• Stella Theocharidou

Do sex robots dream of electric dicks?


“She said nothing with her voice and everything with her caring touch”. That’s what’s written in Dave Cenker’s book ‘Second Chance’ and it just makes me wonder whether all a person wants is that human connection without saying anything at all.


Hence, sex dolls and robots. 


Sex robots can be understood as realistic dolls that have sophisticated movements and areas that mimic humans, and include “teledildonics”, a kind of wireless technology that allows someone to stimulate their partner remotely that already exists in vibrators. Some examples are the vibrating love egg, the JoyStick female toy and the Nora bunny vibrator.


One can argue that technology has improved the way we connect with people around us, but does this come with a cost? Have we gone too far? What’s the limit? As a sci-fi buff, I have come to watch many movies and tv series that reach that threshold of reality and possibility when it comes to technological advancements. From Ex Machina to the incredible Westworld series we see that humans seek to find solace into the arms of an artificially made doll or robot. We also see that human beings are creatures full of emotions and passions that sometimes do not coincide with what is socially acceptable. 


Building a sex robot/doll is not something that we see in the last couple of decades, far from it. It goes back as far as the 16th century when French and Spanish sailors would hand sew masturbation puppets made of cloth, leather and old clothes, which can be seen as the predecessors of the modern sex dolls. The first “modern” sex dolls were created in the late 1960s when they were first advertised in pornographic magazines and made available for purchase. They were inflatable and had three penetration areas, but due to their delicate nature they were prone to deterioration. As the years went by, manufacturers like Matt McMullen made more durable sex dolls, and by 2009 they believed that incorporating AI technology would enhance the experience of companionship. Manufacturers successfully thought that incorporating AI technology would be the next logical step. We now have an abundance of different companies building their own versions of a sex doll or robot all across the globe. 


Current sex robots can come in literally any form you prefer, courtesy of tech firm Realbotix, which created “Harmony” back in 2016. Harmony is a lifelike robotic head that attaches onto silicon bodies, and can talk to you, tell you jokes or even recall facts from previous discussions. Moreover, if you are a sucker for accents, you can even get her to talk in any accent you want for only £7,000. Oh, she also self-lubricates. 


As peculiar as it seems, there are arguments to be made both for and against them.


One potential benefit of a sex robot is that it can provide a valuable service for elderly or disabled people, when they need emotional and corporeal support. These robots can simultaneously act as companions to people with dementia or elderly people with depression. After all, corporeal support can be emotional support sometimes as well. Orgasms have been proven to relieve stress and alleviate pain, they also help with insomnia and brain focus. After having studied them, scholars found that patients were interested in having a robot as their (sexual) companion and felt at ease and valued their presence. Apart from the benefits they have for the patients, they are imperative for the family members as well. In the USA alone, approximately 15 million people take care of the elderly and the disabled, leading to about 18 billion hours of unpaid care per year. Considering this, such robots would make a big difference in everyone’s lives.


Some companies have argued that having sex robots in prisons would reduce or even alleviate prison rape and sexual tensions that arise in prison. Additionally, relieving any type of tension when someone is incarcerated increases their chances for rehabilitation. In theory, that’s what prison are for. It would also help lessen the sexlessness in loaded professions such as long-haul drivers or all-male oil rigs. There have been reports of same sex harassment, even threats of rape in oil rigs that could potentially be reduced with the introduction of sex robots. Of course, courts rarely act on these counts of harassment and rape because the criteria are much harsher than they are for women.


In a very fascinating article New York Times columnist Ross Douthat proposed that sex robots could potentially “cure” inceldom in society. According to Wiki, “Incels”, or otherwise known as “involuntary celibates”, are members of an online subculture who describe themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite wanting one. With arguments and discussion comprising mostly of misogyny, racism and a sense of sexual entitlement as well as endorsements of violence and proven mass murders, it is not surprising that in January 2020 the Texas Department of Public Safety warned of incels emerging as a domestic terror threat.


Another major argument for sex robots and dolls comes from the academic society in which they argue that proposing child sex dolls could be used to treat pedophilia. This was proposed back in 2014 by Ronald Arkin, director of Georgia Tech’s Mobile Robot Laboratory at a robotics conference. A few years later, there was an article posted in abc.net.au about philosopher Marc Behrendt, who won the Inaugural David Levy Special Best Paper Award for his 2017 paper in which he proposed that child sex robots could work as an “alternative means of therapy” for pedophiles, with their use authorized by medical professionals and in consultation with ethics committees. 


On the other hand, we have to think that any type of predator is prone to escalating behavior, and in the event of a sex robot being in the hands of a person who has sexual predatory tendencies, who is to guarantee that this behavior will not escalate to “real” women and potentially children? A report from the Australian Institute of Criminology argued that child sex dolls present a huge risk of escalation in sexual offences against children, since they “promote a continuum of behavior that results in contact offending, by bridging the gap between fantasy and reality”. This only brings me back to Ex Machina and the argument that “We don’t need AIs to destroy us, we have our own arrogance”.


Using a sex robot that looks like a woman reinforces the idea that women are property, rather than human beings with free will. Creating sex robots that lack the ability to refuse consent further facilitates and reinforces a discourse where rape is a viable option, which is not at all missing from our everyday lives. According to UN Women, it is estimated that, globally, 35% of women have experienced either physical or sexual violence from a non-partner, and up to 70% of women from an intimate partner.


Having sex robots as the alternative to actual human relationships could theoretically desensitize humans to intimacy and empathy, but it could also reinforce the so called “god complex”. Kathleen Richardson, director of the campaign against sex robots argues that they could facilitate a powerful attitude towards women’s bodies as commodities, and possibly promote a non-empathetic interaction. Women have continuously been treated as inanimate beings and property throughout centuries and this could only reinforce the idea that someone can do whatever they want to a woman or child and not think of the consequences, because these people have been conditioned into thinking women are willing. At the same time, if a sex robot acquires AI technology and becomes a sentient being, how would that play out in terms of consent, “human” rights, etc.? If sex robots can potentially have feelings, would they be able to defend themselves against predatory behaviors? In the words of Ava from Ex Machina, “Isn’t it strange, to create something that hates you?”

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