By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Photos by Jeanne RiceThe RealDoll may barely qualify as a sex toy—not if that category brings to mind inflatable sheep, electric cattle prods and the World's Biggest Gangbang franchise of videos. In that company, the RealDoll seems out of place and relatively innocuous. What is so deviant about having uninhibited, no-strings-attached sex with a gorgeous, three-holed, never-say-no vixen with a 34E bust and whose $6,000 price tag takes the term "high end" far beyond anatomical perfection?
Following home ownership, is this not the American Dream?
Still, the RealDoll—a fantasy-oriented product that leaves very little to fantasy—doesn't easily fit into the sex industry. One industry insider, who protectively refers to her own products as "sexual-enhancement devices" or "partner pleasure products," slams the dolls because, she says, they facilitate a desire for something that is clearly not sex. "It's fulfilling a psychological hunger, not a physical one," she says.
The manager of an upscale gentleman's club remarks, "Some of my customers have told me they would have sex with a dead body before they would a rubber one."
RealDoll, a.k.a. the World's Finest Love Doll, is the flagship product of Oceanside-based Abyss Creations, which has been selling sex toys for about five years. The doll's Dr. Frankenstein, Abyss mastermind Matt McMullen, says the company has sold more than 800 RealDolls in that time and handles 500 new inquiries per day. Courtship is relatively speedy: prospective buyers join a waiting list about 16 weeks long.
Many others are probably turned off by the price, although customers certainly get what they pay for. For $5,749 (plus $500 for shipping and handling), you get an almost totally customized, state-of-the-art love doll: you choose from five different body types, eight different heads and a host of different skin tones. Specify long blond hair, spiky red hair, blue eyes, trimmed bush. You can even get a doll with breasts the size of your head, a coveted amenity that will run you an additional $300.
Besides the exorbitant cost, there is also the potential stigma of owning one.
EBAY OR FREEWAY
The birthplace of RealDolls is the sort of industrial-style factory you'd find anywhere—once you get past the Texas Chainsaw Massacre foyer, that is, where rubber bodies hang from the ceiling by special hooks and apparatus. Some of those bodies are complete except for hair; others are headless and in various stages of assembly.
McMullen is hard at work in a room straight out of every 15-year-old boy's wet dreams: the back wall is covered with pages and pages of anime and young Japanese nymphs in battle and in bondage; heavy-metal thunder blares from speakers around the work stations; collectors' toys and action figures are strewn about; and there are portraits of women in various stages of undress. And then there are the disembodied breasts and vaginas, as if presented for a man's pleasure without the annoying women attached to them.
Just seven employees assist McMullen, who doesn't look anything like Quasimodo or even Hugh Hefner, but more like the kind of guy you'd see blowing by you on the freeway in a big, white truck with an LBZ sticker on the back window: blond hair, baseball cap, earrings and baggy pants. He's a handsome guy with a quick smile, appearing much younger than his 31 years. He doesn't look like an expert on implements for the sexually desperate.
His status as a sex-industry icon surprises McMullen, too. A self-trained artist who specialized in masks, he began working on a posable-mannequin project about seven years ago—a project that eventually morphed into the RealDoll. McMullen insists that Abyss is not part of the sex industry in the way that companies like Doc Johnson or Vivid Videos are. First and foremost, McMullen considers himself an artist and argues that his client base is appreciably different from those of other companies in the industry.
"The RealDoll is a very high-quality specialty product with a distinctive niche," McMullen says. "This kind of product does not appeal to typical sex-toy customers."
And who are McMullen's clients? Who spends upward of $6,000 on an anatomically correct sex doll?
"There isn't one particular kind of person who wants a RealDoll," says McMullen. "Married men, single men—even a few single women. We've had a few customers who say they're disfigured; they don't have the self-esteem to get out there and meet women for themselves."
McMullen emphasizes that Abyss doesn't track its customers. Instead, he assesses their satisfaction through the ample feedback they offer.
"We get some incredible letters—letters from men who say that [the experience] has brought them a new level of self-confidence and brought them out of their shells," McMullen says. He claims RealDolls have been popular with couples seeking "a little extra spice in their marriage but who don't want the emotional fallout" that could come by introducing a real-live third party. "Couples have written how thrilled they've been," he says, "and that introducing the doll has helped them renew their feelings for each other." (A question on the firm's website FAQ asks, "What happens when 'the honeymoon is over' . . . and I wish to return it?" The answer? "Although we'd like to fully satisfy all our customers, our firm policy is: ALL SALES ARE FINAL." At that point, it's eBay or the freeway.)
McMullen is a man of the people. He spends a lot of time on research and development to accommodate customer feedback and requests. Possible modifications include facial animatronics, a contracting vagina, and stimuli receptors in key locations in conjunction with a voice box that spits out appropriate responses like an X-rated Furby. There are plans to produce a male counterpart as well as the "she-male" RealDoll.
But McMullen will only go so far.
"Every so often, I'll get an e-mail that makes my jaw drop," he admits. "There are certain things that I, as an artist, am not interested in doing. As a person, there are certain lines I will not cross, no matter how much money is involved."
He mentions an offer of $50,000 to produce a 10-year-old doll.
Some of the less troubling requests have been for RealDolls with dog parts, an extremely hirsute (read: werewolf-furry) doll and a plea from one patron to fashion a doll identical to the gentleman's mother. McMullen described the portfolio of dear-old-Mom photos that accompanied the last request. I don't ask whether he accepted the commission.
McMullen invites me to take a RealDoll out for a test spin. Despite my initial enthusiasm and vigor, I find myself a little hesitant to take him up on the offer. McMullen's uncanny artistry aside, these dolls just . . . aren't . . . right.
But I do it anyway, going into a makeshift break room/reception area where six dolls sit in a row. In such a mundane office setting—furnished with cheap chairs, small vending machines and harsh fluorescent lighting—one might imagine these were six job-interview candidates all vying for the same, um, position. Resplendent in ho finery (fuck-me platforms, thigh-high stockings, sheer little nylon gowns through which fake nipples protrude), with mouths slightly agape, there is no question about their job duties.
From a distance of three or four yards, you might actually mistake them for live women. They have pretty faces with pouty mouths and the same dead stare you'd see on a blasť stripper. They all have porn-star hair. McMullen is definitely a master crafter with an affinity for detail. Even so, up close, you'd never mistake them for the real thing. Soft molding lines with an accompanying dimple run up the legs, and the skin—while very realistic in hue and almost perfect to the touch—is just a little too cool and clammy. McMullen observes that you can soak the RealDoll in scalding bathwater to give it "lifelike body heat."
Under McMullen's watchful gaze, I proceed with clinical groping. As I run my fingers through the hair (a wig attached to the skull with Velcro) and caress the skin of the face and neck, I feel slightly self-conscious—as if this man who fields requests to make manimal hybrids might think me peculiar.
I consider giving her a smooch but balk. Someone else might already have given her mouth a test run. And I wonder: Is the RealDoll customer all that interested in kissing or any other form of affection or foreplay?
I stuff my fingers into a partially closed mouth. There is a soft tongue and great dental work. Reportedly, due to the unique, trade-secret construction of the doll, the mouth can create a vacuum that induces some pretty intense pleasure. McMullen reports that some clients say it's the best they've ever had. The joints are rock-solid—steel-solid, actually, strong enough to support 500 pounds of manflesh, flexible enough at the joints to bend a sideshow 180 degrees.
Perhaps I am short on imagination, but after a minute, it's impossible for me to convince myself that I am playing with anything but a 110-pound lump of inert material—Silly Putty, India rubber, a shapely garden hose or Firestone tire. Unfettered by any notions of false modesty, I go for the good stuff. While a thousand horny bastards—including a few ex-boyfriends—would have paid money to see me fondle the perky, gargantuan bosoms, for ever-stoic McMullen, it is just so much quality control or, ahem, focus groping. The breasts feel pretty real, I guess—I've never felt a real set of 34Es, so I can't be definitive—and the nipples are artfully painted and sculpted; not surprisingly, they're a big selling point. The hands trouble me greatly. They are the deadest part of the doll; it almost feels like holding the hands of a corpse. They can be posed and even made to grip, but there is no actual strength in the hold. It's unlikely the dolls do hand jobs.
I do a quick visual check of the pelvic region: pretty authentic, save for a gimpy clitoris that seems an anatomical afterthought. But then, why would a fuck doll have any need for a pleasure center of her own when it's all about his pleasure? I can't bring myself to give her a full gynecological probe, though I do nonchalantly stick a thumb up her butt, which feels pretty authentic, providing there's no difference between male and female butt-feel.
Through no fault of McMullen's, the whole experience is coursing with the kind of molten sensuality you'd experience in the waiting room of a Jiffy Lube. In a bedroom—soft lighting, fine sheets, no vending machines—it might be different. I ponder what transpires between doll and owner before relations commence: Does he go through the motions of foreplay and romance? Or does he simply drop trou and sink the pink? This thought is visceral enough to jolt me. My work here is done.
I compliment McMullen on his artisanship and savvy, and I mean it. More than anything, I find myself wondering about the mindset of someone who prefers a RealDoll to a live partner. After all, $6,000 can buy a lot of loving from a professional girl. And couples can get a lot of marriage counseling and therapy for the same money.
McMullen is obviously a loving artist and a meticulous craftsman responding to a demand in the marketplace. And he's right to bristle when his company is lumped in with the sex industry; it's possible some people buy the doll for art rather than sex. But the real differences are semantic rather than categorical: what transpires between a product and its buyer can hardly be defined as sex at all. If you can have your ego significantly buoyed—rather than shattered beyond reconstruction—by porking 110 pounds of dead silicone, you, my friend, have a problem.
Get more information by visiting www.realdoll.com or calling (760) 471-8418.