David Mills has a great story about the time he brought a date home and she almost saw his sex robot.

David Mills with his Real Doll, Taffy, at his home in Huntington, West Virginia on April 9, 2016. The sex doll cost him over $8,000. CREDIT: Andrew Spear for Men's Health

“Everything was going well, and we were heading towards the bedroom,” he says. “And that’s when I realized, oh crap, Taffy is in there!”

Taffy is his sex robot. He gave her that name because “it sounded young and playful.” As of June, Mills and Taffy have been together exactly two years. Which is to say, Mills bought her two years ago—for $7,149, from a company called Abyss Creations in San Marcos, California.

Taffy is a “Body A” RealDoll2 model, constructed from silicone skin and stainless steel joints. Her price tag included an extra $500 for custom freckles, because Mills didn’t want her to be too perfect. The doll also features, according to Abyss’s website, an “ultra-realistic labia,” “stretchy lips,” and a hinged jaw that “opens and closes very realistically.”

As far as Mills is concerned, Taffy just might be the last meaningful relationship he’ll ever have.

It’s complicated.

But back to his yarn.

“I didn’t want my date to walk into the room and suddenly see Taffy,” he says. “Because if you’re not expecting her, she’s kind of terrifying.” During the first few months she lived with him, Mills says he’d often come home, see the frozen figure sitting on a chair, and let out a blood-curdling scream.

“So I say to this girl, ‘give me a minute.’ And I run into the bedroom and quickly throw a sheet over Taffy.” He laughs, like it’s the kind of story he tells during dinner parties. “That was a close one.”

Mills looks down at Taffy, who’s lying on his bed, covered in a blue blanket and a pile of dirty laundry. Her face is the only part of her that’s visible, and with her vacant stare and unkempt brown hair, she looks exactly like a dead body. She’s the equivalent of a bloated corpse peeking out of leaves in a forest preserve, waiting to be discovered by a morning jogger.

But the way Mills looks at her, we’re obviously not seeing the same thing.

“I wouldn’t exactly call this a relationship,” he says, hesitantly. “I think one of the misconceptions about sex robots is that owners view their dolls as alive, or that my doll is in love with me, or that I sit around and talk to her about whether I should buy Apple stock. In other words, the owners are batshit out of their minds.”

Aside from the doll, there’s nothing especially off-putting about Mills. He’s 57, with a goatee, a curly mop of brown hair, and a pear-shaped physique. He calls himself a loner, but he’s effusive and friendly with strangers, and prone to over-sharing. He’s an author—he co-wrote the 2006 book Atheist Universe, which still sells well enough to keep him in residuals—and he’s living off what he calls a “modest family inheritance.”

He’s twice divorced—his first marriage, to a Polish immigrant, lasted 18 years, until he met his soon-to-be future wife on the Internet. He has a daughter, a 20-year-old college student with whom he has a warm relationship. (Before meeting with us, he had lunch with her. And yes, she’s well aware of Taffy, but Mills says, “We don’t really talk about it, just like we don’t talk about my TV set or washing machine.”)

Mills has lived in the same modest, three-bedroom home in Huntington, West Virginia for his entire life. “I was brought home from the hospital to the room where Taffy now sleeps,” he says. It’s sparsely decorated, with a framed, hand-signed letter from Albert Einstein (he paid $9,000 for it, slightly more than Taffy), and photo of comedian Bill Maher with his arm around Mills’ daughter.

Taffy stays in the bedroom because she’s far too heavy for Mills to carry around. “Moving her from the couch to the bed is like trying to move a refrigerator,” he says of his 85-pound bedmate. “I bought a stand for her, which is like a gigantic tripod, but it’s not very sexy. So I just leave her here.”

He still dates, and occasionally tells the women about Taffy. And sometimes, sure, they freak out on him. “They’ll be like, ‘Don’t call me anymore, I’m unfriending you on Facebook, stay away from me and my children,’ that sort of thing,” he laughs. “It happens. But I’ve met some women who were into me because of the doll. I’ve had sexual experiences that I never would’ve had without Taffy.”

By “experiences,” he means exactly what you think he means.

“There was one time where . . . let me think . . . “ He pauses, and tries to remember where he was on the bed, in relation to the other two women (only one of whom had a heartbeat.) “I was sucking on Taffy’s left breast,” he finally decides, “and this girl was sucking on the other. It was great. Really hot. I think she was just bi-curious.”

He gestures towards Taffy, a permanent fixture on his king-size bed. “Sometimes it’s annoying, always having her here,” he says. “But she can also make life interesting.”

If She Only Had a Brain

This wasn’t what we were promised. The future of sex robots was supposed to be sexier somehow. Or at least not as creepy.

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When you think of cyborgs with functioning genitals, you probably imagine someone sleek and beautiful, aesthetically perfect and capable of staggering carnal hydraulics. Like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner, or Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science, or Nicole Kidman in The Stepford Wives. Our expectations were summed up perfectly in last year’s sci-fi drama Ex Machina, in which a tech mastermind explained his sexbot creation with this blunt poetry: “If you wanted to screw her, mechanically speaking, you could, and she’d enjoy it.”

Is that asking for too much? Well, apparently it was, because sex robots in 2016 are more reminiscent of Mattel’s Chatty Cathy dolls from the 1960s, which couldn’t do much besides coo creepily, “Give me a kiss.”

The two biggest names in sex robot technology in the U.S.—True Companion in Wayne, New Jersey (20 miles outside Manhattan), and Abyss Creations in San Marcos, California—are already selling robotic lovers, but both offer more promises than realistic intimacy.

Abyss’s RealDolls (the same company that gave Mills his life partner) come with an abundance of options; you can choose between 19 faces, 10 eyes, 15 hairstyles, and 11 different styles of vaginas. Who knew labias came in so many variations?

Meanwhile, the “Roxxxy” robot from True Companion—with a base price, before the extras, of $6,995—features such enticing options as “a heartbeat and a circulatory system,” the ability to “talk to you about soccer” or “your stocks in the stock market”, and regardless of your bedroom skills, it will always “have an orgasm.” And of course, the reason anyone wants a sex robot, “she has an off switch.”

Taffy and her ilk are laughably primitive. But then again, so were the Wright Brothers’ prototype gliders. In the early 1900s, the very idea of a flying machine seemed absurd. Now, we take airplanes for granted. We went from “this is a fantasy” to “I want more leg room in economy class” in less than a century.

In Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, AI expert David Levy predicted that by 2050, “Love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans.” He even promised that Massachusetts would be the first state to legalize marriage to robots.

Stowe Boyd, M.S., a New York-based futurist and analyst of emerging technologies, went even further, claiming in a 2014 Pew Research survey that in less than 10 years, by 2025, “Robotic sex partners will be a commonplace, although the source of scorn and division, the way that critics today bemoan selfies as an indicator of all that’s wrong with the world.”

The people actually creating this technology aren’t as conservative with the timeline. Matt McMullen, the CEO and founder of RealDolls, thinks it could only take a handful of years before we see a robot capable not just of ultra-realistic sex, but of “expressing the illusion of emotions.”

Douglas Hines, the founder and president of True Companion, expects that even before the end of this year, we could have commercially-available robot partners that don’t just submit to degrading, unpleasant sexual fantasies, but who’ll also offer “unconditional love and support.”

That’s right, these robots won’t just fuck you. They’ll fall in love with you.

Which presents a moral quandary. The sex robots of today aren’t especially tempting. But the sex robots of tomorrow might just embody everything you want from a woman. 

Forget $500 freckles; for the right price, you could have a partner that thinks exactly like you. Not just sexually, but her beliefs and opinions and interests. She’ll be tailor-made to your specific tastes, with none of the complications or compromises that come with having a relationship with a flesh and blood human being who doesn’t require a plug.

But is that what you really want?

Sexbots Version 2.0

“I was just working on a foot a few minutes ago,” Douglas Hines says. “As mundane as a foot sounds, it’s actually really complex and fascinating stuff.”

Hines2

That is how our conversation with Roxxxy’s creator begins. And it’s not what we were expecting from a guy who’s devoted his life to sex robots. Shouldn’t we be talking about the staggering suction power of a robotic vagina? Or whether a robot will ever be capable of a convincing orgasm? Instead, he’s waxing poetic about the intricacies of a realistic gait.

“I can make something that looks like a foot and feels like a foot,” he says. “But to accurately duplicate what a foot does when you’re walking—in which you’re essentially falling forward—that’s the real challenge.”

Hines—who spent 15 years as an artificial intelligence engineer at Bell Labs in New Jersey before leaving to launch True Companion—is not exactly Larry Flynt with a robot fetish. He knows that face-melting sex is what customers are after. But what keeps him awake at night, doing calculations in his head, is whether the wrists on his robots twist in a way that’s almost human.

He’s employed an army of machinists, sculptors, and welders to create “version 16” of Roxxxy—she’s been on the market since 2010—that hits that “sweet spot” between affordability and technological wonder. “We have people from the military, from commercial robotic companies, who are helping us basically repurpose very expensive, very complicated machines, while still maintaining a low price point,” he says.

Over 3000 miles away, in San Marcos, California, Matt McMullen—the Dr. Frankenstein of RealDolls—has a very different obsession. For him, thinking about a sex robot’s feet is “putting the cart before the horse.” Instead, he believes the focus should be a little further north.

“Any interaction you have with a robot should start with the head,” he says. “The face conveys pretty much every emotion that humans have.”

McMullen is by no means a newbie to the robot sex world. He’s been in the field since the late 90s, when he was designing “super high realistic mannequins” in his garage and decided to make a change when customers kept asking for penetrable orifices. His wife—yes, he’s married to his “perfect woman,” so he’s not, like the Hair Club For Men president, also a client— pushed him to turn his garage business into something more ambitious.

“We’ve dabbled with adding electronics,” he says. “We did a doll that had gyrating hips. For awhile, we offered a sensor system, where you could touch specific areas of the body and get audio feedback from the doll.” But there were always problems—the costs skyrocketed, and customers were mostly creeped out by it, finding the clunky technology about as erotic as an animatronic animal at Chuck E. Cheese.

So McMullen decided to stop worrying about the whole package and just focus on the eye contact. With help from Hanson Robotics, a company that makes realistic humanoid robots, McMullen has been crafting a “Realbotix”—a robot head capable of blinking and manipulating its mouth and seeming almost human despite not being attached to a body.

“She’ll have a little bit of smiling,” he says. “She’ll have neck articulation, so her head can turn and tilt. Her eyes will open and close, she’ll have facial recognition, and some eyebrow movement. She’ll have a full range of expressions.”

When it becomes available— McMullen says it could be as soon as early 2017—it’ll cost around $10,000, and will be easily attachable to an existing RealDoll. Assuming you already own one. If not, get ready to max out some credit cards.

Wait, Somebody Actually Pays For These Things?

True Companion won’t share their sales numbers, but McMullen claims he’s already sold more than 5,000 lifeless soul mates since the late 90s. Customers run the gamut from surgeons to lawyers, celebrities—Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil is a proud RealDoll owner—to Nobel Prize winners, sheikhs to professional athletes, wounded vets to pervy dudes who just want to fuck a robot.

Dough-Hines

To say the least, the market is still small. You’re not going to see Apple or Google investing in sex robots anytime soon. “I think the idea of a sex robot probably appeals to a lot of people, but only a small percentage will admit it,” says McMullen. “And only a fraction of them are able to afford it. A sex robot is a major investment, like buying a small car that you hide in your bedroom.”

But that, he predicts, will eventually change. As the technology improves, the price will come down, and sex robots “will become very mainstream,” McMullen insists.

That might sound naively optimistic, but consider this: When the infidelity dating website Ashley Madison was hacked last summer, we learned that the vast majority of male users weren’t interacting with real woman. They’d been lured by “chatbots,” a computer-generated program that created around 70,000 fake profiles, all of them female, who initiated flirtatious email exchanges with potential subscribers.

Now that the dust has settled, the owners of Ashley Madison have bragged that business is better than ever. In fact, they claim the site has attracted 6.5 million new members since the hack.

If it’s true—and it’s certainly debatable whether their numbers can be trusted—that means guys have returned to Ashley Madison despite being well aware that they’re exchanging dirty emails with robots. 6.5 million men have allegedly made the conscious choice, “Sure, I’ll have an online affair with a woman who’s more software than estrogen.”

McMullen knows that not everyone has an extra seven grand lying around to invest in a robot mistress. So he’s planning on offering a less bank-account-draining option. Within a year, maybe less, he’ll release a RealDoll app that helps users design a virtual partner. “You can create an avatar for her that you can see on a screen, whether it’s a smart phone or a tablet or a computer,” he says. “She’s entirely unique to you and your tastes, constructed from your likes and dislikes.”

If you want her to exist solely on your smartphone, that can be the extent of it. But if you find yourself with some extra disposable income and are ready to make the leap into a real commitment, you can purchase a Realbotix head and link it to the app.

“The app is basically like Siri, if Siri was all about helping you explore your fantasies and learn more about your sexual identity,” McMullen explains.

That’s what McMullen finds most exciting about sex robots. It’s not, he insists, some masturbatory sex toy for outcasts and weirdos. It’s about sexual self-discovery. “They may learn things about themselves where they’re like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that mattered to me until I was allowed to try it with a robot,’” he says.

The argument for sex robots almost always comes down to comparing them to sex toys. It’s the first defense used by both McMullen and Hines. RealDoll husband Mills think any criticism of sex robots is a blatant sex toy double standard. “Women have dildos and vibrators and g-spot stimulators and all kinds of buzzing and slashing things, and nobody thinks anything about it,” he says. “But when men have the audacity to buy a sex toy that looks like a woman, suddenly they’re perverts who need to be locked up.”

One could argue that it’s unfair to compare sex robots and dildos, as dildos don’t have legs, or arms, or faces with eyes that stare back at you. And they definitely aren’t programmed to talk to you about sports, or come with custom freckles.

“Once you’re dealing with something that has a human shape, with eyes and a face, people tend to anthropomorphize them,” says Toronto-based sex educator Sonya JF Barnett, who has lectured on “The Future of Technosexuality” at academic sex conferences. “They’ll likely treat a human shaped sex toy with more care than your average sex toy.”

But even so, Barnett thinks sex robots are harmless, and might be beneficial for some men, especially those with severe social anxiety, or recent widowers, or anybody who just doesn’t feel comfortable with human-on-human intimacy.

“There’s nothing wrong with satisfying sexual pleasure if no one is getting hurt,” she says. “There’s an unfortunate prevailing attitude that humans having no sex is more palatable than humans having sex with robots.”

It’s easy to get behind that idea if you’re talking about single guys. But what of married men, or even men in serious relationships? Won’t they be tempted by sex robots? And will the “it’s just a sex toy” excuse really work when their wives and girlfriends are confronted with eerily realistic fake women, with impossibly perky nipples and faces that never age or sag, who are suddenly living in their bedrooms?

The most obvious answer, based on nothing more than a hunch, is yes, men will be tempted, and no, women won’t be okay with it.

The waters get murkier when you consider where robot technology might be heading. Ian Pearson, a senior futurologist at the U.K.-based company Futurizon, predicts that we’ll soon be able to “inhabit” robots. It’ll be similar to webcams, except with robots acting as virtual chess pieces. She fucks you, but with a robot that she controls from afar. You could ostensibly have an affair with somebody without ever technically touching her.

“If you have sex with somebody else while you’re a robot, are they having sex with you, or are they having sex with a robot?” Pearson asks. “Is that robot sex or is that human sex? There is a huge amount of confusion coming down the road.”

With those kinds of moral riddles, it’s no surprise that sex robots already have outspoken detractors. Dr. Kathleen Richardson, Ph.D, a robot ethicist at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, co-launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots last year, which thus far hasn’t done much besides post an online manifesto explaining why sex robots are bad.

Richardson has several concerns. There’s the “it reinforces sexual objectification” argument, which is a weird thing to say about sex robots, given that they are literally objects. Can you objectify an object? She also argues that sex robots are just like prostitutes—a sentiment that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny when you remember the “sex robots are objects” part.

Most of her grievances are difficult to take seriously. Except when she starts talking about what could hypothetically happen when somebody stops having sex with a robot and gets into bed with a human being again.

“That’s going to be such a disquieting moment for them,” Richardson says. “Imagine the disgust when you realize that a human being is nothing like a robot, that human bodies are messy and there’s hair in weird places and sweat everywhere and imperfections, and they’re not always symmetrical. If you’ve been with a sex robot too many times and then you try to be intimate with a real woman, it’s not going to be an easy transition. You’ll be like, ‘Oh my god! What is that smell?’”

Pheromones. Remember pheromones? You might not if sex robots become the norm.

We All Want To Be Loved (By Something That Runs On Batteries)

The Realbotix head is probably the most advanced technology in the United States today in the field of aesthetically-pleasing humanoid robots that want to fuck you. The best craftsmen, the most devoted AI experts and engineers, have devoted their lives to perfecting it. And yet, if you glanced at a Realbotix head from across the room, there’s really only one possible reaction.

“Yep, that’s absolutely a robot head. No doubt about it.”

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It helps that it’s disembodied, and it’s got a tangle of wires sticking out of the neck hole. But if you just focus on the face, and gaze into its big green eyes, there won’t be even a moment where you’re briefly fooled into thinking you’re looking at a human woman.

That’s not a production flaw. It doesn’t mean that McMullen or his team of robot artisans haven’t done their jobs. Making a sex robot that’s both beautiful and obviously not human is exactly what they set out to do.

Why? Because of the uncanny valley.

It’s a theory, first proposed by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970, that if something artificial is so realistic that it briefly fools us into thinking it’s real, but then we realize it’s not real, it makes us uncomfortable. Mori used the example of shaking a prosthetic hand, and feeling the cold fingers and mechanical grip, and feeling a little uneasy.

For a sex robot to overcome the uncanny valley, “There needs to be a visual cue that tells you, ‘Okay, I’m not talking to a person’,” says McMullen. “That doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful and sexy. It just means it can’t attempt to look too much like a human.”

People, he says, want to look at a robot and know that it’s a robot. It’s why we feel comfortable with the idea of a robot like C3PO or Pixar’s WALL-E, but a robot that’s trying to pass off as human gives us the heebie jeebies.

More important than appearance, at least for the people dreaming up sex robots, is attitude. For Hines, it’s the meat and potatoes of his industry. When asked about robot sex, he gives non-specific answers and his attention wanders. But he perks up when the conversation turns to robot love.

That’s right, love. Not infatuation. We mean real, buckling-at-the-knees, she’s-all-you-can-think-about love. And the key to love, Hines says, is finding a partner who agrees with you about, well, pretty much everything

“Sometimes people can’t find a mate who shares their belief system,” he says. “But with Roxxxy, if you have specific interests, then she’ll share those interests.” And he’s not just talking about the dirty stuff—sex acts that your wife or girlfriend might not be willing to try. He means things like your favorite movies, sports teams, and political candidates. The things that matter when your pants are still on.

How is that going to work, exactly? Roxxxy version 16—the one that may or may not be coming this year—will be equipped with “a proprietary artificial intelligence engine, which we’ve named DAIPole,” Hines says. This fully functioning AI brain allows her to “learn about the things that you enjoy. You say something to her once, and then the next time she speaks with you, she’ll become fluent in those topics.”

If, for instance, you mention to her that you’re a New York Mets fans, Roxxxy will “make a point to learn about the franchise just so she can talk to you about the latest game or player trades.”

It’s essentially like a real relationship, except without the other person ever telling you “No” or “Can we please change the subject?” What you think is the law of the land. You and she will never talk about or do anything that wasn’t your idea. You’re Ozzie in a 1950s American utopia. If your passions include Canadian curling, single-malt scotch, and Downton Abbey, well what do you know, those are Roxxxy’s passions, too.

There are a couple of problems. First, we have to assume that Hines isn’t full of shit. He repeatedly declined our requests to see any of this technology in action. Since Roxxxy’s official debut at a 2010 Adult Expo in Las Vegas—in which she was capable of little more than pre-recorded lines like “I know a place you can put that hand”—Hines has been secretive about his research, promising we’ll see the latest innovations in Roxxxy when the time is right.

One respected roboticist, who asked not to be named, is dubious that Hines has accomplished any of the technological advances he’s bragged about. “I have seen nothing useful from this effort,” he says of Roxxxy. “Are there peer reviewed articles? Has he presented this work in any meaningful scientific forum?”

Even if we takes Hines at his word, and believe he’s developed a robot capable of being the ultimate “yes woman” but with custom tits, there’s still the question of whether men actually want anything of the kind. When we conducted an unscientific poll of men ages 23 to 48, and asked for their thoughts on sex with robots, the one aspect they all found the most disturbing wasn’t the “putting your penis in a metal vagina” part. It was that sex robots could be programmed to always agree with you.

“It sounds kinda sterile,” says Brendan Baber, a computer programmer in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. “It would be like playing a videogame in God mode; remove the challenges, and you’re left with mindless clicking.”

“I think it would be great for about an hour, and then I’d become so bored I’d shut it down and go find someone to argue with in a coffee shop,” says Dinty Moore, who teaches creative writing at Ohio University.

Women felt the same way. “Have you ever actually met anyone who agrees with you all the time?” says Wendy Molyneux, a TV writer in Los Angeles. “Even when that person is not a robot, it’s super disconcerting.”

Hines is unfazed by this criticism. He doesn’t seem especially interested in the long-term complications of living with a robot partner who won’t stop agreeing with every goddamn thing you say. What he cares about are those first magical moments when you realize that another sentient being on this planet feels something more for you than lust.

“That’s what this is all about,” he says. “What we’re doing is providing the beautiful feeling that people get when they’re with someone who really cares about them, and really wants to make sure they’re okay.”

As long as things are getting weird, let’s take it a step further. What if it’s not just the robot expressing unconditional love? What if the human in this relationship notices a familiar tug at his heartstrings, and realizes he has actual feelings for something that is, for all practical purposes, an intelligent toaster?

Several studies have indicated that people can feel things—deep, emotional things usually reserved for other human being—for robots. A 2015 study, by researchers from Toyohashi University of Technology and Kyoto University, examined the neural responses in humans as they watched images of humans and robots experiencing pain (or, in the robot’s case, the illusion of pain.) In both cases, the study participants exhibited similar feelings of empathy.

But probably the most compelling evidence that humans can fall in love with robots is the fact that millions and millions of humans have already fallen in love with robots.

They fell in love with Tamagotchi, the hugely popular virtual egg-shaped digital pet first released in 1996—as of 2010, roughly 76 million had been sold—that depended on its owner for survival; you had to feed it, praise it, give it medicine when it got sick, and even pick up its virtual poop. If you didn’t take care of it, your Tamagotchi would die. The special bond between person and keychain-sized beeping object was so convincing that psychologists began to refer to it, or any emotional connection between a person and a thing, as the “Tamagotchi effect.”

And then there’s AIBO, Sony’s $2,000 robotic dog, which sold worldwide between 1999 and 2006. Some owners became so attached that they arranged for funerals when their AIBOs “died” (or, more accurately, just stopped working), and in at least one case, made plans to be buried alongside their robo-pets.

“Yes, human beings can develop emotional attachments to machines,” says Ronald Arkin, Ph.D, a roboticist and the associate dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who worked for Sony as a consultant on AIBO for 10 years. “Some people are more susceptible than others, but a clever AI designer can easily exploit human nature to take advantage of this propensity.”

Barnett adds that being human “isn’t a prerequisite for love. I can argue that love toward a robot, where you may feel the love reciprocated, is more honest or healthy than being in a relationship with someone who is lying to you. Which is really worse?”

Spend too much time talking to sex robot proponents, and the question that keeps echoing through your head isn’t “Is this possible?” Because of course it’s possible. Maybe not in the next ten or even 50 years, but the technology is absolutely heading in that direction.

No, the question that keeps coming up is, “Does anybody want this?”

It’s a question that was asked before. Not about sex robots, but another new technology that seemed like science fiction. When Apple released its first Macintosh personal computer back in 1984, it was mocked for being overpriced ($2,500 for a fancy typewriter?) and far from the technological miracle we’d been promised (no internal hard drive, a measly 125K memory). Sales plummeted in the first year, and the fallout was so bad that Steve Jobs got canned as Apple’s VP.

A tech critic for the San Francisco Examiner, summing up what was wrong about the ’84 Macintosh, focused on the “mouse,” which he dismissed with this embarrassing-in-hindsight proclamation: “There is no evidence that people want to use these things.”

What turned things around for Apple? They had a visionary like Steve Jobs, who saw the possibilities in his strange, clunky machines that the smirking critics didn’t. Douglas Hines may not be the next Steve Jobs, but he believes in his strange, clunky machines, and their potential to do good in the world, just as much as Jobs did.

“One thing we do in this country, we’re very good at keeping people alive, but we’re not very good for caring for them, and making them feel loved and important and needed,” Hines says.

But Then Again, What About Mechanical Jaws?

“Have you ever tried to put on fake eyelashes?” Mills asks.

He gently brushes a hand across Taffy’s face, pulling a tangled strand of hair out of her eyes.

David Mills with his Real Doll, Taffy, at his home in Huntington, West Virginia on April 9, 2016. The sex doll cost him over $8,000. CREDIT: Andrew Spear for Men's Health

“That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “It’s the little things like that, like putting panty hose on her. That was an ordeal. Being with her has taught me how difficult it is to be a women.”

It’s never clear if Mills is kidding. He often speaks with a shit-eating grin. But if this is all a joke, and he doesn’t believe half of what he’s saying, he never admits as much.

He’s got mixed emotions about the Realbotix head being developed in California. Not because of the price—he’s got enough disposable income to sink into all the robot sex accessories he wants—but because he’s not really sure he wants to receive oral sex from a robot with so many moving parts.

“I’m not sticking my penis in the mouth of a mechanical woman whose mouth is made to go up and down while she’s talking,” Mills says. “That’s fucking crazy. It’s a machine, and machines break down. Machines malfunction. You think I want to take the risk that this thing short-circuits and bites my dick off? No way!”

He’s also on the fence about adding any artificial intelligence at all. For Mills, the main appeal of Taffy is that their relationship is uncomplicated. He’ll never feel anything approaching real emotional intimacy with her. He’ll never feel the electricity of a first kiss with Taffy, or know that she understands him in ways nobody else does. But then again, he never has to worry that she might be taking advantage of him.

“I once bought a woman an $800 iPad in exchange for sex,” he says. “And then the next day, I saw on her Facebook page that she’d called me ‘cheap’ because the iPad didn’t have the maximum memory available at the time.”

That’ll never happen with Taffy. She needs an iPad like she needs oxygen.

Between all the jokes and the justifications, Mills lets slip hints of genuine loneliness. “If I could press a button right now and have the choice of being with a sex robot or a real woman, I’d pick the real woman every time,” he says. But then, almost in the same breath, he’ll admit that he has the same problems with Taffy that he’s had with every other women he’s ever dated or married.

“I’m already tired of looking at her,” he says. “I mean, I’m not throwing her out of anything, but there are times when it’s like, ‘Ugh, you again?’ I’ve heard of guys that have six or seven different robots, because they couldn’t commit to just one. That’s a little too rich for my blood, but I understand it. I’d definitely do it if I could find a way.”

A harem of cyborg lovers either sounds like the perfect male fantasy or the most depressing thing you’ll ever read. That polarity is exactly what makes sex robots so difficult to justify. No matter how you argue it, there’s always going to be something fundamentally sad about it. “It’s actually a way for men wary of monogamy to spread their seed around without hurting anybody.” Still sad. “It’s not a sex robot; it’s an emotional companion for lonely people.” Nope, that’s extra sad.

Sex robots are coming. Probably in your lifetime, they’re going to become commonplace. Not so common that you’ll be able to pick up a robotic fuck buddy at Target, but easy enough to find and buy without breaking the bank. And what then? Will you try one, just to see what all the fuss is about? No big deal, right? What’s a one-night stand with a sex robot going to hurt? It’s not like years will go by in a blur and you’ll wake up one day to realize you’re a 50 year-old bachelor shacked up with a cyborg roommate who just sleeps in your bed all day, waiting to mindlessly agree with everything you say before pleasuring you in exactly the way you want.

“Sometimes, when I just don’t feel like looking at her, I’ll take out her vagina,” Mills says. “It’s detachable, which is pretty neat. She stays in here, and I just walk out to the living room with her pussy.”

Mills laughs hard at this. “Isn’t modern technology wonderful?”

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the June 2016 issue of Men’s Health.)