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What Do We Really Think About Sex Robots?

A new study reveals male and female opinions on artificial lovers.

A metallic fembot.

Research shows that men are more open to the uses of sex robots than women. Matthias Scheutz and Thomas Arnold, from Tufts University in the U.S., conducted a study exploring the expected capabilities, possible uses, and physical forms of sex robots perceived as appropriate. A sample of 57 men and 43 women were chosen to take part in the study via an online Amazon Mechanical Turk survey.

As companies like Abyss Creations have begun developing sex robots, such research is becoming increasingly relevant. Artificial lovers will not stay regulated to science fiction, but will likely hit the commercial market in the coming decades.

Potential uses for sex robots

Scheutz and Arnold’s study made use of the Likert scale, a scale of one (inappropriate) to seven (appropriate), to measure the participants’ views on sex robots.

Participants were asked what they would consider appropriate uses for sex robots. Some of the highest approval ratings of the male participants include using sex robots instead of prostitutes (6.4), using sex robots for disabled people (6.46), and using sex robots to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases (6.14).

While the female participants also agreed to these uses, their approval ratings were slightly lower. The highest female approval ratings for appropriate uses of sex robots also included using sex robots instead of prostitutes (5.49) and using sex robots for disabled people (5.28). The other highest approval rating for women included the use of sex robots for people in isolated environments such as space expeditions or on arctic research stations (5.23).

The lowest approval ratings from both men and women were toward using sex robots for sex offenders (as another way to satisfy their sex drives), using sex robots to maintain a relationship (where partners have different sexual appetites or preferences), and using sex robots to practice abstinence. Overall, women found these uses for sex robots less appropriate than men.

What should sex robots look like?

Scheutz and Arnold argue that because “the artificial intelligence requirements of sex robots could arguably be much lower than for other social robots…the pace of dissemination of these robots will only accelerate.” Thus, as the potential production of sex robotics is accelerating, it is important to discuss the forms that sex robots could possibly take on.

According to the study, men and women both strongly rejected the idea of having a sex robot take the form of a human child. The study also asked participants about their opinions of sex robots created in the form of an adult human, an animal, a fantasy creature, deceased spouses, and friends.

Adult humans had the highest approval rating amongst men (6.47) and women (5.19). Both men (3.7) and women (2.6) deemed sex robots in the form of animals as not appropriate. Fantasy creatures received a higher approval rating from by men (5.6) than by women (4.42). Deceased spouses were considered appropriate by men (5.04) and less so by women (3.7). Similarly, men (5.09) found sex robots taking on the form of current friends more appropriate than women (3.19).

Differences between human and robotic sex

The participants were also asked questions about what it could potentially be like to have sex with a sex robot.

When asked if someone could lose their virginity to a sex robot, both men and women mostly responded in the negative. Both men and women also agreed that intercourse with a sex robot is more like masturbation or using a vibrator than actual sex.

Results with significant gender differences

The authors of the study note that “no simple ‘view’ about sex with robots or the essence of sex with robots accounts for why women find robots less appropriate generally speaking.”

They do, however, discuss how “different judgments about appropriateness stem from market and media forces that privilege heterosexual males as a customer and user, which could lend a backdrop to how sex robots are imagined and anticipated.”

As this was the first empirical study on people’s attitudes toward sex robots, the authors both agree that further study should be done on the subject of human-robotic interaction and, specifically, sex robots. They said that “this study is one step directed toward a much longer journey of research and discussion into where sex and robotics should best meet human needs.”

Image source: Adrian Brady

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