Sex Robots and Intellectual Honesty

Earlier this year in my article What Does the Future Hold for Masculinity? I stated that “Whether it be virtual reality porn or sexbots, we are probably not that far off being able to achieve good-enough replications of sex for many men to disengage from meaningful relationships with ‘actual’ women. If we perceive there to be an emotional disconnect between men and women today, one can only assume this will increase by an order of magnitude once men start to shun biological relationships.”

Articles keep appearing on this subject, such as today’s The Sex Robots Are Coming: seedy, sordid – but mainly just sad. In general, as the title suggests, these articles take a grim view of the subject, usually concluding that sex robots are demeaning to women. There is even a movement called the Campaign Against Sex Robots which seeks to raise awareness of this issue, grounded in feminist ethics.

Many advocates of sex tech note a double standard here, pointing out that no one has a problem with women using vibrators. The response to this claim usually follows the line of “vibrators are merely an aid to healthy masturbation, while sex robots say something troubling about men’s desire to dominate women.” I have some sympathy for both sides of this argument, but can’t help but find the response to the suggested double standard rather flaccid (as it were). One might be inclined to go further and say that at least sex robots are fully embodied, whereas vibrators literally reduce the “role” of men to a—possibly outsized—penis.

We can expect this debate to gather more and more momentum over the next 10 years as sex tech gets ever better. However, it is important to resist retreating into a set opinion on this issue. The implications of sex robots are so under-explored that the only intellectually honest position to hold right now is “I don’t know”: this is the best way to ensure the discussion is fruitful rather than just the next site of an increasingly tired debate between Stage 2 and Stage 3.