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The Unlikely Pioneer Who Paved The Way For UK Sex Dolls

It is only in recent years, with the rise of the internet, communities that highlight the reality of what it means to own sex dolls and higher quality designs that their history has become somewhat less fragmented.

There are various individual stories, from the mythical highly advanced Parisian dolls referenced in The Sexual Life of Our Times in 1908 to the artist Oskar Kokoschka and a doll designed to look like a woman he was deeply in love with.

There is also Bild Lilli, a doll marketed as a miniature girlfriend that would later become popular with children and inspire the phenomenally successful Barbie line.

However, one of the catalysts for the wider acceptance of love dolls in the UK came about largely by accident thanks to the antics of one of Britain’s more unusual businessmen.

David Sullivan, currently the owner of West Ham United and previous owner of the Daily Sport and Sunday Sport, made his fortunes in his 20s through sex shops, adult mail-order catalogues and magazines, which naturally would include toys and dolls as well.

However, in 1982, he would end up falling foul of England’s antiquated and unfair obscenity laws that existed at the time.

Fresh out of prison after successfully appealing against a conviction for living off the “immoral earnings” of sex workers, he found that in October 1982, two shipments of inflatable dolls had been impounded by customs authorities, despite being legal to make and buy in the UK.

Conegate, the company owned by Mr Sullivan, took the case as far as the European Court of Justice in a five-year legal battle, finally winning in 1987.

This changed the law surrounding the import of love dolls and in doing so helped reduce a stigma that had existed for decades.

Mr Sullivan, somewhat infamously, described himself as a “freedom fighter” looking back on this case and his previous career.

August 31, 2023