What just happened?
A Canadian company has announced plans to open a robot brothel in Houston, where customers can rent a sex robot by the hour. While similar brothels are currently operating in such countries as France, Germany, Russia, Spain, Scotland, and the United Kingdom, this would be the first such operation in the United States.
Why is this an issue Christians should know about?
Throughout most of the 20th century, the average American Christian remained largely unaware of trends in deviant sexual behaviors until they reached either mainstream acceptance or had become large-scale social maladies.
The expansion and ubiquity of technology has caused such problems to rapidly shift from niche concerns to epidemics in almost every community in America. Whereas problems such as pornography and prostitution were once on the margin, the internet has pushed them into nearly every home.
Similarly, sex robots may seem to be a futuristic concern. But attitudes about sex robots are already becoming extremely permissive. A recent survey found that one in four men (24 percent) and one in ten women (9 percent) would consider having sex with a robot. Only about a third (32 percent) believe having sex with a robot while in a relationship should be considered cheating. And almost half of Americans (49 percent) also believe that having sex with robots will become common practice sometime within the next 50 years.
While we might wish to remain ignorant about trends such as sex robots and virtual reality-based pornography, we need to begin preparing today to respond to the challenges they will cause for our families and church congregations.
(That being said, not every Christian is able to educate themselves about sexual problems without it causing them to stumble. Although the content below is not salacious or prurient, we encourage those who struggle in this area of life to use caution in reading this article and consider whether it might be something you should personally avoid engaging with. For similar reasons, some links to the sources used in this article have been excluded.)
What is a sex robot?
Sex robots are a technologically advanced form of object commonly known as a “sex doll,” “fornicatory doll,” or gynoid. (The term gynoid is derived from they Greek prefix gyne [woman] and is the female equivalent of a male android, a humanoid robot.)
Although sex dolls have been available in the United States since at least the late 1960s, advances in technology have led to the creation of gynoids that can move, express emotions, and even carry on simple conversations. Artificial intelligence (AI) and advances in material sciences may soon make gynoids even more life-like and affordable, increasing both the supply and also the demand for gynoids.
What is the moral problem with using sex robots?
The use of gynoids as sexual objects raises a number of concerns for both Christians and nonbelievers.
The most obvious problem is that it separates sexual activity from the form in which it was intended by God—the physical “one flesh” union of a man and women within the bounds of marriage (Matt. 19:6).
The second problem is that it fosters and normalizes deviant fetishes and paraphilias, including agalmatophilia (sexual attraction to dolls and other figurative objects), somnophilia (sexually arousal to someone who is unconscious), and necrophilia (sexual attraction to corpses).
The third problem is that it reduces male empathy by teaching men to treat women (and sometimes children) as objects and blank canvases on which to enact their sexual fantasies.
The fourth problem is that, when they become part of the mainstream culture, they will erode intimacy between married couples. According to Dr. Trudy Barber, an expert on the effect of technology on sexual intercourse, sex between couples will increasingly be saved for special occasions as robots step in to satisfy our everyday needs.
These are but a few examples of the dozens of ways this technology will further erode sexual morality.
How are sex robots connected to prostitution?
The use of sex robots is often touted as a way to reduce the demand for prostitution. But numerous studies have found that the introduction of new technology supports and contributes to the expansion of prostitution.
“There are more women are employed by the sex industry than any other time in history,” says Kathleen Richardson, a professor of ethics and culture of robots and AI at De Montfort University. “Prostitution and pornography production also rises with the growth of the internet. In 1990, 5.6 percent of men reported paying for sex in their lifetime, by 2000, this had increased to 8.8 percent.”
“The arguments that sex robots will provide artificial sexual substitutes and reduce the purchase of sex by buyers is not borne out by evidence,” Richardson adds.
A report by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics says that “we have found no indications that robots will end prostitution or sex trafficking in our investigation or in the surveys.”
What is more likely to occur is that as men use the robots to practice ever more deviant forms of sexual behavior, it will increase their desire to act out such perverse fantasies on human women. Because most women (and girls) will not want to be treated in such an abusive manner, it will increase demand for trafficked victims who are unable to refuse their criminal oppressors.
How are sex robots connected to pedophilia?
Some have argued that child sex robots should be used as a “treatment” for pedophilia. In 2012, a robotics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, argued that people should not only legally be permitted to have such dolls, but perhaps some should be handed prescriptions for them. In his opinion sex robots might function as an outlet for people to express their urges, redirecting dark desires toward machines and away from real children.
Another advocate, Shin Takagi, runs a Japanese company that produces life-like child sex dolls, as The Atlantic notes, and ships “anatomically-correct imitations of girls as young as five to clients around the world.” Takagi, who admits to having pedophilic desires, says, “I am helping people express their desires, legally and ethically. It’s not worth living if you have to live with repressed desire.”
But just as engagement with adult sex robots is likely to increase the demand for human prostitutes, the use of child sex robots is expected to increase abuse of children. As one paraphilia researcher says, contact with [Takagi’s] products would likely have a “reinforcing effect” on pedophilic ideation and “in many instances, cause it to be acted upon with greater urgency.”’
“Treating pedophiles with robot sex children is both a dubious and repulsive idea,” robot ethicist Patrick Lin says. “Imagine treating racism by letting a bigot abuse a brown robot. Would that work? Probably not.”
What policy actions be taken on this issue?
Unfortunately, as with pornography, there are few policy options available to U.S. citizens that can help curb the expansion of this threat. However, there are two ways we can make a difference.
First, at the local level, you can encourage your local city council or zoning commission to impose ordinances prohibiting sex robot brothels in your community. The Houston city council, for example, will be voting today on just such an ordinance.
Second, at the national level, you can support legislation banning child sex dolls. This past June, the U.S. House passed the Curbing Realistic Exploitative Electronic Pedophilic Robots (CREEPER) Act. The legislation prohibits the importation or transportation of any anatomically correct doll, mannequin, or robot, with the features of, or with features that resemble those of, a minor, intended for use in sexual acts. The legislation is currently before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary. You can call your senators to encourage them to pass this important legislation.