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

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 over technology.

By Mélodie Nelson

Élisabeth Mercier, an associate professor in the sociology department of Laval University, reminds us that “the link between sexuality and technology has always been seen as suspect, because technology democratizes access to representations of sexuality for groups we judge as vulnerable.”

In the newspaper Libération, sex therapist Michelle Mars argues that rather than perverting relations, robots will positively shake up sexuality: “Robots will teach us to understand what excites us, and this liberation process will be good for everyone.”

In freeing up the social and biological imperative of procreation and the heteronormativity of the past, modern sexuality allows more people to satisfy their sexual desires more freely. “This emancipation process finds continuity with the recent integration of erotic technologies in the lives of thousands of people all over the world, which fosters the emergence of new practices, preferences and identities,” write researchers Nicola Döring and Sandra Poeschl-Gunther in their study “Sex toys, sex dolls, sex robots: Our under-researched bed-fellows,” published in the journal Sexologies in 2018.

In his podcast The Butterfly Effect, journalist Jon Ronson presents more therapeutic aspects of sex dolls: for example, in a grieving situation.

On the podcast, James recalls how he fell madly in love with Darlene when he reached adulthood. But she broke off their engagement suddenly, without explanation.

Twenty years later, James learned of Darlene’s death. Then, in 2015, a friend sent him a web link.

“I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” says James. “It was like looking at Darlene, after all these years, and she hadn’t aged a bit.” He didn’t hesitate to order the sex doll that resembled his young love, and today he calls the doll April.

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

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