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Guardian: Op-ed: How sex robots could help with the nuts and bolts of relationships

October 3, 2017 — 

Neil McArthur, philosopher and director of the U ofM’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, alongside his colleague John Danaher, wrote this opinion piece for the Guardian newspaper. It begins: 


Sex robots do not currently exist. While some early proto-sexbots have been developed, there is as yet no technology that offers a plausibly realistic approximation of sex with a human being. However, sexbots are coming – in the near future, we will be able to have sex with robot partners that can speak and move, and that look very much like real people. Many people are concerned that their impact may be detrimental. Their concerns are not all unwarranted, but there are also arguments in favour of this technology that have not been adequately articulated. Sexbots may even have the potential to enhance human relationships.

We currently ask a lot of our relationships. We want emotionally compatible companions. We want someone to share household duties and finances. We want someone who will be a good co-parent to our children. And on top of all of this, we want someone who will excite us sexually and meet our sexual needs – forever. The model is not working. As the author Dan Savage says: “Relationship graveyards around the world are crowded with tombstones that read: ‘Everything was great … other than the sex.’”

Could sexbots help? There are reasons to think they might. They have the potential to address one of the main sources of dissatisfaction in relationships: the simple need for variety. In a Ted talk, psychotherapist Esther Perel has arguedthat a major challenge to “mating in captivity”, as she calls long-term relationships, is that of finding a way to meet our need both for security and for surprise. Faced with this intractable dilemma, many people find themselves drawn to infidelity. To avoid this, some couples experiment with non-monogamy – but even its proponents admit this solution is “complicated” and “not for everyone”.Sexbots may offer a solution that is simpler and less painful than either of these. They can provide people with novelty and variety without threatening the relationship itself. They can also address the problem of discrepancies in the desire for sex, which relationship therapists say is the most common sexual problem among couples seeking therapy. When one person persistently wants more sex than their partner, a robot could bridge the gap. 

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