My wife is a member of a “mom group” that she texts with daily, a half-dozen other women in around the same age range and tax bracket. They’re ruthlessly honest with each other, sharing intimate details about their lives, kids, and husbands. It kind of scares me knowing that a handful of moms out there that I’ve never met know the approximate size and shape of my penis, but I’ve learned to live with it.
I asked her to ask them a question: how would you feel if your husband brought home a robot to have sex with when you weren’t in the mood?
They … weren’t into it. Reactions ranged from disgust to fury, the women unanimously reporting that an artificial sex partner would be a guaranteed deal breaker in their marriage.
My wife wasn’t into it either, just for reference.
Unfortunately for them, it’s looking like sex robots is going to hit the market this year, at least according to expert David Levy. Parallel advances in artificial intelligence, soft plastics, and sexual science have enabled us to create partners that give pleasure that’s close to the real thing. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about humanity, it’s that we’ll have sex with anything we can.
What separates a “sex robot” from a “masturbation aid”? That’s a great question. I don’t think many people would be upset if they are significant other masturbated unless it detracted from their quality of life somehow. Plenty of people buy dildos and manage to not leave them out on the kitchen counter when company’s over. So what part of adding a machine into the equation crosses the line?
To answer that question, we’re going to have to figure out exactly what a “sex robot” is.
The dictionary defines “robot” as a machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer. Sex is certainly a series of actions, but it doesn’t have to be that complex, especially in your teens. Notice that there’s nothing in that about appearance — while we expect those sex robots will probably look like the human, there’s no reason they’d have to. They could just be metal boxes that a dude crams his penis into for the orgasm of his life, Fleshlights with a little more intelligence.
Even with those things, though, the human is still doing most of the work. The allure of a sex robot seems to be that they serve as an actual responsive partner, not just a receptacle. The newest models from RealDoll, which cost a cool $15,000, boast dialogue modules and respond to stimuli, letting you know if you’re “pleasuring” them well enough.
And they don’t look like metal boxes. They look like women.
Sex is about more than genital stimulation, after all. The majority of arousal happens in the brain, not the groin. That means a good portion of a sex robot’s job is going to be arousing their partner and keeping them aroused. It’s fair to say that’s what’s really freaking people out.
The trend in sex dolls is towards hyper-exaggerated feminine forms, all smooth skin and outrageous curves. In a culture that already constantly communicates to women that their physical appearance isn’t good enough and imperfections will not be tolerated, the idea of your husband turning to a mindless sexual object shaped like an “ideal” female that doesn’t age is a little tough to get used to.
When I talked to another group of married people about sex robots, I got a much wider range of answers. There were a few common throughlines, though.
It seems like women don’t care that much if their husbands have sex with machines, as long as they’re not aroused by them. But you really can’t have sex — or masturbate — without arousal. That emotional hurdle is probably going to be the biggest obstacle to mainstream acceptance.
But here’s the thing: husbands get aroused all the time by women that aren’t their wives. It’s biological imperative, and it doesn’t mean we love or value our spouses any less. I can’t speak for all men, but for many it’s easy to disconnect romantic love from sexual love. Marriage provides a fantastic outlet for the former, but sometimes stumbles on the latter.
So how do we turn the rise of the sex robots into a positive thing? By finally uncoupling sexual satisfaction from romantic life. Bear with me here, because I’m about to challenge everything you know about mating.
Sexuality isn’t an on-off switch. It’s a continuum, and finding a partner with an equal level of sexual desire is difficult. That’s compounded by the fact that people’s sex drive changes as they age, with the body’s hormonal balance shifting. A couple who were on the same page in the bedroom early on might not be five years in.
An iVillage survey from a few years back illustrated some pretty obvious gaps in sexual desire. Thirty-five percent of men were in the mood at the time of the survey, vs. 11 percent of women. Fifty-seven percent of women also reported having sex out of an obligation to their partner.
Obligation isn’t sexy. Unmatched sex drives can cause a lot of friction in a relationship. Most couples find it very difficult to talk openly about their sexual needs. That’s what drives people to seek sexual satisfaction outside of their partner, whether through pornography or extramarital sex.
The pros and cons of pornography have been endlessly debated, and we don’t have the patience to go into them here. We can all agree that having an affair is usually pretty bad, especially if you’re a character on a prime time TV show.
What’s interesting about sex robots is they occupy a space halfway between those two outlets. They externalize the physicality of masturbation onto another “person,” but don’t involve another human being with needs and wants of their own.
Unlike having an affair, using a sex robot is never going to go any farther than assisted masturbation. Husbands aren’t going to develop feelings for them, and they sure aren’t going to leave their wives for them. They exist simply to take some of that sexual obligation away.
That’s indisputably a good thing. In the 1950s, Whirlpool released a short film called “Mother Takes A Holiday,” where the cast of housewives marveled at the amount of free time they had to pursue their own interests now that automatic dishwashers and laundry machines were easing their burden of chores. The women’s liberation movement of the 1960s was in many ways bolstered by the rise of automation. There’s no reason that sex robots couldn’t do the same in the 21st century.
I’m not saying intimacy with your partner should be a household chore. But let’s be frank with each other: marriages survive for lots of reasons besides mutual sexual attraction. Raising kids, taking care of each other’s emotional needs and financial security — those are all just as valid and important.
Marriage is changing, like everything else in the world. It’s important to keep an open mind.
I’m curious to have my wife ask the “mom group” in five or ten years whether any of their households have added a sex robot to their rotation. I’m sure they’ll tell her. They tell her everything.