Intimate Conversations: Can Chatbots Be Sex Educators?
Talking with bots could solve many sexual issues—for the young and old.
Even with the huge amount of information available on the Internet—especially around sex and sexuality—often the best kind of education comes from speaking to someone.
Or, as we may be seeing very soon, not someone but rather something.
Let’s talk chatbots
Chatbots have come a long way in the last few years. Beginning with prototypes like Michael Mauldin’s Julia back in 1994 and progressing to present-day iterations, they can now carry out almost human-like conversations on a variety of topics. In fact, back in 2014, there were reports that an artificial intelligence (AI) successfully passed the legendary Turing Test.
Named after Alan Turing, the tragic genius many acknowledge as the father of modern computing, the test is, on the surface, rather basic: a computer program must convince a human being it is also a human being during text-based conversations.
While the success of the 2014 experiment with the Eugene Goostman software has been called into question, the fact still remains that current chatbots are getting pretty good at mimicking human dialogue and, inevitably, they will become so advanced that their speech will be indistinguishable from that of people.
Progress is leading us to amazing possibilities. In the near future, computers will be able to verbally understand human beings—like Apple’s Siri and other intelligent personal assistants, but without the annoying dead-end responses they give when they fail to comprehend a question. They’ll also offer the possibility of personalized and high-quality education for millions of people.
We are coming upon a time when there will exist the potential for anyone with a smartphone and an Internet connection to access a chatbot that could guide education and answer practically every question.
But there’s one field of learning in particular that could really benefit from chatbot teachers: the world of sex education.
Chatbots and sex ed
In an article for Quartz Media, Doug Robinson explored this possibility through an optimistic lens, especially in terms of respecting privacy and offering the freedom to inquire about sexual topics.
“Talking to a chatbot is a different story. They never raise an eyebrow. They will never spill the beans to your parents. They have no opinion on your sex life or drug use. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take care of you,” he wrote.
That’s the key to the coming education revolution: confidentiality. While the Internet is a vast store of useful information, it is useless unless the person doing the looking knows where to begin. It also arrives without a filter in regards to the real needs of the person looking for answers.
A chatbot, though, could be programmed through either preset information or by learning about its user. So it can act not just as a source of raw data but also as a true teacher.
Totally non-judgemental, a sex ed chatbot could also be a form of—for lack of a better word—confessor, or even a therapist.
Let’s consider a young person who has questions about their sexual orientation. It can be awkward, or even frightening, to ask parents or teachers, especially when even being just curious can have massive ramifications. So who do you turn to? Or, more importantly, who can you turn to without an agenda?
A sexual education chatbot wouldn’t just have access to current information, but also know how to present it effectively to the person asking the question.
It could even ask its own follow-up questions, guiding its user to helpful resources. If someone asks, going back to orientation, “Why do people hate me because I’m gay?” it could be programmed to read that as the asker might feel threatened. “Are you safe?” could be the bot’s response. If the user doesn’t feel safe, the bot then might point them to places and people for help.
The good this kind of technology could do would be staggering. Just as chatbots could be skilled teachers in a wide variety of fields, a sexual education variety could not just be a teacher, but also something like a friend that so many people need—both young and old.
For this chatbot, no question would be inappropriate or silly. Each would be answered fully and in terms suited to each user’s language and education level, and also keyed to the location of nearby medical or psychological health services if desired.
Talking about the future
Humans are still in the process of integrating digital assistants and chatbots into our lives—and some people are even becoming sexually attracted to them.
In time, if all goes well, they could very well go from turning the lights on or playing a particular song to helping people learn, without shame or embarrassment, about the most human of things: sex.