The Emergence of Sexbots and the Sentience Stumper

Part 1: Immersion into The SexTech Industry

What comes to your mind when you overhear the word ‘SexTech’? Sex robots and virtual mates? Sex toys and adult websites? These are only a portion of the SexTech industry. Basically, SexTech is any technology that has been curated to enhance the human sexual experience and disrupts the way sex is viewed, accessed and relished like never before. However, the industry is still marginalised, yet the market is buzzing with the rising voice of IoB technology. The industry is currently estimated at $30 billion and is forecasted to become one of the fastest-growing industries in the next few years, hitting $122.6 billion by 2026. 

Do you remember that Saudi Arabia gave citizenship to a robot known as Sophia in 2017? She became the world’s first robot citizen. Since then, the robotics industry has advanced in other fields as well where artificial humans can be used in productive ways. The success of silicone sex dolls for sexual gratification has set a clear path for the role of robotics in the future of sex. Public polls and indirect measures insinuate that there would be a market for sex robots. We cannot determine how big the market will be. It could be a niche for fetishists, a new paraphilia, or societal norms could alter to allow their use to become widespread. 

Part 2: Dealing with Artificial Love Servants

The regular customers of the old world of artificial love servants will pay around $20 for such an object - not encompassing shipping and transport. For this, they would get, for example, an inflatable or mannequin-like sex partner, as referred to in earlier decades and centuries. If they dig deeper into their pockets and shell out $500 to $1,500, they have arrived in the modern world. For this, they can acquire a lifelike sex doll with silicone skin and a metal skeleton that can display a gamut of emotions they’re programmed with. They can smile, cry, even do a good approximation of an orgasm face and can produce ever-better mimicries of personhood.  

Nowadays, the sale of robots developed for sexual motives is fast approaching. Several companies such as Realbotix, Android Love Dolls, True Companion and the Sex Bot have begun to take shipping orders. In the world of human-machine intimacy, Harmony by RealDoll is among the most evolved sex robots which can blink, move its head, have a tête-à-tête, and comes with self-learning software that remembers earlier encounters to offer better companionship. 

With the advancements treading at this rate, we can expect bots to become more developed, sophisticated and human-like. Moreover, the industry experts are exploring the new domain of immersive sex content and virtual reality pornography. 

Part 3: Intimate Droids for Dotage

What is it like to form an emotional bond with a robot? We turn to moral philosophers, scientists and sex workers to compare the differences between human relationships and what robots offer. Indeed, robots cannot feel love or tenderness. The best that robots can do is to ‘fake it’ but, the anthropomorphic features might be enough for some people.

The robotic sex dolls are popularly joked about as fetish objects for lonesome beings. But some people believe that the potential of these dolls extends far beyond mere masturbatory succour. The use of sex robots in some therapies may help with sexual healing. For example, it may be beneficial to use a robot in aiding people with sexual dysfunction or social anxiety about sex. For all the adults who are entitled to sex life, robots have also been proposed as a means of appeasement for the differently-abled and the elderly. Although, this idea poses complex ethical issues, particularly with the elderly in care homes.

Part 4: Perverted or Practical in the battle against Sex Crimes

Some believe that expressing disordered or criminal sexual desires with a sex robot would bring users to the point where they would not have the desire to harm fellow humans. Alternatively, many others believe that this would encourage recidivism, reinforce illicit sexual practices, and make them more admissible. Allowing people to live out their darkest fantasies with sex robots can have a detrimental effect on society and stir up more danger for the vulnerable. But the arrival of sex robots has a distinguished opinion. Inventors like Santos argue that they can potentially replace prostitutes, reduce sex trafficking, and help lonely rejects, while critics say they objectify women and normalize sexism as well as rape culture. 

Experts say that the increasingly life-like robots raise complex issues that should be considered by policymakers and the public- including whether the use of such products should be stimulated to curb prostitution and sex trafficking, for sex offenders, or people with disabilities. 

Part 5: Connecting the Dots

Could sexual intimacy with robots lead to pronounced social isolation? The majority of experts provide strong arguments that sex robots could lead to some form of a social void. It is contrary to what the manufactures of sex robots tell us. The CEO of RealBotix said that he has been making sex dolls for many years, especially to alleviate the vacuum of those who, for whatever reason, have problems relating to human intimacy. The public survey data shows mixed opinions. 

Previously this year, Women of SexTech held a virtual event to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the industry. The keynote speaker was Cindy Gallop, founder of the MakeLoveNotPorn company, who claimed in her speech that months of lockdown showed us that human relationships are irreplaceable. Technology is just a means to enhance the human experience. Gallop also stated that “it is only when things break down that new tech and ideas emerge.” The social isolation has created an utter context for SexTech to thrive.

Unfortunately, nearly every facet of society today - public health organisations, school-based sex education, financial institutions, investment and venture capital, major social media companies- still forbid this very reality. At best, it’s considered an indulgence. At worst, sexual wellness and technology are routinely grouped along with pornography, illegal drugs, weapons, and gambling. Therefore, it operates underground in the gloom. Honestly, investors are apprehensive, which means they sometimes do not understand the problems to be solved. Or they answer to more conservative institutions that won’t invest in 'vice.' Stigma keeps them away from SexTech.


Samakshi Garg

Type A, Samakshi is currently pursuing Bachelor's in Commerce from University of Delhi. She loves deadlines and Pinterest.

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