Robots, virtual intimacy and sex in space. Is this the future of sex?
IN The future tounpacking the growing influence of technology on our lives to answer the pressing question – What lies ahead?
“Do you mind if I sit down? Because watching you do those hip thrusts makes my legs feel a little weak.” This is what OpenAI’s infamous ChatGPT gave a user who requested a weightlifting-themed opening message for their Tinder match. The pickup line reportedly worked. One TikTok user went so far as to hail AI as “the future of Tinder,” when ChatGPT had delivered a poem to woo the woman he was messaging.
But the AI used in dating apps is just a hint of the extent to which technology is reshaping our understanding of intimacy. “Sextech,” as it’s called, is now a booming market expected to cross $37 billion by 2023.
The potential benefits of technology’s integration with sex are offset by several challenges that confound our current understanding of concepts such as consent and intimacy. In this case, for example, the women on the other side of the dating apps were matched with people. Do they know they are now talking to a bot?
“Technology is changing who we are, and we must [be] think much more about how it affects our relationships and our sex lives, says Ross Dawson, futurist and co-author of the Future of Sex report.
While users of dating apps may turn to chatbots to increase their chances of impressing a romantic or sexual partner, these apps themselves also rely on AI to do most of their work. Predictive AI and machine learning algorithms collect and analyze data based on people’s preferences and interests to identify potential matches. That dating apps gamify the field of love and sex, by encouraging users to swipe right based on factors such as attractiveness and desirability, has been well established. There’s even an app that uses AI to learn which visual features you find most attractive, and filter out the rest. But when people’s choice of partners relies on biased AI algorithms, it diminishes their ability to exercise agency in life’s most intimate spheres.
Beyond dating apps, rapid innovation is taking place in sextech, leading to wild predictions for the future of sex: Virtual reality will enable immersive cybersex. Haptic suits will allow for “fully physical long-distance” intimacy. Remote sex with partners will eventually integrate devices and holograms, while brain-to-brain interfaces, or implants, can tap into the brain’s pleasure centers, reducing the need for touch.
These inventions are still some time away. But the extent to which technology already affects people’s desires and sex life can be measured from the emergence of a new, technology-driven sexual identity – digisexuality. Researchers who first coined the term noted, “Many people will find that their experiences with [sexual] technology becomes an integral part of their sexual identity, and some will come to prefer it to manage sexual interactions with people.” A good example of this is the growing subculture of people around the world who espouse their love of synthetic dolls and call themselves iDollators.
For example, Masayuki Ozaki, a Tokyo-based physical therapist, told the New York Post that after meeting Mayu, a hyper-realistic sex doll made of silicone, he is no longer turned on by human relationships.
Now, with the integration of AI, sex dolls transform into sex robots that talk, respond to touch, can remember your preferences and have customizable personality traits, ranging from “shy” and “humorous” to “intellectual” and “adventurous”. ‘
A cultural fixation on robots shows futuristic sex. Innovation in this area looks at improving their conversational ability and also simulating physical reactions using sensors. Using newly developed printed skin, robots may soon be able to “feel” sensations, while their built-in heating systems will recreate the heat of human touch instead of cold steel. Reportedly, the goal is to create sex robots that will be “fully mobile, able to walk, talk and react like a human.”
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The lack of judgment and criticism from puppets and robots seems to account for much of their appeal. A client at one of several sex doll brothels that have sprung up in Europe told BBC News: “A prostitute is a real person and can judge you for how you look or your fantasies. A doll can’t do that. With a doll, all I have to think about is my own satisfaction.”
Technology then erases existing definitions of a sexual partner. In fact, futurist Dr. Ian Pearson predicted in 2015 that human-robot sex would become more common than human-human sex as soon as 2050. However, as robots—programmable to suit one’s preferences—become popular in the future, they may breed an expectation that sexual partners, especially women, should behave in a similar way. Advances in sexbots could potentially become a way to enforce silence on women – even more so since sexbots are mostly modeled on women and strongly resemble the exaggerated and objectified representation of women in pornography. As Leah Reich wrote in Aeon, this will only serve to recreate gender roles around sex.
Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a social psychologist who studies sexual behavior, raised a pertinent question: “Er [programmers] design them to meet our needs or impose their sexual attitudes and values on us?”
Researchers have recently highlighted how the design of sex robots can also reinforce heteronormativity. They advocated a more inclusive approach – the creation of fluid sex robots that can “break free from traditional ideas of gender and sexuality, to release the full potential of this technology to be flexible and offer new possibilities.” The potential of robots to dissolve barriers around sex and gender reveals how sextech can promote a more holistic and inclusive understanding of sexual pleasure that has otherwise historically been addressed to cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men.
Sextech therefore attempts to expand the popular notion of sex as limited to the physical act. “Often, when people think of sextech, they only think of sex, but sexuality really encompasses everything from orgasms and pleasure and relationships to education, health, crime, abuse reporting, medicine and gender identity,” said Bryony Cole, the world’s leading authority on the area. sextech.
One of the most prominent benefits is the ability for individuals to freely explore their sexuality. This includes sexual behavior that is often considered deviant. “The interplay between reality and fantasy is central to our sexual expression,” Dawson told The Swaddle. Here, it is not just AI-powered robots that will allow sexual expression, but a wide range of new technologies, including virtual reality.
The Future of Sex report predicts that with advanced sex technology, alternative sexual communities will emerge that will allow individuals to explore their kinks and erotic fantasies in a safe, non-judgmental space – which is, of course, virtual. At the same time, this has led to a moral debate about technology’s potential to enable pedophilia and the implementation of rape fantasies.
In the future, virtual reality may also offer more immersive sex education, by simulating experiences that focus on the destigmatization of pleasure. According to a 2021 article, young adults are already turning to educational sex technology in the form of websites and apps to bridge the critical gaps in knowledge left by the inadequate state of sex education today.
Admittedly, marrying new technologies with sex raises several concerns, particularly around consent and privacy—issues that are, and are expected to remain, evergreen. As Lehmiller told The Wall Street Journal, “Do you need someone’s consent to have sex with them virtually?” As sex moves from the physical to the digital domain, our digital footprints will also record these most intimate details of our lives. “What if your sex data is hacked and exposed publicly?”
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In the future, when artificial intelligence and virtual reality will allow one to superimpose images of others onto computer-generated avatars for their own sexual gratification, who is to stop them from creating “ex-lover doppelgangers and replica celebrity crushes” without their consent?
These questions of intimacy worsen exponentially as soon as we leave the confines of planet Earth. While NASA claims no sex has taken place in space yet, with space tourism gaining ground and plans to colonize Mars, researchers claim it’s time for “space agencies to embrace a new discipline, space sexology: the scientific study of extraterrestrial intimacy and sexuality.” Here, too, sextech is expected to play a role. Aside from VR and augmented reality, teledildonics, or sex toys that connect across distances, could allow those in space to be intimate with their partner back on Earth, the Daily Beast reported. The technology’s applications for facilitating intimacy in space can address several challenges that complicate the experience of sexuality in space and, as the paper notes, help people adapt to space life.
Sextech can therefore combat the stigma and shame associated with sex and has several positive implications for addressing a range of issues, from social isolation to sexual trauma. Today, there are chatbots that address questions about sexual health, apps that educate users about female anatomy to bridge what is known as the orgasm gap, and toys that measure data that indicates arousal, helping to understand how diet, Mood and sleep also affect sexuality. But as seen in the case of robots and the rise of virtual sex, technology’s influence also throws into stark relief issues of inclusion and justice that remain rooted in sexual desire and expression. As Ross Dawson said: “Sexuality is at the heart of what it is to be human.” By redefining physical intimacy, the rise of new technologies is forcing us to rethink the very dynamics of sex as we know it today.