Viagra, robots, cybersex and the future of intimacy

Roxxxy - is this the future of sex?

People are willing to have sex with inflatable dolls, so initially anything that moves will be an improvement. Henrik Christensen, chairman of European Robotics Network

What’s intriguing is that part of the new masculinity, or M-ness, is man’s recognition that he needs a woman. This realization comes, ironically, during the Era of Female Independence, a time when man can be replaced by boy toys, female lovers, abstinence, and even vibrators, … Whereas men still need women, their traditional source of comfort and inspiration, women are increasingly less likely to feel the same about men. And that’s changing everything about the rules of the game. Marian Salzman, an American advertising and public relations executive

Bob Dole revealed he is one of the test subjects for Viagra. He said on Larry King, ‘I wish I had bought stock in it.’ Only a Republican would think the best part of Viagra is the fact that you could make money off of it.  Jay Leno

 

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Sex and technology have enjoyed an intimate relationship throughout our history. We are all familiar with stone-age hunting tools but dildos have also been around for at least 30,000 years. The world’s oldest known dildo, which was 20 centimetres long and made of siltstone, was found in Hohle Fels Cave near Ulm Germany. Humans have long been using their ingenuity to invent methods of birth control, aphrodisiacs, chastity belts, devices to stop self-abuse and every other kind of invention. Vibrators were introduced to the market in the late 1880s, some 10 years before domestic vacuum cleaners. Internet may have been invented by the U.S military but it was perfected by the porn industry. And now increasingly rapid technological developments raise profound moral and ethical questions about how we conduct sexual relations. However I have no intention of answering those questions – I am just providing a bit of cheap titillation.

The first area I want to look at is drugs. The invention of Viagra was serendipitous – I’m sure you’ve heard the story of how the scientists at the Phizer labs were testing a medicine to cure heart ailments. The patients reported some unexpected side-effects and Phizer had created an instant cultural icon and a cash cow for company shareholders. Once again we see the law of unintended consequences operating.  Now the search for a female Viagra is under way. It’s funny when you hear about this you get two opposing critiques. On the one hand there are critics who say that the drug companies are sexist and they are not interested in female pleasure. While on the other hand others accuse them of cashing in on women’s anxieties and medicalising sex. I disagree with both of these views. Obviously the drug companies are not NGOs. This is a market worth an estimated $2 billion. If the pharmaceutical companies think a product line will be profitable, they are going to invest in it. If there is no demand and they invest a lot of money in it, they will come spectacularly unstuck. Since Viagra’s 1998 launch, more than 25 experimental therapies have been studied for so-called female sexual dysfunction; none have reached the market. If they do finally discover an effective drug, which is also safe, I don’t see why it shouldn’t go on the market. Nobody would be forced to take it. Women should be sensible enough to weigh up its benefits, costs, and side-effects and make an informed decision.

A while back I did a post about artificial intelligence and robots but one area I didn’t look into was robots and sex. It sounds like something from a sci-fi dystopia and the idea of sex with robots will make many people squirm, which of course immediately draws me to the subject. According to David Levy in his 2007 work The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships, love with robots will be as normal as love with other humans. Levy agues that “…while the number of sexual acts and lovemaking positions commonly practiced between humans will be extended, as robots teach us more than is in all of the world’s published sex manuals combined.”

Levy’s book came out three years ago and his predictions are already beginning to come true. This very year TrueCompanion.com have come out with Roxxxy, the world’s first sex robot The company claim that Roxxxy is not just a sex toy but that it can carry on a discussion and express her love to you. She can talk to you, listen to you and feel your touch. And there will also be a male version called Rocky coming soon. The price of Roxxxy may put many prospective clients off – it will set you back a hefty $1,499.00.  

You might find this use of technology crazy, distasteful or both but Levy may be on to something. The technology is advancing at a rapid pace. If you see this video of Roxxy,   you will see that she is not quite the real deal but imagine what could be done in another 50 years. What would happen if sex with a robot was actually much better than with a human? However the question is culturally are we ready for this?

In his excellent book of thought experiments The Pig that Wants to be Eaten Julian Baggini has a story called “A byte on the side“. It goes like this:

Like many people who had been married for several years, Dion was bored with his relationship. There was no passion these days. However, Dion had no intention whatsoever of leaving his wife. He loved her and she was an excellent mother to their children. He knew full well what the usual solution to this problem was: have an affair. You simply accept that your wife satisfies some of your needs and your mistress others. But Dion really didn’t want to go behind his wife’s back, and he also knew that she could not deal with an open relationship even if he could. So when Dion heard about Byte on the Side Inc. (“even better than the real thing”) he had to take it seriously. What the company offered was the opportunity to conduct a virtual affair. Not cyber sex with a real person at the other end of the computer connection, but a virtual reality environment in which you “slept with” a completely simulated person. It would feel just like real sex, but, in fact, all your experiences would be caused by computers stimulating your brain to make it seem to you as though you were having sex. All the thrills of an affair, but with no third person, and hence no real infidelity. Why should he say no?

 

This thought experiment is a test of our attitude to infidelity. At the heart of this question is the paradox we humans face. Monogamy is for many a difficult goal. To be with the same person till death do us part is a great challenge when we are living longer and longer. But free love and swinging also have their price. We are also naturally jealous and to see our loved one with another is hard to swallow. Baggini argues that the problem is not that you turn to another person but that you have turned away from your partner and the relationship. My own take is that technology is fine but it cannot be a substitute for real human contact. But we should be wary of dismissing this technology out of hand. It could be right for some people at some stages in their lives. Bedroom practices in 2060 could well be completely different to ours.

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One Response to Viagra, robots, cybersex and the future of intimacy

  1. […] libertine John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and his classic poem, Signior Dildo. Then I did a piece on sex robots. This week I will be looking at vibrators and their rather unlikely history. If you want to know […]

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