Whether your Valentine’s Day was good or bad probably had something to do with whether your partner lived up to expectations. Every relationship has that issue to some degree, but there is a group of men who have taken unpredictability out of the picture. They’re the guys who date sex dolls.
Sex dolls are generally held to be dead-eyed female mockeries, and the men who use them are assumed to be lonely perverts pounding away at plastic orifices. But The Doll Forum, an online community home to over 18,000 members, presents a different view of doll owners—or “Doll Lovers” as they preferred to be called. For them it’s less about sex and more about companionship. They’re people who prefer the dolls for reasons ranging from social anxieties to simply feeling they’re a partner they can really rely on.
A poll conducted on The Doll Forum showed that 50 percent of dolls were bought for non-sexual reasons, with seven percent saying it was just to cuddle and sleep with them, and 11 percent admitting they prefer dolls as a replacement for a human.
“My two girls go to bed with me at night and I wake up to them in the morning,” doll-owner Lemm told VICE. “When I come home they’re both there, sitting and smiling, waiting for me patiently. There’s no drama or pain, only nurturing and acceptance.”
Lemm felt his relationship with the two dolls Nunoko Hara and Kylie Sutula originated from childhood trauma. “I was that fat kid in the neighbourhood, and was made fun of,” he explained. “Instead of lashing out at people, I became really introverted. I began creating a world of imaginary friends to keep me company, and I suppose this is why I’m enamoured by human replicas”.
Nunoko is an Akiko plush model with a “wild side”, while Kylii is a 65-pound “Private Island Beauty” who Lemm confided is a homage to his ex wife. “She is very special to me, because she represents a salvaged image of her. I blame myself for the destruction of that marriage, I was foolish and careless.”
Among the men VICE spoke to, a prevalent theme was using dolls to replicate human presence. One doll-owner who called himself Mandy said he doesn’t even think of his two girls as sex dolls, but more as “adult daughters” instead – a substitute family. “I would like to have a human companion,” he admitted, “but I find dating too stressful. I’m impotent with prostate issues, and if I marry I’ll lose retirement benefits—telling that to a real woman won’t go down well.”
These life-sized women aren’t just aids to masturbation, but also to loneliness. Many men come home and talk to their dolls, enjoy their companionship and admit to having a real emotional kinship with them.
Puma Uma – owner of a doll he calls Maria – said that while he’s fully aware she isn’t a real person, her presence is therapeutic and makes him happy. “It’s like when a husband has his wife and kids come home, you know, I have that; I have someone at home”. Puma Uma confided the days he spends with Maria were usually some of his best – spending time dressing her in outfits, cuddling on the couch and maybe watching a movie together. “It’s that fantasy, you know, of having that kind of girlfriend. I’ve never had that experience”.
Similar to the other men, Puma Uma’s situation stems from complications growing up. “I’ve had a lot of anxiety in my life, and its difficult with real women,” he said. “I had a breakdown a while ago, and have had Maria for about a month and it’s been fun. It’s like a middle ground – you have someone, but you know you really don’t”.
Dr. Gabriel Rusu, a Melbourne-based psychologist told VICE that despite the unusual nature of these human-doll relationships, he would not dissuade them if they were content.
“Who am I to say what is right? In my profession, I go with what the patient needs,” Dr Rusu explained. “I go with whether they are disturbed or bothered by their habits. Guiding by my own personal judgment is not necessarily good in my profession.”
Sex dolls are realistically never going to be viewed as a totally acceptable form of sexual and emotional expression, and enthusiasts do accept this. When asked about the stereotypes surrounding the dolls, Puma Uma said the “bad reputation” given to doll owners was to demean them. “People call us perverts, freaks, sex addicts or rapists,” he said. “But people have dolls for different reasons, and just because you don’t understand why, doesn’t mean you can judge us”.