SexTechGuide.com - SEX ROBOTS: THE NEXT FRONTIER OF SEXUAL PLEASURE, OR DAMAGING ‘RAPE SIMULATORS’?

Write By: splooshe Published In: Sploosh! Created Date: 2018-08-26 Hits: 7 Comment: 0

Sex Robots are no longer science fiction. The humanoid dolls available today are, if not entirely convincing, at least substantially more advanced than the objectively creepy rubber blow-up dolls of yesteryear’s seedy adult stores.

US-based True Companion claimed to have created “the world’s first sex robot,” although it is far from the only company on the market. For the eye-watering sum of $9,995, you can take home the Roxxxy – an “anatomically consistent” female doll that can “hear, speak, feel your touch… [and that has] emotions and a personality.”  And Roxxxy is by no means new (launching first in the 1990s) or alone in the market – Real Doll/Realbotix is also working on its own sex robots, albeit starting with a head plus AI combination, and presumably working its way down.

Despite True Companion’s claims – and the lengthy development – independently sentient robots are not currently a reality, though according to experts this could change “anywhere from never to sometime in the next decade or two.” However, it’s clear that these dolls are on the cutting-edge of sex tech and commercial robotics more broadly. Their highly advanced programming enables them to respond to stimulus – voice, touch, sexual stimulation – in a manner that is reasonably convincing if you don’t look too closely. But we must remember that they are not sentient. They are, fundamentally, toys.

True Companion Roxxxy

True Companion even claim Roxxxy can have orgasms – though what the company actually means is “make orgasm-like sounds and movements for the user’s pleasure”. In an article for The Walrus, sex educator and journalist Kate Sloan has covered the implications of sex robots from the perspective of the orgasm gap.

“He touched [the robot’s] genitals briefly, but it was for nowhere near the minimum 15 minutes of clitoral stimulation experts say women often need. If this trend of poorly replicated intercourse continues, robots could reinforce the same misconceptions introduced by pornography, which often depicts rough or violent sex without accompanying discussions of consent and boundaries,” Sloan wrote.

It’s easy to understand why there’s a market for an always-on sex robot. We live in a world where, despite being more connected through technology than ever before, many people experience loneliness and even more find dating or searching for a partner a soul crushing exercise. The idea of a partner, even an artificial one made of silicone and metal, who is “always ready to talk or play” holds a real and obvious allure. But lurking underneath the marketing, there’s a much more sinister edge that we must consider.

The Roxxxy has five pre-programmed modes, each with cheesy alliterative names – Wild Wendy, for example, is adventurous, while S&M Susan is fairly self-explanatory. However, there is also the creepier Young Yoko, designed to act “barely eighteen,” and Frigid Farah, which has drawn considerable criticism for being a ‘rape simulation’. Specifically, if you try to touch “Farah” in an “intimate area,” she will resist and say no.

I need to acknowledge here that I’m coming to this subject from a strange intersection. As a sex toy expert and sexual pleasure advocate, a large part of me thinks that these robots are merely tools – not unlike vibrators or dildos – to enable people to experience a greater range of pleasurable experiences. I really want to believe they’re harmless.

A spokesperson for the online adult store Sploosh agreed with me, saying: “No commercially available item has yet reached the criteria to pass the Turing test, so ethically speaking, there isn’t an issue with consent, as there isn’t an item that could be considered a truly sentient AI.”

However, as a sexual violence survivor, I’m intrinsically and viscerally uneasy about the simulated lack of consent this doll and others can offer. But the word “simulated” is operative here. When I want to use my vibrator on myself, I don’t think about consent any more than I’d think about asking my coffee machine to consent to make my drink. It’s inanimate and that’s that. As we’ve established, even the most advanced sex dolls are also inanimate. But some of the good ones look quite convincing, in an uncanny valley kind of way. Does it follow, then, that use of these robots and these specific problematic settings can encourage or normalise rape of human beings? The short answer is I don’t know, and I don’t feel sure enough to come down firmly on one side or the other.

Porn performer and fellow SEXTECHGUIDE contributor Charlie Forrest believes not: “Honestly, this falls into the age-old issue of assuming X encourages Y. Does violent porn encourage rape? Or are rapists more likely to look at violent porn?”

To complicate matters further, I am also looking at this from the perspective of a kink practitioner who engages in consensual non-consent play from time-to-time. In these scenarios, simulated resistance between consenting partners is part of the game – and there are safe words, safe signals and agreed upon boundaries. I’m not willing to say that this is categorically different from using a sex robot with a “resist” setting. The fundamental issue, it seems, is whether we trust users (or participants in edgier BDSM activities) to know the difference between a fantasy acted out without causing harm, versus actually committing the act for real.

Sploosh agrees: “What they’ll teach users can be compared to on-tap online porn. It’s all down to how the user interacts with the device or content that will determine the outcome.”

Another complicating factor in the discussion around sex robots, artificial intelligence and consent ethics is the recent rise of the phenomenon known as “incels.” These INvoluntarily CELibate people (almost entirely men, mostly young men) believe that all of their problems are caused by women rejecting them, and operate on the core belief that they are owed sex and/or a romantic relationship. They congregate online, on forums such as Reddit and 4Chan, to share their frustrations – which often veer very quickly into alarmingly violent outbursts and explicit and extreme misogyny.

The internet recently blew up over the suggestion by Ross Douthat in the New York Times that sex robots could be the answer to these “incels’” sexual frustration and sense of entitlement. I, like many feminists and sex educators, fundamentally disagree.

Douthat and others advocating for this approach (or, worse, for allowing incels to take their frustrations out on sex workers) are missing a very important piece of the puzzle: incel culture isn’t really about sex. It’s about misogyny, a deadly sense of entitlement, and a culture of toxic masculinity that teaches men that women’s bodies are prizes they are owed. Masturbating with a sex toy – even a $10,000 sex toy that “orgasms” on command for you or pretends to say no – isn’t going to fix the thousands of years of patriarchy and huge deficit in sex education.

The reality is we have a subculture of misogynists who refer to woman as “femoids” and encourage each others’ violent impulses. Are woman-shaped robots that you can pretend to rape going to do anything to help in this arena?

True Companion claims that Farah could be used as an aid to teach consent, but I’m sceptical. No-one buys a sex robot to learn better consent practices. My fear when it comes to the idea of giving sex robots to people who have expressed violent impulses towards women is this: if it teaches anything, it will teach the user that they can ignore a “no” without consequences. After all, a toy isn’t going to call the cops. Laura Bates, of the Everyday Sexism Project, said: “We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab.”

Realbotix Harmony Sex Robot

For True Companion’s part, it has previously responded to debate around ‘Farah’ by saying that the suggestion that it’s a ‘rape simulation’ is pure conjecture in a statement to the Independent.

“Roxxxy is simply not programmed to participate in a rape scenario and the fact that she is, is pure conjecture on the part of others. You would not immediately passionately kiss a person that you just met on your first date. Likewise, Frigid Farrah would also tell you that she just met you if you try to ‘move’ too quickly,” the company said. “Rape simply isn’t an interaction that Roxxxy supports, nor is it something that our customers are requesting.”

The conclusion, of course, is that there are no easy answers. Thousands of people engage in BDSM (including but not limited to consensual non-consent roleplay) every single day and the vast majority of them will never harm another person without consent, because they understand the difference between fantasy – or roleplay – and reality.

Perhaps the issue is not the tools or technology at our disposal but, as with so many things, proper education in how to engage with them. In terms of whether sex robots encourage unhealthy practices in real life with flesh-and-blood partners, more research is desperately needed.

This article originally appeared on SexTechGuide.com 22/08/2018

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