The Post Millennial In a world of sex dolls and robots, ethics are hard to pin down

The Post Millennial - Tuesday May 28th, 2019

The older I get—and I am already pretty old—the more I struggle to find the bright line that existed in my youth between written words that meant what they said and words that were meant to be read as parody or satire.

For example, I just read a tweet by a transwoman who asserted that women can have penises, and anyone who disagreed with that statement “can just suck my dick.” My first impulse was to laugh, of course, but nowadays one must always interrogate such a response, and so I did.

I would like to believe it is satire. Surely even a transwoman should know that “suck my [insert any body part here, including breast]” is an expression that would never come out of the mouth of an actual woman. Women don’t talk like that. An angry woman might say, “… And if you don’t believe that, you can just f*** off, you cretin,” or something like that. But she will never say, “suck my [body part].”

Unless, of course, she is consciously trying to sound like a man. Because that is precisely the sort of thing crude men do say, and invariably it causes most women to screw up their faces and say “ewww.” So I naturally thought to myself, oh, here’s a brave biological man, sending himself up for his unshakable propensity to act as a male in spite of his transition, and willing to afford hi- her followers a laugh over it.

On the other hand, my experience on Twitter with transwomen convinces me that they—or to be precise the activists amongst them—are seriously irony-deficient. So it may well be that this highly aggressive tweeter is quite unaware of the fact that hi- her bullying oh-so-male words are more likely to convince the reader of hi-her essential masculinity than hi-her womanhood.

It is all very confusing.

All this is preamble to saying that, speaking of gender-identity social tensions, I thoroughly enjoyed an article by Libby Emmons in these pages, “Is it time to add R for robosexuals to LGBTQIA+?” For although I came away from reading it with a similar confusion as to whether it was meant as satire on Swiftian lines or an actual “modest proposal,” I was very grateful for its sunny and upbeat tone, its non-adversarial perspective, such a pleasant respite from the ferocity typified in my opening anecdote. I found quite refreshing its quirky but original take on a real-life phenomenon, whose very existence screams irony.

Ms Emmons plunges right into her thesis, suggesting that “robosexuals”people with a sexual preference for inanimate objects (such as the Korean man she cited who married his pillow)—should be granted their own gender identity category. I assumed that the article was meant to be a satirical riff on the concept of endless gender fluidity and the unscientific belief that biology and gender are completely untethered to each other. I settled in for some laughs.

But as Emmons developed her argument, my smile faded. Ms Emmons’ proposal began to seem rational. She writes, “Sex with robots is basically the only kind of sex that makes sense these days.” Why? Well, to paraphrase her, sex with real people is terrifically fraught with fears of rape and/or false allegations. Plus having an actual family—kids!—is just not on nowadays: too expensive, and the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, so why bother. There are just so many downsides that go along with real sex that robot sex begins to look very attractive: “No talking, no texting, no miscommunication, no dinner, or drinks, or birth control, and … no shame, either.”

Damn it, this writer has a point! Sex with people is incredibly messy. And sex dolls are getting more realistic looking and acting every day. Best of all—I refer you back to my opening anecdote —robots have no gender. Or rather, since they have no biology, they only have gender, and that gender is the gender you assign them. Not at birth, of course, because there is no birth, there is only their creation ex nihilo. Like Adam and Eve. Who were designed by God, a deity obsessed by procreation and therefore fixated on that whole binary thing.

But God and the Bible are so nineteenth century. Your postmodern genderless “mate” is designed by you! (I am not here referring to their manufacture, I am speaking metaphysically, of course.) And you get to “assign” their gender. So you can’t “misgender” them and get into horrible trouble with Human Rights Tribunals. Better to pay $5,000 for an upscale doll than to pay out $55,000 for voicing your belief that biological males cannot be women, no?

As Emmons observes, “To be a robosexual is a non-gender specific sexual attraction. No one can accuse you of transphobia if you’re robosexual.” (QED in the reference above.)  And here’s another: “Humans have so many pesky feelings, and often they want them reciprocated. That kind of relationship just doesn’t make any sense to robosexuals.” Spot on, Ms Emmons. I can picture actor Aziz Ansari reading this article with fascination and chagrin. If he gets a sex doll, he should call her “Grace.” The conversation with robotic “Grace” may be a little one-sided, but at least she won’t humiliate him by complaining to the world about his less than perfect courtship techniques like the real-life Grace did.

This isn’t my first visit to the sex doll rodeo. To honour my commitment to bright lines between ironic and serious intent, I hereby give notice that I am now finished having fun with this topic, and am now crossing over to a serious consideration of the issue of sex robots. Are they a good thing or a bad thing for society?

Two years ago, I surprised many of my conservative readers, with whom I am generally in tune, by writing a column in which I praised sex dolls as a positive invention. As you can imagine, most social conservatives are utterly disgusted with the very idea of them. But even if one deplores the human failure they exemplify, they cannot be dismissed as a mere fad – or at least I do not read them that way. As I wrote: “Doll brothels are already operating in South Korea, Japan and Spain, and the first robotic oral sex coffee shop opened last year in London, according to a report from the Foundation for Responsible Robotics (which sounds like something out of an Iron Man film, but is well worth your attention, if this subject is of special interest).”

I surprised myself because in general I oppose other artificial sex-related innovations, like sperm donorship, which leaves children with no fathers and only half a biological identity. But sex dolls are, as I noted, a “victimless fetish.” They don’t hurt anyone else and they give pleasure to many people who would otherwise be sexually deprived. I see them as a form of “harm reduction,” a principle much beloved by liberals in areas like drug addiction.

For one thing, affordable, lifelike sex dolls would dramatically reduce sex trafficking, a good reason to approve them in itself. They would also be a welcome solution for those who are socially inept, disabled, disfigured or who have suffered so much emotional damage from real-life entanglements, including rape, they can never entrust their bodies again to humans. Prisoners should have access to sex dolls. Such a policy would cut way back on the shameful rates of prison rape and do much to reduce tensions in general. Personally, I think sex deprivation in prison a violation of a natural human right.

With human sex, there is always that thorny issue of “consent.” Obviously sex dolls would do away with the need for consent, and it would also do away with the widespread phenomenon of false allegations. But what about dolls programmed for frigidity in order to satisfy those who get off on forced sex? What about childlike dolls that appeal to pederasts? Do they cross an ethical line? Should they be banned?

They exist, by the way. Japanese sex doll manufacturer Trottla has been selling child sex dolls globally for a decade, created by self-confessed pedophile Shin Takagi, who claims the dolls prevent him from harming children. “We should accept that there is no way to change someone’s fetishes,” Takagi told The Atlantic magazine in 2016. “I am helping people express their desires, legally and ethically.” I find his argument persuasive. Pedophilia is a notoriously ineradicable proclivity.

Myself, disgusting as the idea of child sex dolls is, I came down on the side of libertarianism and harm reduction. Former Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau famously said that the state should stay out of the bedrooms of the nation. At the time he was referring to the decriminalization of homosexuality. But the principle should apply here too. The state doesn’t police the fantasies of people when they masturbate, because it can’t. Sex dolls represent a more sophisticated and satisfying form of masturbation.

Therefore, sex dolls that accord with individual fantasies should not be prohibited, even when such fantasies, if acted upon with humans, would be considered immoral and fall under the Criminal Code. Discuss amongst yourselves.