In the 1990s, sculptor Matt McMullen designed a mannequin to give clothing stores something more flexible and attractive than your standard mall dummy.
McMullen, who was documenting his progress on his website, started getting emails from people who weren’t looking to use the dolls as retail accessories, but in their personal lives, asking if they were “anatomically correct.”
At the time, they weren’t. But McMullen recognised a growing market of customers and adjusted his mannequins to fit his new customers’ desires. The RealDoll was born.
Today, McMullen’s company, Abyss Creation (NSFW), sells around 400 dolls per year. They’re often referred to as “sex dolls,” although they are not always used for sex.
Photographer Benita Marcussen recently met with a number of doll owners to understand the strange obsession. She found that doll owners tend to be extremely protective of their dolls, treating them with respect reserved for lovers, friends or cherished possessions.
Marcussen’s work was recently featured by Vocativ, but she has shared a number of the photos with us here.
The community of 'real doll' enthusiasts is large and growing. DollForum.com, a network connecting aspiring and active doll owners, has over 40,000 users. The users can share experiences and pictures of their dolls or buy and sell new and used dolls.
Everard, shown here, owns a total of eight bodies, plus four extra faces. He has collected dolls for years. Like many doll owners, he is meticulous about his plastic friends, dressing them up with clothes, accessories, and makeup, and often treating them like 'goddesses' and lovers.
Everard likes to take Rebekka and June to his backyard for photo shoots. His neighbours tend to go inside when he brings the dolls out. He has had only one relationship with a real woman and says that he has difficulties understanding them.
The custom dolls don't come cheap. Prices range from $6,500 to more than $50,000. Phil stopped smoking for a year so that he could save up for Jessica, shown here. Phil's friends know of Jessica's existence and he says he doesn't care what anyone thinks about his lifestyle.
For many doll owners, the dolls are primarily sex toys for strange erotic fantasies. Others use them as photographic objects. A small percentage have done away with any boundaries and treat their dolls like full-blown spouses. This doll owner shares his wardrobe with his three dolls. The dolls' clothes occupy most of the space and drawers.
Many men, like this man who wanted to be referred to as 'Baron von Doll,' fear that going public would destroy their chances of meeting real women. Many keep their dolls hidden in their home.
While the stereotype of doll owners may paint them as lonely, single men, this is not always the case. This man from Wales is shown here with his doll Carly. He has a girlfriend, two adult daughters, and five dolls. His family knows about the dolls, but they are not a part of everyday life.
Carl, on the right, got divorced 20 years ago. After eight years of dating, Carl decided to try dolls, purchasing his first in 1998. This doll is a replica of porn star Alektra Blue. Carl doesn't have sex with his doll, instead only taking photos of her. He is shown here with his parents, with whom he lives.
'Deerman' purchased his doll after losing his wife to cancer. He tried meeting new women, but found that those he liked weren't interested in him. He designed a doll similar to his wife and named her Erica. His youngest daughter knows of his interest in dolls.
Not all doll owners are men. Angela Halliday decided to purchase Oksana after meeting Everard on the doll forum. She owns two dolls.
Contrary to stereotypes, sex doll owners tend to be just as satisfied with their lives as the general population and don't suffer higher than normal rates of depression or other mental illnesses, according to Sarah Valverde, a psychology researcher.
Owning a sex doll 'is certainly a deviant sexual behaviour from our norm,' Valverde explained. 'But unless it's all-consuming and it impacts other areas of life, we really can't define it as a disorder.'
'Dolls don't possess any of the unpleasant qualities that organic, flesh and blood humans have,' Davecat, a prominent doll owner, explained. 'A synthetic will never lie to you, cheat on you, criticise you, or be otherwise disagreeable.' They do have their own problems however. The silicone dolls are very fragile, often get small injuries, and must be brought to the factory for repair.
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