The Dangers of Sex Robots

Recently, the use of sex robots has become more popular within common society. Similar to pornography, the use of sex robots raises a concern that it may make women less valuable to men since the robots are exaggerations of women and girls. By creating robotic depictions of women and selling them to men, it could teach men that women are supposed to be compliant and constantly ready for sex. This adds to the overall objectification of women.

Sex robots are dolls with programs and motors that are imagined or produced to be a woman or girl and then are used for sexual interactions. The use of sex dolls dates before the 17th century and can be seen in the Mughal paintings in India. Sex dolls were sold commercially through catalogues as early as 1908.

The use of sex dolls originally was to replace the need to have someone else there in order to fulfill a sexual desire, but with the introduction of robotic sex dolls, people are using the dolls as companions. In the journal article “Sex Dolls—Creepy or Healthy?” by David Knox and Stacy Huff of East Carolina University and Joyce Chang of University of Central Missouri, they concluded that, “the use of robots for sex is stigmatized since there is the cultural belief that humans should prefer ‘the real thing.’” This discomfort caused by the use of using robots for sex instead of interacting with another human stems from the feeling known as the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley, as hypothesized by Mashiro Mori, is the feeling that occurs when something looks almost exactly humanistic, but obviously is not. However, people are usually able to remain unaffected by the uncanny valley when they’re interacting with dolls, which makes humans able to form connections with the dolls.

Socializing with robots has been normalized in recent years due to the integration of social robots, aka robots that interact with humans, like the vacuum, Roomba, and toys like the iconic Baby Alive. Soon it is expected that life without the use of these robots will become inconceivable, like how the internet has become critical to live in today’s world.

People can become reliant on social robots, whether it be for cleaning the floors or acting like baby, it creates an emotional dependence. This is different from other human dependences on technology. For example, when someone is using their laptop, they do not have an initiative to anthropomorphize their laptop by giving it humanistic characteristics like they would wit a robot baby or even a Roomba vacuum, mostly because the laptop does not perform mobile actions and doesn’t show behavior. The dependence formed with social robots could eventually cause emotional harm to the user of the technology. Currently, there are no known algorithms for social robots to be aware of what a person is, or even that there are other beings interacting with them. Everything robots do is coded into them and since they are not self-aware, robots are not able to understand that they exist, let alone that they are being used as a service. Therefore, the social robots cannot care about something, but humans are becoming attached to them and even creating intimate relationships with them. These actions are not healthy and by allowing (mostly men) to create one-sided robotic relationships, it would negatively affect women since the sex robots mostly represent women.

Image: Bobby Yip

One of the most successful sex-bot creators, Matt McMullen, the creator of RealDoll, introduced a new robot that is equipped with artificial intelligence and a customizable face and body. The dolls are created based on pornographic qualities. His dolls are aimed towards men who may not be very experienced sexually and may be lacking social skills to obtain physical intimacy. Introducing an alternative that is supposed to be a representation of the "perfect" female is teaching men the wrong lesson about intimacy, relationships and how women are to be treated. Unlike a person, the robots they will be interacting with do not have emotions and are a social robotic creation made to serve a purpose. These social robots, made to represent the ideal women to these men, leave them with the impression that a good woman is just like their robotic sex toys; compliant, always ready to have sex and have a perfect, in their opinion, body. The use of robots for sex allows women to be grossly seen as sex objects, which causes them to be more objectified by men.

Helen Heath spoke on the issue in her article “Using/abusing fembots.” “Compliant robot women are desired and idealized,” she said. She explained that non-compliant robot women are to be feared and hated. Teaching men that a robot companion is a healthy way to cope with loneliness, lack of intimacy or a dislike for human interaction is not acceptable. It teaches them that if a woman does not act like their ideal, desirable robot sex toy that they are not to be treated as equals to the robots. As a result, the robots will be treated more humanely than human women will be.

The people who are choosing to purchase the sex robots buy them for the same reason that people buy sex from prostitutes; less complications, the ability to do anything and lack of success with the opposite sex. Those who advocate for the use of sex-bots believe that it would lower the violence surrounding prostitution. They think it’d be best for the people who are violent towards sex workers to be acting out on a robot. However, this is not a realistic ideal, since there will still be buyers of sex who prefer a real person and most people buying sex toys are women, while the majority of sex-buyers are men. 

Image: Bobby Yip

In Kathleen Richardson wrote the article, “The Asymmetric Relationship." “Studies have found that the introduction of new technology supports and contributes to the expansion of the sex industry,” she said. So, saying that introducing sex robot prostitutes will lower the amount of human prostitution is not realistic since it will more than likely cause it to grow due to the normalization of purchasing sex. Attempting to replace women prostitutes with robots is not considerate to the female body and humanity in general. This practice implies that there is nothing more to a sex worker than having sex, which feeds into the belief that women are only necessary for sex as well. Further, this perspective is not considerate of the sex workers who enjoy their jobs and do them legally and safely. The movement for sex robots is aimed directly towards men and how to cater to them, but does not take into consideration the potential negative way it would affect women.

In the popular science fiction film Ex Machina, Nathan, the creator of very realistic, human-like fembots, makes an AI named Kyoko, and uses it as an obedient sex-servant. Before it is apparent that Kyoko is an AI, it seems to just be a servant who is unable to speak English. When it spills wine on Nathan’s guest, Caleb, Nathan responds aggressively, but Caleb is not very bothered since he is a highly empathetic character. Nathan’s reactions are a representation of how people will treat robots when they do not have consequences of mistreating a live human. However, even if their actions are not aimed at another person, they are still detrimental to other people they interact with. Nathan is not an is cold and careless towards Caleb, an actual human, as well. Nathan’s character in Ex Machina is a realistic exaggeration of how people will treat others and their sex robots if this sort of technology is popularized and integrated into society to replace the companionship of living things.

Image: MovieClips | YouTube

Unlike human connections, the connection between a sex robots and their owners is not built out of empathy, attraction or even a mutual understanding (e.g. purchasing sex from a sex worker). The connection is only built out of a selfish desire for submission and sex.

“Sex robots are inspired by inherently non-empathetic human practices,” Kathleen Richardson said in her article, “Sex Robots Matter”. The robots made without considering the impact on groups of people outside of the target market, instead sex robots are created solely for the purpose of consoling men. People using the robots will not have to communicate adequately or worry about things like who will be buying the groceries next week, therefore, the robot is the perfect companion for those who need to constantly feel powerful and that is dangerous. Men who are violent partners may use the robot to beat or take anger out on, which would give these dangerous people a way to act immorally. The actions would be similar to someone who releases anger through hitting things and having the ability to hurt a robot creates a dangerous environment for real, live women. 

If men use robots instead of women for sex, how would that even affect women? The bottom line is that it teaches men that women are sex objects. The robots are supposed to portray an ideal woman. The dolls are created to seemingly intimidate or mock women due to their exaggerated, pornographic features. Men who seek to purchase them are able to customize their skin tone, breast size, body size and even what age they’re supposed to be. This means that there are robots created to look as young as five years old. By creating these images for men, the creators are teaching them that it is acceptable for them to treat women and girls as objects. That they are able to be modified to their liking, are less than men and always ready for sex.

Image: Aly Song

Behavior like this should not be accepted within society and most people would agree that creating sex dolls that look like children is not ethical. However, those in favor for this technology do not see that it is unhealthy since robots are not actual humans, they only depict one. “Only the buyer of sex is recognized as a subject, the seller of sex (and by virtue the sex-robot) is merely a thing to have sex with,” Kathleen Richardson said in her article, “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’”. When comparing prostitution to the sex-bot industry, the robots are made to represent women, which implies to the man that women are “merely things to have sex with.” Comparing a real, human woman to a silicone figure with three holes is offensive and caters only to one group of people: men. Women will be the ones who suffer the consequences.

The lack of empathy that surrounds the sex robot industry will ultimately cause women to be seen as less valuable in society and viewed similarly to how one may view a sex robot. Men who choose to create one-sided relationships with robots. They will be negatively impacting their future selves as well as the women who surround them due to the unforeseen psychological impacts. The comparison between robotic sex objects to women will cause women to be even more objectified in a society that is already struggling with equality between the two sexes. The production of sex robots will cause our world to move backwards in time and normalize the outdated assumption that women are objects for male pleasure and are supposed to perform actions for their male partner, as Nathan’s AI Kyoko does. Attempting to integrate robotic companionship into new, modern culture will be dangerous. The line between real women's roles and those of the robots would be blurred by the newfound technology created by companies like RealDoll. Using robots depicting women or girls for abuse and sex normalizes the violence and objectification of women and devalues the importance of communication, consent and ultimately, empathy.