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I toured a Los Angeles sex doll factory

By EJ Dickson

Warning: This story contains sexually explicit material and be NSFW.

Matt Krivicke’s balancing the base of a veiny, eight-inch, incredibly naturalistic-looking erect silicon penis in his palm. He’s a big, congenial bear of a man with a mohawk. In his east Los Angeles studio, he looks less like a man who sculpts silicon penises for a living and more like a burlier, punk-rock version of the comedian Colin Quinn.

Nonetheless, here we are, in the living room adjacent to his studio as his four cats mewl at our feet, and he’s telling me how it takes at least four days and five types of silicon for him to make one of these bad boys.

“It has to be firm, but soft,” he says as I gawk at the penis in his palm, dumbfounded. “I have to tinker around with it quite a bit.”

“Can I touch it?” I ask. “Is that weird?”

“Not at all,” he says. I reach out and grab the silicone penis. It feels both firm and fleshy, the silicon conforming to the pressure of my fist. It’s the best—and most realistic-looking—penis I’ve ever seen, to the point where touching it feels like an infidelity and I have some difficulty looking my boyfriend in the eye for a few hours afterward.

Due to the inherent NSFW-ness of an eight-inch silicon dildo, we can’t attach any images of them, so you’re just going to have to take my word on it regarding their quality. But if you have about $250 burning a hole in your pocket, you can purchase one of your very own from Sinthetics, the life-size silicon doll company Krivicke runs with his partner Bronwen Keller out of their loft and studio, a former illegal growhouse in L.A.’s Frogtown neighborhood.

As the cofounders of a silicon mannikin company—Keller and Krivicke eschew the term “sex doll,” due to the negative societal implications of the word. Instead, they make custom-made, life-size, silicon dolls at a minimum of $7,500 a pop, as well as individual feet, torsos, and genitalia. The bodies come with eight different female “heads,” all of which they say come with different personalities: There’s Celeste, a high-cheekboned type with a birthmark over her lip who looks like a more patrician Eva Mendes, and Tawny, who in a blond flip wig is a dead ringer for Butterfly-era Mariah Carey.

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A few weeks ago, Sinthetics made waves on social news site Reddit after someone posted a photoset of their male doll Gabriel, a smoldering Ken doll with abs you could grate cheese on. While Gabriel inspired a mixture of revulsion (many called the doll “creepy”) and curiosity (“do your male sex dolls have assholes?” more than one person tweeted to Sinthetics), even the hyper-critical Reddit commentariat could agree on one thing: Sinthetics devotes an enormous amount of care and attention to detail to its dolls. They are incredibly well-crafted, naturalistic, and yes, maybe a little bit creepy.

“There are other doll brands that go solely for usability,” Krivicke says as he guides me around the shop. “They think the product is just used for sex, so they design around that parameter. I don’t. The function will always be there, but my intent when I’m starting a sculpture is I want to give it life.”

“He wants to go for some kind of contact,” adds Keller, a soft-spoken, South African woman with a round face and pink streaks in her red hair. “He wants you to feel like it’s returning your gaze.”

“They’re only sex dolls because there’s a little plastic insert that gives it a vaginal opening,” Krivicke stresses. “Otherwise, they’re sculptures.” Hearing the pair talk about their dolls as sculptures, it’s easy to dismiss them as misguided or self-deluded. After all, most sex toys, however expensive or elaborate they might be, are designed solely for one purpose—and are used as such.

Yet looking at the dolls, it’s clear what Sinthetics do is a peculiar mix of art and engineering. They spend at least six months crafting each doll to their client’s specifications (they’ve only made 150 during their three years in business), assembling its skeleton, molding its parts one-by-one, and testing out its range of motion (link NSFW) to ensure no sexual positions will compromise the “integrity of the doll’s internal structure.”

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Which is not to say they have sex with the dolls themselves. “They’re our silicon family,” Keller says. “That’d just be weird.”

The pair started their Sinthetics silicon family after they were enlisted to create a custom-made sex doll for a mutual friend, Josie Stevens of the VH1 reality show Married to Rock, back in 2010. Keller was working as an admin assistant at the time, and Krivicke, a graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, had gotten into the sex-doll business after getting his start in Halloween product design and manufacturing.

“We’d put hours and hours and hours and loads of integrity into something really cool and then we’d send it off to China to be manufactured, and we’d be like, ‘Man, we made something really cool that just looks like garbage now,’” he recalls. “That was really disappointing for me. With the dolls, I saw the possibility of being able to really manage production and create pieces of art.”

The duo went into the sex-doll industry “with the same idea most people do: that dolls are for weird lonely people who have plenty of money, and they’re just sex toys,” Keller says. “That maybe lasted 4 months.” Then they started to “meet the clients and talk to them and hear the stories of the lengths they go to save and how long they save for the dolls, and how having the dolls changes them.”

The reasons why men buy Sinthetics dolls, Krivicke says, are “incredibly complex and multi-faceted”: Some might use them purely as a status symbol, while others strictly for utility. Yet although the vast majority of Sinthetics’ market is single men, as you might expect—Keller surmises that the “size and weight” of the dolls prevent single women from purchasing them, rather than a lack of actual interest—they estimate that about 50 percent of their market is couples “who might want the fantasy of group play” but are averse to the notion of inviting another partner into bed. (In such cases, the doll will often be a transgender female doll with a removable penis, “so both partners can play” with it.)

Sinthetics’ dolls are also popular among recent widowers, many of whom don’t quite feel comfortable transitioning into dating. “They want someone to watch TV with when they’re home alone. So they buy the doll and it lives on the couch and it lies on their laps when they watch TV,” Keller says. In those cases, “in six months to a year you’ll see the doll up for resale because their owners feel relaxed, they’re ready to date again.”

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Ultimately, Keller and Krivicke say the most surprising thing about the tight-knit doll community is how little they’re interested in using the dolls purely for one-on-one sexual purposes. In fact, they’re extremely open about their relationships with the dolls, regularly posting lengthy narratives and photosets with them on Sinthetics’ website, featuring elaborate backstories and personalities for each one.

“Clients come to me with requests like, ‘She’s a vet, and she likes to do art on the weekends, and she’s an outdoorsy girl, and she’s sort of urban but she likes to wear bright colors,’” Keller says. “They’re doing basically what every child does with a G.I. Joe or Barbie doll.”

When it comes to their clients’ custom requests, only exact celebrity replicas and child-sized models are off limits, and the latter gets reported to the FBI. Sinthetics will pretty much make any man or woman your heart desires, from the protrusion of her front teeth to the length of her labia. Keller and Krivicke have offered a head with elfin ears to satisfy fantasy requests and recently made an ankle for a footh fetishist with a built-in vagina on the top, which they’ve coined a “vajankle.” (“His explanation was that he wants to be able to look at and caress the sole of the foot while he’s having sex with the vagina,” Keller says.)

Of course, it’s precisely this fantasy element that makes many so uncomfortable about the dolls. Unlike real men or women, a Sinthetics doll can’t revoke consent or express anger or say no to their partners’ requests, meaning they make an ideal partner for someone unwilling or unable to treat others as a sexual equal. The fact that most of Sinthetics’ dolls are WASP-waisted, large-breasted, and tiny-featured does little to detract from the impression that their clients probably have some pretty narrow conceptions of female beauty.

When I raise this question to the pair, they’re clearly more than a little bit irked by the assumption that Sinthetics dolls reinforce a one-sided, male-centric view of female sexuality.

“The biggest critique that we get is that we’re creating an image that is unrealistic and disrespectful to women,” Krivicke says. “To which I’d respond, how many dildos do you have in your drawer? What’s a dildo, other than the ultimate objectification of a man? To me, it’s an extremely narrow-minded view.”

While a $25 plastic dildo is certainly a horse of another color compared to a $7500 high-grade silicon sex doll, it is true that an owner objectifying or disrespecting his doll is treated as the ultimate transgression in the doll community, not to mention by Sinthetics itself.

“They’re the Ferrari of dolls and should be treated as such,” Krivicke says. “You’d never take a Ferrari off the road and drive it across the sand dunes.”

With good care, the pair say their dolls can last anywhere between 10 and 20 years—longer than the duration of most human relationships. In the case of one of Keller and Krivicke’s clients, who’s been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, the doll will likely outlive its owner, and he’s been searching for a buyer to “rehome” the doll, as one would a pet. After reaching out to another collector who said he could make room for the doll, the man refused. “He said, ‘No, no one just makes room for this doll.’ He wants to make sure she goes somewhere where someone can appreciate her,” Krivicke says. “It’s heartbreaking and touching at the same time.”

But for all the talk of dolls being considered members of equal standing in their owner’s family, the fact is that they are, at the end of the day, just dolls.

Seeing Celeste and Alicia and Gabriel piece by piece in the studio, all disembodied heads and feet and torsos, it’s hard to think of them the way doll-owners see them, as individuals with fully formed personalities. But harder to see them the way many redditors or feminists see them, as creepy or weird or objectifying. They’re simply luxury car parts, waiting to be assembled into a sex version of a Ferrari, a beautiful work of art lying in wait for an owner to come along and give it life and purpose—or maybe even the other way around.

“What people don’t understand is, it’s not just about a man with a doll,” Krivicke says. “It’s about a man with a doll in a community with a lot of other guys and girls with dolls. If you’re a random guy who has a hard time making connections with people, you buy a doll and not only do you have a companion in her, but in the other people like you in the doll forums. What happens is a man goes looking for a doll and in this community he ends up finding himself.”


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