My Buddy was my first friend. His body was soft like a pillow, and his head was rocklike. He had blue eyes and exactly the same number of freckles on both cheeks. He also never spoke, which made him a great listener.
For years, he slept alongside me. (Technically, I never saw him close his eyes, but I assumed he was sleeping.) But somewhere along my journey to prepubescent status, My Buddy disappeared. I made different friends — ones that spoke words and traded Gushers for peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, things My Buddy wasn’t willing to do.
But according to a recent study that surveyed 2,000 adults, when it comes to abandoning stuffed toys to a box marked “give away,” I’m in the minority. Conducted by real estate investment trust Life Storage, in conjunction with marketing research company One Poll, the study found that nearly half of respondents — 43 percent! — still cuddle with their favorite stuffed toy. And despite the traditional gender cliches, it’s men who are more likely to still have at least one stuffed animal, with 84 percent of men admitting this, compared to 77 percent of women.
As noted by the New York Post, Life Storage spokesperson Molli Spear made the following remarks about the study on her blog: “Many of our customers dedicate a small section of their storage units to nostalgic items. They may not have any monetary value or utility, but their sentimental value makes them worth saving in a storage unit.”
Men are not just keeping their teddy bears, in other words — they’re renting them space.
This isn’t exactly breaking news, either. Online bed retailers Time4Sleep conducted a similar and extensive survey on the same topic in 2015, discovering that not only do 51 percent of adult men still own a childhood cuddly toy, 28 percent of them still cuddle it. And last year, stuffed-animal maker Build-A-Bear surveyed 2,000 adults and found that 40 percent still have their favorite stuffed animal by their side when they go to bed, with 56 percent of respondents saying that they held onto their favorite stuffed animal from childhood for at least two decades.
Stranger still, not all of these animals are nostalgia-stuffed childhood companions. “I do see men buying stuffed animals for themselves from us,” Marissa Louie, founder of BearBear, told Mic in 2016. “They love the high quality and expressiveness. Sometimes, men with their own children buy stuffed animals for themselves and separate ones for their children!”
Which all seems like the kind of behavior that most men would die before admitting to. But this being the age of the internet confessional, it’s pretty easy to find men not just defending their furry pals, but waxing lyrical about them.
“His name is Sedrick,” Matt Christensen wrote in a Van Winkle’s article entitled “I’m a 33-Year-Old Man and I Sleep with a Stuffed Animal.” “He’s a tiger and is about a foot-and-a-half long with burnt orange fur, mangled whiskers, foggy plastic eyes and a cracked pink nose. He’s my pal, and I sleep with him every night.”
Redditor SchizophrenicMC, meanwhile, replied to the question of how many men still sleep with a stuffed animal like so: “I slept with a stuffed animal until I was almost 16. I still have it (among many others from my childhood) in my closet, as well as my blankie. Should ever the need arise, I’m no more than 15 seconds from total childlike security.”
So what’s going on here?
According to Howard S. Friedman, a psychology professor at the University of California in Irvine who studies longevity and health, there are probably dozens of psychosocial reasons why individuals sometimes keep and even sleep with objects from childhood (including their stuffed animals). “But most of these revolve around issues of identity — that is, how you think of yourself in terms of relationships with your family, peers and associates,” says Friedman. “The things we have around us help us maintain this. That’s why many respond to a devastating fire that takes all their possessions by saying things like, ‘My life is gone.’”
For both men and women, Friedman believes that a troubling childhood could be a predictor of which adults will continue to sleep with stuffed toys. “If you had a sample of [people] who had especially good or especially troubling childhoods, then your might see more attachment to such toys,” he adds.
A different study from Holland, however, suggests there are other reasons adult men keep their furry toys around. In 2013, a series of studies published in Psychological Science saw researchers from VU University Amsterdam testing how people with low self-esteem deal with concerns about their own death and the meaning of their life. What they found could explain a lot about this furry love.
“Our findings show that even touching an inanimate object — such as a teddy bear — can soothe existential fears,” psychological scientist and lead researcher Sander Koole explained to the Daily Mail the same year. “Interpersonal touch is such a powerful mechanism that even objects that simulate touch by another person may help to instill in people a sense of existential significance.”
Which could help explain why some people go to the extreme of simulating touch with human-size furry sex dolls. According to the founder of custom plushie maker Big Sexy Plush — who wished to keep their identity anonymous — the majority of the clientele for this service are men. “I can only judge from first names, so I might be way off, but that’s the feeling I get in general,” they explain.
Even in adulthood, many of these men form strong, non-sexual attachments to these creations. “Many plush enthusiasts name their plush companions, can describe their personalities and refer to them as if they were real live beings,” says the BSP founder. A skim through the reviews backs up this assertion, with one satisfied customer writing, “I freaking LOVE her. She has a way of lighting up my room and making me feel so much better. Can’t help but smile when I enter my room and see her lying in my bed. I LOVE HOW BIG SHE IS! She makes me feel like all is right in the world.”
Another remarked on how much their family seemed to love the custom plushy: “All the detail I had asked for were addressed, and everything is perfect. Even my family thinks she’s really cool. This purchase was probably one of the best ones I have made in my entire existence.”
Of course, some men are indeed fucking these plushies, too. “Usually customers comment on the different materials that BSP uses to create an adult plush’s penetrable sleeve, colloquially called an SPH, or ‘specially placed hole,’” explains BSP’s founder. “Customer feedback on their most favorite and least favorite materials has helped our workshop determine the best options to provide for many types of SPHs.” Furthermore, they continue, customers tend to prefer SPHs made of the same soft, durable fabrics that the exterior of the plush is made from (with the second most popular choice being soft vinyl fabric, which has the obvious advantage of being water-resistant). “Customers also choose to use silicone toys with their plushies, both insertable and penetrable varieties,” they add.
Whether they’re humping them, cuddling them for security or simply touching them to be reassured of their place in this world, it’s clear that there are still a lot of men who are not quite ready to give up their teddy.
And that’s okay — your teddy still wants you too, bro.