The Grapevine

Sex With Robots May Not Be Healthy, No Evidence For Speculated Benefits

Can sex robots help human beings solve the loneliness epidemic and reduce sex crimes? According to British researchers who searched and reviewed literature on the subject, there is no evidence to suggest that robots can provide social benefits and healthy outlets for users.

Their findings were published in the journal BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health. The research was led by Dr. Chantal Cox-George at St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Professor Susan Bewley from King's College London.

From a love-starved AI operating system in the 2013 film "Her" to the witty humanoid robot Sophia, it seems like attitudes and the integration of robots into our lives are rapidly evolving. While sex robots with limited abilities have already been invented (with sex doll brothels opening in some countries), there is yet to be a fully functioning model. 

In the book "Love and Sex with Robots," author David Levy discussed how love and sex with robots will experience a huge demand from lonely people who have a void in their lives. They are also advocated by some to potentially reduce sex-related crimes by providing an outlet to people who are unable to experience intimacy.

But upon searching the database to review scientific papers on the health impact of robots, the authors were not convinced. "Our conclusion is that there are a lot of health claims with no evidence," said Bewley. "In a way [this research] is a sort of academic plea [not to] make false claims, and if there is something genuine in this beyond the creation and marketing of a new device, then let’s study it properly."

The authors also highlighted concerns about the use of robots by vulnerable people who may distress due to the lack of emotion or authentic responses. "While a human may genuinely desire a sexbot, reciprocation can only be artificially mimicked," they wrote.

Perhaps, most controversially, the claims of child-sized dolls potentially treating pedophiles was also addressed. The authors found no evidence to suggest their beneficial use in treating pedophiles or protecting children.

"It is a powerful idea. It might be true, it might be untrue," said Bewley, explaining that the claim should be taken with a big pinch of salt when it comes from the seller of the dolls. The authors cautioned how the use of such dolls could actually normalize the acts instead of diminishing them, increasing the risk of sexual assault and rape.

The idea of using robot sex workers to prevent sex trafficking and the spread of STDs was regarded as a "well-intentioned" and "optimistic" one. But the way society perceives consent may also be affected, possibly encouraging "blurred boundaries," the study stated. Some manufactured dolls even come with a "resistance setting" which allows the stimulation of a non-consensual mode of sex. 

"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 authors wrote.