Woman being intimate with a robot

Sex robots’ health benefits questioned by UK doctors

Image credit: Dreamstime

Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a team of doctors have examined the often-cited health benefits of sex with robots and concluded that there is little evidence for these claims.

The study scrutinises the role of adult female-bodied sex robots (also known as “sexbots”) currently sold by four companies. The first adult male-bodied sex robot is due to go on sale later this year and at least one company manufactures sex robots with the appearance of pre-pubescent children. The integration of artificial intelligence with robotics could allow for increasingly realistic sex robots capable of human-like movement and conversation.

The sex robots industry has been estimated to be worth $30bn (£22bn) worldwide. The quiet but steady growth of the industry has prompted heated discussions over the potential joy and devastation that could derive from more and more people having sex with robots.

Proponents of sex robots suggest that the robots could provide an outlet for people to enjoy sexual experiences, particularly people who may struggle with sexual dysfunction – such as impotence – or those with disabilities which complicate conventional sexual relationships. Proponents have even suggested that sex robots could help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease, put an end to sex trafficking and provide a safe way for people with violent or inappropriate sexual urges to act out their fantasies.

However, the BMJ study concludes that there is little empirical evidence to suggest that sex robots could have a significant impact on public health and may instead have negative consequences, such as the amplification of impossible beauty standards (primarily for women) and the normalisation of sexual exploitation.

“It is speculative whether the development of a sexbot marketplace will lead to lesser risk of violence and infections or drive further exploitation of human sex workers,” the researchers wrote. “Sexual violence survivors and activists already campaign against ‘rape culture’: the idea that (overwhelmingly) male violence is regarded as entitled and prosecution is so difficult that perpetrators of sexual abuse act with impunity.”

The study said that it was “plausible” that sex robots could be helpful for shy people who wish to gain sexual experience in a low-pressure setting, although frequently engaging in sex with robots could distance them from human intimacy. Similarly, while sex robots could provide some form of companionship for people with disabilities or mental illness, the authors say that it could be patronising to suggest that these people require sex robots when they are most likely capable of forming conventional human relationships.

The lack of intimacy associated with forming relationships with robots could – the study suggests – compound dysfunction and anxiety when it comes to forming real human relationships.

The researchers also caution against the use of sex robots (specifically childlike sex robots) for the treatment of sexual offenders. While some experiments have sought to determine whether violent pornography provides a safe outlet for sexual offenders or whether it normalises and encourages sexual abuse, the impact of providing violent fantasies is not well understood.

“While many sexbot users may distinguish between fact and fantasy, some buyers may not, leading to concern about potentially exacerbating the risk of sexual assault and rape of actual children and adults.”

The researchers concluded that while there is little evidence that sex robots could have health benefits, this is unlikely to make a dent in the growing industry, which is not driven by healthcare concerns.

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