Deep Dives Level Up Newsletters Saved Articles Challenges

Sex robots might soon become mainstream, here’s why we should remain careful

By Harriet Piercy

Dec 11, 2020

COPY URL

Most of us thought that we were already reliant on technology, and then 2020 came along and truly pinned us to it. The whole world was put under a stay-at-home order due to the spreading of COVID-19, which made us turn to our electronic devices. Almost every industry went digital, not only for work, but leisure too—our sex lives included.

For those who hadn’t used a dating app before, 2020 was the year to test it out, because lockdown forced us to face our human need for companionship and maybe even our yearning for a more intimate connection. A lot of people out there were left hanging and horny without access to their regular booty callers’ touch. A pandemic doesn’t take away simple human needs, which is why we turned to tech. In fact, sex work boomed digitally, porn became our go-to video content and sex toys sales saw an impressive increase too! 

According to a study relased by the sex toy company We-Vibe and featured in the New York Post, 28 per cent of the 1,000 participants that were asked about their sexual preferences, specifically robotic ones, admitted to being aroused by their Amazon Alexa. The calm and soothing voice is a turn on for many people—are you surprised? If you think about it, the smart speaker is in itself a sort of companion, especially for someone alone because, well, it talks back! That is bound to keep some amount of loneliness at bay, and in turn introduce an element of intimacy.

Technology and sexuality as a pair is nothing new, online pornography is estimated to be worth as much as $97 billion per year, and electric vibrators have been around for a hefty chunk of time, since the 1800s in fact. Before the global pandemic, dating apps were already popular and it is understandable that after the COVID-19 induced lockdowns were put into place and as real-life interaction was taken off the table altogether, we went back to our good old sex tech hidden under our bed.

Technology and sexuality, or ‘technosexuality’ is defined as being turned on by machinery, and it’s no longer a niche concept. Companies are literally merging the two further than words by creating sex robots, and they’re turning into quite the hot commodity.

Sex robots

These machines are eerily realistic, and some of the more advanced sex robots can blink, smile, moan, get goosebumps and even hold a conversation. Albeit based on an algorithm, which is besides the point, they are fully functional sex machines, and have been flying off the shelves since COVID-19 struck. One manufacturer called Gynoid made some of the most successful dolls, sold by Sex Doll Genie (SDG). They are silicone-based, and according to SDG’s founders Janet Stevenson and her husband Amit, they look and feel just like the real deal.

Their target market? “Lonely, middle-aged men who don’t necessarily want to stroll through the dating minefield again,” according to the SDG website. “There are handicapped and disabled folks for whom sex dolls are convenient and non-judgmental companions, then there are couples like us who wanna add another dimension to their love life without additional emotional baggage.” The company saw a spike of more than 51 per cent between February and March 2020, when lockdowns began.

The high-end, further technologically programmed dolls come complete with a full body and start at around $6,000 to $8,000. With a price tag like that, the demand must be very real. Sex robots are an extreme example of how technology has been harnessed for sexual gratification, but this price tag, the ethical concerns as well as the taboos that surround them mean that they still cater to a relatively small consumer pool.

However, dating apps, which started with websites targeting the same market audience that SDG mentions above, were also once just as criticised as sex dolls currently are. Now, they’ve become mainstream. Same goes with sex toys, which were also once regarded as quite embarrassing to have for their owners—owning one has now become common, and speaking about their usage is far less awkward. Will this one day be the case with sex robots?

Smarter sex toys

Sex toys, which could arguably be called the ‘mini sex robot’, are starting to incorporate an ‘intelligence’ within their programming, allowing for voice-controlled vibrators as well as apps that track your orgasms, which have the ability to ‘train’ your toy to provide a more personalised and optimised experience. Virtual reality porn, or VR porn, is also becoming more accessible.

There are so many new ways being developed to incorporate technology into our sex lives, and it’s starting to look more and more like technology has the potential to become an integral part of our intimate interactions, although it could be considered that it already is. While some risks remain to be taken under consideration, the future of sex tech looks bright.

The global pandemic has forced us to realise that there are some clear advantages to adding technology into our sex lives. It allowed us to access sexual experiences in times of isolation—which for some could be a lifetime, but it’s also a way to spice up our sexual exploration with our partners and ourselves. What we want to avoid is an overreliance on digital devices for both social as well as sexual interaction, especially within the new generations that are now growing up alongside this digital wave. Here’s to hoping that humans are hardwired enough to continue to seek out other humans over robotics, even when the choice is there.