An Open Letter to the Campaign Against Sex Robots
Trying to ban pleasure androids is both misguided and needlessly cruel.
People thought novels would corrupt women’s virtue—whatever that means. Cars would lead to immoral assignations in their spacious back seats. The Pill would create a wildly promiscuous generation. The Internet was going to doom the planet, what with it allowing easy access to sexually explicit materials.
Now we have the Campaign Against Sex Robots. Created by two years ago by Erik Billing of the University of Skövde (Sweden) and Kathleen Richardson of De Montfort University (United Kingdom), they are outspoken, to put it mildly, against the development of sex robots—and, recently, even sex dolls.
We need to talk about sex with robots
On the surface, the Campaign Against Sex Robots has some valid points: mainly that the impact of sexual devices, especially those in the form of women, could have a negative effect on society and that further study is needed.
The site says: “As humanoid robots become more widespread it is necessary to develop an engaged ethical response to the development of these new technologies.”
Things are moving so fast
It’s not hard, or even necessary, to argue with this. Humanity has undergone more change in the last few years than it has ever had to deal with before Industries, belief systems, social structures, and institutions have been either shaken to their foundations or completely restructured.
So, considering this breakneck speed of change it’s not just a good idea for us to take every opportunity to pause and think things through, but also to try and put the brakes on things that might detrimental.
In regards to the Campaign Against Sex Robots, I used the words ”on the surface” intentionally. While the campaign does have some good points, it is also an example of having an alarmist attitude—one that could easily even end up harming more people that it tries to save.
On that same page that presents the campaign’s idea of “an engaged ethical response,” it also lists the group’s agenda, beginning with “We believe the development of sex robots further sexually objectifies women and children.”
The points are too many to go into here but, at the risk of oversimplifying the position, it comes down to believing that creating and finding pleasure in sex robots and sex dolls would somehow lead to further sexual exploitation of human beings.
Exploitation or hysteria?
You may scratch your head at this—I certainly did. Give them credit, though they do list one published paper to back up the campaign. The problem is that “The Asymmetrical ‘Relationship’: Parallels Between Prostitution and the Development of Sex Robots” was written by Kathleen Richardson herself.
That, in itself, isn’t that bad but the references she cites are, at best, tangential to the specific idea of a negative impact of sex robots and sex dolls.
But let’s put aside the Campaign Against Sex Robots, itself as an entity, aside and look at sex robots, and why banning them is impossible, ill-advised, as well as a form of sexual prejudice.
Money will always win
Making economics almost ridiculously simplified: money will find a way. If people want something then someone, somewhere, will build and sell it. We have already reported on the China’s 15 billion (with a ‘B’) sex toy industry, and how sex dolls—and eventually sex robots—promise to become a staggeringly large part of the economy.
Putting prohibitive laws in place, both in China as well as in any other country is completely futile. Even if laws banning sex robots and sex dolls were enacted, you’d just push the money underground where there will be no regulations at all. And so no way of monitoring what kind of robots are being produced or who they are being sold to.
Instead of calling for a ban on sex robots, it would be much wiser to work with developers instead of against them. Creating an adversarial environment, especially one based on a social impact that is as yet unproven, just makes builders and buyers tune out any possibly legitimate concerns.
Is banning sex robots the right thing to do?
So banning sex robots isn’t going to happen. The next question then is why would you want to? Even though the Campaign Against Sex Robots purports to have it all figured out, others wisely say that we don’t know the impact this form of sexual technology would have—at least not yet.
So instead of a Campaign Against Sex Robots, how about calling for, and backing, research on the subject? Especially those that ask the hard questions: Does owning a sex robot change the user’s perception of women? Do they increase, or decrease, sexual exploitation of women and children? Can they be a therapeutic tool for violent sex offenders? Are their ways of using them to help acclimate people to sexual pleasure with robots as well as human beings?
The bottom line is we don’t know. Because we don’t know we can’t very well be banning them, particularly when we might end up outlawing or stigmatizing what could end up being invaluable emotional and physical tools.
Or, even more importantly, allowing the development sex robots could be an act of real kindness.
Sex robots and robot love
In the same article we looked at China’s growing sex robot business, a representative of a sex doll company explained the success of his products: “The reason for the popularity of sex dolls, in all the countries, is the same: To cure loneliness.”
I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Not because these dolls are infinitely submissive female surrogates; not because they are training wheels for misogyny against real women. They are selling because people are lonely.hey simply want to be with someone, anyone.
This is not just true in China. We’ve also covered doll and sexbot owners who have deep emotional connections with them in addition to sexual relationships.
June Korea, who we covered as having a relationship with his doll, Eva, said: “We go shopping, dining, driving, and even travel together just like ordinary people do in their real lives. We laugh and cry, we feel happy and lonely just like all people living in our urban world.”
The right to pleasure
This is another question that needs to be addressed, long before we take the Campaign Against Sex Robots seriously: do we have the right to deny someone physical, and especially, emotional pleasure? I would put the critically important word “consensually” in there but sex dolls and bots don’t need it.
Or perhaps not yet. In perhaps a sideways step in having a feeling and responsive sex robot, we also looked at Samantha: an AI-enhanced sex doll that needs to be “seduced” to achieve a form of orgasm. It shows that some sex robot creators aren’t just looking for a pliant doll, but rather one that could perhaps one day become a way for people to explore the intricacies of sex with human beings.
Back to pleasure. Right now the world seems to be fighting that idea: that human beings have the right to love who they wish—again, as long as it is consensual.
If you have a person who finds pleasure with a sex robot do you have the right to tell them that their love is wrong? If no one is being harmed, if they are leading a healthy and happy life, why would you want to take that away from them? To do so, even more so if there is no evidence that any harm would ever be done, is the height of cruelty.
The right to love
I agree with some of what the Campaign Against Sex Robots is saying: that we need to be thoughtful about many of our technological developments. We need to carefully study and research the impact of everything, from drone warfare to genetic engineering, including what—if any—repercussions that could come from the widespread use of sex robots.
But I don’t agree that we need a Campaign Against Sex Robots. In fact, I think it is alarmist, at best, and a form of sexual intolerance at worst.
In a world moving so fast, what we do need is a movement not against sex robots but one looking for ways for every human to live a happy and fulfilling, and consensual, sex life—with whoever, or whatever, they wish.