Sex Dolls at Sea

From Media Origins

Sex Dolls at Sea

Imagined Histories of Sexual Technologies

By Bo Ruberg

Investigating and reimagining the origin story of the sex doll through the tale of the sailor's dames de voyage.





Investigating and reimagining the origin story of the sex doll through the tale of the sailor's dames de voyage.

The sex doll and its high-tech counterpart the sex robot have gone mainstream, as both the object of consumer desire and the subject of academic study. But sex dolls, and sexual technology in general, are nothing new. Sex dolls have been around for centuries. In Sex Dolls at Sea, Bo Ruberg explores the origin story of the sex doll, investigating its cultural implications and considering who has been marginalized and who has been privileged in the narrative.

Ruberg examines the generally accepted story that the first sex dolls were dames de voyage, rudimentary figures made of cloth and leather scraps by European sailors on long, lonely ocean voyages in centuries past. In search of supporting evidence for the lonesome sailor sex doll theory, Ruberg uncovers the real history of the sex doll. The earliest commercial sex dolls were not the dames de voyage but the femmes en caoutchouc: “women” made of inflatable vulcanized rubber, beginning in the late nineteenth century.

Interrogating the sailor sex doll origin story, Ruberg finds beneath the surface a web of issues relating to gender, sexuality, race, and colonialism. What has been lost in the history of the sex doll and other sex tech, Ruberg tells us, are the stories of the sex workers, women, queer people, and people of color whose lives have been bound up with these technologies.

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$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262543675 304 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 40 b&w photos


  • “This book is a tour de force. Brilliantly researched and eminently readable, Bo Ruberg's Sex Dolls at Sea will fundamentally change the way you think about histories of sexuality and technology.”

    Lynn Comella

    Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; author of Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure

  • “Ruberg's sharp, imaginative take on the history of sex dolls constructively blurs the boundaries between the history of sex, the history of sexuality, and the history of technology. It shows readers how origin stories can be key to understanding a technology's present and its potential futures.”

    Mar Hicks

    Associate Professor of History of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology; author of Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing

  • “Ruberg expertly unearths the multiple histories of the sex doll, arguing that sexual technologies shape which people, and whose desires, matter.”

    Jacob Gaboury

    Associate Professor of Film & Media, University of California at Berkeley; author of Image Objects: An Archaeology of Computer Graphics