In this modern world, the rise of technological advancements regarding devices like smart phones and social networking now similarly apply to the sex toy industry as it has become increasingly popular and accessible to buy a ‘sex robot’ to satisfy human sexual desires. For those who don’t know, sex robots, or ‘sexbots’, are anthropomorphic robots designed with the intent to create the most lifelike sexual partner possible. The first sex dolls stem back as far as the 17thcentury and have evolved tremendously over the years. As of 2018, various new models have been programmed to express emotion, recall important facts, and even hold conversations. Some models have a “customization” option accessible through a smartphone app giving sexbot consumers the option to choose from thousands of combinations of looks, clothes, personalities, and voices to create their perfect companion. The bots are so realistic that many first-time online shoppers are convinced the photos are of models, not dolls. While some endorse the creation of sex robots, harping on their “benefits” to society, the expected implications of their normalcy threatens to reinforce sexual deviancy, abuse, and a skewed perception of a women.
The idea of sexbots is not as far-fetched as it may seem. An Atlantic article sheds light on an ancient story of Pygmalion that goes like this: a sculptor carves a statue in the shape of a beautiful woman. It is so beautiful that he falls in love with her, prays she can become real, has his wish granted, and lives happily ever after. This myth has inspired countless works including Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses, Pinocchio, Frankenstein, My fair Lady, and the 90’s film She’s All That. Throughout history, men with an inclination to fornicate with “woman-shaped things” have made do in various ways. For example, sailors used cloth dolls known as dame de voyageor hand-sewn leather masturbation puppets known as Dutch wives. In 1968, the United States began advertising sex dolls in porn magazines. Around this time, it became legal to sell sexual devices through the mail and by the 1980’s, they could be purchased in most sex shops. Early sex dolls were orally-inflated plastic dolls used mostly as “gag-gifts” and were not so much made to endure actual sex. Although these plastic dolls include three functional penetration orifices, they deteriorate quickly thus inspiring the creation of a doll intended for that exact purpose.
In the 90’s, artist Matt McMullen began creating a sex doll whose silicon design and lifelike abilities would alter the standard for sex dolls for the foreseeable future. As an artist, McMullen says he has always felt drawn to the female form stating it created exciting subject matter. He recorded his progress on his website and received plentiful feedback from avid viewers. Based off of his project’s received attention, McMullen could see that there was clearly a demand for more lifelike sex dolls. After many failed attempts and revisions, the RealDoll was born. McMullen’s design gained traction after radio host Howard Stern allegedly had sex with one on air. His company now sells 200 to 300 luxury dolls per year usually at a price range of $3,500 to $7,000. However, RealDoll just released a $15,000 model that has the ability to talk, blink, smile, regurgitate facts about the owner’s life- and of course, engage in sexual acts.
There are many reasons that a man, or a woman, may purchase a sex robot. These realistic dolls stimulate authentic affection and devotion. Some owners may suffer from social disabilities such as anxiety which makes creating and maintaining real human relationships more difficult while others purchase the lifelike bots for less sexual purposes such as photography. It is hard to analyze the motive for purchasing a sex robot as some reasons are more forgivable than others. Dr. Marquard Smith said in an interview, “it would have something to do with narcissism, something to do with fantasy, something to do with creativity, something to do with persons and things. It has to do with struggles over questions of intimacy. I think that’s really quite key”. With the discussion of intimacy comes the discussion of the relationship between genders. It is a known fact that many men would prefer that women behave more like dolls. Dolls are incapable of lying, cheating, or criticizing. They are loyal and accepting whereas human women are unpredictable and have opinions and expectations. In essence, the dolls lack any and all human emotions and aspects that men may find disagreeable. In addition, sexbots have the ability to comfort, provide a sexual outlet, and good old-old fashioned companionship. A doll will never oppose a man nor do something to make him feel foolish, therefore he always maintains complete control and dominance in the perceived relationship.
RealDoll owner, Ryan, debated sharing his experience but says he felt compelled to in an online review after two years of owning one. According to Ryan, the silicon sex doll feels exactly the same as a human being and behaves like one too. The skin, hair, nails, and skeleton are unbelievably realistic causing him to name RealDoll the best high-end sex doll on the market. The packaging and shipping processes are extremely discrete and anonymous, allowing consumers to keep their purchase private. The doll itself is much lighter than others weighing in at between 75 and 115 pounds. In reviewing the dolls design and performance, Ryan checked with other online forums and internet sources and found his experience is extremely consistent with other proud owners. Although accurately describing sexual intimacy with a robot is difficult, Ryan referred to the sensation as “incredible”. The doll is so realistic and made with such extreme attention to detail that he often forgets that it is not a real human he is having sex with. Ryan enjoys having complete and full control during sexual acts, causing him to refer to his doll as a “goddess living in his own home”. He describes the head of the doll as one of its strongest features. The mouth and lips are extremely soft and have the ability to stretch apart for kissing. The jaw has the ability to hinge back and drop open revealing a tongue that Ryan also describes as very soft and lifelike. In addition, Face X technology has created interchangeable faces for RealDolls allowing Ryan and other purchasers to switch the look of their RealDoll effortlessly. There are over 20 unique female face options so the owner never gets bored. Lips, eyes, skin tone, and hair style and color of the doll are all customizable when ordering.
As one can see, Ryan, as well as many other consumers, are completely infatuated with their dolls. Other owners go beyond mere companionship and claim to be in real emotional relationships with the robot, referring to them as either their wife, girlfriend, or “part of the family”. For these men, robots have replaced real human women, which according to McMullen, was never his intention. Thus the issue arises that men believe sex robots to be as good if not better than real human relationships and sexual intimacy with a woman.
Opinions on whether sexbots with help or harm society are surprisingly split. Medical News Today mentions various documentaries that explore whether these dolls will improve one’s daily life or lead civilization to a “sexually deviant dystopia”. Sexbot producers argue the former insisting that there will be no negative outcomes. These investors instead insist that sexbots may even prevent mental health issues and decrease harassment and assault occurrences. They believe the dolls will offer men and women a safe and reliable sexual outlet for their intimate needs and desires. It is expected that the manufacturers will defend their product but recently, experts in sexual technology predict they will have an opposite effect.
Dr. Trudy Barber, an expert on the impact of technology on sexual intercourse, was quoted in an article saying, “our growing immersion in technology means that it is only a matter of time before it takes a mainstream role in sex. Put simply, sex between couples will increasingly be saved for special occasions as robots step in to satisfy our everyday needs”. The use of artificial intelligence to perform sexual acts is expected to become the social norm within 25 years. Barber also predicts that the use of sex machines will increase the objectification of women and comments on the likelihood that male users will start to abuse these robots with human traits. Video gamers encounter artificial intelligence in violent games where the objective is to shoot and kill animated characters. It is still not fully understood the effect that violent games have on the human mind but experts are beginning to worry about the effects of mistreating a human-like robot.
Dr. Kathleen Richardson, a Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, has dedicated much of her research to this area and how it relates to women. She says,
“A machine, like the portrayal of women in pornography, prostitution, and the media are entirely objects for male gratification. But women aren’t like what males see in pornography or in prostitution or in popular media. In these areas, women are coerced or told how to act or behave with a threat of money or violence. In real life, women really have their own thoughts and feelings and preferences and desires. It seems logical that if this extreme control can’t be experienced by men with real women, the only next step is to create artificial objects.”
Leading medics claim in a New York Post article that the rise of sexbots will likely do more harm than good, such as normalize sexual deviancy. They disagree with the inventors that these lifelike dolls will decrease harm by providing men a sexual outlet. Dr. Chantal Cox-George, at St. George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, says that very little proof exists to support this beneficence claim. In addition, the dolls have caused many to worry that their presence will make illegal sexual behavior acceptable. If a man becomes accustom to using and dominating a woman-like machine, the line between real and fake becomes extremely blurry. Instead of providing an outlet for sexual deviants, the dolls will strengthen their desire for sex, power, and control and it will only be a matter of time before they switch over to the real thing. Experts warn producers not to market love dolls claiming they will increase relationship difficulties. The presumptuous claims that these large sex robot corporations are making about the benefits to health and society are purely part of a massive marketing job. In response, experts concerned with the hoax are demanding the research to back the claims since not only will male and female dolls soon be readily available, but possibly children as well.
As of the first two decades of the twenty-first century, tolerance of pedophilia took a sharp decline based off of legal penalties and the difficulties these offenders endure upon reentering society. For these reason, various experiments were carried out in the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States involving supervised “buddy” visits usually with a friend from the pedophile’s immediate environment. Although, problems arose in finding suitable and appropriate buddies to carry out these experiments long-term. Hence, Netherlands researchers introduced the Japanese design, “PedoBot” into their experiments. The PedoBot is an artificially intelligent android robot specifically designed for this purpose. The robot provides companionship while simultaneously monitoring the subject’s mood and movement 24 hours a day. When necessary, the PedoBot can perform therapeutic intervention using software tailored to the individual need of the offender. When the bot’s psychotherapeutic and neurotherapeutic interventions do not help, it is programmed to contact police sending geographical and emotional coordinates. Experiments have shown that subjects develop an extremely emotional attachment to the robot, or buddy. Researchers believe this is because of the child sex doll’s extremely advanced empathetic capacity.
When the PedoBot and its intended purpose were introduced in 2018, society welcomed it. But when the idea of replacing virtual child pornography with robots by 2020 was suggested, it received overwhelming resistance. Although synthetic forms of child pornography were legalized in 2015, experts and critics worry that life-like child robots blur the distinction between virtual abuse and actual abuse and increase the likelihood that people will somewhat lose the ability to exercise moral self-control. Despite design malfunctions and societal backlash, it is unlike that PedoBots or child sex robots of any kind will be band in the United States.
Since sexbots are relatively very new, conducting experiments on their health effects is extremely difficult. Academic foundation doctor at St. George’s University Hospitals in London, Dr. Chantel Cox-George, and Women’s Health Academic Centre’s, Susan Bewley began analyzing medical literature and searching for any empirical evidence that may support the claims that sexbots aresafe, therapeutic, and have the potential to reduce sexual abuse of children. In the end, they were unable to find any conclusive evidence that supported any of these theories. The two researchers went on to examine scientific literature that explored the clinical pros and cons of love dolls. The benefits are said to include promoting safer sex, helping to decrease sex trafficking, sex tourism and prostitute solicitation. They may allow users to gain sexual knowledge without the pressure of real-life intimacy and help eliminate sexually-related insecurities such as erectile disfunction, libido irregularity, loneliness, or disability. And lastly, they can somehow act as a therapeutic alternative for adult and child sex offenders, decreasing one’s desire to rape or engage in any form of sexual assault. Cox-George and Bewley searched through all relevant research databases and found not a single inclination that sex robots will have any of these intended outcomes.
Kathleen Richardson, an ethics professor at De Montfort University in Leicester, England was quoted in the Washington Postclaiming that “the sex robots represent nothing more than an intrusion of machines in human relationships. The devices perfection and compliance might numb men to relationships with real women. It offends me that they think a human woman is like a machine”. In response, Cox-George and Bewley also investigated theories that claim opposite theories on sex robots are true. These theories include the idea that men will start to expect real women to always be readily available for sex, that real human women should appear airbrushed and hairless, and that sexbots will actually heighten one’s urge to engage in sexual violence on real people. Unfortunately, the researchers found that there is still too little evidence to neither confirm nor deny any of these theories. After doing rigorous research and delving into hundreds of journals, the researchers concluded that, “Based on the lack of evidence, which is at the heart of medical professionalism, we advise that sexbots shouldn’t be used in medical practice, at least not unless that forms part of robust and ethical research”.
The issue is not whether sexbots are going to exist or be somewhat of a cultural norm, we are already there. The issue is foreseeing the negative effects that these robots will have on health, expectations, and sexual interaction between two real human beings and figuring out how to get in front of it. Even though the research does not yet exist, what little empirical evidence that does very obviously alludes to the fact that sex robots are unhealthy for both consumers and non-consumers. High-end, lifelike sex dolls will cause men with previous sexual deviance to become more aggressive and heighten their desire to satisfy their needs however they please. The bots will increase incidents of rape and sexual assault not only of women but of children as well. In addition, these robots will further alter society’s expectation of beauty, a silicon version of the ideal woman that is impossible to compete with. Sex robots are a menace to society and while we can’t halt their creation, we can arm people with every piece of knowledge we have on the societal pitfalls they bring with them.