Internet Pornography, Robot Sex, and Human Behavior

What’s next in this brave new world where technology meets sexuality?

Posted May 31, 2019

Shutterstock, by permission
Source: Shutterstock, by permission

Today, the Internet brings easy access to pornography into our homes and devices.  Internet pornography (IP) use has increased steadily over the past few decades. Some theorize that over-use of IP may have a negative impact on relationships, can become a kind of "addiction," and exposure to unlimited amounts of readily available porn may desensitize us to "normal" adult sexuality.

Children’s exposure to pornography via the Internet may also present risks to age-appropriate sexual development. This isn't mom or dad explaining the “Birds and the Bees.” There may be a risk that young people will develop unrealistic ideas about physical intimacy through pornography, and possibly develop premature sexual knowledge and precocious attitudes about sex. Given these risks, more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of increased exposure to sexually explicit materials. Research data will help us develop sound policies on everything from censorship to effective ways to control minors' access to IP.

It is important to explore how and why different types of people view IP. Studies are inconsistent in measuring pornography use or its effects. However, one emerging trend is of studies that find a difference between those who view standard fare pornography, versus those who prefer nontraditional, paraphilic forms of sexual imagery. 

Paraphilias involve sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations, or participants. While most IP users prefer to view normal sex, some prefer more unusual scenarios. This doesn’t necessarily mean that users of paraphilic porn are dysfunctional enough to qualify for a diagnosis of paraphilic disorder, but individuals higher in psychopathy have been observed to veer toward the unusual, and away from mainstream sexual content. In some studies, consumers of paraphilic (versus mainstream) IP reported finding standard sexual materials less arousing, and these viewers of more kinky materials showed greater suppression of intimacy with their partners. Psychologists and educators should be aware that while more research is needed, there is a possible correlation between psychopathy and preferences for non-standard, paraphilic forms of IP. Psychologists are just now beginning to study the effects of widespread access to diverse sexual imagery.

What's Next?

Perhaps by the middle of this century, interactive pornography will be common. In 2007, author David Levy wrote Love + Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. In his view, it is inevitable that androids will one day become our sex partners. Levy shows that historically, pornography consumption has driven the expansion of technologies; from VCRs, to camcorders, to the Internet. It’s not far into the future before robotics turns to sex.

In 2017, the first “sex doll brothels” were opened in South Korea and Japan. This points to a future where sex tourism will employ humanoid replacements. Animated sex dolls coupled with AI and touch sensors are coming soon (pun intended). What will these new sexual technologies do to our behavior? Are we dangerously tinkering with “natural” sexuality, or will robot sex benefit those who might otherwise go without? Are android prostitutes a disease-free substitute that could help decrease the scourge of human sex-trafficking? Or will sex androids only further objectify and dehumanize our sexuality? 

From “Pris” the "pleasure unit" in Blade Runner, to “Commander Data” in Star Trek the Next Generation, the idea of sex with androids already exists in popular culture. But science fiction is once again becoming reality. Sex androids equipped with AI are on the near horizon. What will this do to the future of sexuality and relationships? Android sex therapists? As sex intersects with technology, these are the intriguing and troubling possibilities that must be considered.

References

Short, MB, Black, L, Smith, AH, Wetterneck, CT & Wells, DE. (2012). A Review of Internet Pornography Use Research: Methodology and Content from the Past 10 Years. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 15:1, 13-23

Coopersmith J (2000). Pornography, videotape and the Internet.  IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 19(1), 27-34. doi: 10.1109/44.828561

Aleksandar Štulhofer, A., Buško, V. & Landripet, I. (2010). Pornography, Sexual Socialization, and Satisfaction Among Young Men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39(1), 168–178 https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-008-9387-0

Paul, Bryant  (2009). Predicting Internet Pornography Use and Arousal: The Role of Individual Difference Variables.   The Journal of Sex Research, 46(4), 344-357. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490902754152

Levy, D. (2007). Love + Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships. New York, NY: Harper, 334 pp. ISBN: 978-0061359804  

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