So today, for reasons best not gone into, I stumbled across this article at work demanding (according to the title at least) “an adult debate about exploiting sex robots”
First up, I’m going to put my knackers on the line and say that exploiting robots is not really an issue. No until we get to truly human-like AIs behind everything. I’m not saying it isn’t going to happen, but just that we really don’t need to worry about that just yet.
The opening lines of the actual article didn’t do much better in terms of presenting a coherent argument:
“Imagine a world where you were the centre of the Universe! Where only your thoughts and feelings mattered! You could have the type of sex you wanted with another human being without any consideration of their subjectivity! You could in fact turn off your “human switch”! Does this world sound like a nightmare to you or a state of bliss? Well, you can already do this. You can do this if you buy sex.”
I’d like to say that this paragraph was just poorly phrased but no, the article goes on to repeatedly offer a monolithically depressing view that sex work is concomitant with basically not identifying a sex worker as a human being. O…K…
In fact that article also has some choice words about the term sex worker:
“By being called sex work, the selling and buying of sex can be fitted neatly into the consumer market, along with waitressing, banking and the educational and medical professions. After all, we’re all selling our labour, right? However, let’s think about this for a moment. There is no profession in the service sector where you’re allowed to enter another human body for your own pleasure.”
At its heart this article puts forward a rather twisted world view where sex, by which it strictly means penetration is INHERENTLY intimate in a way that, say, having a massage presumably isn’t. But at the same time makes it clear that if money is involved then there are NO EMOTIONS and that anyone visiting a sex worker has SWITCHED OFF THEIR EMPATHY. Then, in the closing paragraphs asks, “Do we want to encourage more of this by extending this lack of empathy to robots?”
This is a pretty appalling piece that lurches from half-thought out and frankly unfounded assumptions through to a knee-jerk foregone conclusion. Let’s make like an early noughties indie band and break it down:
The first assumption of the piece, that “Johns” have no empathy for sex workers, that they don’t even identify them as human beings is without any support. I’m not saying this isn’t the case some, or even most of the time, but not all.
I’ve visited a sex worker (I’ll also add that I’m using the term beyond the Wired article’s painful narrow definition of sex work being only about sex i.e. penetration i.e. PIV) and the main thing I got from the experience wasn’t physical sensation, it was a sense of intimacy, of a real human connection.
The article asserts that penetration is fundamentally intimate (I wonder if the author would use the same line with a rape survivor?) but can’t seem to accept that something like, say, a full body massage, might have elements of intimacy to it. No, because putting your penis in someone or something is special. So special that nothing else can possibly compare.
The last bit, the bit where it actually talks about robots, is almost throwaway in its lack of thought or actual discussion. Never mind that using robot pets is being explored as a way of helping socially isolated people, nope let’s jump straight to the idea that if we have sex work now, and that’s (apparently) bad, that it will also be bad when we bring in robots.
Why? Surely if you’re turning off your emotions then it’s better to do that with a robot?
I’d actually be very much up for an adult conversation about sex work, robots, intimacy and society. It just would’ve been nice if this article had even vaguely stumbled somewhere in the direction of having one.
Photo Credit: Hobvlas Sudonelghm