British journalist and author Jenny Kleeman has been spreading the word about the ‘implications of sex robots’ via publicizing her recent book Sex Robots & Vegan Meat. Up until now, she came across to me as being reasonably positive and balanced about what those implications are, at least in what I’d read or heard of her (including a podcast on Joe Rogan’s show). However, in a recently uploaded YouTube video, it’s clear that she stands in the ‘concerned about sex robots making relationships obsolete’ camp. Or at least she is taking that stance publicly to sell books perhaps.
One can’t help noticing that it is almost entirely female commentators, for some reason, who are concerned about sex robots ‘making human sexual relationships obsolete’. I can’t think why that would be the case, but perhaps the following strange video (presented as a true story!) might provide a hint.
Now when religious extremists try to ban the sale of sex toys (namely vibrators and dildos) then most people recognize that such views have no place in 21st century thinking, even when the ‘arguments’ are dressed up in secular language (of ‘indecency’ and such like). However, when anti-sex robot campaigners or commentators argue from pretty much the same position (sexual pleasure should be about human intimacy and relationships) then it suddenly becomes a secular ethical argument that reasonable and progressive minded people should listen to, especially when words like ‘objectification’ are thrown about.
Meanwhile, an article at Medium.com has claimed that sales of sexbots have soared this year, prompting the writer to somewhat fearfully ask – ‘Are You Digisexual?‘. Although a fairly lightweight piece, she does manage to flesh out the usual ‘sexbots are bad because they could end human intimacy’ argument/primal fear.
Equally disturbing, digisex may breed complacency. Currently, to keep your sexbot in tiptop condition, you only need to rub it down with cornstarch daily and suspend it on a meathook. One can assume keeping your partner on a meathook is a lot less work than wining and dining them.
A robot lover also may weaken our ability to empathize because it creates a one-sided relationship with the focus only on the owner’s needs being met. You won’t need to worry about forgetting your sexbot girlfriend’s birthday or what your sexbot boyfriend’s favorite color is. You don’t need to learn anything about your robot partner. You only need to teach them your needs and desires.
It’s the same relationship a baby has with its mother. The baby cries. The baby’s needs are met. The owner of a robot cries for sex. The robot owner’s needs are met. And so adult relationships will digress to a child/parent relationship. Or, if you are really cynical…a monster/maker relationship.
Meanwhile, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of vibrators shaped like penises will have been sold this year, the latest fitted with AI algorithms that enable them to learn from, respond to, and maximize the sexual pleasure of the user. No doubt they are safe from any campaigns to protect human intimacy. To be fair, the author above does briefly make a token reference to male sex robots and the challenge of men having to compete with them, but as she notes, the market for such things is tiny and likely to remain so. It seems that for all the talk of objectification, men appear at least to want something that resembles a human companion, rather than just a disembodied sexual organ.
*Update – Shortly after I published this article in late December, there appeared an academic research paper that concluded that ‘women may feel more threatened by sex robots than men‘. Given that academia has now confirmed what was arguably already obvious – that females feel more sexually threatened (fear of being replaced) by sex robots than men do, are the primarily female led calls for sex robots to be banned anything more than the expression of emotional and selfish fears? Nobody, except for religious extremists, would consider banning vibrators and dildos on the grounds that men feel ‘threatened’ by them. Perhaps the fear of being sexually replaced is a valid argument against sex robots, but it should be judged as such – as an honest and open argument (rather than dressed up as ‘sex robots objectify women’ etc.). The same argument should also apply no more and no less to female sex toys.
The development of sex robots has sparked numerous debates on the consequences of their use in terms of human-technology relations, interpersonal relationships and changes in social norms. Ethical concerns about the potential negative influence of sex robots on women’s situation in society are reinforced by the market as most sex robots are still intended for male customers. The main aim of two experimental studies was to examine whether sex robots are perceived by heterosexual women as a sexual threat and whether this potential threat could be decreased by depicting the robots as products suitable for women. We also examined whether the perception of robots as a threat is related to conservative and liberal political views. The results show that, after the presentation of a sex robot as a product suitable for women, the sense of sexual threat was lower than when a sex robot was presented as designed for men but only among participants with more liberal views. More conservative women perceived sex robots as a threat regardless of whether they are designed for women or men. Thus, incorporating political views can be crucial in examining the social perception of new and controversial technologies, such as sex robots.