states that:

“The sexual stimulation results more from a need of control and sexual gratification without emotion from either counterpart. It can be easily misunderstood as a shallow, cruel, and heartless depiction of sexual stimulation, and although this may be true for some, it is not true for all. Some use this as a way of performing derogatory acts without actually harming anyone…Agalmatophilia is a difficult concept to comprehend, especially when considering the mental states behind these fantasies. However, one should always consider whether the actions harm real individuals or not. In some cases, this is just a derogatory fantasy. For others, this is just sexual gratification that stems from loneliness or the lack of confidence in an ability to find a partner”

In the absence of any empirical sources to back this up, it is hard to assess the validity of these claims, but the claims seem plausible. As with most rare paraphilic behaviours, we have no way of knowing whether the published case studies are in any way representative of all people who have such sexual interests.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Baker, D. (2012). ‘I’m head over heels in love with the Statue of Liberty’: Shop assistant has got a new flame! Daily Mail, March 6. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2110198/Amanda-Whittaker-love-Statue-Liberty-Shop-assistant-got-new-flame.html#ixzz1viApQQ1M

Krafft-Ebing, R. (1877). Psychopathia Sexualis. New York: Paperback Library (1965 reprint).

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Scobie, A. & Taylor, J. (1975). Perversions ancient and modern. Agalmatophilia, the statue syndrome. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 11, 49-54.

Strauss, R.S. (2012). I’m in love with a three-foot statue of Adonis: Carer, 40, spends every day with £400 moulding of the Greek god of desire she has dubbed ‘Hans’. Daily Mail, March 23. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119164/Carer-40-spends-day-400-Adonis-moulding-dubbed-Hans.html#ixzz1vi0JlPvb

Stupid My Cupid (2010). Agalmatophilia: Love in the age of silicon. May 20. Located at: http://stupidmycupid.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/what-is-agalmatophilia-agalmatophilia.html

Tralins, R. (1969). The Sexual Fetish: Case Histories of Bizarre Sexual Hangups. New York: Paperback Library Books.

White, M.J. (1978). The Statue Syndrome: Perversion? Fantasy? Anecdote? Journal of Sex Research, 14, 246-249.