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Paris sex doll 'brothel' to stay open despite protests

Are sex dolls for-hire prostitutes? These are the kind of tricky questions coming up as robot lovers make their way into our beds -- and maybe our hearts.

A French business where customers can spend time alone with human-looking silicone sex dolls will remain open despite criticism that it degrades women and promotes rape culture.

Kim, one of four dolls available for a tryst at Xdolls in Paris. 

Xdolls

The Paris city council this week rejected a motion that called for the closure of Xdolls, which lets clients tryst with a sex doll at a secret location for 89 euros (about $109, £78 or AU$142) an hour. It's being called the first venue of its kind in France, though similar outlets operate in Japan and Germany. 

"This establishment ... is the latest invention to bring brothels back into the landscape," Nicolas Bonnet Oulaldj, a left-wing Paris council member who opposes Xdolls, said in a statement. Other critics include French feminist groups concerned violent behavior toward the dolls could repeat itself with real women. 

The debate highlights the questions being raised as sex robots previously reserved for science fiction make their way into our beds -- and maybe our hearts. For Turned On, a special report about technology and sex, CNET reported how sex dolls, which have been around for decades, are getting a 21st-century upgrade, with AI and customizable looks, personalities, voices and libidos that let them mimic human behavior. In a survey last year, half of Americans polled said robot lovers would become common by 2067.

Your future sex life? Abyss Creations CEO Matt McMullen is bringing robotics to RealDolls. 

Caitlin Petrakovitz/CNET

Xdolls, whose dolls are basically mannequins that don't move or talk on their own (yet), opened Feb. 1 in Paris' 14th district. It's registered as a games center, but those wanting it shut hoped law enforcement would classify it as a brothel because those are illegal in France. The police visited Xdolls, but concluded no laws were being broken. 

"This is not a case of prostitution. They are not real women," Le Parisien newspaper quoted a Paris police officer as saying. "This is not a criminal but moral problem." The business hasn't caused any public disorder, the officer added, or drawn complaints from neighbors.

Xdolls clients pay online to romp with the doll of their choice -- Kim, Lily, Sofia or Candice -- in a private bedroom with mood lighting.  The website promises the plastic dolls, all made in China, are cleaned and disinfected before and after every use, as are the "relaxation rooms." 

Most clients are men between the ages of 30 and 50, Xdolls owner Joaquim Lousquy told Le Parisien, though some couples visit as well. He says male dolls are on the way. 

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CNET has contacted both Lousquy and Oulaldj for additional comment. After the Paris city council vote, Oulaldj expressed his disappointment in the decision, saying on Facebook that Xdolls and places like it not only normalize prostitution and human trafficking, but represent "the epitome of the dehumanization of the relationship between women and men." 

But Abyss Creations, which is equipping its silicone RealDolls with AI and letting users customize every aspect down to their freckles, stresses that its creations are about companionship as much as sex. Preconfigured RealDolls start at a few thousand dollars, while highly customized versions cost nearly $17,000 (£12,018, AU$22,000). 

One RealDolls customer, a grieving widower, said his silicone sex doll changed his life. 

"It makes you feel good," he said. "You can put a hand on her shoulder, you can play footsies with her in bed, which I love. I was lonely. Now I'm not."