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Androids and sexuality
By Prof. Antonio Virgili
The new frontiers of sexuality are maybe less unexpected and far than how we could think. Not only the far in time movies as “Metropolis” (1927) and “L’Age d’or” (1930), surely not much known today except from scholars, bus also the more recent “2001: A space Odyssey” (1968), “Blade Runner” (1982), “Mannequin” (1987), “Her” (2013) or the Swedish science fiction TV series “Real humans” (2012-2013). They all are movies including, more or less, the subject. For not talking about traces and clues in several other movies or in the novels as Asimov’s science fictions. In the latest few years, slowly, it has become an increasing subject in scientific literature too, that means the time has almost arrived: androids become to be among us. And this happens after a fast but intense preparation of the new generations to the artificial social relations: smartphone, social networks, etc. Not only it, further studies and researches are in progress and the relation between sexuality and androids need to be discussed, at least at a starting level, from sexologists too. In fact, as a recent European study (FRR Consultation Report, 2017) suggests, there are at least six aspects involved, that I consider mainly sexological, and two further are mainly sociological: Would people have sex with a robot? What kind of relationship can we have with a robot? Will robot sex workers and bordellos be acceptable? Will sex robots change societal perceptions of gender? Could sexual intimacy with robots lead to greater social isolation? Could robots help with sexual healing and therapy? In a wider sociological analysis: would sex robots help to reduce sex crimes? And, how could “sexual androids” change the anthropological and societal organization of sexual life, reproduction and interpersonal life?
Today we already have androids (also named “humanoid robots”) that look and act very much like a human; considering the speed of technology innovations and the available nanotechnologies, in very few years they will still be more close to human look and behaviour. Several liberal societies accept or tolerate sex in many different forms and combinations and if the trend will allow to consolidate the existing power and to increase people behaviour manipulation surely the liberalization will expand progressively to the other societies. The so called sex aids for increasing excitation or masturbating or giving support to some paraphilias, time ago considered abnormal, even if known (and used limited) from Centuries have now a easy and wide diffusion, can be purchased in many places and are becoming “normal” part of the social culture. Android specialised in sex are the coming step, functional to the societal organization that is planning to have androids specialised to work, to fight in war, to work in dangerous environments, and so on.
It is clear from these questions that the implications not only are very wide but also that social consequences could be broader than expected. And it reveals how much sexuality involves many aspect of social and individual life, not just sexual life. There will be an issue about ethics, responsibility and the emotional, psychological and social impact of sex with androids. Last but not least, the gender questions, in our days much debated, will result quickly outdated, “de facto”. Androids do not need to have a gender, someone think, they could just need to have different anatomical characters to be more suitable to the different anatomical needs of human sexual anatomy. That point of view, consider probably sexuality mainly as a kind o mechanical event by which to activate neurotransmitters, neuronal modulators and hormones and related subsequent events. This means to level progressively, or delete, emotional, characterial and humoral differences so as their connected cultural and social nuances, probably also separating sex from eroticism Again, this trend has been preceded from some of the actual changes in our societies and culture. The antecedents are already widely in progress, about gender levelling so as about artificial partners and virtual social relations, today almost an ordinary event.
In our days there is a form of sexual paraphilia named “robot feticism”, a modern extension of the Agalmatophilia, which dates back to the studies of Krafft-Ebing, but it would be different or overtaken compared to the sexuality with androids. Even if it is not to be excluded that only, or mainly, persons having a form of robot feticism could switch to androids. Would it be only a different and new form of paraphilia? According to several observers it should not be so.
Some scholars consider that, if we take a step back, we realize that a kind of “mechanical assistance” for sexual gratification goes way back. For example, what we name “Dildos” in one form or another have been present in society throughout history, from the 20-centimeter phallus from the Upper Palaeolithic period to ancient Greek urns. Could sexual androids simply be an elaborate extension of such devices? We think they are not, there is something deeper at play here owing to their guided autonomy. But, it was and is usually just an aid, today androids could be substitutive partners, at the same time reproductive medicine is making more diffused the medical assisted reproduction, till the extreme procedures of gestational surrogacy. Or we had to value if it can be considered a full sexuality to use only assistances and supports.
Might sex with androids ever become socially acceptable? Consider the case of vibrators which we might regard as a first approximation. In 2009, Indiana University reported two research studies on vibrators used for sexual purposes, they found vibrator use during sexual interactions to be common in nationally representative samples of adult American men and women, with approximately 53 % of women and 45% of men ages 18 to 60. They concluded that “not only is vibrator use common, but the two studies also show that vibrator use is associated with more positive sexual function and being more proactive in caring for one’s sexual health.”
The problem is that the actual sex aids are different from an android able to react, to move, to adapt and to memorize to personal requests, etc. So we may ask to ourselves if the society is ready and, mainly, if is able, to manage the new change. Gunther Anders and his “Diskrepanzphilosophie” warned about the fracture between technological possibilities from one side and social and cultural capacity from the other side. The debate is totally open on the topic of sexuality and androids.
© Copyright by Prof. Antonio Virgili, April 2018.