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  • Writer's pictureKayla Williams

Sexbots Are Coming, Watch Out


Sex robot image from Shutterstock


“Sexbots are coming” … Does that make you uncomfortable? In a world where sex sells, the realization that sex robots may become the new craze is a hard truth to swallow. Isn’t it enough to be consumed with pleasure through outlets like pornography and toys or have our brains twisted up by the tech we can’t live without? No, there’s always a “but, wait there’s more”, and for that reason, the white wealthy men of the world combined two of the most addictive stimuli, sex, and tech.


Today, sex is more accessible than ever, even within the constraints of a pandemic. Apps like Grindr and Tinder have taken away the embarrassment or shame from the desire to be intimate with another... and as we still try to come out from under our rigid lockdowns and social distancing, more and more tech is now entering our private spaces, the bedroom. The global sex toy market is worth a whopping $30 billion as of 2020 and is predicted to swell to US$ 56.58 billion by 2027, especially as people become lonely and experience social stress due to the pandemic, more humans will likely seek a mechanical companion for safety and pleasure. With this possibly being a reality in the near future, there are some issues we should be aware of in the sphere of sex and tech.


The comparison has been made that sexbots, sex toys, and sex dolls are cut from the same cloth because they serve the same purpose in sexual gratification. However, sexbots are, sooner than we think, becoming a form of artificial intelligence; technology used for problem-solving and gathering information from within its environment. According to John Danaher, in a portion of the book called Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications, he explained the two ways artificial intelligence can be used, “This may be minimal (e.g., simple preprogrammed behavioral responses) or more sophisticated (e.g., human-equivalent intelligence)” (5). This fact divides the cloth these sex-related objects are cut from because sex bots often take on a human appearance and are programmed in a manner to have more sophisticated human components when it comes to sex or the feeling of sexual pleasure, such as the ability to move. Toys and dolls, although one takes on a human form, lack realistic movement like a sexbot; making them a newer technology with the potential to create issues that affect the world socially.

The humanlike component of a sex-bot is one to ponder. Why is it so important for sex bot companies to strive for realism in the dolls they create? Could it possibly be because the manufacturers’ desire is to create a replacement of human to human sexual interaction? Though the realism and sophistication of the sexbots already created aren’t as advanced as our minds may perceive, the advancements are coming. Matthias Scheutz and Thomas Arnold explain in the article “Intimacy, Bonding, and Sex Robots: Examining Empirical Results and Exploring Ethical Ramifications” just how close. “Sex robots, however, their development will proceed going forward, are a present-day reality. It is on the basis of products like Roxxxy and others (particularly in Japan) that some have gone so far as to forecast human-robot sex will overtake mere human sex by 2050” (2).


The year 2050, though seeming far, is around the corner. When robots of this realistic nature surface it may result in social isolation, and in a recent Men’s Health article titled “The Societal Implications of Sex Robots Have Sparked a Fascinating Debate”, experts believe “that relying too much on robot interactions can actually foster isolation and loneliness” (Sgobba, Christa). Already with the invention of the smartphone, problems of social isolation have surfaced according to research done by Binghamton University. An assistant professor, Issac Vaghefi, at Binghamton University stated, “Our smartphones have turned into a tool that provides short, quick, immediate satisfaction, which is very triggering” (“Excessive Smartphone Use Leads to Social Isolation and Personal, Workplace Problems.”). If this one technological advancement is triggering social isolation, sex robots would have that risk as well. Especially on the individuals that have issues with human interaction. If we factor in the problems smartphones have created with human interaction, that number is significantly higher. Like smartphones, sexbots provide instant satisfaction without the difficulty or uncertainty of human interaction. Possibly making humans more inclined to become intimate with a sex robot than a human because it’s easier and an attachment to said object may begin.


Another possible issue that can come to the surface with the production of sexbots is the gender stereotypes and unrealistic expectations it promotes. In the same article on Men’s Health, an expert said, “There is no question that creating a pornographic representation of women’s bodies in a moving sex machine, objectifies and commodifies women’s bodies”, which is something to consider in this talk on sexbots. If men are the ones creating this ideal woman with perfect bodies and upkeep, it may cause self-esteem issues in real women. Most sex bots follow the model of thin, big breasts, long hair, with a lighter complexion. Not only that, it can amplify the notion that women were only made to please men; an old construct that should have been destroyed a long time ago. If one looks up sex bots online, they will be overwhelmed with the amount of female representation and lack of male representation. Most articles and the occasional manufacturer website, explore or discuss the development or design of the female sex robot and media representation does the same.


In the TV series Humans, although a male robot used for sexual desire was depicted, it didn’t outweigh the way women were showcased. In the show, the robots weren’t just sex bots but multilayered sentient beings with an adult feature that can be used if activated. Even so, the male bots weren’t used sexually as often as the women. For example; making brothels where woman robots solely occupied those spaces or using the female sentient robot, purchased to take care of the children, as a sexbot to cheat on their spouse with. Not surprisingly, in the shows and movies around us, that potential issue of gender stereotypes in sexbots appears often, especially if we look at Ex Machina. In the movie, Nathan, the main antagonist, created only women robots in the ideal image of beauty and had a closet full of different kinds like if they were clothes. He made sure they were able to fulfill his sexual desire, again creating a representation that objectifies women and their bodies.


In conducting a cultural analysis, I noticed that there aren’t many movies that appear when searched, even though they exist. What I found interesting was the first search that surfaced was from Thrillist.com. It was a list of 9 sex robots ranked in order of “doability”. The list went just about how one would expect it to go. All sex robots except for Gigolo Joe in A.I. Artificial Intelligence were women (LaSane, Andrew). It doesn’t change much if it was sex bot or sex doll in the search engine, women will be among the majority This tells me culturally we frame sexbots in a similar way the male manufacturers do and because of that, it can cause major issues in relation to gender.


For society to become clearer on the social implications sexbots can produce, the manufacturers should be, by law, obligated to conduct research on how using this technology affects the individual in social situations. Before we decide to back sex robots publicly, we should study what social issues may arise and if it does more harm than good to human interaction. Issues that fall in the line of ethics and how this technology will be disbursed to the public are important but how it will impact our social dynamic is equally important and it should be seriously considered before we internationally sign off. Also, before a product of this nature can be public, there needs to be a variety in regard to gender. The focus on only women's bodies projects the ideology that, that is all women are made for, which is quite unfair. Having a male representation as well may create more inclusiveness and sexbots will be less rooted in male desire but a human desire.



Resources:

Danaher, John, and Neil McArthur. Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications. The MIT Press, 2018.

Ex Machina. Directed by Alex Garland, Perf. Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac. 2015. Universal Pictures, 2015.

“Excessive Smartphone Use Leads to Social Isolation and Personal, Workplace Problems.” News, 13 Apr. 2017, www.news-medical.net/news/20170412/Excessive-smartphone-use-leads-to-social-isolation-and-personal-workplace-problems.aspx.

Humans. Produced by C Fry, AMC, 2015.

LaSane, Andrew. “9 Movie Sex Robots Ranked In Order Of Doability.” Thrillist, Thrillist, 26 Mar. 2015, www.thrillist.com/culture/movie-sex-robots-ranked-in-order-of-doability.

Scheutz, Matthias, and Thomas Arnold. “Intimacy, Bonding, and Sex Robots: Examining Empirical Results and Exploring Ethical Ramifications.” Robot Sex, 2017, doi:10.7551/mitpress/9780262036689.003.0013.

Sgobba, Christa. “​The Societal Implications of Sex Robots Have Sparked a Fascinating Debate.” Men’s Health, Men’s Health, 25 Feb. 2019, www.menshealth.com/sex-women/a19524200/sex-robot-debate/.

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