I recently spoke to Mike over at FanBoyNation about something very interesting – robot sex… or, as he puts it, roboboning!

I find both sex and technology very interesting, and when you put them together… well, let’s talk! But Mike actually had some disconcerting issues he wanted to address in terms of sex and technology, namely a position paper that decried the development of sex-tech, likening it to dehumanization and exploitation. The position paper in question also conflated sex trafficking with sex work, which lets you know where the purveyors of said standpoint were coming from in the first place.

(read: sex-negative mixed with a little bit of judgement)


(pictured: image via Fan Boy Nation)

Here’s how Mike framed exactly what it was that was bothering him:

A few weeks ago some robotic ethicists published a paper decrying human/robot copulation. They feel that people using robots as sex toys would increase the objectification of women and children and weaken interpersonal relationships among us meatsacks. HERE is the paper if you want to figure out what your toddler will be worried its teenager is doing, according to Fox “News,” out there on the streets thirty to forty five years from now… Basically the idea is that a robot shouldn’t be a sex object because it’d be like [sex trafficking].

It’s important to note that the Robotic Ethics Team (!!) repeatedly talks about sex trafficking and prostitution as if they’re the same thing. They’re not. People who are sex trafficked have been, among many other things, subject to coercion and exploitation. Autonomous sex workers who choose to work as prostitutes, or in any other sex work occupation, do not experience a comparable set of circumstances.

This leap in logic — that sex work is sex trafficking — is wild, but not uncommon. I hadn’t heard the one about “using a piece of technology for a sex purpose is akin to banging the husk of a dehumanized and exploited sex worker” before though…

Mike wrote a great piece exploring different dimensions of these roboboning issues, complete with amazing pictures. And he also asked me to weigh in re what I thought about the position paper and overarching issues. Here’s what I had to say:

There are multiple inherently sex-negative false equivalencies embedded in analyses that compare the development and use of sex robots and to paying for services from professional sex workers.

Sex workers are people, and – at least until we make it to science fiction levels of robot development – sex robots are not. Though people who use sex robot technology may go through complex psychological machinations, augmenting robot “realness” for their own purposes, this still does not make them akin to an actual human worker.

Arguments that conflate sex trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children to sex work are themselves exploitative. Drawing comparisons between persons who have been coerced and/or assaulted with autonomous self-directed workers serves only to highlight researchers’ and pundits’ paternalist viewpoints, while augmenting exploitation of one group and further marginalizing another.

What’s more, to take it the other direction and assume that ALL people who purchase sex view those who sell sex as “things” (akin to robots) is also a dangerous overgeneralization. Though “johns” are commonly conveyed in the media and in our popular imaginations as exploitative and dehumanizing men (women are never included in these considerations), the fact remains that very little work has been done exploring their thought processes and intentions.

You should definitely take a look at Mike’s article over at FanBoyNation. He raises some key issues that really make you think…

When it comes to roboboning, where do you stand?


(pictured: image via FanBoyNation)

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