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Skyler Dahan for BuzzFeed News

“My Lover And Companion”: Women Explain Why They Buy Male Sex Dolls

Male sex dolls don’t sell as well as female dolls. But for women who buy them, they’re more than toys. (Warning: Some of the following images are NSFW.)

Posted on June 23, 2022, at 10:19 a.m. ET

A decade ago, Samantha (who requested a pseudonym to protect her privacy), 45, experienced a tragedy. Her husband was involved in a serious car crash that resulted in him becoming paralyzed from the neck down and permanently disabled.

“Any other woman in my position could have left him when they knew they would never have a sex life again. But I stayed by his side because I love him,” she said. It wasn’t easy. “I mourned the loss of our sex life — not just the sex, but the intimacy that came with it,” she said. “There were times when I sat and cried my heart out.”

Her husband was upset to see his wife struggling, so he suggested she find a friend with benefits. She contemplated the idea, but eventually decided not to do it. “I was worried that if I got a fuck buddy, feelings could become involved,” she said. “And if that happened, our relationship wouldn't survive.”


Her marriage suffered regardless. The couple, who live in Australia, began sleeping in separate beds because his nerve pain frequently kept him up at night and that interfered with her sleep. She didn’t want to kiss or cuddle because she “knew it couldn’t go any further than that,” she said. “Physical affection would also remind me of the sex life that we’d lost, and it was far too painful for me to think about. So I avoided it completely.

“The more I thought about it, a male doll seemed like the perfect solution,” she said. She searched online, but most websites only sold female dolls, and the few male dolls she found were too expensive — about $3,000 AUD (about $2,076). Still, she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind. She had imagined what it might look like, thinking about every detail: It would resemble a vampire, with pointed teeth and pale skin.

‘‘The more I thought about it, a male doll seemed like the perfect solution’’

Samantha mentioned her search to her mom, who “was absolutely disgusted” and told her to “get a toy boy” instead. She was hurt by her mom’s reaction. “She would rather I have sex with someone else than use a doll,” she said. “That one negative reaction has made me afraid to tell anyone else.”

More than a year passed before she had amassed enough for her first doll, Erik. WM Dolls, a popular brand, offered a vampire kit, with sharp teeth and a forked tongue. The model she chose was made of thermoplastic elastomer, or TPE, a polymer that feels smooth, soft, squeezable, and fairly lifelike, because it retains heat.

Erik’s name was inspired by Eric Northman, the centuries-old vampire played by Alexander Skarsgård in the HBO series True Blood. Erik does bear a resemblance in Samantha’s photos of him lounging in bed, wearing a form-fitting T-shirt and shorts, his straight flaxen hair parted in the middle. His face is chiseled like a male model’s, with a strong jaw and high cheekbones that set off his full lips. He has prominent pecs; an eight-pack; slender, toned arms; muscular legs; and an interchangeable penis (testicles included), which looks like a realistic dildo. When you order this model, you can choose from several penis options, including a flaccid one — it is attached by a 90-degree vertical shaft, inserted between Erik’s legs. Samantha prefers to use a strap-on penis, though, because it’s easier for her to remove and clean.

Soon after his unboxing, Samantha became smitten with Erik. She loves having sex with him, but that’s not the only thing she enjoys. “I love cuddling with him each night before I go to sleep,” she said. “It’s absolute heaven to feel his arm wrapped around me as I drift off to sleep. I love kissing him, too.” Two months after Erik arrived, his painted eyebrows wore off. She bought human hair eyebrow wigs, which she said look far more realistic, and affixed them with a special liquid plastic that doesn’t damage the doll. She also replaced his standard-issue eyes with movable ones that have magnetic irises, and she can change the color of his eyes whenever she wants.

There’s one drawback. At 81 pounds (and what Samantha called “a modest” 5-foot-3-inches), he’s a considerable load. “The weight of male dolls is a huge problem for women. Especially if they want a taller doll — because the taller they are, the heavier they are,” she said. “I can just manage to lift him from my bed to his wheelchair and back again while wearing a back brace.” Samantha puts Erik in a wheelchair to transport him through the house, which she sometimes does for photo shoots. “A lot of men have trouble lifting and moving their female dolls, too. It’s a serious issue that doll manufacturers really need to address,” she said.

But that hasn’t dampened Samantha’s feelings. “I don’t think of him as ‘just’ a doll — he’s my lover and companion,” she said. “I have real feelings of love and affection for him. He’s as real to me as any other person.” But Erik hasn’t replaced her husband. “My doll has allowed my relationship with my husband to remain intact. And he’s made me feel happy for the first time in a whole decade. I no longer sleep in my bed alone.”

Sex toys are a $10.9 billion market in the US, according to IBIS Worldwide, but what proportion consists of sex dolls is unknown. It’s also difficult to ascertain how many women own sex dolls. A 2016 study found that 2% of German women and 9% of the surveyed people had used a sex doll in their lifetime. I contacted three sex doll companies, and they estimated that between 10% and 25% of sales are male dolls, but didn’t have demographical data about who had purchased them.

Unlike the broader sex toy industry, in which most products are designed for and bought by women, the sex doll industry caters almost exclusively to men. But in a 2017 survey of nearly 300 female American undergraduates, 8% said they were “open to the idea of having a sex doll for personal use.” In a 2018 YouGov survey conducted in Italy, 20% of the women surveyed said they would like to try a sex doll. A 2020 article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research argued that “with aging societies and a persistent gender gap in life expectancy, we will see a surplus of millions of widows and single older females in developed countries — perhaps another target group for sex dolls.”

Commercial sex dolls have existed since at least the mid-19th century, when they were made of vulcanized rubber and meant to be inflated or filled with warm milk or water to simulate the heat of a human body, according to Bo Ruberg, an associate professor of film and media studies at UC-Irvine and author of Sex Dolls at Sea. Most of the dolls were shaped like women. “There’s almost always a presumption that these are for straight men,” Ruberg said. “This is an industry that is sexist today, and has been sexist for a long time.” Ruberg has come across a handful of references to male sex dolls in their research into 19th-century sex dolls. One fictional French story mentions a woman impregnated by a male sex doll; one supposedly factual account detailed women purchasing wax male sex dolls in Belgium. But such historical stories are rare, as are stories about men using male sex dolls.

In a sex toy catalog circa 1970, I found an image of Big John, “the perfect male companion.” A vinyl doll marketed to both men and women, John was designed to look like a white man with slicked-back hair. The ad contains a picture of the real man John was based on, posed in profile with an arched back, his enormous flaccid penis on glorious display. According to the ad, the doll had mouth and anal holes and a vibrating and ejaculating penis. “He’ll never say no — because he’s always ready, willing and able,” read another ad for John.

By the early 2000s, male sex dolls were being made from silicone rubber, with foam cores and metal skeletons, an innovation led by RealDoll in California, a company founded in 1996 by special effects artist Matt McMullen. The company’s first dolls were female, but a male doll went into production in 2002. RealDoll currently sells five different male sex dolls. They work with clients to design the dolls and often use celebrities as reference points for the build. “You have this really great jumping board to get on the same page with other creative individuals as to what the goal is," said Michael Wilson, COO of RealDoll. They also offer different body styles, he said, giving “bear” and “twink” as examples.

Wilson estimates that about 80 of the 400 dolls they sell per year are male, most of which are sold to men. That doesn’t mean women aren’t interested. “They [are] ready to write the check, and the weight of the doll inevitably comes up. And they’re like, ‘I’m not moving around 120 pounds,” he said. (RealDolls cost between $5,999.99 and around $10,000, depending on the level of customization.) The best way to reduce the dolls’ weight would be to use more foam, but that would result in a less realistic feel. Wilson said they’re still searching for a lighter material. “We’ve worked with companies ad nauseam, and the chemistry tech is not there yet,” Wilson said.

As a partial solution, the company will be rolling out a deluxe male doll torso later this year, which will include a penis, thighs, and stomach, but nothing below the knee; it’s much lighter.

One of the few companies specifically catering to women is the Orange County–based XR Brands. Its president, Rebecca Weinberg, has been working in the sex toy industry for 22 years and first started in product development.

When she started at XR Brands in 2014, Weinberg realized there was a market for less expensive, but still realistic sex dolls. “The only dolls on the market were the RealDolls, and very few could afford to spend $5,000,” she said. So XR Brands began selling female TPE dolls manufactured in China — where nearly all such dolls are made — priced under $2,000.

Soon Weinberg noticed another gap in the market: male sex dolls. She noticed Chinese-made TPE male dolls at trade shows that cost less and realized American companies weren’t interested. “It's a big investment — you don't know how they're going to sell,” she said. But four years ago, she convinced the owner of XR Brands to start importing them.

Even so, she didn’t think these dolls would appeal to women. “Our first male dolls, Kyle and Kenny, aren’t attractive to me personally as a 44-year-old woman. Those look like 20-year-old boys with six-packs,” Weinberg said. They were marketed to gay men, clothed in wrestling costumes and pool boy outfits.

So she helped design Asher, XR Brands’ first male sex doll for women, who has a brown goatee, sculpted biceps, and a strong jaw. “He has a more manly look that I, as a woman, thought would sell better,” she said. (If she could design any doll for women with no technological limits, though, she said he’d look like Ryan Gosling and be able to carry a conversation, sing songs, and walk to the closet to store himself for later.)

On the company’s website, you can see Asher shirtless at a construction site, wearing a reflective yellow vest, a toolbelt draped around his waist. Another photo shows him in a SWAT vest, his erect penis extending proudly above his camouflage pants. For Weinberg, marketing the doll to women means “more focus on the penis versus the butt,” she said. “We probably wouldn't position him bent over a table or anything.” Weinberg also suggested adding thrusting dildos to one of the company’s male dolls, which is now called Thrusting Tanner.

XR Brands does business mostly through wholesalers, so the company told me it doesn’t have a gender breakdown of the customers who bought Asher. But Weinberg said she believes the majority of the people who bought him directly from their website were women.

Like Samantha, Lily (who also requested a pseudonym to protect her privacy), 40, discovered male dolls after a tragedy. About 11 years ago, she was walking her 6-year-old daughter to school, when her daughter was hit and killed by a pickup truck. “I did the counseling thing. I did the medication thing, and none of it was really working,” she said. She also wasn’t getting the support she needed at home. “My husband’s not really an emotional person, and so he’s not really able to be there for me,” she said.

About six years after her daughter’s death, Lily decided she needed to find a new way to deal with her grief. She read about sex dolls on Twitter but determined they were too cost-prohibitive, so she decided to make her own. “I put together a homemade dummy with clothes and pillows and rolled-up towels,” she said. The doll, however, didn’t meet her needs. It was gangly and would constantly fall apart. She asked her husband for a 6-foot-tall dummy for her birthday. “I dressed it up and made a cloth face for him with an inkjet and T-shirt and sewed it on to the face of the body,” she said. The face looked like a well-known actor. “I’ve had a thing for [the actor] for 22 years, so my husband does not like him at all,” she said. “He was upset and very standoffish.”

She named him Lawrence. Lawrence was too flimsy, so Lily sought advice from the Doll Forum, a community where sex doll owners discuss their dolls and share modification tips (in the top two online doll forums, between just 3.6% and 12% of participants are female). Lily placed pool noodles in his legs, inserted a curtain rod into a pool noodle to serve as a spine, and added silicone hands and feet. “The pool noodles can’t hold a pose really,” she said. “But that’s not really what they’re meant to do. They’re more for hugging and cuddling and crying on their shoulder.”

Two months after she got Lawrence, Lily’s father died and left her money. That’s how she was able to buy her first TPE doll, Larry. Larry weighs 85 pounds; Lily uses a wheelchair and a box dolly to move him through the house. “Even though they’re sturdy, [TPE] dolls also have a certain fragility to them,” she said. “He got dropped on his second day home, and his right hip came loose so he can’t stand at all.” Sometimes she has to retighten it with a socket wrench.

Now she has a collection of six: three fabric dolls (Lawrence, Tristan, and Trevor); two TPE dolls (Landon and Larry), and one silicone model (Colt). Colt weighs about 100 pounds and, she said, sells for about $10,000 in part because he is made of medical-grade platinum silicone, which is soft and resistant to tearing. A friend who no longer wanted Colt gave him to Lily as a gift. “He’s the Mercedes-Benz of the dolls because he is the closest thing to an actual human being you can get,” she said.

“At first, [my husband] didn’t understand it. He was quite perplexed,” Lily said. But they provided her with an emotional outlet. “Anytime I’m frustrated at something or stressed out and I don’t want to project that onto my husband, I’ll just go vent: yell, scream, cry, swear at the dolls,” she said.

Lily tried to have sex with the dolls, but found she didn’t like the experience. At first she didn’t tell her husband, but eventually she admitted it. “I’m like, ‘Hey, I tried this and it really didn’t work and I’m really sorry,’” she said.

After noticing the emotional effect Lily’s dolls have on her, she said her husband has gradually accepted them. “He’s like, ‘My wife is no longer hurting herself… She’s not having as many panic attacks,’” she said. Her dolls are also a source of creativity: She photographs them in various scenes, some for a blog she writes for a sex doll manufacturer. She’s also working on an erotic novel about them.

Lily wishes sex dolls weren’t so stigmatized. She thinks they offer a healthier way of processing trauma than drugs or alcohol, which are more socially acceptable. “I’m not hurting anybody. I’m not hurting myself. I’m not engaging in risky behavior,” she said. She also pointed out that dildos are more mainstream than dolls. “Why is it normal to have disembodied genitalia, but strange to have an actual synthetic replica of a human being that’s anatomically correct?” she said.

For a while, Lily wanted to take her dolls out in public. “It’d be really nice to take my doll to a restaurant or shopping, because whenever I go out in public and I’m around people, I get real tense and nervous and my anxiety gets really high,” she said. But she had read stories on the Doll Forum about men who were mocked for bringing their dolls into public places.

Still, for her 40th birthday earlier this year, Lily built up the courage. She wanted to visit an art museum, so she called ahead and asked if she could bring Lawrence, and they said it would be OK. She pushed him around the museum in a wheelchair with a sign around his neck saying, “I am an emotional support companion. My human companion has PTSD and severe anxiety. Do not approach us. Do not photograph us, and please don’t touch me.” She enjoyed the art, but endured frowns and scowls. “People are just looking at me like there was something wrong with me, and I’m like, ‘Just mind your own damn business and look at the fucking art,’” she said.

‘‘The manufacturers give us twinks, or they give us these crusty-looking old men.’’

Sometimes manufacturers ask the Doll Forum users what customers want from their male dolls. Lily said women on the forum often request a lighter doll or “one that doesn’t look like a 15-year-old boy or a 60-year-old man.” But manufacturers don’t really listen, she said, maybe because male dolls don’t sell as well as female dolls. “The manufacturers give us twinks, or they give us these crusty-looking old men and they keep making them heavier and heavier and heavier,” she said. If they made a 5’8”, 60- to 75-pound doll, she said, “he would probably be the bestselling [male] doll out there.”

Lightweight male dolls do exist: Blowup dolls are still on the market (but are impractical for sex), and fabric dolls are available as well. The 5’2”, 7.5-pound fabric doll made by Swedish company Valentina Girls is as popular with women as with men (his face is modeled, in part, on how the founder’s wife looks). Valentino costs between $259 and $759. He has a rigid penis, but there’s also a plush penis option that can be tucked into the body when the rigid one is in use. The dolls “are basically soft cuddly teddy bears shaped like people, and you can have sex with them,” said Robert, the company’s founder (who requested to be referred to by his first name only to preserve his privacy). Valentino has anal and mouth openings and gangly arms and legs. The downside is that he looks like a muppet rather than a lifelike human man, although he is much easier to transport.

In a YouTube video from last year, a woman named Morghana (a pseudonym) shared her experience with sex dolls. “These dolls are what you make them to be. For me they’re my companions,” she intones, her gray hair poking out from underneath a black cloth hat. The fiftysomething school teacher, face obscured by a black mask, places her hand on 90-pound doll Agares’s hand, which featured black-painted nails. He stares straight ahead, mouth agape, with curly black hair falling down below his pecs and magnetic devil horns rising from his head. “They’ve brought a lot of happiness and joy to my life, and if you can even get half of that, you should feel blessed,” she continues.

When I spoke to Morghana, she told me she had wanted dolls for years, after being in abusive relationships, but it was only recently that she actually got one. “About a year before COVID hit, I pretty much came to terms that I didn’t want to date anymore,” she said. Then, “COVID kind of pulled my social network out from under me.” At home, Morghana has six dogs, two cats, a llama, two peacocks, 26 chickens, four roosters, and a rabbit, but still she felt touch-deprived.

‘‘They’ve brought a lot of happiness and joy to my life, and if you can even get half of that, you should feel blessed.’’

When searching for dolls, she was disappointed by how young they looked. “I don’t want a doll that looks younger than my kid,” she said. (Morghana has an adult daughter.) RealDoll offers modifications that age the doll, but those options cost extra. “Because I wanted an older doll, [it] was gonna cost me like $30,000.” Soon she discovered the cheaper TPE dolls, and she watched YouTube videos to learn how to modify them herself.

She ordered her first doll online in 2020, but the company sent her the wrong one. “It looked like it was like 17 or 18 years old. And it freaked me out,” she said. Another doll she ordered was a foot shorter than advertised.

Finally, she got 120-pound Xiel. He also looked young, so she got to work aging him. She gave Xiel crow’s feet, smile lines, lines between the brows, chest and pubic hair culled from her own hair, and a goatee. She also bought a gray wig for him. “He looks around 50 now,” she said. She’s planning to replace his penis too; it hangs down between his legs instead of erect from the front, which, she said, “makes it very difficult to have sex with.” It just doesn’t “look like male genitalia,” she said. “Considering these dolls are made by men, you think they could just look down and figure it out.”

Morghana doesn’t have sex with her dolls often — just a few times a year. But she almost always sleeps with one in her queen-size bed. She said they make her feel less alone and help her sleep better. She’s hoping to move from her mobile home to a larger place so she can get a king-size bed that will accommodate multiple dolls at once.

Nearly everyone in Morghana’s life knows about her dolls, including her coworkers. “I just refer to them as companion dolls, not sex dolls, because, for me, that’s what they are,” she said. She’s only told her daughter and close friends that they’re sex dolls. “A lot of my family and friends are very supportive, because they know what I've gone through, and they see how happy the dolls make me,” she said. “I really suck at picking intimate partners.”

While the women I spoke to enjoy their dolls, experts told me they will probably continue to be a niche product.

Women have “got a bunch of really cool sex tech. Maybe we just don't need those forms,” said Kate Devlin, who teaches a course on artificial intelligence and society in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London and is the author of Turned On: Science, Sex and Robots. Devlin thinks doll manufacturers should move away from hyperrealism, like the sex toy industry has done with vibrators and dildos. “We’re never going to achieve that perfect humanoid state. The uncanny valley is just too big to cross,” Devlin told me. She referenced other creative innovations, like a “sex blanket” made with smart fabric, featuring built-in sensors that enhance virtual experiences, which won a prize at Devlin’s Sex Tech Hack in 2017.

John Danaher, a lecturer in the School of Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway, who edited Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications, said some men might fear being replaced by dolls more than they fear being replaced by other sex toys. “It might be easier to dismiss a dildo or a vibrator and say, ‘It’s only a partial facsimile for human sexual contact,’ whereas this becomes a more complete replacement,” Danaher said. These products could become more socially acceptable if more of them were designed by women, though, Danaher suggested; that could make them seem more like “a positive expression of female sexuality or something that is part of a rich and rounded sex life.”

‘‘I don’t have to worry about them cheating, lying, being abusive: all the stuff that happens in relationships.’’

Ruberg hopes we completely reimagine sex dolls and the types of people who can create them in the future. “Sex tech and sex dolls don’t have to be the realm of straight white men, replicating these same problematic fantasies,” they said. The sex doll industry “can be a queer space, a feminist space, a space for people of color. My hope is that if we can shake up some of this thinking, then it opens the door to doing things differently in the future.”

According to Lily, people shouldn’t cast judgment. “They want to label those in the doll community, [and think] that we’re all just a bunch of deviants and perverts and terrible people, when there’s people that are married, there’s people that own their own businesses,” Lily said. “You have doctors, lawyers, nurses, you have everybody that comes from pretty much every walk of life that have these dolls, but we’re all so afraid to let people know because people will walk out of your life.”

Many people who own dolls think they already help make many people feel calmer, happier, and less alone. “It’s been the best of all worlds, because I don't have to worry about them cheating, lying, being abusive: all the stuff that happens in relationships,” Morghana said. “If you’re my age and you’re single, you probably experienced some crap. A lot of the women that I know who have these dolls have some history. And there’s a good reason why they are choosing to have a doll in their home rather than pursue a relationship.” ●

Correction: Samantha said her husband is permanently disabled as a result of a car crash. A previous version of this post misstated his condition.