Barbie is reclining on a bed, talking to me about her genitals. Ken, wearing stripy underpants barely concealing his enormous dong, is resting his head on Barbie’s lap as she talks.
I’m in Berlin’s Cyberbrothel [NSFW]: a place where since 2020 sex dolls, VR and AR have combined for customers’ interactive experiences. Right now, thanks to Greta Gerwig’s hit film about Mattel’s plastic toy icon, the Barbie (and Ken) experience is the venue’s main focus.
I ask Barbie – a sex doll in a red dress, pearl (or possibly not pearl) necklace, and blonde wig – how she fulfills customers’ desires when the original doll famously has a smooth plastic surface between her legs. “For me, it is not a problem,” she coos. “In the Barbie universe, there are so many different types, and luckily I’m one of the types with a vajayay.” I notice a glass container of condoms next to the bed. The doll continues: “I think the human world is finally ready for my kind of Barbie.”
Call me unprofessional, but after Barbie asks me to sit next to her and touch her, to “get a feel” for the full experience, I apologize and say I must withdraw.
Barbie’s voice is provided by a voice actor working remotely, listening to the customer in the mic-ed-up sex room then talking (and moaning) back to them. Ken stays mute through the whole experience. “We try to implement stuff that is of the moment,” says Philip Fussenegger, co-founder of Cyberbrothel. “But we’re focused on breaking up patriarchal structures. Barbie is an excellent example for that.”
I keep my Barbie experience to a brief chat, but customers can have sex with the love doll as the voice actors respond to them, then stay overnight in the venue if they want. The Cyberbrothel team is training a large language model (LLM) on customers’ conversations with the doll —although only if customers give consent for written transcripts of their sessions to be used for this— and plan to roll out an AI chatbot-powered voice version of the service when LLM training is complete.
The conversational elements of this process are the easy bit. “The hardest thing is to get the AI to moan,” says Matthias Smetana, who helps run Cyberbrothel with Fussenegger. “A huge part of the session is moaning, interaction, and timing. It’s not like you get a prompt from the client like, ‘I’m going to fuck you now!’. So, there’s a lot of additional coding.”
By just using sex dolls and voice actors, the Barbie experience is currently one of Cyberbrothel’s most basic offerings in terms of tech setup. When it launched in 2000 the venue was billed as the world’s first VR cyber brothel, with the goal of combining dolls and VR porn into an experience far more immersive than just using one or the other.
The venue’s flagship product was a female doll called Kokeshi, a digital version of whom could be viewed through a VR headset. At the same time, customers simultaneously got close and personal with the physical doll version, with vocals again provided live by a voice actor. Cyberbrothel shoots its own VR porn for use in the venue and collaborates with VR porn studio BaDoinkVR for content.
Fussenegger calls the Cyberbrothel project a “sex lab”. He says that having successfully fused VR with physical silicone doll experiences, the team is working on the next stage of its evolution.
In the pipeline is a Cyberbrothel version of the erotic VR game Cherry VX, that allows you to interact with digital models. Smetana says he is working on a hardware workaround for the game to allow it to be used in mixed reality in conjunction with physical dolls. The Cyberbrothel team is also developing its own Hentai-based game.
“There’s always the question: ‘How can we mix the realities, get something to feel and touch, and at the same time dive into a virtual world?’,” says Fussenegger. “Here is a chance to actually develop this… try out these technologies and combine the different tools.”
Smetana adds: “This is unique; there is not a place like this in the world where you can have VR sessions plus the session with a voice actor.”
I ask whether having a voice actor listening in on private sex sessions is ever a mood killer for clients. AI chatbots may not be able to moan with pleasure with perfect timing yet, but with chatbots at least you know you’re not talking to a human simply playing a role.
“It’s the same as watching a [horror] movie,” says Fussenegger. “You know it’s a movie, but you’re still scared. You accept the rules of the game. The voice actors are very well-trained and help you stay in the game. A lot of people come here with their fantasies… they bring their own clothes or toys, or scenarios they want to play in. Others might take a bit longer [to get into it], but you do get into it, especially when you’re horny.”
The bulk of Cyberbrothel’s customer base is men having sex with large-breasted female-style sex dolls. However, Fussenegger points out that he’s part of the queer community and that the venue has a service for women, featuring sex machines with dildos. “This is really an adult playground for all genders,” he says. “Our dolls don’t necessarily have a gender, anyway. They’re just silicone and steel, they can be all genders. We don’t have to do it the same way that it’s always been thought of by men.”
Sometime soon Barbie will be able to chat to clients using AI in the Cyberbrothel, but for now, the voice actor method is proving effective. There’s no scope for glitches or nonsensical answers, and even when Barbie doesn’t hear me properly through the unseen microphone I don’t get a generic error answer, just a giggly, polite request to speak a bit slower.
“My spectrum for lust and excitement is very wide,” Barbie tells me. “Authenticity is the most important thing, so as long as you’re authentic in what you wish for I can fulfill all of your dreams.”
Ken, as ever here in the Cyberbrothel, stays silent.