Sex robots (or ‘sexbots’) have captured the imagination of people (largely men) in one form or another for decades, if not centuries. With a recent surge of sensationalist media in more recent years around sex robots, we thought SEXTECHGUIDE readers deserved some proper information – charting the myths, realities, controversies and questions you might have about sex robots.
If you’re reading this, the chances are you want to find out more about the reality of sex robots. Once the stuff of sci-fi legend, it seems the reality of a robot lover is getting closer every day.
In 2016, Noel Sharkey, former advisor to the United Nations on robotics, said sex robots would be mainstream by 2026. In the years since, debate about the ethics of sex robots has been active. Should these innovations be celebrated as sophisticated tools for sexual pleasure, or do these lifelike qualities indicate the beginning of the end for the future of human relationships?
What is a Sex Robot?
You could argue that something like a Fleshlight Launch is already a type of ‘sex robot’. You could equally argue that any vibrator could also be considered a sex robot. However, for most people, the term refers to quite a specific vision: a humanoid robot built exclusively for sex.
For some people, artificial intelligence would also be a necessity – to make the experience as ‘realistic’ as possible, whereas some DIY efforts (there are many such projects – you can see a lot of them in the already dated documentary ‘My Sex Robot‘ from 2010) simply aim to vaguely replicate the mechanics of sex i.e. robotic thrusts. The end result isn’t going to get you anywhere close to the uncanny valley though.
While some people might accept mechanical movement of existing sex dolls as a sex robot, many of the keenest advocates couldn’t accept that sort of conceptual decoupling – that a sex robot that can’t speak, react, flirt and otherwise act ‘human’ isn’t really a sexbot at all.
History of Sex Robots
While much of the current focus on sex robots is replicating a human equipped with AI that’s capable of carrying off a conversation and fulfilling your sexual needs, the use of ‘sex robots’ is arguably as historical as it is futuristic.
“The relationship between humans and their artificial counterparts runs right back to the myths of ancient Greece, where sculptor Pygmalion’s statue was brought to life with a kiss. It is the stuff of legend and of science fiction – part of our written history and a part of our imagined future.”Kate Devlin, Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural Artificial Intelligence at King’s College, London.
Sex Robots in the Media: A Beginning
The most familiar form of the story comes from Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses, first published in 8 A.D. which depicts Pygmalion as a sculptor that carves an ivory woman that he then falls in love with and wishes into animated life. In a very direct way, this basic story still informs the conversation around sex robots today, and brings up the same questions around ethics, appearance and ‘sentience’.
What is in no doubt is that this narrative is a male-driven one that aims for a sex doll to replicate a human female, rather than taking on a more abstract form.
Sex Robots in 20th Century Media
The term ‘robot’ itself comes from the Czech word ‘slave’ and was first used to describe robots as we know them in the 1920s science fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Czech playwright Josef Capek.
Though the robots in R.U.R. took on a typically masculine form, the fembot (or gynoid) trope followed soon after. In the 1927 silent film, Metropolis the main female character literally becomes a robot. While she was not explicitly a built for sex, the idea of woman as robot has influenced much of the narrative up to today.
The swinging sixties saw fembots on the rise on US television screens. The TV sitcom My Living Doll (1964) had Rhoda Miller (AKA. AF709) learning human emotions and behavior at the directions of her creator’s friend, Dr. Bob Miller.
Novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1967) by Philip K Dick which based the plot for the 1982 (and 2017) films Blade Runner, had advanced robots of multiple genders, called replicants. However, the female replicants are exceptionally sexualized in both the book and the films. Pris is known as a ‘basic pleasure model’, and femme fatale character Rachael is pursued (and raped) by protagonist Rick Deckard.
Satirical thriller The Stepford Wives (1972), is a novel made into a film in 1975 (and then again in 2014). It features eerily submissive women who turn out to be subservient fembots designed to replace these husbands’ wives.
Post-apocalyptic cyberpunk sci fi film, Cherry 2000 (1987) had the protagonist’s gynoid-wife malfunction during sex, which sent him on a quest for the perfect replacement bot, perpetuating the idea that women are merely objects that can be replaced.
Even comedies like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) squeezed AI-equipped fembots into its plot.
21st Century Sex Robots in the Media
Films like AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) managed to explicitly include both male and female sexbot prostitutes in the form of Gigolo Joe and Gigolo Jane.
Robot prostitutes and sexbot brothels, as also predicted by David Levy in his 2007 book Love and Sex with Robots do little to allay fears of mechanical lovers disrupting sex and relationships as we know them today.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007), sees a softer side of the narrative. One that evokes empathy and understanding for “doll lovers”. We see Ryan Gosling fall in love with his sex doll, Bianca, a RealDoll to be precise.
The movie brought a touching awareness to the therapeutic capabilities that dolls and robots can provide for people with social anxiety, or people that find it difficult to form intimate relationships with others.
In 2013, Joaquin Phoenix starred as a lonely lead in the romantic sci-fi film, Her, painting a picture of what sex could be like with a disembodied robot – imagine phone sex with Siri.
He falls in love with his artificially intelligent iOS, seductively voiced by sex symbol Scarlett Johansson. Eventually, the operating systems all surpass human intelligence and form connections with each other, leaving our protagonist (among many others) alone again.
Humans is a more recent British TV series (2015-2018) that explores the impact of introducing a perfect human replica in every home. The obligatory episode that covers the issue of human/robot sex is also present. Through this we see the subsequent impact on human relationships, including both the father and son making advances on the robot.
The notion of consent is touched upon, though not investigated in depth – the narrative depicted does perpetuate the notion of robots that are capable of sexual acts (ie. not explicitly made as sex robots) are ultimately considered ‘owned’, and are objects of sexual gratification.
Perhaps a more acute image of the discussion around human interaction with robots comes in HBO’s 2016 adaptation of the 1973 Westworld. Set in a wild, wild western amusement park fashioning saloons and brothels alike, the modern adaptation is acutely aware of its problematic nature.
The interactions between humans and robots are based on violence and control. This results in little more than a disdain for humanity itself.
What sex robots exist?
Over the past few years, there have been more headlines about sex robots, but not many more actual robots for sale.
What started out as hobbyists has grown into a fledgling industry – but one that still has some technical challenges to overcome in its future. Nonetheless, work has been underway for a long time already, in one form or another.
Early Sex Robot Attempts
In 2005, German aircraft mechanic, Michael Harriman developed a sex doll called Andy. She was developed to have artificial breath, so that during sex she pants faster, and her artificial heart beats harder.
Internal heaters raise her body temperature – except the feet which stay cold. Via a remote control she could wiggle her hips, which, while not the peak of robotics was a basic approximation. Though Andy does not appear to exist anymore, the sensory features she touted are now gradually on the edge of existence in retail models.
Founder of Synthea Amatus, Sergei Santos’ says his sex robot, Samantha “needs to be romanced first”.
Similarly to Roxxxy (below), she can switch between 8 personalities, from ‘family mode’ to ‘sexy mode’.
Unfortunately, it’s a project that appears to have been abandoned around 2017.
What are the best sex robots to buy now?
Harmony – RealDoll / Abyss Creations
Abyss Creations, aka RealDoll.com, has been developing the technology behind the first AI sex robot for more than 10 years. Harmony is probably one of the most well-known robots on offer, making headlines for being capable of conversation, movement and remembering what the user likes and dislikes. Abyss is currently developing sensors so Harmony can respond to touch, internally heat and self-lubricate. As such, Harmony is currently one of the most lifelike products on offer, and is paving the way for more prototypes of sex robots.
In January 2018, Abyss Creations unveiled its new Solana doll, which has a peelable face for total customisation. Some people into sex with robots, have a fetish for the technological elements and may have sex with the face half peeled off. These are called technosexuals and commonly refer to the people who enjoy having sex with their cars, etc.
Driven by AI technology, Harmony features a modular head system with 10 points of movement, meaning it can form expressions, move its eyebrows and open its mouth to speak to you.
Realbotix is the technology firm driving Harmony’s AI app software, ‘the brain’ which gives the user the freedom to fully customise Harmony’s personality and control the voice of the robot. Harmony’s eye movements are synced with the app and built-in cameras are in development.
However, it’s only the face that has animatronic parts currently – although the body can be assembled in multiple positions.
Roxxxy – True Companion
TrueCompanion‘s offering is the Roxxxy sex robot, which can hold a conversation with its user, and has AI capabilities. Roxxxy has several different personality options, including ‘S&M Susan’, ‘Wild Wendy’, and ‘Mature Martha’ (who prefers to talk more than physically interact).
More controversial personas include ‘Young Yoko’ who “is very naive but curious and models an 18+ year old personality” and ‘Frigid Farah’, who “does not always like to engage in intimate activities”. Though Douglas Hines, founder and president of the company, explains it was never his intention. The “young” and “frigid” settings have received a lot of backlash for promoting paedophilia and ‘rape culture’.
Nevertheless, the name TrueCompanion is based on the company founder’s original aims. New Jersey software engineer Douglas Hines originally started designing sex dolls in the 1990s with lonely or widowed men in mind.
“The physical act of sex will only be a small part of the time you spend with a sex robot – the majority of time will be spent socialising and interacting.” – Douglas Hines
Abyss Creations and TrueCompanion seem to be currently leading the way in terms of sexbot development, but it won’t long before other companies move into the mainstream.
Other FAQs About Sex Robots
Can I buy a sex robot that talks?
Yes. Both Abyss Creations and TrueCompanion say their dolls are able to have full conversations with their users. TrueCompanion’s English-speaking Roxxxy doll will soon be able to speak Spanish, German and Japanese, according to TrueCompanion.
Can I buy a sex robot that can feel?
As well as hearing what you are saying, Roxxxy knows “where you are touching her and responds as appropriately as possible.”
However sex robot touch interaction is very basic as it stands. RealDoll’s McMullen explains that “more-lifelike genitalia isn’t far behind touch sensors, heating, self-lubrication, vibration’. Santos even claims to have designed sex robot G-spot stimulation, where you can “bring Samantha to orgasm”.
The Robot exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, UK, displayed flexible, artificial intelligent skin called CYSKIN. This (or similar) technology, if incorporated into sex robotics, would allow the robot to “feel and recognise the touch and caress of an affectionate human, to know when their human is making the first physical overtures of passionate, romantic love”.
Do male sex robots exist?
Perhaps predictably, the sex robot market has thus far been geared towards straight male customers. TrueCompanion is the first to launch the male sex robot Rocky, although some people are sceptical if the robots have ever surfaced at all (we’ve yet to see images of the prototype).
Abyss Creations believes so. McMullen said: “[We’ve had] a lot of request from women – not just as a sex partner, but as a companion. “We really are focusing all our energy on the companionship aspect.”
The six-foot tall, white, Henry, is a “Brad Pitt look-alike”. To be released this year, sporting the usual customizable features and (shock horror) detachable penis. Henry is no different to his male sex doll counterparts, except for his AI head linked to the app, just like Harmony.
How much do sex robots cost?
Sex robots can cost anything from $7,000 to upwards of $10,000. Abyss Creations’ Harmony has a starting price of $7,999, but when you add customizable options such as hand painted eyes (for an extra $350), you can see how quickly the total sum can add up.
Going up a bra cup size costs an additional $850 alone. But let’s be honest, if you have $10,000 spare to buy a sex robot, you can probably afford the extra money for custom freckles on top of the customized labia and pubic hair.
Do sex robot brothels exist?
If you can’t afford the full package, there are an increasing number of sex doll brothels around the world, including Aura Dolls, in Canada, and The Dolly Parlour in London. There are a few that specifically cater to robotic fantasies.
In Barcelona, Turin and Moscow, LumiDolls, founded by Sergi Prieto has a few robots prostitutes in their brothels. However, the Barcelona branch closed down within a few weeks of opening after non-robot sex workers protested against it.
Kinky S Dolls is a Canadian sex doll manufacturer, owned by Yuval Graviel. He is attempting to open the first ‘robot brothel’ in the US, offering a range of products. This includes the option to add an AI voice to your custom-made doll.
Sex robot videos
If you’re curious to see how sex robots work, before you invest your money and physical energy, you can find thousands of clips on sites like PornHub and YouPorn. Porn site CamBot launched ‘Cardi-Bot’ – the world’s first sex robot you can live cam with for free.
If you’re simply interested in the technology side, Vice journalist Karley Sciortino meets RealDoll’s Harmony in one of the videos below.
The world’s first male sex doll
My Sex Robot
Inside the Uncanny Valley
Will sex robots replace human sex and love?
Some argue whether sex with a robot even counts as real, and as the current state of sex robots stands, the sexual experience is limited to the conscious experience of the user, thus one could argue that it is more a form of masturbation, akin to smart sex toys. Until the sex robots gain technological skills that surpass humans, alongside the nuance, mysticism and unpredictability, it is unlikely that they will eradicate human sex, remaining as a niche in the market.
However, David Levy predicts that human-robot marriages will be commonplace by 2050, but can we really fall in love with non-human objects? The leading sexbot manufacturers repeatedly say that the consumer is demanding companionship. Sex along with good companionship is typically a recipe for love and with the growing population of online relationships, where we are falling in love with people through technology, the question is do we have the capability of falling in love with technology in the form of a human? This 2015 Japanese study found that on a neurological level, humans empathise with humanoid robots just as we do with other humans. Suggesting our capacity for love goes beyond the human realm.
Okay, so we might be able to fall in love with them, but is it requited? This will be provided that technology reaches the ability to create artificial sentience, robot consciousness. The sexbot will most likely be programmed to fall in love with us, a “fake love”. Counterclaims say that humans are also programmed to love, does that make our love fake? The question, then, is not can they, but should robots be programmed to love us? Particularly if we fear robots replacing our relationships.
What about sex robots as a form of therapy?
As noted in Lars and the Real Doll, on online forums, iDollators (sex doll lovers) explain that sex dolls are used as “a therapeutic tool that helps them to overcome a traumatic breakup or to cope with seemingly inevitable social and sexual deprivation due to physical and/or mental impairment.” Sexbots could therefore take this healing process to the next level, especially when we see the positive mental impact of PARO the baby seal therapy robot. PARO has been found to reduce stress, improve relaxation and stimulate interaction.
Can you explore sex with robots without the robots?
For anyone with an affinity for robot sex, you can explore this fantasy in other ways than sex robots. This porn star spent $500,000 on plastic surgery to transform her body to look like the sex dolls as saw a growing demand for sexbots.
“I’m the sex-terminator. No sex robot has a chance.” – Sybil Stallone, aka Brunette Barbie
A couple in the US got creative with fulfilling their techno-fetish by hiring a hypnotherapist to hypnotise the female partner into a state of roboticism, where she was “programmed to obey” orders.
Sex robot ethics and morality
Should robots have rights?
In 2017, Sophia became the world’s first robot to be granted legal personhood with her Saudi Arabian citizenship, the same country that only just gave women the right to drive. While this was mostly a marketing ploy, it does make a statement on what human rights are worth in a world of inequality.
Would a robot programmed to obey, be given the right to consent? When we look back at the core existence of robots as slaves, this is a contradiction, unless we accept robots into society as more than beings designed solely for our use. When we look at sexbots that are programmed to say “no” such as “Frigid Farah”, would her “no” eventually count in the eyes of the law as revoking consent when a person dismisses that?
Is the idea of a sex robot inherently sexist?
Technology itself is amoral, not inherently good or bad. However, the founder of Campaign Against Sex Robots, Kathleen Richardson, demands that all sex robots are inherently sexist and objectify women. Laura Bates points out in her opinion piece for the New York Times, “their creators are selling far more than an inanimate sex aid. They are effectively reproducing real women, complete with everything … except autonomy.”
They are currently built in the eyes of the hetero-patriarchal male gaze, commoditising on the female form, but that is not to say they are inherently wrong. The campaign, if successful, wouldn’t do anything to alleviate sexism. Censorship has proven time and time again to actually hinder innovation that could overcome these issues.
Could sex robots encourage rape?
“The concern is that rape enacted on a doll could encourage rape in real life,” says Kate Devlin, an AI expert who specialises in love and sex with robots. “Legally, you can’t rape something that isn’t human, but ethically it has to be examined.”
Could sex robots encourage paedophilia?
What repeatedly arises in the news is the creation and use of child sex robots. People have argued whether, just like raping a sexbot, will it alleviate a person’s need to act upon these urges on a human child, or does it encourage the behaviour in society by validating it as an acceptable form of release for people who hold these desires?
As it stands, we have a long way to go to find out the impact, but we can certainly debate and direct the course of events in the mean time.
In considering this particular question, however, it’s probably important to note that sex robots that take the appearance of a child wouldn’t be legal to own anyway in many countries, in the same way that people have been prosecuted for purchasing and importing non-robotic sex dolls that have child-like characteristics in both the UK and New Zealand.
Sex robot news
- DS Doll’s new 3D scanning process for dolls based on real-life models is crazily realistic
- Realdoll has reported customers that ask for child-like sex robots and dolls to the FBI
- Automated cleaner will make sanitizing your sex robot a whole lot easier
- Campaigners set to discuss the ethics of sex robots in society
- RealDoll is giving away an $8k AI-equipped sex doll