The first sex dolls were invented by Dutch sailors in the seventeenth century who were isolated at sea during long voyages. These masturbatory dolls, called dame de voyage by the French and by the Spanish as dama de viaje. They were stitched cloth or old clothes and were a direct predecessor to today's sex dolls. The Dutch sold these type of dolls to Japanese people during the Rangaku period, and the term "Dutch wives" is still sometimes used in Japan to refer to sex dolls
However, the first recorded appearances of manufactured sex dolls dates to 1908, in Iwan Bloch's The Sexual Life of Our Time. Bloch wrote: In this connection we may refer to fornicatory acts effected with artificial imitations of the human body, or of individual parts of that body. There exist true Vaucansons in this province of pornographic technology, clever mechanics who, from rubber and other plastic materials, prepare entire male or female bodies, which, as hommes or dames de voyage, subserve fornicatory purposes. More especially are the genital organs represented in a manner true to nature. Even the secretion of Bartholin's glans is imitated, by means of a "pneumatic tube" filled with oil. Similarly, by means of fluid and suitable apparatus, the ejaculation of the semen is imitated. Such artificial human beings are actually offered for sale in the catalogue of certain manufacturers of "Parisian rubber articles.
A report that, as part of the Borghild Project, Nazi Germany made sex dolls for soldiers during World War II has not been verified by reliable sources and is now considered to be a hoax.
The production of human simulacra to substitute for human sexual partners took several technological leaps forward in the late twentieth century. By the 1970s, vinyl, latex and silicone had become the materials most frequently used in the manufacture of sex dolls; silicone in particular allowed a greater degree of realism.
Furthermore, a 1982 attempt to import a consignment of sex dolls into Britain had the unintended consequences. The law against importing "obscene or indecent" items that were not illegal to sell within the UK. Having had the dolls seized by Her Majesty's Customs and Excise officers, David Sullivan's Conegate Ltd. took the case all the way to the European Court of Justice, and won in 1987. Britain was forced to lift its stringent import prohibitions dating from 1876, because for imports from within the European Community they constituted a barrier to free trade under the terms of the Treaty of Rome.
Since 2013, Australian officials have confiscated imported shipments of juvenile sex dolls legally classified as child exploitation material.