A female economist has published a surprisingly positive, if offbeat prediction concerning the effects of sex robots on society, and in particular marriage. MGTOWs (Men Go Their Own Way) hail the advent of sex robots as freeing men from the need to marry to have regular sex. Feminists seem to fear sexbots for that very same reason, even if their arguments focus on the ‘objectification of women’ that such intelligent sex dolls will supposedly bring about. But according to Marina Adshade (!), contributer to ‘Robot Sex: Social and Ethical Implications‘, society has seen such predictions concerning technology dooming marriage several times in the past, and each time the institution simply adapted for the better.
There are those who argue that men only “assume the burden” of marriage because marriage allows men easy sexual access, and that if men can find sex elsewhere they won’t marry. We hear this prediction now being made in reference to sexbots, but the same argument was given a century ago when the invention of the latex condom (1912) and the intrauterine device (1909) significantly increased people’s freedom to have sex without risking pregnancy and (importantly, in an era in which syphilis was rampant) sexually transmitted disease. Cosmopolitan magazine ran a piece at the time by John B. Watson that asked the blunt question, will men marry 50 years from now? Watson’s answer was a resounding no, writing that “we don’t want helpmates anymore, we want playmates.” Social commentators warned that birth control technologies would destroy marriage by removing the incentives women had to remain chaste and encourage them to flood the market with nonmarital sex. Men would have no incentive to marry, and women, whose only asset is sexual access, would be left destitute.
This technological change—early contraceptives—altered the way that society viewed marriage and, importantly, female sexuality. New and better contraceptives in the second half of the century only helped cement society’s realization that women are sexual beings and are just as entitled as men to sexual gratification within their relationships. This change in behavior eroded the conviction that the purpose of marriage was the exchange of sexual access for financial security. For the first time in history, sexual intimacy and marriage were seen to be intrinsically connected.
The author then seems to argue that access to sexbots will be fun for both couples, and hence help stabalize the marriage by removing the need for each partner to satisfy the other, leaving the function of marriage to return to its former role of mutual economic interest.
The question then is: What happens to marriage when sexbot technology provides a low-cost alternative to easy sexual access in marriage? One possibility is a reversal of the past century of societal change, which tied together marriage and sexual intimacy, and a return to the perception of marriage as a productive household unit.
Those who fear that sexbot technology will have a negative impact on marriage rates see sexbot technology as a substitute to sexual access in marriage. If they are correct, a decrease in the price of sexual access outside of marriage will decrease the demand for sexual access in marriage, and marriage rates will fall. It could just as easily be argued, however, that within marriage sexual access and household production are complements in consumption—in other words, goods or services that are often consumed together, like tea and sugar, or cellular data and phone apps. If that is the case, then, consumer theory predicts that easy access to sexbot technology will actually increase the rate of lifetime marriage, since a fall in the price of a good increases the demand for complements in consumption, just as a fall in the price of cellular data would likely increase demand for phone streaming services. Moreover, if sexual access through sexbot technology is a complement to household production, then we could observe an increase in the quality of marriages and, as a result, a reduction in rates of divorce.
Personally, I’m not convinced, but any positive article on sex robots and especially their impact on women, is a good thing. You can read the entire article at Slate.