Design, Use, and Effects of Sex Dolls and Sex Robots: Scoping Review


Figure 3. Timeline of publications for sex dolls (N=29) and sex robots (N=98).
View this figure[1][2]

Research Findings on Sex Dolls

We have summarized the main findings of previous sex doll research separately for the 5 groups of sex doll publications ().

Sex Doll Conceptualization and Theory

The largest group of sex doll publications (11/29, 38%) consists of theoretical studies that aim to conceptualize the human–sex doll relationship. Half of them (6/11) promoted a critical feminist conceptualization of the female sex doll as an expression and affirmation of patriarchal gender power relations and women’s sexual objectification by men (ie, by male sex doll producers, owners, users, and observers). The publications deal with the production and use of female sex dolls in Western [,,,] and Asian (HJ Nast, unpublished data, 2019) [] countries and sometimes discuss gender issues of female sex doll use in relation to economic, cultural, and racial issues as well as in relation to recent crises of masculinity. Their overall assessment of female sex dolls and their effects is very negative. A typical example of the critical feminist conceptualization of female sex dolls is as follows []:

The female sex doll is man’s ultimate sexually idealized woman. It is never more than the sum of its fully functional parts. A woman rendered harmless, it is immobile, compliant, and perhaps most importantly, silent. What the user of the sex doll seeks is the negation of change and the comfort of always retaining control of the relationship.

The other half of the theoretical papers (5/11) conceptualize human–sex doll relations, mainly in a positive way [,,,,]. These papers do not limit their focus to female dolls or (supposedly heterosexual, sexist, and misogynist) male doll users only, but they address the already observable and potentially growing diversity of both dolls and doll users (eg, including women, queers, older people, and people with disabilities). Furthermore, they reject the 2 key assumptions of the critical feminist conceptualizations that dolls are inanimate objects for mere (and questionable forms of) male sexual gratification (eg, acting out sexual fantasies of subjugation and violence against women) and that they are surrogates for real women. Instead, dolls are conceptualized as new types of social actors, neither inanimate objects nor surrogate humans but as posthuman partners or as interanimated beings [,,].

What dolls are and what human-doll relationships mean is, therefore, not predefined by attributes of the doll, but is the result of the connections between the human beings and the doll beings. It is up to the users if they abuse or take care of their dolls if they act out hatred or love. The anthropomorphic, anatomically correct full-body doll in this context might appear passive. The papers, however, argue that in its passivity lies agency and even power []: The doll being, although vulnerable to abuse just as the human being, is easily able to elicit attention, care, love, and long-term relationships. The conceptualization of dolls as interanimated beings covers rather than denies situations of doll objectification and abuse. However, it also covers situations of doll appreciation, care, and love. Most importantly, such a conceptualization covers complex situations of mixed and ambivalent connections between dolls and their users.

Sex Doll Representations in Art and Media

The second largest group of sex doll publications (7 out of 29; ) analyzes sex doll representations in art and media. Several studies explain that men creating idealized and sexualized female statues, mannequins, or dolls is a common trope in the history of art and culture that can be understood as an expression of patriarchal gender relations, objectification, and fetishization of women [,,]. One notorious example is Ovid’s poem about the sculpturer and ancient Greek mythical king of Cyprus, Pygmalion. Mythical Pygmalion, appalled by female sexual permissiveness, turned away from real women and created an ivory sculpture of his ideal woman. He physically loved the sculpture, and it later came to life.

A very famous example from modern cultural history is the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka, who in 1919 commissioned an anatomically correct sex doll in the likeness of his former lover Alma Mahler after she had ended both the relationship with him and her pregnancy. The Alma Mahler doll is an example of a portrait sex doll produced without the consent of the person portrayed. Kokoschka lived with the Alma Mahler doll, hired a maid for her, brought her to public spaces like the opera, and created numerous drawings and paintings of her before he destroyed the doll [,]. Kokoschka’s strange and scandalous actions were often dismissed as a private matter of grief, trauma, or insanity. However, they can also be read as an expression of male entitlement and an attempt to exercise revenge by publicly shaming Alma Mahler. Last but not least, according to the literature, there is also good reason to consider this case as some sort of performance art []. Within the sex doll literature, the Alma Mahler portrait sex doll is addressed the most in papers interested in sex doll representations in art and media (4 out of 7) [,-] but is also mentioned in theoretical [,], empirical [], and case study [,] sex doll publications.

Although the feminist critique of sex dolls plays a role, most publications in this group provide more complex interpretations. They point to the fact that in creating sexualized female dolls, male artists deal with more than gender relations, also dealing, for example, with their own fear of death [] or with their own object status []. Furthermore, some authors in their cultural analyses point to sex doll–related artwork that reveals additional and potentially emancipatory dimensions of sex doll use. An artist in the United States, Amber Hawk Swanson, who identifies as a lesbian commissioned a RealDoll sex doll in her own likeness from Abyss Creations, married her, and lived and collaborated with her in video and performance artwork. Amber Swanson’s Amber Doll Project (2006-2011) triggered and disrupted the audience’s clichéd (heterosexual) fantasies about lesbian desire, twin sexuality, and the role of females as sexual objects [].

Another cultural analysis stresses the 2 main functions of dolls: they are made to be looked at and to be played with []. Although a feminist critique often assumes a rigid misogynist meaning and use of female sex dolls, art projects demonstrate more complex, creative games to be played with dolls. An artist in the United States Laurie Simmons brought back a female sex doll from Japan and created a series of photographs of her. The Love Doll (2009-2011) project goes beyond affirmation and deconstruction of sexual objectification as the female artist casts a loving, maternal gaze on her doll, thus inventing “a novel game to play with the doll” [].

The last 2 publications deal with the representation of sex dolls in movies and television. The first one, the US movie Lars and the Real Girl (2007), is interpreted from a psychoanalytic perspective as an “inspiring tale of healing” []. The movie tells the story of withdrawn single 28-year old Lars who starts living with sex doll Bianca to end his loneliness. His family and the whole town play along by treating the doll as his legitimate partner and welcoming her as a new community member. This magically transforms everyone for the better. Ultimately, Lars can let go of the doll and turns toward a real woman. The movie deals with the contested topic of men’s relations with sex dolls in a very empathetic and romantic way. Interestingly, fictional Lars never has sex with his doll because Bianca is very religious, and thus, premarital sex is unthinkable. Tellingly, the acceptance of the Bianca doll by both the fictional community in which Lars lived and by the mainstream cinema audience required her to be a sexually abstinent sex doll [].

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) documentary Guys and Dolls (2007) portrays 4 men (Davecat, Everard, Gordon, and Mike) living with their female sex dolls. As media analysis reveals [], the documentary explains the doll owners’ unusual lifestyle as a result of their heteronormative shortcomings. The heterosexual men were not able to create relationships with real women and hence settled with dolls. However, a queer reading of the documentary is also possible, as the lifestyle of a doll lover allows men to express their sexualities differently. In the context of doll care, a variety of feminine connotated sensual activities are legitimized and carried out (eg, washing, drying, powdering, dressing, and putting make-up on the doll). Thus, the documentary unintentionally illustrates that the doll owner identity can also be read as a queer sexual identity [].

Empirical Studies on Sex Doll Use and Effects

The third group of sex doll publications (5 out of 29; ) contains empirical studies on sex doll use based on potential future or on current doll users’ subjective accounts. We could not find empirical papers dealing with the prevalence of sex doll use. As reported in one of the above-cited theoretical papers [], in a national web-based survey conducted in 2016 in Germany (N=2000; 50% female, 18-69 years), the lifetime prevalence of sex doll use was 9% for men and 2% for women. A web-based survey of 345 (81% female) undergraduate students in sexuality courses at a university in the United States revealed that 8% of the respondents would use a sex doll and 17% could understand a sex doll user []. The authors interpret the result as an indicator of the widespread stigmatization of sex doll use as opposed to the widespread acceptance of sex toy use.

To survey doll owners on their first-hand, long-term experiences with sex dolls, some researchers successfully turned to sex doll owner online community forums for recruitment. A psychological survey with 52 doll owners (6 female) of an English language international online doll owner forum showed that respondents used their dolls for solo and partnered sexual activities and evaluated the sexual experiences with their dolls as enjoyable []. Contrary to common belief, the surveyed doll owners (mean age, 43 years) did not show below-average mental health or life satisfaction on standardized scales; however, they reported possibly above-average problems with sexual functioning. Human-doll relationships are not always monogamous. A considerable number of surveyed male doll owners were in a relationship with a human partner (21%) and/or had more than one doll (39%). The author calls for more research on the psychologically adaptive and maladaptive uses of sex dolls.

An anthropological survey with 83 members (3 female, 2 gender fluid, 2 trans, and 1 other gender) of 2 English language international online sex doll forums revealed that most respondents characterize the relationship with their doll as a sexual relationship (50/83, 77%). At the same time, many respondents also describe their relationship with the doll as “companionship” (47/83, 57%) and as a “loving relationship” (39/83, 47%). The researchers conclude that so-called sex dolls not only provide sexual gratification but also serve as multifunctional dolls (they suggest the label allodolls) that can provide posthuman kinship and alleviation of loneliness.

Instead of using survey methodology, 2 other studies chose a nonreactive approach and collected sex doll owners’ publicly available web-based content. One study qualitatively analyzed 68 customer testimonials (4 written by females) published between 2006 and 2016 on the website of the RealDoll manufacturer Abyss Creations []. The researchers found that dolls foster the commodification of female bodies because (1) the manufacturer offers many options for customization that are in line with stereotypical beauty standards, and consequently, (2) the users write a lot and in great detail about their preferences regarding the bodily appearance of their female dolls. Apart from the physical beauty of the doll, emotional closeness to the doll also plays an important role in doll owners’ testimonials. They write extensively about the comforting effect of the doll’s mere presence []:

My doll arrived four days ago and my home has a new, warm feeling to it.

They also stress how much they enjoy taking care of the doll (doll maintenance includes regular washing, drying, powdering, and dressing) and, thus, feeling needed []:

She’s coming to life for me, I want to take care for [sic] her all the time. Yes, my life has become much fuller.”

The authors’ assessment of men’s attachments to sex dolls is ambivalent—concern about objectification of women’s bodies is mixed with acknowledgment of the creation of supportive emotional intimacy.

The same main result is reported by a qualitative content analysis of 316 discussion threads with 7775 posts from the Abyss Creations RealDoll online forum []. Sex doll owners create embodied intimate fictions with the dolls. They often praise their idealized bodily attributes and supernatural feminine beauty. However, they do not reduce the dolls to mere sex toys but create rich narratives (in both text and photographs) about their dolls’ personalities, backstories, and experiences, integrating domestic life, outdoor trips, and sexual encounters. Furthermore, the lively discussions in the online forum illustrate that doll owners not only bond with their dolls but also with other members of the doll owner community. As hobbyists, not unlike pet owners, they share tips and tricks around doll purchase, doll care, and doll photography.

Clinical Case Studies on Sex Doll Use and Effects

The fourth group of sex doll publications involves 3 clinical case studies, 2 from psychology, and 1 from medicine (3 out of 29; ). The clinical-psychological case study of psychoanalyst Danielle Knafo [] deals with a 48-year-old psychotherapy patient Jack, an actuary by profession. He had suffered a problematic childhood with a derogatory mother, and his 2 marriages had failed. Deeply hurt by the most important women in his life and inspired by an online forum, he had bought RealDoll Maya for over US $10,000. Reluctantly, he shares with his psychoanalyst that Maya has now been his girlfriend for 2 years and that she is “beautiful” and “super in bed”. He adds how much he enjoys her company, how harmonious their relationship is (“we never fight”), and that he thinks he might be in love with her. However, he is also conflicted about his unusual lifestyle and therefore seeks therapeutic help. The feminist identified psychoanalyst reports how she was initially repulsed at the idea of a man choosing a sexist object as his girlfriend []. However, her “own perversity kicked in” along with a kind of “voyeuristic curiosity,” as she describes it []. She manages not to judge Jack but to understand him. She concludes that RealDoll Maya is more than a “perversion” and that she is an “invention” and a “lifesaver for Jack” []. During psychoanalysis with an accepting female therapist, Jack gains enough self-confidence and optimism to retire Maya and return to relationships with real women. In this case study, the sex/love doll served as a soothing and healing transitional object in the sense of Donald Winnicott’s [] theory of transitional objects.

The second case study from the sex doll literature comes again from Danielle Knafo [] and is based on 7 hours of personal interviews that she led with Davecat, a 42-year-old African American self-proclaimed doll lover in his Michigan home. Davecat has lived with RealDoll Sidore Kuroneko (nickname Shi-chan) since 1998 and regards her as his wife. They wear matching wedding rings inscribed with the words “Synthetic love lasts forever” []. In 2012, Davecat ordered a second doll, this time from the Russian manufacturer Anatomical Dolls and named her Elena Vostrikova (nickname Lenka). Elena has the status of a “mistress, plaything and companion” for both Davecat and his bisexual synthetic wife Sidore. Elena is built lighter with looser joints. “Elena is more built for sex whereas Sidore is built for love” as Davecat puts it []. Muriel Noonan (nickname Mew-Mew), his third doll, is made of wood, leather, Lycra skin, and cotton batting. She is least used for sex and mostly serves as a flatmate. Davecat has given all of his dolls complex backstories and personalities and lives with them in what he describes as a harmonious polyamorous family to which, at the time of the interview, he plans to add 2 more dolls in the future. Davecat explains how he experiences sex with a doll (for him a “synthetik [sic] partner”) in comparison to sex with a human (for him an “organik [sic] partner”) []:

Dolls overall are simultaneously robustly made and fragile. They’re ostensibly made for sex, but they’re also sculpture pieces. With an organik partner, obviously you can be a bit rougher, but I take care to be gentle with Shi-can and Lenka when we’re in bed. Another remarkable difference between organik and synthetik women is that when you’re inside a doll’s vagina or anus, there’s a vacuum effect that’s pretty… breathtaking. I’d say sex flows a little better with an organik, as she’s able to move herself, whereas changing positions with a doll requires you to pause and rearrange everything. Overall, though, personally, I’d rate sex with a synthetik woman to be as good, if not better, than with an organik woman. Mainly as a doll’s artificiality is a huge draw with me….

The psychoanalyst characterizes Davecat as a man who has been struggling all his life with intimacy issues and has found dolls as a viable alternative to having a human partner. At the same time, she acknowledges that Davecat feels sexually and emotionally attracted to the artificial aspects of dolls []. He self-identifies as an iDollator, a doll lover who prefers dolls to humans. This identity is so meaningful to Davecat that he serves as an activist and spokesperson for the doll lover community. He has participated in numerous press interviews, photoshoots, and television documentaries (eg, the earlier mentioned BBC documentary Guys and Dolls). The psychoanalyst, dissecting Davecat’s biography, neither stigmatizes nor pathologizes him. Although she assumes that his unconventional lifestyle is rooted in anxieties and conflicts [], in her evaluation, it appears to be a viable solution. After all, Davecat is not harming anybody, is able to work, well-integrated socially, and satisfied with his life.

The third and last case study is a medical one. It proves that the shared use of an inflatable sex doll can lead to the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease (ie, gonorrhea) if the doll is not cleaned or no protection is used []. In this case, a male sailor had found the sex doll of a colleague on board by chance and used it secretly.

Legal Regulation of Child Sex Dolls

The fifth and final group of sex doll publications covers 3 publications on child sex dolls (3 out of 29; ). All 3 call unanimously for a legal ban and explore the implementation of such a ban in different legal systems, namely, in Australia [], the United Kingdom [], and the United States []. They reject the idea of possible therapeutic value and stress that the production, marketing, and use of child sex dolls would normalize and foster child sexual abuse. The publications point to different harmful uses of child sex dolls (eg, the use of child sex dolls during grooming or during the abuse of children or the exploitation of individual children by producing portrait sex dolls in their likeness). The most important reason given for banning child sex dolls is the assumption that acting out child sexual abuse with a doll would rehearse, train, and trigger real child sexual abuse. Abstract child sex dolls are compared with computer-generated or so-called fantasy child pornography []. In both cases, no children are directly harmed in the process of production, but the dissemination and marketing of two-dimensional or three-dimensional depictions of sexualized children is still considered harmful and exploitative and should therefore be criminalized according to all three studies.

Research Gaps in Sex Dolls

There is a considerable discrepancy between the great media interest in the topic of sex dolls and sex robots mentioned in the introduction and the limited amount of scientific knowledge. Overall, the interdisciplinary field of sex doll research is fairly small (RQ1). Empirical and clinical studies on doll use, in particular, are scarce (5 peer-reviewed papers in total) and often have limited generalizability due to small convenience samples or single case studies. Accordingly, it is not surprising that many research gaps exist.

Research Gaps in Sex Doll Design

Regarding sex doll design (RQ2), many publications agree that the sexualized and idealized looks of female sex dolls pose a problem in terms of further sexual objectification of women within a patriarchal consumer culture already saturated with unrealistic beauty standards for women’s bodies. However, previous research falls short on conceptualizing the sexual fantasy dimension of sex dolls. Understanding dolls as embodied sexual fantasies, it is neither surprising nor questionable that dolls do not mirror reality as it is, or as it ethically ideally should be, but unapologetically express unrealistic, exaggerated, clichéd, and thus exciting and satisfying fantasies. Research on sexual fantasies has revealed that humans of all genders are usually not particularly turned on by morality or normality but often by the direct opposite [,]. What technological change brings about is ample new possibilities to express and materialize sexual fantasies formerly enjoyed purely privately so that they now become readable, audible, visible, and—with dolls and robots—even tangible in the public realm.

Although a sex-positive perspective usually acknowledges the value of fantasy, creativity, play, provocation, and pleasure, a critical perspective usually warns against the expression and dissemination of fantasies whose content is not in line with the ethical standards applied to real life. Obviously, child sex dolls are regarded as a hard limit in the academic sex doll literature. However, for other types of fantasies that dolls can and could embody, there is no consensus and not even a rational debate.

If the breast size of female sex dolls poses a problem (many authors complain about the female dolls’ pornographic looks), what range of breast sizes would be ethically correct and/or harmless enough regarding the prevailing beauty norms for female bodies? Do we need size norms for ethical dildos and vibrators as well? Questions like these are both banal and profound at the same time: meaningful critical evaluations of sex doll design should go beyond the trivial observation that sex dolls look like sexual clichés because that is exactly the point of sexual fantasy products. Young-looking sex dolls and related products like full-body cushions depicting sexualized young women (so-called dakimura) are often criticized, but, in Japan, for example, their main target group is young men and adolescent boys []. Is it inappropriate that they desire same-age dolls? Do we want older-looking dolls to be marketed to them? Racial issues are also very confusing. Regarding racial prejudices and privileges, one might problematize that in Japan, for example, exclusively Japanese-looking sex dolls that emphasize skin whiteness are marketed [], whereas one may also problematize the marketing of Japanese-looking sex dolls to non-Japanese customers. Is there any way to criticize (and improve) sexual fantasy product designs and marketing strategies that take into consideration both the concern about social inequalities and vulnerabilities and the concern for sexual rights and freedom of sexual fantasy and expression?

The same issues have been discussed for decades regarding pornography []. Although some authors still claim that all pornography is inherently inhumane and sexist, just as some authors and activists claim that all sex dolls are inherently inhumane and sexist, other authors and activists accept that sexual explicitness and lack of realism are necessary ingredients of sexual fantasy products. However, they push for a greater variety of fantasies to be represented in the products. This is why female-friendly, couple-friendly, feminist, and queer pornographies have been produced and investigated since the 1980s []. The sex doll market could also be diversified. Exploring directions for diverse sex doll designs and their implications could be a task for future research. Design studies could bring together sex researchers, current and future customers with different gender and sexual identities and lifestyles (including older people and people with disabilities), sexual health experts, designers, and/or industry representatives. Collaborations with the sex doll industry promise new insights and, against common belief, do not imply the abandonment of critical analysis. Indeed, critical analysis is often much sharper and more to the point if researchers are closely familiar with the research subject and its context instead of only looking at it from a distance.

Research Gaps in Sex Doll Use

Although pornography use has become mainstream among men and women, it is unclear how large the sex doll user population is and whether it will grow or stay a niche market. Systematic analyses of market data and representative surveys of national populations regarding the prevalence and acceptance of sex doll use are widely lacking. In China, for example, due to the former one-child policy, there is a demographic surplus of millions of men—will they become a target group for sex dolls (HJ Nast, unpublished data, 2019)? With aging societies and a persistent gender gap in life expectancy, we will see a surplus of millions of widows and single older females in developed countries—perhaps another target group for sex dolls and further innovative sexual technologies.

Previous studies on sex doll owners’ experiences have demonstrated that men create complex, multi-dimensional relationships with their dolls that include, but are not limited to, the search for sexual gratification. To further explore the psychology and sexuality of doll play and human-doll relationships, theories, methods, and results from related research fields should be considered.

Although sex doll conceptualization struggles with the passivity and object status of dolls and the one-sidedness of human-doll relationships, in the field of media research, the concept of one-sided “parasocial relationships” between humans and media figures has been well developed for more than half a century []. It is also established that parasocial interactions and relationships are linked to well-being []. Romantic and erotic relationships between humans and media figures are common (eg, adolescent girls falling in love with members of boy groups from the music industry) and psychologically meaningful and helpful []. Established measures for parasocial interactions and relationships between humans and media personas could be adapted to investigate human–sex doll interactions and relationships.

Surprisingly, research on men’s play with female sex dolls has widely ignored the research on children’s play with childlike dolls and research on women’s play with babylike dolls. Children love, kiss, cuddle, talk to, and sleep with their dolls, and sometimes, they poke their dolls’ eyes, cut their hair without consent, or open their stomachs during questionable operations [-]. However, nobody assumes that children’s use of childlike dolls makes them antisocial or encourages them to treat other children like objects. The same holds true for the female adult doll owner community that uses realistic baby dolls (so-called Reborn Dolls,). Here, women use doll play to express sexuality-related fantasies of procreation and motherhood without being accused of antisocial inclinations or objectification of babies, although their behavior is criticized and scandalized in the media [,]. Last but not least, research on sex doll use could learn from research on so-called doll therapy []. Doll therapy addresses dementia patients and encourages holding, kissing, cuddling, talking to, feeding, or dressing an anthropomorphic doll because interactions and relationships with dolls provide comfort, control, and peace as well as feelings of pride, purpose, and bonding that can alleviate agitation and other symptoms []. Such soothing and healing effects of dolls have also been reported by sex doll owners. Theoretical elaboration is needed to link and/or differentiate the various user groups and uses of different types of dolls. Why is men’s play with sex dolls so outstanding in its assumed connections with antisocial tendencies and an unhealthy confusion of play and reality? Are male gender and sexual fantasy dolls such a dangerous coupling and/or are we dealing with sex-negative and gendered projections?

The previous literature points to different types of sex doll owners like the passionate, possibly paraphilic, lifelong iDollator; the misogynist doll owner, the possibly sadistic doll owner striving for complete dominance; the pedophilic doll owner; the transient doll user working through hurt and heartbreak or through teenage angst; the unattractive, old, or disabled user with very limited prospects of success in the real partner market; the doll photographer and hobbyist; or the sexually experimental female user and couple. However, a definitive typology is missing. According to the literature, approximately 20% of the sex doll owner community are couples and females [], and thus far, we do not know much about them.

Research Gaps in Sex Doll Effects

Sex doll effects of both long-term and short-term sex doll use are under-researched. Long-term domestic use by doll owners has only been explored with small convenience samples and mostly without the use of established and validated measures for predictors and outcomes of sex doll use, for example, measures of sexual and mental health, personality, sociability, sexism, doll-related paraphilias (eg, objectophilia and doll fetishism), and new sexual identities (eg, digisexuality) []. Short-term commercial uses of sex dolls and their effects are completely unexplored. Interviews with customers of sex doll brothels and expert interviews with sex doll brothel staff could be helpful. The therapeutic uses and effects of sex dolls have also been under-researched. More clinical case studies are necessary.

What is special about sex dolls as sexual fantasy products is their materiality: they are embodied sexual fantasies, and their use demands specific sexual skills–fantasy skills to enrich the parasocial interaction and practical skills in positioning and moving the heavy doll to create an enjoyable and satisfying sexual experience. Thus far, no observational or experimental studies of social or sexual interactions between humans and sex dolls and their outcomes have been conducted.

State of Research on Sex Robots

We have summarized the state of research on sex robots by mapping the number and type of publications, reporting their main results and indicating the research gaps.

Amount and Type of Research on Sex Robots

During the scoping review literature identification process, we included 98 academic publications on sex robots (). This body of literature consists of 6 distinct groups of publications according to both their topics and their methodologies (). The groups of sex robot publications are similar to those of sex doll publications, the main difference being unavailability of clinical case studies for sex robot, but the availability of many ethical studies and some design studies.

The largest group of sex robot publications (40/98, 41%) deals with sex robot conceptualization and theory, written by authors from social and life sciences, humanities, philosophy, and engineering. The second largest group of publications (28/98, 29%) addresses the ethics of sex robots and is mainly rooted in philosophy. The third group of publications contains empirical studies on sex robot use and effects (12/98, 12%), mainly from the fields of psychology and human-computer interaction. The fourth group of publications addresses sex robot representations in art and media (8/98, 8%), the fifth group of publications looks at child sex robots and their legal regulation (6/98, 6%), and the sixth and final group of publications involves sex robot design studies (4/98, 4%).

The body of academic literature contains 3 published monographs focusing exclusively on sex robots [,,]. Approximately one-third of the included sex robot publications are peer reviewed (32 out of 98). Many sex robot publications are papers from the international conference series LSR (Love and Sex with Robots), initiated by David Levy (LSR1 2014 in Funchal, Portugal; LSR2 2016 in London, United Kingdom; LSR3 2017 in London, United Kingdom; and LSR4 2019 in Brussels, Belgium). The Google Scholar citation count reveals a range from 0 to more than 500 citations, the latter for David Levy’s [] seminal book Love and Sex with Robots. Heavily cited sex robot publications are often not peer reviewed. Regarding the timeline, the oldest sex robot publication identified in the databases and included in our review is a 1997 comment of a sociologist on the impact of future sex robots [] that raises questions still discussed today. However, it is an outlier, with approximately 85% (83/98) of the sex robot publications having been published in the last 5 years (2015-2019; ).


ReferenceCitation countaPeer reviewAcademic discipline
Sex robot conceptualization and theory (n=40)
Adshade (2017) []0Economics
Barber (2017) []2Creative arts, film, and media
Bołtuć (2017) []3Philosophy
Carpenter (2017) []2Human-technology interaction
Cheok et al (2017) []3Pervasive computing
Cox-George and Bewley (2018) []6Medicine
Cranny-Francis (2016) []1Gender studies
Danaher (2017) []4Ethics and law
Danaher (2017) []3Ethics and law
Danaher et al (2017) []8Ethics and law
Devlin (2015) []13Computer science
Devlin (2018) []7Computer science
Döring and Pöschl (2018) []6Psychology
Eggleton (2019) []1Medicine
Evans (2010) []10Robotics
Facchin et al (2017) []6Clinical psychology
Goldfeder and Razin (2015) []7Law and religion
Gutiu (2016) []7Law
Hall (2017) []2Computer science
Hauskeller (2017) []1Philosophy
Herzfeld (2017) []1Science and religion
Klein and Lin (2018) []1Technology ethics
Kolivand et al (2018) []1Computer science
Lee (2017) []11Media studies
Levy (2007) []531Artificial intelligence
Levy (2017) []5Artificial intelligence
Mackenzie (2018) []4Law and medical ethics
McArthur and Twist (2017) []11Philosophy
Migotti and Wyatt (2017) []0Philosophy
Musiał (2019) []0Philosophy
Nyholm and Frank (2017) []8Philosophy
Pearson (2015) []8Futurology
Richardson (2016) []77Social anthropology
Rousi (2018) []1Cognitive science
Rousi (2018) []0Cognitive science
Sharkey et al (2017) []35Computer science
Snell (1997) []9Sociology
Søraa (2017) []9Interdisciplinary studies of culture
Wennerscheid (2018) []0Literary studies
Yeoman and Mars (2012) []89Tourism management
Ethics of sex robots (n=28)
Amuda and Tijani (2012) []14Law and theology
Bendel (2015) []23Technical philosophy
Bendel (2017) []9Technical philosophy
Beschorner and Krause (2018) []1Business ethics
Carvalho Nascimento et al (2018) []0Bioethics
Coeckelbergh (2009) []62Philosophy of media and technology
Di Nucci (2016) []3Ethics
Di Nucci (2017) []3Ethics
Frank and Nyholm (2017) []13Philosophy and ethics
Goldstein (2017) []0Political science
González-González et al (2019) []0Gender studies
Levy (2012) []27Artificial intelligence
Mackenzie (2014) []6Law and medical ethics
Mackenzie (2018) []1Law and medical ethics
McArthur (2017) []2Philosophy
Petersen (2017) []2Philosophy
Richardson (2016) []2Social anthropology
Richardson (2016) []27Social anthropology
Russell (2009) []8Law
Shen (2019) []2Law
Simmons (2016) []1Law
Sparrow (2017) []25Philosophy
Spencer (2011) []1Theology
Sullins (2012) []75Philosophy
Wagner (2018) []0Robotics
Welsh (2015) []bRobot ethics
Whitby (2012) []0Philosophy and ethics
Ziaja (2011) []7Law
Empirical studies on sex robot use and effects (n=12)
Appel et al (2019) []0Psychology
Bartneck and McMullen (2018) []3Human-computer interaction
Edirisinghe and Cheok (2017) []2Human-robot interaction
Edirisinghe et al (2018) []1Human-robot interaction
Korn et al (2018) []0Human-computer interaction
Richards et al (2017) []8Communication
Scheutz and Arnold (2016) []55Computer science
Scheutz and Arnold (2017) []2Computer science
Szczuka and Krämer (2017) []2Psychology
Szczuka and Krämer (2018) []1Psychology
Szczuka and Krämer (2019) []0Psychology
Yulianto and Shidarta (2015) []4Human-robot interaction
Sex robot representations in art and media (n=8)
Barber (2009) []6Creative arts, film, and media
Beggan (2017) []0Sociology
Conn (2017) []0Comparative literature
Döring and Poeschl (2019) []0Psychology
Gevers (2018) []0Art
Hasse (2019) []1Anthropology
Hauskeller (2014) []29Philosophy
Hawkes and Lacey (2019) []0Media studies
Legal regulation of child sex robots (n=6)
Behrendt (2018) []3Philosophy
Chatterjee (2019) []0Criminology
Danaher (2017) []33Ethics and law
Danaher (2019) []0Ethics and law
Maras and Shapiro (2017) []7Criminology and law
Strikwerda (2017) []5Law and ethics
Design of sex robots (n=4)
Bendel (2018) []3Technical philosophy
Danaher (2017) []1Ethics and law
Gomes and Wu (2018) []0Engineering
Su et al (2019) []0Human-computer interaction
aCitation count according to Google Scholar in August 2019.

1 2 3 4