sex doll
'Stephanie' from RealDoll RealDoll

Lonely widowers are finding comfort in lifelike sex robots – sometimes becoming so attached to the silicone pleasure machines that they end up marrying them.

Sex doll manufacturers even claim their creations have "saved lives" by helping people to overcome heartbreaking divorces and tragic bereavements.

The claims, made by producer RealDoll, will add to the highly charged debate about whether the increasingly popular and sophisticated sex robots are a force for good or evil.

"We have had customers marry their dolls, say that we had saved their lives because they felt like they had nothing to live for after the death of a spouse or the end of a relationship," a spokeswoman for RealDoll told the Daily Star.

"Some people develop strong connections to these dolls - they care very much for them as it is a very intimate process to pick all of the features they desire."

The firm says they are selling around 300-400 dolls a year. They are one of many companies producing the seductive cyborgs with cutting edge technology that prompts new questions about sexual ethics.

Experts have argued that the dolls could be used to treat sexual dysfunctions and unhealthy attitudes towards sex when deployed within therapeutic programmes.

However, such noble ambitions are at odds with the existence of a sex robot that has a "frigid" setting, which appears to encourage men to act out rape fantasies.

That product is not produced by RealDoll, whose spokeswoman said there were several reasons someone would buy a sex robot: "The most popular of course is as a sexual companion," she said.

"But there are many reasons we have heard from our customers, ranging from the sexual aspect to a domestic partner to art pieces enjoyed simply for their beauty."

The company claim to have sold around 8,000 of the dolls. After the US, the UK and Germany are their next two biggest markets.

Child sex robots

On 31 July, in a landmark case, a judge determined that child sex dolls fell foul of obscenity laws and could therefore not be imported into this country from China.

But the very next day StopSo, which offers therapy to sex offenders, said the dolls could help those attracted to children manage their behaviour safely.

Police say a surge in orders for child sex dolls, mostly manufactured in China, has enabled them to identify several previously unknown UK paedophiles.

Noel Sharkey, co-founder of the Foundation of Responsible Robotics previously, told IBTimes UK that child sex robots "may encourage more people into paedophilia and they may shift societal norms to make child sex more acceptable".

"They may help some to not offend but may encourage others. It is also now possible to make silicon robots that look exactly like particular children and who would want their child to be represented on a sex robot?"