Sex and the Cyborgs

Image by  Evert Haasdijk  used under Creative Commons license

Image by Evert Haasdijk used under Creative Commons license

Earlier this week, ‘futurologist’ Dr Ian Pearson made the bold prediction most of us will be having sex with robots by 2030. His claims aren’t without foundation, there are a number of companies with sex robots on sale and all making the most of tech advancements for their next point-oh version. Like many matters relating to sex, sex robots already have their very own campaign against them, the Campaign Against Sex Robots.

It’s not the first time we’ve got turned on by turning something on. The vibrator was first invented back in 1869 after doctors tired of manually administering sexual stimulation to ‘hysterical’ women (fun fact: hysteria is the greek word for uterus!). The sex toy market grows by around 6% annually and millennial western women have more orgasms than generations before them. Similarly, many more get their good by switching on a laptop, tv or phone and watching porn. Add to that the longtime stag and hen do staple, the sex doll, and there’s no getting away from the fact that everyone has different ways of getting off solo and they are entitled to make their own decisions about how they do it.

So why have the Campaign Against Sex Robots blown a circuit over sex robots? The campaign believe that rather than reduce the demand for human sex work (which some robo-sex advocates argue is possible and could even be used as a remedy for paedophilia) the robots could further exacerbate sexual violence and abuse towards women and children. Dr Kathleen Roberts, director of the campaign, points to research that indicates that men who pay sex workers, have reduced or no empathy with the worker or person, transferring the feelings they would want the worker to have onto them in their own minds. There’s a higher rate of murder and abuse committed against sex workers and the campaign argues that sex robots would only reinforce this relationship, and further erode the empathy that the buyer of the services feels towards the robot and in turn, other human beings. Bleak stuff.

There are, however, some advantages to relations with sex robots. The robots would be constructed from bacteria resistant fibres and if the owner/lender applies basic hygiene standards (BECAUSE EWWW otherwise), risk of STI transmission could be non-existent. Robots could help those with disabilities or who struggle with anxiety or other issues related to sex to begin to address those issues in a safe space. There are, however, already human sex surrogates who deliver such services for people and they’d likely tell you the whole point is that the relationship creates the safe space rather than the absence of pressure of relating to another human being. For many women, vibrators have facilitated women being better able to communicate to men what they want from sex, could sex with robots further advance this for all genders?

Ultimately, we’re responsible for our own sexual choices and their consequences, including how we treat other people during sex and all other times. There’s no specific research confirming the Campaign Against Sex Robots’ claims sex robots will lead to more sexual or ‘regular’ violence against women and children. That’s not to say the research won’t emerge, but by that time the industry might already have taken on a life of its own (sorry!). While use of sex-bots can easily be categorised as assisted masturbation, for many, the major draw is that it’s closer to reality than ‘traditional’ toys and aids. Films like Her envisioned a future where humans have intimate relationships with AI operating systems but, for the moment at least, today’s sex robots can only give pre-programmed, transactional responses, leading to an absence of the intimacy that can make sex extraordinary; the ability to share a joke, really communicate what good sex is to you or experience something delightfully unexpected with a partner - all of these are things are not possible with a robot (yet). But, hey, whatever turns you on…