High-end sex dolls may be unusual to some, but they have become a chance at true love for others. I speak to Harry Thomas* about his love for his Real Doll Jenny, and how she has made his life more meaningful.
“I brought a surprise in my bag for you to see,” says 70-year-old Harry Thomas*. He looks over his shoulder around the airport to check no curious eyes are watching. He pushes his chair to closely face mine, the arms forming a wall around the bag as it sits on the floor tangled between our legs. Opening the bag, two glassy blue eyes stare out of the dark at me. It is a woman’s head. A dishevelled black fringe falls over the stunned look on her face as her jaw hangs open.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” he says, looking into the bag adoringly.
I reach inside to touch her face. It is cold and lifeless, but he’s right, she is beautiful.
“Its name is Jenny. Her. I mean her name is Jenny,” he scolds himself.
“Never call her ‘it’.”
Jenny and Harry’s relationship is primarily physical, for most part because she is a high-end sex doll and Jenny’s face is the one Harry wakes up to in the morning. And with her face costing over $500 it is literally her most valuable asset.
This is because Jenny is more than just a sex doll. She is a RealDoll – a sex doll with a body made of the highest quality flesh-like silicone, perfectly proportioned, with French manicured nails, and pubic hair imported from Sweden. She is the red Ferrari of sex dolls, and for $11’000, money can buy you love - love with a sleeping face, a smiling face, or an orgasming face. A RealDoll is sex a la carte.
The customer can pick and chose the body type, hair and eye colour, breast size, makeup style, skin tone, and even the colour and style of pubic hair. It is the Stepford Wife without batteries.
Harry is an iDollator. iDollators are the owners and admirers of these high-end sex dolls. iDollators aren’t necessarily sex or gender specific because RealDolls are not. Male and female RealDolls are produced along with 'she-males' which have changeable genitalia and all are available from the popular manufacturer Abyss. However, there is a much higher demand for female dolls and thus a much broader range of female models.
The creation of RealDolls by 32-year-old artist Matt McMullen was a happy accident 10 years ago while experimenting with different materials for sculpture. After posting his failed attempts online, he was inundated with requests that it be used as a sex doll, with offers starting at $3,000. Since then, the business has evolved to now produce 10 different body types, 16 different faces, and five skin tones.
“Most people who say they would never have sex with a Doll probably would,” Matt says during an interview for the BBC Documentary Guys & Dolls.
RealDolls weigh around 45kg, and when their flesh-like silicone is heated up with an eclectic blanket, sex is said to feel near exact to that with a ‘RG’ – the abbreviation iDollators use when referring to real girls. However, their flexibility is limited, and like all objects, their orifices and joints begin to wear and tear with time and use.
iDollators communicate through the online community DollForum.com which has over 24,000 members world-wide. The forum hosts discussions on doll maintenance, personal experiences, love devotions, and finally, both tame and erotic photos of the dolls in everything from smiling family portraits, to erotic nude shots with bedroom eyes.
Feminist criticism of the dolls is a popular discussion in the forum but iDollators believe RealDolls are no more sexist to women than dildos are to men. The home page of the forum states nine rules which all iDollators abide by to maintain equality and prevent offending any members. Rule number seven strictly says, “No statements demeaning women.”
DollForum.com is where I came to meet Harry.
After a brief exchange of emails he insisted on flying from rural Australia to meet me at Sydney airport where Jenny and I would unexpectedly meet face to face. While waiting in the domestic terminal as a 19-year-old, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed blonde girl, I was slightly nervous, even suspicious, at his eagerness to meet me. Only knowing him though his avatar which was a picture of Jenny, I was unsure of what to look for or expect.
His tall frame strode confidently towards me as he secretly carried the head of his lover in a bag. With a thick head of grey hair, and his Ralph Lauren polo shirt tucked neatly into his jeans, he had aged well. The only indication of his 70 years' wisdom was the pink and red flaky sunspots on his forehead which he had apologised for in advance over phone, via email, and as we shook hands for the first time.
Unlike the socially reclusive image of a iDollator I had imagined, Harry was charismatic and clever, with boyish jokes and quick wit to distract the conversation from anything too personal. When asked about Jenny’s role in his life, he would quickly deflect his answers to speak about the experiences of other iDollators he knew from the forum. He could tell me the intricate details of the lives of others, but avoided discussing any of his own. Yet four coffees and two blueberry muffins later, he finally began to reveal why Jenny had come into his life.
Harry has travelled the world but lived in a small country town all his life. After separating from his wife 13 years ago, he had remained living alone on his farm.
“It’s the difference between being alone, and lonely,” Harry explained.
“I don’t mind being alone but I can’t stand being lonely.”
For many owners, the doll becomes a girlfriend while others with willing partners learn to incorporate it into their relationship. Some even believe it has helped. Harry is in a relationship with a 25-year-old woman and the pair are planning a holiday to Thailand for a month. He’s realistic about the 45-year age gap and knows it may never amount to anything serious despite seeing each other on and off for years.
“I buy her nice things that a man her age couldn’t buy her and we enjoy spending time together, but I know she will end it soon enough.”
Harry says he will never allow himself to fall into the vulnerability of being in love.
“She’s a third my age… I know that there is going to be a time when she will stop seeing me and find someone her own age.
He has introduced the women in his life to each other and although his girlfriend has given some of her own clothes to Jenny, she is not fond of her.
“She was scared when she first saw Jenny. But she probably doesn’t care about me enough to feel anymore than awkward about it."
Each iDollator has different reasons for buying a plastic companion. Some have been burnt badly from past relationships, others are socially inept when it comes to women, and some simply prefer the simplicity and predictability that a RealDoll offers in comparison to a human relationship. For Harry, Jenny eases the isolation of living on his farm alone for so long.
“I’ve been alone for an awfully long time…Today is the first time since Friday when I bought petrol that I have used my voice,” he says softly calculating the hours in his head.
“That’s over 64 hours, and that’s reasonably normal for me… After being on the farm all day I’ll come in and get myself something for tea and have a beer. Then I’ll sit down and think ‘I have not spoken today’…”
Unlike his ‘organic’ relationship with the 25-year-old woman, Harry knows that Jenny is reliable, and in many ways he sees her as better companion than a real woman.
“Physically she is the perfect female specimen; her personality is what you give her so conversations will always go your way; and the only drawback when it comes to sex is that she won’t jump on top of you. But then how many women do that anyway?”
Many iDollators use these same arguments in defense of criticism by people who don’t understand RealDoll love.
Harry believes that most people have an "outsider's concept" of RealDolls as just a sexual replacement.
“Not true," he rejects.
“Dolls are generally a substitute for human companionship. A human relationship cannot successfully be just about sex can it? The whole package is needed; physical attraction and companionship. Sex is a part of it, a necessary part, but just a part.”
This friendship that RealDoll owners experience is often their main reason for purchasing a doll. Some owners experience limited social interactions so purchasing one for companionship improves their quality of life.
DollForum member Mephisot138 has a fetish for the “perfect beauty and absolute submissiveness” of RealDolls. He is saving up to satisfy that fetish and to feel less ostracised. He reveals to me over DollForum; “right now my life sucks pretty hard, but I see my psyche improving 110 per cent when I get a doll because then I will have my muse and my love.”
But Harry believes that given the choice, 99 per cent of iDollators would choose a human companion over a RealDoll.
“It’s just that most of them don’t have that choice."
Wendy Garner, Professor of Psychology of Norwestern University in America has developed a theory of such human behaviour called the Belonging Strategy of Last Resort. This is where the person’s desire to belong or be attached to something or someone is so powerful that they form a para-social relationship with something which can’t connect back with them.
Belonging is the basis of all social interactions, and we hunger for acceptance like we do food. When we can’t get a healthy portion we use social snacks to reminds us that we can belong. ‘Social snacking’ is giving tangible objects intangible meaning that remind them of social experiences. Perhaps this is what stimulates such a strong relationship between an owner and their doll. As RealDolls rely entirely on their owners to be washed, dressed, loved and cared for, this dependence can translate into belonging or being needed making the relationship fulfilling.
RealDoll inventor Matt McMullen from Abyss believes that for those without a choice, having a RealDoll for a companion or even just a physical relationship is better than having no one at all. The tattooed skateboarder discusses the criticism of doll owners in the Guys & Dolls documentary and believes that “certain people benefit from these dolls in the same way people benefit from having insoles in their shoes. Some people don’t need insoles but some people do. And some people don’t have social interaction problems but some people do… And for many of them, having a [Real]Doll is enough.”
Jenny is there for Harry in the moments when he sits down by himself at night.
“Lonely doesn’t happen at daytime," he says as lifts her head from the bag and cradles it in his hands.
"It sneaks up on you at night. Night is when introspection and 'why' sneaks up on you…”
He twists Jenny’s black hair neatly together and gently places her head back inside the darkness of the bag before zipping it up.
“But I don’t have to sleep alone anymore.”