A Canadian company wants to open the first sex-robot brothel in the U.S.—and city leaders in Houston aren't feeling the love.
KinkySdollS already operates a storefront in Toronto, where customers can rent and test their lifelike sex dolls—complete with “VaginalAnal orifices that feel just like the real thing”—before deciding to buy them. But when the company announced plans to open its first American “Adult Love Dolls Brothel” in Texas last month, it sparked backlash from community groups and questions over its permits. Now, the City Council is attempting to throw cold water on the whole thing.
In a press conference last week, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the brothel was “not the sort of business I’m looking for in the city of Houston.”
“I’m not trying to be the moral police or anything like that, but I am charged with the health and safety of the people within our city,” Turner said, adding that he would review city ordinances for possible restrictions on the new business.
This week, an agenda item popped up on the Houston City Council’s website suggesting the expansion of an existing ordinance on “sexual arcades” to include businesses that carry “anthropomorphic devices and objects utilized for entertainment.”
The amendment would allow for the sale of such devices, but would prohibit customers from using them at the store. A violation could result in the business’s permit being revoked, according to the proposal. The city council is set to tackle the measure on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, it appears the brothel may no longer have a storefront to call home.
On the day of the mayor’s press conference, inspectors from the Houston Public Works Department performed a “very routine” stop at the planned site, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office told The Daily Beast. The inspectors discovered that demolition had occurred at the site without a permit and “red-tagged” the building, indicating that any further development could land the business owners in municipal court.
Then, over the weekend, the owner of the property claimed he never actually signed a lease agreement with the business. A lawyer for the owner told ABC13 that the brothel had been “misrepresented as an art gallery,” and that his client wanted “no part in this story or any type of any sexually oriented business."
The brothel is also facing criticism from a local anti-sex-trafficking group, which claims the business will increase the demand for prostitution. The anti-trafficking group—a religious organization called Elijah Rising, whose stated mission is to “end sex trafficking through prayer, awareness, intervention, and restoration”—started an online petition that has garnered more than 12,000 signatures.
David Gamboa, the group’s communication manager, told The Daily Beast that the group plans to meet with the city council this week to discuss options. He added that Elijah Rising sees the robot brothel as similar to prostitution or pornography—institutions that give men permission to rehearse “deviant sexual conduct.”
“These businesses that are going to be renting out sex robots, we see that impacting the buyers,” he said. “It tells them it’s ok to go to an establishment and purchase sex; that consent is purchasable.”
But proponents say the business is perfectly legal, and could even benefit local sex workers. When a similar business opened in Toronto this summer, sex worker advocate Monica Forrester told CityNews she hoped it would start a conversation about the decriminalization of prostitution.
“I think it’ll open up a bigger conversation hopefully around... how decriminalization will allow sex workers to work in safety, to have rights, and to validate that it’s a form of work,” she said.
KinkySdollS did not return multiple requests for comment.
The idea of renting out silicone women for sex has been controversial outside of Texas, too. Italy’s first sex doll brothel, LumiDolls, closed its doors last month after municipal police raided the Turin-based business just nine days after it opened. France’s first sex doll brothel, Xdolls in Paris, continues to attract criticism from local politicians and feminists activists after almost a year in operation.