Before you plunge into this, I need you to set aside your prejudice and your judgement and your preconceptions and find a place of honesty, because what I’m about to write requires thought to override instinct.
A recent one-off documentary on Channel 4 called The Sex Robots Are Coming chronicled the arrival of an artificially intelligent, fully mobile, communicating doll designed to have sex with a human.
If you missed it, it was, in many ways, compulsively fascinating. And in others, it was deeply disturbing and more than a little creepy, for reasons that I suspect may not be entirely obvious to everybody.
On one level, this latest development can be passed off as a piece of technological whimsy that serves as an astonishing testament to the progress of man’s innovation. And, I suppose, there’s merit in acknowledging these robots purely on that basis.
And let’s be honest here, it’s more than invidious in this day and age to feign a mask of prudish disgust that there should be a need to build machines for men and women to have sex with (20% of the potential sex robot market is thought to be women who want a male sex doll).
Show me a man with a pulse and I’ll show you the boy who likely began his relationship with sex and/or pornography by stealing a peek at the dog-eared copy of Playboy his dad kept in the garage. And surely there can’t be many women left for whom the word rabbit only conjures sepia-toned childhood memories of Watership Down.
There is no place now for moral indignation over the availability of material designed to help you to orgasm in your own company or, if you choose, the company of others. It’s been a part of the furniture for too long.
But there is a serious question here about what the advent of a walking, talking non-human sex partner costing up to £8,000 says about our relationship with ourselves, with other people and with the psychology of sex.
The economics are pretty simple. The sex robots are here because there’s a demand for them. And it’s what sits behind that demand that, to me, is the issue.
Modern life is a powerful advocate for society to become increasingly disconnected. We share our lives on social media apps and become addicted to them as we hunger for the approval of others. Addiction to pornography is on the rise. Drug and alcohol addiction continues to chew up police and medical resources. And gambling addiction is also climbing.
All of these addictions are, to some extent, a way for people to avoid true emotional intimacy with themselves. The arrival of the sex robot ramps that disconnection up to a whole new level because it’s an overt way of designing humans out of a human experience.
Sex robots represent super-charged emotional anorexia, a very real condition which creates an addiction to doing nothing about – or hiding – a huge fear of intimacy which, in turn, is underpinned by fear of abandonment.
If anyone can think of a better example than a sex robot of something inherently designed to prevent us having to deal with true physical and emotional intimacy, then I’d like to hear it.
Emotional and/or social anorectics and people with anorectic tendencies have different behaviour patterns. They may seek out the company of many people to avoid having to manage a more intimate social situation with one person. Others feel overwhelmed by all social environments. Others still will shun social interaction completely, or quietly take a back seat.
Anorexia is a master of the incognito and so is often difficult to recognise. It is more than just fear of intimacy – we all suffer with that to one degree or another within the parameters of traits like shyness or modesty that might be defined as ‘normal’ – it is the active process of doing nothing to trust or commit or allow oneself to become vulnerable enough to experience intimacy with another human being.
When I work with victims of abandonment trauma – and trauma always has an element of abandonment in it, since it invariable happens in isolation or is an isolating experience – I continually find people who are suffering with emotional anorexia.
When people attempt to give them love, they struggle to receive it and, prior to treatment, have preferred to remain in a state of emotional starvation rather than risk abandonment, which is their deepest fear.
Some behaviours that can be symptoms of emotional anorexia are perfectly normal on their own, as long as they’re transient.
Not found the right person to share your life with, temporarily or otherwise, yet? That’s fine, it can take time.
Not finding the right ‘tribe’ to fit in with is okay, as long as you know there’s a tribe you do want to be part of.
Happy in your own company? Great – provided you’re also comfortable in the company of others.
Choosing independence to build self-reliance? Good for you. Just don’t let independence be the word you use to describe loneliness.
And so it goes on. Individual characteristics of emotional anorexia on their own aren’t necessarily indicative of a problem. But if they’re all present all the time? Well, that’s a definite red flag.
The story of Davecat, a man who lives with two sex dolls, makes for fascinating reading and lends some weight to how sex robots and emotional anorexia are linked.
Davecat’s blog reveals that he consistently went for unavailable people, suggesting entrenched compromised self-esteem, abandonment & emotional anorexia issues and I highlight his story for no other reason than to make two points.
First that I find it concerning that synthesised human-lookalikes are already seen as a replacement for people like Davecat, who are already acutely and often clinically isolated; second that in providing the dolls we make it almost impossible for the Davecats of the world to have even the slightest chance of working through their underlying issues.
But there are darker concerns, too. What, I wonder, are the dangers that in the hands of socially awkward shy young men, the use of sex dolls with human attributes might reinforce objectification and exploitation of women, just as studies show extreme pornography can?
Regardless of whether that’s a question we can yet answer, it’s a certain fact that sex robots will do nothing at all to upskill their users socially. Ignore the stories that the robots’ makers spin about ‘helping’ people who struggle with human interaction. The reverse is far more likely to be true for no other reason than the robots aren’t human
Conversely, the debate around sex robots has also included hand-wringing contributions from people who talk darkly about the machines becoming a replacement for men and women. That seems faintly ridiculous to me, because well-adjusted people will never choose to routinely sleep with a robot.
Those at risk are the majority of the people who will use them and who are dealing with social isolation and trauma.
And for those who argue, as the makers of the robots do, that one benefit will be the provision of physical and emotional companionship for widowers, that’s nonsense. In fact, it’s far more likely that instead they will simply magnify the sense of loss, prolong grief and encourage greater loneliness.
The technology that created these dolls may be advanced, but the emotional intelligence certainly isn’t.