Debate on Sex Robots


My campaigning work is often unpaid - hence this Patreon account! Last Friday, I participated in a debate at Exeter University about sex robots. While this subject might seem trivial, it's an example of a subject area in which anti-sex campaigners attempt to stigmatise sex and sexuality, and attempt to lobby for draconian controls over people's private lives. These opportunities are a chance to introduce students to ideas such as...

1) Learn to identify moral panics, and not to get fooled by them.

2) Discuss the difference between real evidence and scary anecdotes.

3) Discuss issues of liberty in cases where some people disapprove of other people's behaviour.

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My name is Jerry Barnett. I’m a campaigner for sexual freedom and free speech, and author of a book called Porn Panic, which is about the politics of sexual repression and censorship. You can follow me on Twitter as @PornPanic. This is my 3rd visit to Exeter.

And yes, I would most certainly  have sex with a robot. So, I have little doubt, would most of you  - it just remains to be seen how many of you will admit it.

Firstly, a word of warning regarding anecdotes. I haven't debated this subject before, but I've done many debates on pornography and similar subjects, and I've encountered endless horror stories about unnamed individuals. They go along the lines of... “I met a woman who was a pornstar and then her vagina stopped working and her head fell off!” Anecdotes are not evidence, they’re simply used to replace facts with emotion. Let me also make clear that I'm defending the idea of adults using robots that depict adults - the issue of childlike robots is far more ethically complex, and needs separate discussion. But also let's note that robots might not in future depict humans at all. For example, there are already sex robots that depict elves. Just as movies and computer games liberate our minds from the boring necessity of staying within this universe, so sex robots can do the same thing.

While there are sex robots for both men and women, I expect men will be the primary users of robots. For a number of reasons. Firstly, given the opportunity, men will have sex - on average - more often than women. It's this imbalance of supply and demand for sperm that causes so many problems in society. It also appears that men are less good at fantasising. We opt for visual stimulation more than women do. So while most women own some kind of sex toy - many of which are basically disembodied penises - male equivalents like fleshlights are far less popular.

So would most men insert their penises into an attractive, realistic sex robot? It seems like a silly question. Of course they would. It would be easier to list the things men haven’t tried to put their penises into than the things they have. A quick google provides me the following list: sofa cushions, teddy bears, freshly kneaded dough, a glass full of marshmallows, a toaster, a park bench… and the list goes on.

So yes, I have little doubt that people, especially men, will in future be having sex with robots, and the more realistic they become the more that trend will continue. But what of the broader implications for society?

I’ve spent the last few years debating the alleged harms of pornography. And while there are plenty of terrible claims about the supposed harms of porn, there is pretty little evidence that porn is harmful - even rough porn. While anti-porn campaigners have tried to suggest that porn causes sexual violence, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests the opposite: increased availability of porn is linked with significnt declines in sexual violence. Anti-porn campaigners will use scary-sounding words like “objectification” or “sexualisation”, but quite simply the anti-porn scare stories have turned out to be the reverse of the truth. Porn, by making masturbation more interesting and satisfying, appears to make men less, rather than more dangerous. Sex robots will do the same.

I don’t mean to argue that sex robots won’t change society. I think they will. Since prehistoric times, the male and female roles in society have been divided. Men have traditionally been the providers of food, shelter and security, and women have provided sex to men in exchange for these things. That defines the shape of traditional human societies. This ancient division of labour began to break down with the invention of the pill and the legalisation of abortion, both of which freed women from being slaves to their fertility. Likewise, sex robots will accelerate the breakdown of these traditional roles. Just as the invention of machines removed the need for male strength in the economy, so sex robots can help replace the traditional female role. This doesn’t mean good old fashioned sex or relationships should go away - of course they shouldn’t. Sex robots will complement, not replace, sexual relationships. But for many people, especially men, and especially men with autistic and other social disorders, who find other people to be confusing or even frightening, the mating game may be something they will happily leave alone. Sex robots will provide an alternative for those people who for whatever reason, want to disengage from the endless competition involved in finding  a mate.

I think it’s ironic that the anti-sex robot movement appears to have emerged from the anti-prostitution movement, given that sex workers are probably the only people with a genuine reason to fear sex robots: namely that widespread use of sex robots will almost certainly reduce the demand for sex, and so push down prices.

Moral panics come and go all the time. It’s not just pornography and sex robots that have been labelled dangerous. In the past we’ve been told that horror films and violent computer games will make society more dangerous. It wasn’t true. We’ve been told that hip-hop, heavy metal and rock n roll will make society more dangerous. It wasn’t true. We humans are good at panicking, and every generation has new things to panic about. Sex robots are the latest in a long line of things that are supposed to make everything worse. They won’t. So shag a sex robot. I will, and I invite you all to join me.