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By Valentina Sinis / VII Mentor Program

China’s latest population data reveals that despite the implementation of the “two-child policy”, the gender imbalance is a continuing social problem. There are 33.6 million more men than women in this country of 1.4 billion people, and among those born in the 1980’s, the ratio of unmarried men to women indicates a severe gender imbalance. As of 2017, the market for silicone dolls was very large, and with a yearly growth rate of about 30%, the number of factories and suppliers is also steadily on the rise. Manufacturers hope to make dolls lifelike enough to cure loneliness among the country’s huge unmarried population.  

As China economy rapidly diversifies, sexual subcultures are diversifying alongside. Among these, the diversification in the use of silicone sex dolls is apparent through the proliferation of DollMates groups on Chinese social media. In these groups, “Mates” exchange photos of the dolls, tips on how to use them, the defects of different brands, how to wash them, dress them and care for them.

The DollMates market in China is segmented into three main groups: those who buy silicone dolls purely for sexual use, those who buy them because they want a life partner – someone to love and take care of without the economic and mental pressure of human-to-human relationships – and those who buy them to dress them up and take pictures for use on social media.

Another interesting aspect is the emerging market of second-hand dolls. The high cost of the dolls, coupled with the immediate indifference of many buyers who purchase them out of curiosity but then fail to relate to or find pleasure in them, has led to a thriving market of buying and selling previously-owned dolls. DollMates, many of whom were born in the 80s, have mastered the art of buying second-hand dolls, and have developed the best techniques to wash, clean, disinfect and use them without fear of contracting disease.

True silicone doll aficionados typically pass through three emotional and physical stages. The first stage is the purchase of a doll for dedicated sexual use. The second stage is the development of emotional attachment towards their dolls, at which point Mates may begin to use other sex toys for personal fulfillment, as they begin to see the dolls as daughters or sisters or friends who must be spoiled and looked after. In the third stage, dolls lose all sexual association as Mates begin to think of themselves as collectors and become wholly dedicated to their dolls. This final stage, according to those interviewed, is the moment when the line between “doll life” and real life blurs, and the two worlds become indistinguishable from one another. 

The First Stage: The Sexual Use

Jerry is 34 years old and lives in Nanning, China with his wife who, they have just discovered, is pregnant. He owns a 24h convenient store with home delivery service and he is quite happy about his accomplishments at work, which have provided his family with a comfortable life.  Jerry is a lover of silicone dolls. He bought his first in 2013, though he had been curious about them as early as 2008. Since developing this passion for silicone dolls, Jerry has rented a room in a building different from the one in which he lives with his family. This room has become his secret, hidden place where he keeps and interacts with his silicone dolls. He visits once a week to spend time with his dolls, the room has a projector in order to watch movies while hugging and cuddling his dolls. After having sex with them, he showers them and lies between them playing with his cellular phone. Jerry’s dolls weigh around 35kg each so he built a suspension system so the dolls can sit up on the bed with no effort. Jerry admitted that his wife doesn’t know anything about his secret doll boudoir. Maybe she suspects about it, he says, but he feels like it’s not a problem because he is very nice to his wife and cares for her needs. He is aware that they are only dolls and says he has not developed any real love for them, but they provide a great deal of pleasure when he grooms and has sex with them. Jerry says that he knows that sex with dolls is different from the sex with real women but he appreciates that he can experiment on the dolls and try things that he always wanted but couldn’t propose to a woman. He states clearly that one could never replace the other but insists that his relationship with the dolls supplements his sexual relationship with his wife, increasing his sexual interest and his overall happiness. Jerry doesn’t feel that he is cheating on his wife but he admits that he would never accept his wife one day buying and playing with the male version of the silicone dolls. 

The Second Stage: Emotional Attachment

Bob came of age during the 80s in China. He entered the world of silicone dolls in 2005, prior to divorcing his wife. Bob says that his generation loves playing console and computer games, so they are attracted to women who resemble the heroines of digital games rather than real women with real bodies. For this reason, they prefer silicone dolls whose exaggerated, sexualized bodies and faces come from fantasy worlds. Bob collects dolls made in China because they reflect this imagery in contrast to dolls made in Japan that more closely resemble the bodies of real women with more imperfections. Bob says that for him, the dolls are not sexual objects but are more like daughters or younger sisters whom he loves to spoil and adore. He buys clothes and perfumes for them and treats them with great care. Bob estimates that his relationship to the dolls comprises about 70% of his life, so he still manages to maintain a connection to real life with the remaining 30%.

The Third Stage: The Two Worlds Become Indistinguishable

L.S. is a 28 year old Chinese boy who began to be interested in silicone dolls after the end of a tormenting relationship with a girlfriend. L.S. recounts that the worst part of his relationship with his ex was the exhausting daily quarrels that strongly traumatized him. L.S. says that the relationship he has established with his dolls has helped him to find  serenity again. L.S. loves to return home, sit on the sofa and drink tea with his dolls. He says he can spend hours talking with his dolls without having to be afraid of argument. At night, L.S. also finds comfort in embracing his favorite doll and occasionally having sex with her. He considers the dolls to be an integral part of his life.

The Dolls as Sisters

WeiShuying is a 17-year-old Chinese girl who studies art in high school in Nanning, China.  During the week, she lives in the dormitory of her school but on the weekends she returns to the home of her mother, divorced long ago from WeiShuying’s father. It is there that WeiShuying keeps her beloved collection of silicone dolls. WeiShuying owns 4 silicone dolls varying in size from 85cm to 145cm in height. In China, such dolls are produced principally to satisfy the sexual desires of male buyers. WeiShuying is aware of the nature of her dolls but admits that she is not bothered by this. In her mind they are simply beautiful female figures whose perfect bodies she admires. WeiShuying says that the first time she approached the world of silicone dolls was years ago. She had always been attracted to the world of cosplay but being very shy she never actively participated in it. She always preferred to admire and dream. She lives through her dolls and they provide the entry point to this world of costumes and make-up. WeiShuying began researching the various silicone doll factories on the Internet at the age of 14. She frequented social media groups associated with this type of dolls in order to find out about prices and varieties. In the end, she asked her mother for financial help to buy her first silicone doll. At the beginning, WeiShuying’s mother was skeptical but soon realized that nowadays in China these silicone dolls attract many different types of customers, many of whom do not necessarily use the dolls in a sexual manner. She thought her daughter might use the dolls to help improve her drawings skills. After two years WeiShuying has developed a profound attachment with her silicone dolls. She loves to make them up, dress them and she considers them to be sisters with whom she can spend time while she is at home. WeiShuying admits that she really misses her dolls when she is at school and if she has the opportunity to study abroad in the future, she will take at least the small one with her.