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Sex dolls: is loneliness more taboo than kink?

If you want to bend your partner over and beat them with a leather paddle, or be tied to the bedposts with soft bondage rope, blindfolded and shagged, there are a shitload of things out there that you can buy. Companies will be clambering over each other to sell you beating implements, rope and blindfolds along with a tonne of other exciting stuff you can turn on, lube up, and shove in your twitching rectum.

Which, as someone who enjoys all of the above, is a delight and a relief. After my first hushed-whispers visit to a sex shop about twelve years ago, I’m delighted that so much more of the stuff I love is not only available but openly encouraged. No more hiding things in a paper bag and wondering why I have “DIY solutions” on my credit card receipt.

But regardless of how much more comfortable we’ve become with our kinks, buying the kind of products that would have made us blush twenty years ago, there are some things you’ll still rarely see in ads and toy reviews: sex dolls.

Male sex toys vs female sex toys

A while ago I kicked off about the weirdly judgmental attitude displayed in a Jezebel article, in which men who used masturbation sheaths were painted as ‘lonely fucks’ while women who bought rabbits and dildos were celebrated. It seems bloody odd, and not a little hurtful that what makes one person an empowered sex kitten makes another a miserable wanker, and at the time it didn’t occur to me that the stigma of the lonely may well attach to some toys more than others.

Marketing is clever, otherwise marketers wouldn’t get paid the big bucks, and so naturally there are certain male sex toys that seem cooler than the others. The Pulse (basically the sex toy that Batman would own) is slick and cool and space-age-y. Tenga’s textured masturbation sheaths are geometric and neat, like the kind of thing you’d put on a shelf in a minimalist apartment, just to highlight how empty the other shelves are. The Fleshlight, while more anatomical than these other abstract toys, still manages to market itself without implying ‘need’ – the kind of necessary, functional wanking that is the majority of my masturbatory life. In fact, Fleshlight even comes bundled in packs like the ‘stamina’ pack – the implication being that you’ll use it to build stamina for your performance with a partner. It’s not a toy to play with, it’s a serious workout, bro.

Compare and contrast with the way female sex toys are marketed: sure, they’re often sold as an enhancement to your sex life – something to use with a partner. But we’re just as frequently told to ‘treat ourselves’ or ‘have a bit of me-time.’ In short: a solitary woman wanking sells products, but conjuring an image of a solitary guy is something copywriters avoid wherever possible.

And so we come to sex dolls.

What’s wrong with sex dolls?

Sex dolls are often seen as weird and different. Even lower down the sex toy pecking order than masturbation sheaths, sex dolls are usually presented in one of two particular lights: a crutch for the incurably lonely or a comedy prop. The lovely Cara Sutra, queen of All The Sex Toys, wrote an interesting piece about sex dolls a while back in which she looked at all the reasons (practical as well as emotional) why guys might shun sex dolls.

It made me a bit curious – what do individuals actually think of sex dolls? I assumed most people would think they’re funny and/or pathetic, because of our tendency to steer clear from any toys that hit the ‘loneliness’ taboo. My gut instinct was that, because a doll is an (albeit cartoonish) representation of a person, its ‘loneliness factor’ is far higher than something abstract, so it’s perceived in a more shaming way.

The actual answer might be surprising – it certainly surprised the fuck out of me.

What do people really think of sex dolls? (who sponsor my blog, and occasionally get all interesting and nerdy with stats) have just released some info on sex doll attitudes. I should note that this was based on a survey of their site users, so naturally those who responded will already be down with the idea of sex toys. However, even given an already warm audience, the results were really interesting.

First thing to note is that sex dolls are pretty popular on the site,with the ‘sex dolls’ category page coming into the top 10 every single month. Of the survey respondents, 12% actually owned one. If sex dolls were such a niche and unusual thing, bought only by the very lonely or people planning a stag night surprise, I’d expect to see a few proud owners and a couple who’ve bought one as a joke. Not so: of the people who responded to the survey, 18% had bought one at some point, 3% had bought one ‘as a joke’ and a massive 47% said that they wanted to try one.

Here’s my favourite bit though:

When asked “What would you think if you found out a lover had/used a Sex Doll?”, 40% of people said “That’s fine!” and 26% said “Let’s use one together!”

Loneliness and shame

So what’s the problem? Well, although our attitudes towards sex dolls seem delightfully accepting – far more so than I’d have initially thought – people who use sex dolls may still have very valid concerns about how they’re perceived. If you hadn’t seen the stats above, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that your love of sex dolls was something shameful and wrong. That, while you can show a Tenga sheath to your partner or proudly present your drawers full of bondage equipment, your sex doll should be hidden at the back of a cupboard.

Because regardless of individual people’s attitudes, we’re still given a message that makes me want to smash things: an attitude that implies sex dolls are rarely used for actual wanking and, when they are, that’s somehow weird and wrong. That those who use them are the worst kind of perverts you can be: lonely ones.

My most prominent sex doll association is with Richie in the Bottom Live shows (Americans, please click that link and watch it and enjoy). He was the classic ‘lonely perv’ – it’s where 90% of the humour in his character came from. There’s nothing wrong with being a ‘Richie’, of course, but in reality, given how popular sex dolls still are, they aren’t just being bought by an army of people like him. They’re also bought by people who have partners, people who don’t, those who are ‘curious’ and those who are fans for a particular reason (they love the latex, for instance, or have a particular fantasy about dolls).

So I think what I’m trying to say is that, just as we’ve (I think almost successfully) crushed the narrative that if you own kink items you’re a weirdo, so we should challenge this idea that owning a sex doll makes you a particular type of person. You should no more be ashamed of owning a sex doll than you should be of owning a vibrator, or a wanking sheath, or an excellent spreader bar. Far from being a tragic necessity for lonely people, sex dolls are not only more popular than you think, but there are potentially a fair few people who’d be delighted to use one with you.

I’d certainly ask if I could watch.

Shameless plug: if you are tempted by sex dolls, or any of the toys and stuff I’ve mentioned in this post, you can get 10% off at if you use the code GOTN10 when you buy ’em. And if you do? Please please come back and tell me how it was in the comments. I am a massive pervert myself (sometimes lonely, sometimes not) and I thoroughly enjoy hearing stories about other people’s wanking adventures. 

And because I am thorough, here’s some more info on the survey – it included responses from over 4000 participants, and was done through the SexToys website. Of the respondents, 84% identified as male and 16% as female. 


  • Dave says:

    I think it would be fun to have a sex doll!!

  • Vida says:

    I blogged about the idea of a vibrator that was actually a whole sex doll the other day… and then I found a photo of a new male one which is remarkable looking, really. If I could afford it, I’d have it in a flash. But then I’m out about being lonely, I guess. My fear would be where I’d hide it from the kids, though…

  • I’m still confused by this stigma that’s floating around sex dolls.

    As I said in my post about it, I’m assuming – like any other sex toy – they’re designed for sexual gratification. However, they have the added quality of being in a human shape – for the intention of simulating sex with another human, which is fine, I suppose.

    The idea of sex dolls being for sad, lonely and desperate individuals is worrisome, but the thing I wonder about the most is why this stigma isn’t attached to the rest of sex toys (or at least male ones. I’m aware there are boy sex dolls, but that’s not my first thought when someone says “sex doll”). After all, isn’t the purpose kind of the same?

    Thinking back ten or so years ago, I wasn’t aware of the existence of sex toys, really. I mean, I kind of knew what they were, but they weren’t as… say… obvious as they are nowadays. The only one I really knew of was the sex doll, and I’d known about it from a young age. I suppose it’s obvious what it’s for, even from that tender age, and if that kind of “ewwww, no” mentality is engendered then, it’s going to be difficult to get rid of it.

    Whereas, as you say, most sex toys don’t look anything like the human body, so there’s no pretence there. I don’t really think one needs the added pressure, really!

  • Rose says:

    There is definitely still a weird divide between the acceptability of men owning a sex toy compared to women. Think the abstract toys you mention, like Tenga, certainly help to bridge the divide and I suppose they accomplish that because they try to follow the formula that has won women over with sex toys: make it unoffensive, make it discreet, make it attractive. Guess it’s harder to follow those mantras when designing a sex doll.

    You’re totally right though. There shouldn’t be any shame/lonley stigma in owning any sort of sex toy, be it a doll or a mini butt plug. Vida has a point though, maybe people are put off because of the storage options. Not so easy to chuck a whole doll (or at least a decent one that you’d enjoy masturbating with) into the bedside draw. Expect that’s why realistic, or semi-realistic, masturbators like Fleshlight sell so well in comparison.

  • Pat Bateman says:

    I think the difference between men owning sex toys and women owning them is one of necessity. It’s perceived that if a man uses one it’s because he can’t get a partner to do it for real. But women who use them I- perhaps naively- assume can get real sex when they want. But the toy is an addition instead of a substitute, whereas men’s toys are perceived differently. Also, I believe women’s toys stimulate in ways that men’s bodies aren’t really designed for. (How many of us have a dick with a clit stimulator protruding from it? I know I don’t. That’s normal, right?) Perhaps most guys think our own hands are good enough.

  • Peter Ellis says:

    I think the main reason for the stigma against sex dolls is not so much the loneliness factor as the rape factor. They do not just imitate sex with a partner, but with an unresponsive/unconsenting partner. They’re the poster girl (so to speak) for female objectification, being quite literally an object in the shape of a female.

    This factor is bypassed in the “let’s try it together” scenario because there’s a second party present who _is_ consenting. The same applies to finding out that a lover – whom you have presumably already vetted and do not believe to be a rapist – has used a doll in the past.

    The take home message I get from the surveys is that once people are reassured that the use of a doll _is_ due to loneliness and/or curiosity, they’re pretty much fine with it. But in the abstract, when you can’t be sure that simple loneliness is the only motivation, there remains the profound squick factor of muteness/unresponsiveness that triggers uneasiness.

  • Captain Smith says:

    Sex dolls have never appealed to me, but until now I’ve never thought about why. I believe it’s because I see them as substitutes for sex rather than toys for use in masturbation – after all, if the latter’s what you want, you can get much smaller and more effective devices than a whole doll. But as substitutes for sex, they give up the most important part: that you’re fucking a real living person, who’s consenting, reciprocating and (hopefully!) enjoying themselves immensely. Fucking a mindless doll seems like missing the whole point – why not just have a wank? And if someone genuinely prefers a doll to a real woman, well, there does seem something slightly sad about that, for the reasons mentioned by Peter Ellis above.

    (What’s slightly odd here is that people dressed as dolls is, ahem, one of my fetishes. That just goes to show that for me, it’s the presence of a real body and mind that makes the difference.)

    I don’t think anyone who uses sex dolls should be ashamed of it, though, even if I do think them a bit weird.

  • Good post I really enjoy reading the 2nd point (Male sex toys vs female sex toys) but I dont know why some people think sex toys are wired. In fact they can be your best friends in your loneliness.

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