Health

Robots Are Changing The Future Of Sex

Technology's advance into our daily lives has fundamentally changed the way we interact with one another, digitizing conversation, setting us up on dates, and now, invading our bedrooms. 

Since technology was first harnessed by mankind, sex robots have been a logical next step. But this month, they entered a new realm of legitimacy after two robot ethics researchers launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots, which claims the bots could be "harmful and contribute to inequalities in society."

 

Recently, a company called True Companion (link semi-NSFW) began marketing two different sex robots—Roxxxy and Rocky—both of which are fully functional, life-size human replicas that can talk and respond accordingly when touched in certain areas. They retail for around $7,000 each. 

Will sex robots further objectify women?

According to the True Companion website, a user's "sex robot can either have a conversation or interact physically! It is your choice—do you want to talk or play?" It's precisely those characteristics that have some academics worried about what robot technology could mean for the future of human sexuality. According to Dr. Kathleen Richardson, a senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University in the U.K., sex robot technology muddles the social understanding that generally informs sexual relationships and could perpetuate existing inequalities. "It's dangerous because it allows people to move in the world, in this sphere and not recognize each other as subjects," Richardson told ATTN: in an email.  

Richardson and her colleague Erik Brilling compare the asymmetrical relationship humans might have with sex robots to the one that already exists in the realm of prostitution. In her paper on the subject, Richardson points to "'parallels between paying human prostitutes and purchasing sex robots[.]" Dangerous power structures that already exist in some lines of sex work, she says, could be replicated with robots—in turn reinforcing preexisting models. "If anything," the paper reads, "the development of sex robots will further reinforce relations of power that do not recognise both parties as human subject." 

"I think violence and sexual violence can only occur when one party is not fully recognising the rights of another and putting their own needs and wants over another person. If the person doesn't consent, they use force, or some other power advantage they might have," Richardson told ATTN:. "This is a dynamic that is absolutely legitimated in prostitution, when the buyer of sex gets to hold onto their subjectivity, while the seller of sex must surrender hers." 

Sex robots could change the face of sex

Some experts think sex robots could be a good thing.

Others disagree. Dr. Kate Devlin, a senior computing lecturer at the University of Goldsmiths, London, told Broadly that the pushback against sex robots can be chalked up to "moral panic."

"The tone of the campaign suggests women are passive and denies them sexual agency by presuming that a) we would not want these sex robots to be in our image (fair enough) and b) that we don't want sex robots made for our own pleasure," Devlin said.

Devlin told Broadly that the "default heteronormative male stance" that Richardson's campaign assumes applies to all sex robots is too narrow and doesn't include different bodies, genders, and sexualities in the conversation. "With robots," she says, "we aren't limited by the constraints of the human body—or the pigeonholing of sexuality and gender." 

There's still a long way to go.

Sex robots have been around for years now, with many other companies besides True Companion testing the waters of the emerging market. But they still have a long way to go to become implanted as accepted, not to mention feasible, alternatives to human-to-human intimacy. For True Companion CEO Douglas Hines, sex robots will be a good thing. "We are not supplanting the wife or trying to replace a girlfriend," Hines told the BBC. "This is a solution for people who are between relationships or someone who has lost a spouse."

Moreover, sex would likely only play a small role, he said. "The majority of time will be spent socialising and interacting [with the robot]," Hines said. 

Sex robots could change the face of sex

Will sex robots reduce sexual violence?

Asked whether sex robots could be a safer target for aggressive, harmful sexual behavior, Richardson told ATTN: that the existing array of artificial sex gear has not necessarily put a dent in the illegal sex trade, reiterating that sex robots reinforce the message "that a person can be reduced to a sex thing." 

Whatever the implications they bring, however, researchers agree that sex robots and sex robot technology is a growing presence that has the potential to reshape how humans think about and have sex—if it already hasn't. In an early demonstration of a Roxxxy doll at 2010's Adult Entertainment Expo, Hines described the technology's benefits.

"She's anatomically consistent with a real person; she has three inputs, so what you could think of for a woman, she could do—and she could do a little more than a woman."