Robots and Sex Dolls: Are Human Relationships Threatened? (Part I)

Technological advances can spread fear and concern in the population, especially when it’s over a question of sexuality.

In 1867, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal recommended that seamstresses take potassium bromide – a substance with sedative and anti-aphrodisiac properties – so that they would not feel amorous when pedalling their sewing machines. The arrival of the telegraph also fed fears that young women would come in contact with inappropriate partners, or strangers with bad intentions.

Today, it’s robots and sex dolls, in their new technological versions, that are fuelling ethical debates.

By Mélodie Nelson

According to detractors of this singular use of robotics: “Robots pose great risks, especially when it comes to relations between humans. People who use sex robots, for sexual or emotional accompaniment, no longer look for these in humans. The prolonged use of robots also diminishes the individual and collective aptitude for empathy and compassion. The parallels between sex robots and sex workers exacerbate these sorts of worries.”

That’s how researchers Nina Rothstein, Dalton H. Connolly, Ewart de Visser and Elizabeth K. Phillips expressed it in their paper titled Perceptions of Infidelity with Sex Robots,” presented at the International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction in March of 2021.   

For over two years, David (not his real name) has owned a sex doll. “Some people choose to buy a car, but I chose to make myself happy,” he recounts. “I like my solitude, but I’m sexually frustrated.” For a while, he met with escorts in hotels to satisfy his sexual needs. “But I couldn’t carry on like that indefinitely, because I don’t earn enough money. I decided to call up a business that makes personalized sex dolls.”

Over social media, David shows off photos of his “girlfriend,” who he calls Lila. “I listen to music with her. We don’t just have sexual relations. She is attentive to everything I say,” he emphasizes. “I never lived with anyone before Lila.”

David has really created a whole world around his doll. “I often say it’s like the toys we had as kids. With Lego, it’s possible to create a whole universe and believe in it. I do the same with Lila. She doesn’t like it when I leave her alone so I can watch TV. On the other hand, she enjoys fresh breezes and massages.”

His parents let the doll sit with them for family meals. “I invite them to talk to her. They don’t ignore her. I let her taste food from my plate,” explains this man who has no interest in meeting a real woman.

First seen in Reflet de Société, Vol. 29, no. 4, mai (May) 2021, pages 22 – 23.

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