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Sex Robots or Sex Dolls: What's the Hype All About?

Can sex robots replace sex dolls any soon? Will they be actually any fun? In the middle of 2019 we are reviewing the latest developments and try to make predictions for the nearest future. And what are the ethical challenges and social issues that need adjusting.

Robotic Sex Dolls

Sex robots are coming, warns a new report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics. Indeed, many are already available and shipping worldwide. That’s the claim the New York Times article made back in 2017. In fact, we are still not even close to a fully functional sex robot creation.

This is not a niche issue. A 2016 study by the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany found that more than 40 percent of the 263 heterosexual men surveyed said they could imagine using a sex robot. Why not.

Frigid Farrah is not alone in providing her user with a replica of a human partner without the nagging complication of consent. According to the website of Lumi Dolls, the company that operated a short-lived sex doll brothel in Barcelona earlier this year, the dolls allow the user to “set the limits and she will let herself be taken along for the ride — she’s the perfect submissive partner.”

One of the authors of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics report, Noel Sharkey, a professor of artificial intelligence and robotics at the University of Sheffield, England, said there are ethical arguments within the field about sex robots with “frigid” settings. “The idea is robots would resist your sexual advances so that you could rape them,” Professor Sharkey said. “Some people say it’s better they rape robots than rape real people. There are other people saying this would just encourage rapists more.”

Like the argument that women-only train compartments are an answer to sexual harassment and assault, the notion that sex robots could reduce rape is deeply flawed. It suggests that male violence against women is innate and inevitable, and can be only mitigated, not prevented. This is not only insulting to a vast majority of men, but it also entirely shifts responsibility for dealing with these crimes onto their victims — women, and society at large — while creating impunity for perpetrators.

Rape is not an act of sexual passion. It is a violent crime. We should no more be encouraging rapists to find a supposedly safe outlet for it than we should facilitate murderers by giving them realistic, blood-spurting dummies to stab. Since that suggestion sounds ridiculous, why does the idea of providing sexual abusers with lifelike robotic victims sound feasible to some?

The Consent Issue

Because we live in a society that still fails to see sexual violence for the crime it is. To make such a solution available is to risk normalizing rape by giving it a publicly acceptable face. Research has shown that heterosexual men who are exposed to pornography and men’s lifestyle magazines and reality TV programs that objectify women are more likely to be accepting of violence against women. In a world in which you can sleep with a prostitute and then murder herin the video game Grand Theft Auto, sex robots are misogynistic wish fulfillments.

While there have been calls for child sex robots to be banned from Britain, no one seems to be advocating a similar policy for their adult female counterparts. This seems simple enough: It is illegal to have sex with a child, but not with an adult woman, after all. But it is also illegal to have sex with an adult woman who does not consent, and consenting is not something these robots are capable of.

That doesn’t matter, the argument goes, because these are not women, but animatronic objects, so consent is not necessary. The same reasoning is used to deflect fears that such robots could influence societal attitudes toward women. “She’s not a someone. She is a machine,” their creators are quick to respond when questions of moral ambiguity are raised. “Is it ethically dubious to force my toaster to make my toast?”

“If women can have a vibrator,” the TrueCompanion website asks smoothly, “why can’t men have a Roxxxy? Having a sex robot is just another ‘aid’ that allows both women and men to make their dreams become reality.”

Yes, sex aids have long existed, but sex robots position women as toys, women as objects for men to play with. By making these robots as realistic as possible — from self-warming models to those that speak and suck, from some with a pulse to others that flirt with their owners — their creators are selling far more than an inanimate sex aid. They are effectively reproducing real women, complete with everything, except autonomy.

Rights For Sex Dolls?

Some examples seem explicitly designed to mimic scenarios in which real-life women might be less likely to give consent. Want to have sex with a schoolgirl, or a woman dressed for the workplace or the gym? There’s a lifelike doll for all of that. That’s a simplification. We never sell dolls that do not reflect a fully developed, mature women or men.

The issue is not whether a sex robot, as an abstract concept, could be useful or harmful, but the impact of making such robots available in a society that already subjugates, discriminates against, and physically and sexually abuses women.

Already there are hints of how such products could play into the wider backdrop of violation and harassment of women. Last year, a Hong Kong designer made headlines for creating a robotic version of the actor Scarlett Johansson without her permission. RealDoll explains on its website that it is illegal to create exact replicas of women without their consent but adds, “We can, however, use photographs of a person of your choice to select a face structure as similar as possible from our line of 16 standard female faces.” The site boasts, “We have done this with good success in the past.” This is significant, considering that an estimated 15 percent of American women have been victims of stalking.

“There’s a basic human right that everybody’s entitled to a sexual life,” Professor Sharkey said. But is the basic human right to a sexual life the same as a universal entitlement to a young, attractive woman? Because that is what it is being subverted into here.

There is a big difference between the right to dignity and privacy, the right to consensual sexual activity, and the idea that every man has some fundamental right to a woman’s body. By replicating women as realistically as possible, this is what such robots attempt to provide — down to every detail except the pesky necessity for an actual woman’s consent.

(This article was based on the 2017 article from The New York Times; read full article here)

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