One of the more interesting articles on digisexuality appeared in the UK Metro paper a couple of months ago, I just came upon it recently. It’s attention grabbing headline states the fear that we might soon be ‘falling in love with people who don’t exist‘. This got me thinking about how ambiguous the term digisexuality still is, and the question as to who ‘owns’ the term anyway, as well as the dangers of defining it in a rigid way.
It was the Canadian philosopher Neil McArthur who a couple of years back coined the term in an academic paper titled – ‘The Rise of Digisexuality‘. Well, digisexuality should certainly be whatever he says it is. And he defines it essentially as the act of sex through technology rather than a human partner. However, he also distinguishes between two senses of the term. A wider sense, in which technology facilitates sexual interactions, such as Tinder, webcams etc. and a more recent ‘second wave’ of tech enabled digisexualism in which the need for human partners is replaced entirely by such things as virtual reality and sex robots.
It’s this second wave of digisexualism that causes the widespread fear and loathing in certain sections of society. We’ve had moral panics over porn tubes, webcam girls, and sexting, but these were about the fears that men were getting sex too easily, or with females they shouldn’t be getting it from at all. Moral panics over the second wave something quite different. It’s the fear that women will be dispensed with all together. Men wont be getting sex with women too easily or cheaply, because they wont want women at all – they will have a better alternative. Men will be able to have sex with photorealistic AI created perfect female simulacrums in VR, or in their beds with sex robots that know every move and that never say no.
Fears over second wave digisexualism appear to have produced a sense of schizophrenia in opponents of sex robots and the like. For example, Kathleen Richardson, the first public ‘anti-sex robot campaigner’, originally complained that sex robots were a menace because they threatened real relationships. At the same time, she is adamant that women can never be replaced in the hearts and lusts of men by mere silicone or pixels.
Kathleen Richardson is a professor of ethics and the co-founder of The Campaign Against Sex Robots. She doesn’t see being digisexual as a real identity. ‘Most human beings aren’t attracted to objects,’ Prof Richardson tells us. ‘If men could have substituted women with an interest in objects, they would have. ‘Most men, even the ones who claim to be all for sex robots, are unlikely to be aroused by a rubber doll with a bit of mechanics.
Perhaps a false dichotomy is presenting itself as regards this ‘second wave of digisexuality’? Perhaps it’s true that women can never entirely be painted out of the picture. Deepfake porn and the recent Deepnudes scandal point to that literally being the case. Despite photo-realistic artificial women now being possible, and as the Metro article points out attracting huge Instagram followings, men still want real women, even if access to them is ‘enhanced’ or ‘obtained’ through technology.
Of course, the problem is to ensure that it’s all done through legal and ethical means. Making claims that the future of digisexuality leaves out the human altogether, is unhelpful here, and simply fuels prejudice and knee jerk reactionary fears.
Digisexuality is going to change the nature of the sexual marketplace, and the ‘sexual economy‘, but it can be a positive thing. But only if we accept that trying to stop it, or try to ghettoize it by pretending it will be no more than a tiny fetish for losers, is not as good a solution as trying to intelligently evolve our sexual ethics to accommodate it’s increasing inevitability and prevalence.
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