Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sex robot?
There is no working definition of a sex robot. At present sex robots are dolls with a few motors and some software programs. Mechanical dolls would be an apt description.

Why are you against sex robots?
We are against the making and use of sex robots. We appreciate that a sex robot is a doll with some motors or AI. The real concern about sex robots is the impact they will have on the human users who will be manipulated into thinking a robot is able to reciprocate or care about their feelings. As unequal and exploitative sexual practices (prostitution and pornography) provide the inspiration for sex robots, these sex robots continue to perpetuate and reinforce gender inequalities.

Moreover, we challenge the view that human relations are optional for human beings. Humans only exist because of human beings, from children to adults and to the end of life. Human contact and interaction is what makes us human. Unfortunately neoliberal capitalism, organise around competition, violence and profit breaks up communities and disconnects people. The technology is created to fill this void. But the void of intimacy and connection cannot be realised through or with  machines. It can make companies an awful lot of money selling products though.

We believe humans learn about empathy and compassion from human relationships.

What is the difference between a sex robot and a vibrator?
Vibrators were developed as tools for physicians in the 18th century who believed a cure for women’s depression was stimulation of their clitoris (basically sexual assault of women delivered by doctors). The physicians hands would become tired when delivering this ‘cure’ – so that’s why the vibrator was invented. Surveys indicate that woman’s primary use of vibrators is clitoral stimulation. The vibrator is called a vibrator because it VIBRATES. Vibrators are stimulatory objects, they may resemble a shape, as do other masturbatory sex toys.

Humans have found alternatives to the phallus and vagina in the use of objects that resemble these shapes. As far as I’m aware no culture has encouraged people to form relationships with these objects.

Sex robots by contrast have a humanoid form and have to be situated as paraphernalia of the sex trade. Sex robots would not exist if women and children’s bodies were not already traded for sex. The makers of sex robots (mechanical dolls) make wild claims about sex robots (on the back of exaggerated claims about the potential of robotics and AI) and promote the belief that a perfect (subservient) women is on the brink of creation, to cater for all needs, desires and wants. For anyone familiar with the current state of robotics and AI this is clearly nonsense.

We would like to remind you that female and male robots in fiction (such as Ex Machina) are human actors pretending to be robots.

Unfortunately as a new edition to the sex trade, sex robots (mechanical dolls) are further encouraging a dehumanized view of women that begins in the lived sex trade and spills over into the world of technology.

Moreover, there is work to be done on highlighting how technology is gendered, and stereotypical, rigid and sexist ideas of women are projected into the making of contemporary robotics and AI.

What has sex robots got to do with pornography and prostitution?
Unfortunately, since the ancient Greeks, the male orgasm has been central to our understanding of sex. Pornography and prostitution both flourish in property owning societies (women seen as property along with children and slaves). The male orgasm at any cost has always been an act of coercion, as is pornography and prostitution. Moreover, the advocates of sex robots use prostitution as a reference point for thinking about their possible application. What pornography and prostitution tell us as a society is that it is permissible to view women and children as things/objects to gratify the personal needs of those with more money/power/resources (adult males).

In pornography and prostitution subjectivity (thoughts, feelings, desires, wants, needs, preferences) of the woman/child is determined by those who hold power. The women in the pornographic film or the prostituted woman are seen as things, without subjectivity. If the sellers of sex were seen as possessing subjectivity there wouldn’t be prostitution or pornography. When you don’t buy sex you have to meet needs by consent. Prostitution and prostitution are extreme forms of women’s oppression. In this, the woman is nothing more than an ‘animate tool’ (to phrase Aristotle’s views on slaves), and the buyer of sex is the only one attributed subjectivity. But such a scenario would only view males has having 1. subjectivity and 2. being human. Pornography and prostitution are coercive fields of power that need to be abolished. The buyers of sex get a taste of what is it like to have power over another without regards for social convention.

Sex robots are an extension of this non-reciprocal encounter. Most men have no interest in supporting prostitution and pornography. The fake power it gives you (and women who view it) is only achieved at the expense of your humanity. It is only possible to view pornography and enjoy it if there is little empathy. There is an empathy disruption in those who view pornography and buy sex. This empathy disruption is responsible for maintaining and perpetuating unequal societies.

Why are you against sex robots helping the disabled?
If you believe in reciprocal human relationship, then no group or individual gets to be above this principle of what it means to be human.

Are you a feminist campaign?
The campaign was a creation of Dr Kathleen Richardson and supported by Dr Erik Billing. At the outset of the campaign, Dr Richardson was not a feminist, nor did she identify as one. The campaign is highlighting the importance of relationship as a reciprocal and mutual interaction. As sex robots are built on the existing structures in the sex trade, these are not reciprocal and mutual human relationships. The sex trade thrives on inequalities between men and women. The sex trade says: ‘if you have money, you can have anything you want’. We don’t believe society should be organized around making sure the powerful and wealthy are gratified at any cost. We don’t believe that violence and coercion should be used to create and maintain structures of inequality between women and men, children and adults. These are our key arguments in the campaign.

However, since the campaign’s launch in September 2015 we have found our allies to be among feminists because it is feminists who have defended the boundaries of the body from the onslaught of neoliberal commodification and sexism.

Also we have learned feminism is about:

  1. Equality for women
  2. Belief in human dignity
  3. A person with more money/power/status should not have more rights than those with less.
  4. We are now absolutely a feminist campaign. We are also anti-violence, anti-racist, anti-class privilege and anti-slavery. We are against the treatment of human beings as objects.

    We will align with any philosophy, group or individual that supports human freedom and equality in lines with our philosophy.

Are you against sex?
Pornography and prostitution are not sex, they are acts of violent coercion. Sex is a relational encounter and the parties engaged must be free, consenting and involved. If the other ‘part’ of the relation is bought then in our view it’s not sex but violence against a person.

Sexual encounter is not one person acting on the body of another for their own gratification without fully taking into account the subjectivity of the other. Sexual acts directed on the body of another without their consent or involvement is violence.

Are you confusing reality and fantasy?
We know that a robot, even if the robot looks like a woman is not a human. Humans are different from machines. The buyers (or prospective buyers) are encouraged to look upon the mechanical dolls as women they can control. Also the buyers of these objects are encouraged to think about them as ‘relational’ when they are not. We see sex robots as paraphernalia of the sex trade.

Follow the genealogy of sex robots, it comes from women as property, women as sex objects, women as sub-human – women as SEX ROBOTS (mechanical dolls).

Is the Campaign Against Sex Robots prejudiced against machines?
You can’t be prejudiced against a machine – it’s an artefact. We believe that humans create machines and so what is happening in the lived experiences of human beings is transferred to the machines. The desire to animate the inanimate is a longstanding wish of many cultures. The difference between science and technology and magic is that those who practice the former believe they have the ‘wisdom’ to animate. Living beings are different from machines. From the campaign’s point of view, we are more concerned with the Human in the Ethics of Robotics (HER) in the machines. If the makers of AI/robotics address the ethics of their machines and consider and challenge the violence, exploitation, gendered inequalities, racism and prejudice that inform the making of robots and AI we believe there will be more beneficial for humanity.

I’m a Man, what can I do to help the Campaign Against Sex Robots?
We welcome all people to our campaign who are anti-violence. We do not believe that men are inherently violent or lack empathy. We welcome women and men that recognise our value as human beings. We welcome you to join us in creating a new narrative about sexuality (and society) that is based on reciprocity and mutual relations.

I’m a roboticist/computer scientists/engineer/AI scientist what can I do to help the Campaign Against Sex Robots
Your role is important. We believe that humanistic inspired robotics has the ability to help humanity. It means working out the Human in the Ethics of Robotics (HER). We are fundamentally against violence. We believe our human ingenuity, creativity driven by compassion can help humanity, but it must be free of violence.

What would sex be like in your future?
We don’t have to wait around till 2050 for beneficial human intimate relations because we already have what we need, the potential for true relationship. The more we are encouraged to view pornography and prostitution as valid ways of expressing sexual relations, the less chance we have of achieving true sexual relationship. Sex is not acting on the body of another. Sex is a relational encounter. Female sexuality has been suppressed for centuries, while male sexuality has been allowed to thrive in the absence of reciprocal encounter. We have to move beyond these cultural prisons and open up a conversation about the importance of human reciprocal empathetic relationship. Pornography and prostitution are incompatible with free consenting sexual encounters. The best way to encourage true relationship is to resist the forms of power that thrive on inequalities. Join abolition campaigns and campaigns to end violence and begin a real dialogue.

How can I help?
We need supporters in all forms. Sometimes you could just send a message of support to the email or you could help with the conceptual projects by writing for the site and developing ideas. We are developing an associate scheme. See our list of interests and if you would like to contribute let us know.

We have a book coming out, articles in the pipeline and events coming up.

What kind of organisation is the Campaign Against Sex Robots?
We are a growing community of people interested in developing a new narrative about technology critical of inequalities, coercion and violence. We have an ‘associate’ structure which means you can contribute to the campaign in many ways. We believe in free association and associates can come and go as they choose, and get involved in what ways that would support them best. We want to use the campaign to promote global conversation about sex robots, but also about gender in robotics and Artificial Intelligence. Though the campaign was initiated by academics, we welcome associates from all kinds of walks of life. We will continue to promote as much public discussion on gender and robotics/AI as possible.

The campaign was announced on June 24 2015 at a Lates event at the London Science Museum

The campaign was officially launched on September 15 2015.

Kathleen Richardson
Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots
April 17 2016