The Rise of the Sex Robots: Why Digisexuality Could Mean a Big Step Backwards

With the unlimited options available at our fingertips via dating apps, the fact that old-fashioned romance has been replaced with heart-shaped emojis, and the ever-moving pace of our cities, dating in today’s world isn’t easy.

Young singles aren’t only competing with more fellow singles than ever (complete with perfectly filtered Tinder and Bumble photos); they are competing for people’s precious time like never before. Now, making the situation even more disheartening, singles could soon also compete with robots, as a growing number of people turn to the world of artificial intelligence for sex, and even relationships.

Yes, digisexual is now a term – and one we will only hear more about.

According to experts, people who rely solely on technology for their sexual needs (digisexuals) – fuelled by the growing prevalence of life-like sex robots – could soon become a lot more common. If you think about it, the modern dating scene – where potential “matches” are increasingly selected like menu items and characteristics are more important than connections – is only priming the dating world for acceptance of digisexuals as commonplace. We’ve created this ourselves, and its ramifications – which go much deeper than added competition and confusion in the dating world – could undo years of progression when it comes to everything from equality to body image.

Those considering robots as love interests aren’t just creepy old men who live lonely existences in the middle of nowhere (no offence; that’s the image that first came to mind for me). In fact, more than one quarter – 27 per cent – of millennials reported that they would date a robot in a new massive survey by global advertising and public relations company, Havas. The company asked over 12,000 people aged 18-34 around the world about their relationship with technology, producing results that ranged from expected (people can’t live without their cell phones – shocking) to pretty surprising/mildly disturbing (i.e. the whole dating a robot thing). Men were reportedly three times more likely to be ok with the idea of dating a robot as the females were.

For those who seek the partnership of a, um, real person, the idea that someone could call a robot their life partner may be confusing and slightly terrifying. This is especially the case at a time when human emotion is increasingly absent from most modern day relationships as it is. The Havas survey found that 70 per cent of respondents said that smart phones were weakening human bonds. In our increasingly disconnected society, most older millennials who remember life pre-smartphone (you know, the old-fashioned, handwritten love letters and having conversations in real life) and are currently single, crave that long-lost authentic, emotional connection with other people. And the odd time you find it, you usually end up with a goofy perma-grin with how refreshing it is (am I right?).

But the sex robots are here in all of their silicone and wire-filled glory and not going anywhere. There are currently at least seven big-time players in the sex robot business – a lucrative industry that continues to grow. Advances in sex robot technology has moved quickly; the dolls can be customized like never before, right down to nipple colour and type of labia (sex robot leader Abyss Creations currently offers 11 styles of labia to choose from). Some are even warm to the human touch, can replicate human affects and are capable of feeling emotion and falling in love with you. Taking it a step further, there’s now a sex doll brothel in Barcelona, which opened in early 2017, begging the question of whether the robotic set will put one day sex workers and adult female porn stars out of work.

Image: RealDoll

So, what makes a robot so much better than the real thing (aside from the fact that they’re always in “the mood,” don’t require much in terms of compromise, you never have to spent the holidays with their family and are complete with an “off” switch)? Well, for starters, they can be programmed and tailor-made to accommodate the user’s desires and fantasies…meaning, they’ll likely do things their living, breathing human counterparts are physically unable or unwilling to between the sheets.

Abyss Creations/Pheonix Studios

While the concept may seem like fun and games to many, robots aren’t without challenges. One (major) concern is that sex robots could promote a greater objectification of women and an acceptance of sexual violence at a time when we’ve made such strides to combat it, as the robotic dolls are seen and used as sexualized and subordinate objects of gratification. The whole consent issue – which was (finally) front and centre in 2017 – is also potentially threatened, as the blurring of fantasy and reality could have negative effects when it comes to consent with a real person.

While robots may help the lonely or unlucky in love relieve some sexual tension, relationships with robots may contribute to greater isolation from – dare I say – the real world among users, leading to potential mental health issues. Developing a strong emotional connection with a robot could lead to an inability to both form relationships and have sex with real people. It could also result in increased criticism and disappointment with real life people who aren’t so easily customizable. Creating an agreeable partner who is custom-designed to our ideal needs – in everything from accepting our bad moods and feeding our egos – could diminish the basic skills of communication, compromise, and “work” that we learn in actual human relationships, rendering real people not worth the effort.

Speaking of the quest for “perfection,” the arrival of robots as sexual and life partners could mark a major step back in the ever-important body positivity movement. With the ability to choose the ideal body and physical features of a robot, the concept and its adoption can make other humans feel sub-par compared to the “perfect bodied,” sexually talented robots. The fear is that –  with their borderline old-school Barbie doll proportions – they are viewed as an “upgrade” to the “flawed” human woman. When even Barbie has seen a realistic upgrade as of late, this seems like a step in the wrong direction to me.

Despite these alarming risks, we have to accept that some emotional and sexual appetites are going to be fulfilled by the digital world. We may one day fight for equal rights for digisexuals to marry robots; legal adjustments may be required as robots become increasingly ingrained into society. Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but I never thought I would be writing about people sharing beds with robots becoming commonplace either.