AI in the Bedroom: Cumming to Grips with the Future of Sex

Let’s talk about sex, baby — or rather, the lack thereof. 

Intimate relationships as we know them are at risk. The amount of people having sex has significantly declined and the rates of depression and feelings of isolation have skyrocketed. Now, sex robots have entered the equation. 

With the rapid technological advancement of sex robots, what does this mean for our expression of sexuality and intimacy?

At a conference in June of 2019, sponsored by the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society, clinical psychologist and sex therapist Dr. Marianne Brandon began speaking about the advent of sex robots. By the end of her talk, people couldn’t even speak. The Founding Director of Evolutionary Studies at SUNY New Paltz Glenn Geher called it a “drop the mic moment.” 

“It was fascinating, it was scary, it was engaging and I said ‘this woman has got to come to New Paltz,’” Geher said. 

On Monday, March 2, nearly every seat of the Coykendall’s auditorium was filled by students, faculty and community members eager to hear Dr. Brandon’s lecture “Evolution Meets AI in the Bedroom: The Future of Sex.” 

Sex is crucial in the satisfaction of an intimate relationship. It promotes feelings of safety, combats loneliness, acts as a vehicle for giving and receiving love, and remains the most intimate act of most couples’ relationships. 

In today’s intimate landscape, however, there is a significant decrease in the frequency of lovemaking. Rates of sexless marriage are about 20%, according to Brandon. The rates of sexual concerns and dysfunction remain high, with 40% of women and 30% of men having reported a sexual dysfunction. 

Considering that technology already surpasses a human partner in stimulation intensity, the stage has been set for the emergence of highly intelligent sex machines. 

When 550 AI experts were surveyed in 2016, it was determined that there is a 50% chance that machine intelligence will have a “high level” of human ability in 20 to 30 years, and the likelihood rises to 90% by 2075. Out of the 550 AI experts, 31% believed this will be bad or extremely bad for humanity. 

Sex robots are an example of supernormal stimuli, meaning “it taps an instinct in us that we are oriented to want but we as humans have amped it up to make it supernormal.” To better understand this term, Brandon offered up an analogy involving an apple and apple pie. The apple pie is the supernormal stimuli because it has been exaggerated from its original form as an apple, and therefore humans are more attracted to this exaggerated stimuli. 

The same goes for sex robots. This human-created technological product essentially “hijacks the natural response tendency and causes animals to respond more strongly and often preferentially to the exaggerated stimuli.”

As one may predict, there is a laundry list of risks associated with the sophisticated development of sex robots. Not only do they have the potential to prevent the learning of relationship skills, but they can also easily disrupt intimacy and promote narcissistic relationship styles. 

With the rate of technological advancement, consumers will have the option to customize their robot’s eye color, hair color, body type and even personality. 

“This robot will never say no and will do whatever you want,” Dr. Brandon said. “Anything you’ve seen in porn or whatever your partner isn’t interested in, your doll is going to think it’s the best thing ever. There’s no human partner who is going to compete with that.” 

Sex robots pose a real threat to human partners, for they aren’t just dolls with a microchip. Rather, these sex robots will use self-learning algorithms to engage their partner’s emotions, according to an article by The Conversation. Taking this further, Dr. Brandon believes there is a likelihood that people will fall in love with their sex robots. 

These sex machines also run the risk of objectifying women and amplifying current trends of cultural sexual conflict. 

In 2018, the Houston City Council enacted an ordinance to ban what would have been America’s first sex robot “brothel.” At one of the community meetings, an attendee warned, “A business like this would destroy homes, families, finances of our neighbors and cause major community uproars in the city,” according to an article from The Conversation.

It remains unclear whether the use of sex robots will aid or aggravate phenomenas like pedophilia and rape. Currently, there is no ban on child sex robots and Dr. Brandon did confess that they already do exist. 

“We are likely to see many attempts to ban childlike sex robots, but it’s unclear if such bans will survive constitutional challenge … it might also be argued that childlike sex robots would have serious detrimental effects that compel state action,” said Francis X. Shen in his article from The Conversation.  

Having the opportunity for an orgasm at one’s fingertips begs the question of how this will change the conversation around consent. 

“It’s a huge concern because no one is going to potentially need consent from their robots to do whatever they want. And is this then modeling something that we are trying really hard to turn around in our culture?” Dr. Brandon said.  

While there is a movement of developers who claim they are going to make sex robots that require consent, Dr. Brandon admits that she doesn’t know how this will work or look like.

“I really just think this is all going to be driven by the dollar. It doesn’t matter what we think, it’s just what we are willing to pay for,” Dr. Brandon said. “If people have a choice of getting a doll that they don’t have to mess around with consent, I would assume that many people are going to opt for that.”

Before anyone has an existential crisis, it’s important to note that sex robots are not all doom and gloom. 

Sex robots can provide the disabled population and people who have trouble finding human partners access to sexual pleasure. They can also pose a potential therapeutic benefit for those with erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, and can bridge the gap for couples who are challenged by sexual desire discrepancies.  

We are entering a whole new era of intimacy and sexuality, which leaves us with the challenge of using sex technology to enhance our human to human connections.

Dr. Brandon ended her lecture with the recommendation of “robot-proofing your relationship.” The only way to preserve our sexual relationships with humans and to combat the risks of sex robots is to cultivate what separates us from robots.

Nicole Zanchelli
About Nicole Zanchelli 77 Articles
Nicole Zanchelli is a fourth-year journalism major with a sociology and Italian studies minor. This is her third semester on The Oracle. Previously, she worked as a sports assistant copy editor, an arts & entertainment copy editor and features copy editor. Her favorite articles to read and write deal with exposing corruption and analyzing social injustices.