Ethics and Sex

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Most of the world is ready to accept algorithm-enabled, internet-connected, virtual-reality-optimized sex machines with open arms arms! I said arms!

Ethics | Sexual Violence Research Initiative

The technology is evolving fast, which means two inbound waves of problems. Can you consent to sex with it?

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One thing that is unquestionable: There is a market. Either through licensing the teledildonics patent or risking lawsuits, several companies have tried to build sex technology that takes advantage of Bluetooth and the internet. Vibease, for example, makes a wearable that pulsates in time to synchronized digital books or a partner controlling an app. We-vibe makes vibrators that a partner can control, or set preset patterns. And so on. Meanwhile, ad-supported streaming websites have devastated the traditional pornography business.


Those performers see a business opportunity in allowing their viewers—for a fee, of course—to control devices they use on themselves, and in devices that they can manipulate for on? This is prepositionally complicated their audience. Longer term, pornography sees a new business in augmented and virtual reality. Porn is always an early adopter. Some of those streaming sites already provide content optimized for existing VR headsets.

Sex tech with Bluetooth-connected smartphone apps exists. A user just filed a lawsuit against the maker of the Lush, alleging that the company was keeping her usage data; that company, Lovense, was already dealing with a flaw that seemed to let it record audio during use.

The Ethics of Sex with Robots

Again, a major feature. People call their private parts private for a reason. More than weird. But intuitively, it feels like assault. These companies are new, or new to this game. Lewis proved it. Earlier this year she cracked open her We-Vibe Nova and connected it to the dark web. Then she told the internet about it. Via Twitter , Lewis invited people to anonymously connect to her vibrator. She posted video. She put the code on Github. This was more than just a cool hack.

She built it to show that people could control a sex device securely, anonymously, and peer-to-peer. A book called Love and Sex with Robots was among the first serious flirtations with the idea. Its author, a computer scientist and chess expert named David Levy, takes the most panglossian view. The first question, then, is whether robots will desire sex back. Even with advances in machine learning and algorithms that govern computer behavior, no one really expects a Turing-defeating, sentient, autonomous humanoid robot anytime soon.

So how should you treat them when they become sex partners? As my colleague Jon Mooallem once wrote, never kick a robot. So one critique, as articulated by the Campaign Against Sex Robots among others, is that having sex with robots will lead to literal dehumanization. Robot sex, in this construction, is sociopathy training. A robot, by definition, always consents. Lewis may be onto something of a solution here: The robot does not have to look human. To be fair, it seems likely that billions of other women have already figured this out. I looked at all the vibrators I own. If the only relationship people want with the device is a physical one, or if the device is an interface with a human partner, why have it look like a human at all?

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It could be, you know, better. It might also invert the consent question.

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