Futuristic Sex Tech: Is Using Sex Robots Ethical?
Whenever I hear about sex robots, I immediately conjure an image of the intensely charming Jude Law from the compelling and philosophical Spielberg movie, A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Beyond that likeable yet disturbing character, the phrase sex robot is an oxymoron to me. Sex is warm, wet, slippery and can be deeply emotional… whereas ‘robotics’ makes me think of computers; inanimate lumps of rigid cold metal and confusing tangles of wires.
For the past year I’ve been hearing more and more about sex robots and how, excuse the pun, they’re on the rise. They’re not coming for you, they’re coming with you. These highly technological, pre-programmed sex devices are a far cry from the porn parody Daleks you might be imagining (“exsperminate… exsperminate…”) – they resemble real people, are made with supple, flesh-like material and aim to respond to your touch and increase your pleasure in an interactive way.
It looks as though the evolution of sex robots has almost reached its peak. From the early days of fairly horrific-looking blow-up dolls, progressing to realistic, heavy-weight sex dolls and now, finally, supple sex robots with customisable programming to ensure every sex session with them is fully satisfying for the user.
So, how do I feel about sex robots? I’ve given this question some deep thought recently, especially after watching the recent BBC Three documentary about sex robots. It’s an incredibly interesting watch and only half an hour long, so please take a look if you can.
The Future of Sex? Sex Robots And Us
cw: contains a scene showing & the discussion of a childlike sex robot / sex doll
Sex Robots: The Positives
On one hand, I view sex robots merely as another type of sex toy. A techy sex doll. It might seem more responsive, you might even like to imagine that it has a personality, and that it is responding to you personally – but where we’re at now with sex tech, I don’t feel this is truly the case. Sex robots as they are now, in 2018, don’t have life, personality, humanity or autonomy.
They’re physically responsive masturbation machines, every response created and pre-programmed by a human developer.
There are various advantages to sex robots and the use of them, in my opinion. For a start, they offer the owner/user the opportunity to experience the most luxurious and possibly interactive-seeming masturbation session yet, whenever they feel like it. As long as a person has the budget –these things aren’t cheap- they can ‘have sex with’ their purchased sex robot at any time of the day or night, as many times as they wish.
Sex robots could conceivably help with a difference in sex drives, for those in a relationship. You may have mismatched libidos. Perhaps you’re in a long distance relationship, don’t want to be unfaithful but still have ‘in-person’ sexual needs. A sex robot could tide you over if you need to be physically apart for a long period of time, such as for work contracts. Or if one person is ‘out of bedroom action’ for a while because of illness, after surgery or other, sex robots could quite literally ‘plug the gap’.
For couples who are physically as well as emotionally together, sex robots could offer a safe introduction to a third person in the bedroom. A trial run for a threesome or a move towards polyamory. Maybe you or they just want the experience the thrill of having sex with another person, a stranger – but neither you nor they want to consider bringing in another actual person, or having an affair.
Potential issues with the above uses for sex robots include the fact that it would all need to be done openly and honestly, rather than kept a secret from a relationship partner. Even though a sex robot isn’t a real person, there’s still the possibility your partner would feel lied to, deceived, even cheated on, if you don’t discuss it with them first and get their blessing.
The same goes for using sex robots while in a long-distance relationship, or to fulfil desires and needs when one partner is unable to have sex. There’s the added risk of reducing intimacy between partners, due to simply sating sexual appetites using the sex robot rather than finding other sensual and romantic alternatives together.
Why Sex Robots Make Me Uncomfortable
To clarify, the sex robots themselves don’t make me feel uncomfortable. Sure, they’re a bit glassy-eyed and that ‘realistic-yet-clearly-not-human-at-ALL’ look can be a bit creepy. I’m pretty used to that now from all the sex dolls at adult industry trade events. No, the discomfort I feel with sex robots is always down to the use, and users, of them.
It seems to me that many owners and users of sex robots are specifically looking for a person-type product –very definitely NOT a sex toy or masturbation device- which doesn’t need to consent. In fact, the majority of my discomfort about sex dolls is a consent issue. This may seem odd on the surface -I know, sex robots and dolls don’t/can’t consent – but it’s the attitudes of some users which disturbs me.
Some sex robot owners seem to treat sex robots as people on the one hand, but then don’t balance that with a typically human need for that sex partner to consent, which is wrong and shows a basic lack of respect. There’s a continual lack of emotion and/or intimacy in these sexual liaisons, where sex is simply peg-in-hole, using this person-type device, scoring with them whenever and as often as they like. It raises concerns about how that person views actual people who are able to consent, and how their views may change towards real people who can consent in the future.
Now, I’m not saying that sex robot users are all rampant sex addicts, and that they would otherwise or may one day go out and commit sexual crimes against real people. Although that’s always a possibility with any single person out there, sex robot user or not. What I’m saying is that it worries me that getting consent seems to be such a turn-off, such a chore, that erasing that hurdle by purchasing a human-style sex robot is preferable. That getting sex at any cost – ie. without the need for consent – is the constant overriding priority.
Are we just creating sex robots for (mainly) men who can’t/won’t get active consent to sex from women, or who can’t be bothered to go to all that trouble and just want the easy route: 24/7 access to consent-free sex?
My discomfort surrounding these consent and attitude issues is magnified by the culture we live in, where sexual assaults (particularly) on women are commonplace. It’s such a part of everyday life that we have national crisis lines set up for rape survivors, yet it barely ever makes the news unless the criminal and/or survivor are famous.
Can you imagine how it feels to live in a world where I can feel threatened walking down the street in broad daylight (and don’t dare walk alone by night) and know that in the event an assault occurred, it would not only be viewed as ‘yet another’ rape, the onus would be on me to report it, then to heal myself through therapy/other? Groping is simply part of a night out. I should be flattered by wolf-whistles and catcalls. PUAs openly discuss the merits of ‘negging’, and ‘stealthing‘ is something to be proud of.
Girls have long been taught how best to behave and dress to ‘try’ and avoid getting raped, but it’s only recently education (in some areas) has stepped up to teach boys how to treat and respect women. My friend feels ‘lucky’ she’s never been raped, as if rape is a rite of passage most women simply have to get through.
Seeing users of sex robots give such little consideration to consent is worrying to me, for the above reasons. Like with guns, it’s not the item itself which is wrong or evil, it’s how it’s used and the intentions of the one with their finger on the trigger. Unlike guns, it’s not really possible to regulate sex robot purchases. It would be impossible to issue a sex robot licence only to people that some enforcement agency deemed had a thorough understanding and respect for consent!
Childlike Robots: Just Don’t
What alarms me the most is the creation and existence and market for underage looking sex dolls and sex robots. While I have issues with the attitudes of some users of adult looking sex robots, I don’t disagree with their existence. I can see benefits. I don’t agree that childlike sex robots should have ever been made or should exist at all. Like the presenter in the documentary above, their existence deeply upsets me. I was in tears with him at that point on the clip.
I’ve heard the argument that they’re a harmless way for those with an attraction to underage people (children) to fulfil this desire without actually hurting anyone else. Ok, so maybe while using a childlike doll or robot they wouldn’t be with a real child. But their existence, to me, is like accepting that these desires and these fantasies have a part in society. I’d say ‘civilised’, but it’s clearly not. Worryingly, they could help people who have the sparks of those traits and desires to feel more able to be open about them, to develop them, fixate on them. In other situations, these types might hopefully do their best to get medical help, to entirely quash them in favour of moral and legally acceptable options.
Underage looking sex robots and sex dolls are not acceptable to me at all.
In general, I believe that using sex robots isn’t unethical or wrong. It’s entirely possible to be a decent, law-abiding, respectful human being who simply likes the idea of sex with a robot, wants to experience it, has a high sex drive and seeks more than a standard Fleshlight can provide.
Feelings of concern never arise in me due to the (adult-like) sex robots themselves or their existence, only through how specific users may interact with them and what this means for real people in the world around them. Distasteful attitudes might help further develop worrying tendencies surrounding the issue of consent.
Are sex robots objects, humanoids, or people? The way the field of sex tech discusses sex robots now, they don’t seem to be merely objects, but they’re not yet people. They exist in a grey area between the two, and therefore related ethics are similarly murky. We’re all focusing on their development and how pleasurable they are to use, but whether sex robots require greater respect from the user than a textured TPE tube is, as yet, unchartered territory.
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