Sex Dolls and Sex Robots and Rape Culture

In 2017 the Campaign Against Sex Robots will continue to emphasise the direct connections between the development and imagination of sex dolls/ robots and rape culture.

In order to make sense of rape culture we have to make a distinction between rape and sex. Where the distinction lies between rape and sex is not fixed in time and space. For example, ‘duties’ and ‘obligations’ of a wife to a husband included sexual acts, and the husband could expect sex (rape) as part of the marriage arrangement. In the UK the law was changed in 1991 to end this right of a husband to his wife’s body for sex which marked an important turning point for women.

In what follows I explore the importance of simultaneous sexual experience. In every form of meeting, people are engaged simultaneously. Simultaneous experience does not imply that people are having the same experience, but a simultaneous experience in time and space.

If encounter is always simultaneous, then sex between persons is a simultaneous experience. Some advocates of the ‘sex-work’ model of prostitution argue that financial payment compensates for the lack of simultaneity.

Other advocates of the ‘sex-work’ model also claim that the women in prostitution are enjoying it, or that the impact on the person is no different from other kinds of work such as shop work. Let’s take each point in turn as they are related to the promotion of sex robot/doll narratives.

THE PRICE OF SEX

In what follows I only focus on direct bodily contact in sexual acts between persons in prostitution, which may include the exchange of bodily fluids, physical touch and communication. Men who buy sex have to get that sex from women’s bodies. Most women in prostitution openly admit the sex acts they perform is not sex for them.  So can money compensate for her lack of simultaneous sex?

If a sex buyer is sexually acting on the body of prostituted person which is sex for him but not for her. In which case, it is not sex for either of them, but rape.

THE HAPPY HOOKER

Whilst the vast majority of women in prostitution enter it because of poverty, social isolation or other significant problems, some pro –sex-work lobbyists argue the Happy Hooker position and say that sex workers enjoy the sex.

Even the English Collectives of Prostitutes openly admit that the vast majority of women enter prostitution in the UK as a response to poverty.

Women are often introduced to prostitution by men around them – boyfriends, landlords or drug suppliers to name a few. It is a common story to hear women recount their first experience of prostitution ‘I couldn’t pay the rent and my landlord said I could pay the rent with sex’ is a common origin story.

Men also have difficulties paying the rent, but they are not propositioned with sex by their landlords to pay their debts in this way as women are. This should send alarm bells ringing about what is driving prostitution – it is certain kinds of men who prey on women’s financial vulnerability.

It is highly plausible that some women want to be ‘sex-workers’ and they get something out of the sex, in which case it is simultaneous sex for them. BUT for the vast majority of women in prostitution it is poverty or drug abuse that got them into or keeps them in prostitution, not the sex.

Some advocates of ‘sex-work’ believe the financial payment for sex compensates for the absence of simultaneity.

The money payment to buy bodies for sex cannot replace simultaneity; the sexual simultaneity must come first.

‘SEX-WORK’ MODEL OF PROSTITUTION

The origins of the ‘sex-work’ model of prostitution can be traced to a passage by Karl Marx in a footnote in the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in regards to woman and private property relations:

‘Prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the labourer, and since it is a relationship in which falls not the prostitute alone, but also the one who prostitutes – and the latter’s abomination is still greater – the capitalist, etc., also comes under this head’.

Prostitution existed in all property owning societies and is chiefly related to the women as a form of property of their husbands or fathers, but prostitution did not exist in all societies. In cultures where the children of women are not intimately connected to passing on property, prostitution is absent.

As a 16 year old girl attending my first political conference, I was told that prostitution was no different from other kinds of work and ‘what did it matter if someone sold their labour using their hand or their vagina?’

Is there really no difference between a hand helping at a service checkout and a vagina?

The person in the service or care scenario keeps her bodily integrity. The woman in prostitution loses control over her bodily integrity.

A persons’ subjectivity is lived in their body. There is no body without a person and no person without a body.

Can the body be turned into alienable property? Yes, through slavery, organ or sex trafficking and prostitution. Only that which you can transfer and make alienable can be transacted and traded as property. Thoughts can be written on paper and transacted in books. Feelings can be expressed in shapes and colours in paintings.

As a bottom line we give a person control over their bodily autonomy, but prohibit the commercial sale of body parts such as organs. Yet in prostitution it is her body that is the receiver of someone else’s activity. He is inserting objects (his penis, his hands, and his tongue) into her, and/or leaving behind fluids.

Does the selling of sex which involves direct and intimate contact with a woman’s body seem no different from the types of work of carers or service providers?

The widespread promotion and rebranding of prostitution as ‘sex-work’ has contributed to the view that prostitution is and should be classed as work and these ideas have informed legislation in Germany, Holland and New Zealand.

WHY MONEY CAN’T BUY SEX

It is a cultural accomplishment that feelings of love and not obligation or archaic ritual that forces people into partnerships. The importance of love as the foundation for relationships is shaped by simultaneity. A person loves, and is loved.

What it means to be human or a person is not fixed in time or space either. In Western cultures, white men had the most political privileges, and for many centuries some people were seen as forms of property of men: slaves, wives and children.

Human rights now formally (at least) extend to all human beings regardless of race, class, sex or age.

There are some in the robotics and AI community that propose to give robotic and AI artefacts rights like humans or animals.

Some even propose that at the current level of robotic technology that robots can be companions, even friends to the elderly.

Sex robots are animatronic dolls that physically resemble women and children. These sex dolls may include ‘sexy’ voice programs with other features of puppetry (simulations of a beating heart, or a warm body, or a moving tongue).

Of course there are those that assert that sex dolls for women are also in the pipeline.

Perhaps the makers of sex dolls have failed to appreciate males and females have different kinds of sex organs that they use quite differently. For men, the act of masturbating is similar to the sexual act of intercourse. Women rarely achieve orgasm through vaginal penetration, instead more likely to achieve orgasm pleasure from the stimulation of the clitoris. The main function of female sex toys such as vibrators is stimulation of the clitoris, and lesser for use as a penetrative object.

While some advocates of sex robots propose that lifelike robots are on the horizon this is based on nothing more than fantasy.

The prostituted woman turns her body into an object (the merchandise) for the buyer of sex. Though she is receiving his sexual activity, she is not simultaneously experiencing it as sex.

The absence of simultaneity characterises the rape of children. Children lack the affective, cognitive and bodily maturity to be engaged in sex with adults. Children do not have sex with adults. Adults rape children when they engage in sexual activity with them.

SEX ROBOTS AND RAPE CULTURE

As Levy advocates in his book on Sex and Love with Robots, non-simultaneous sex already occurs in the prostitution trade (sex for the buyer of sex, rape for the receiver of his sexual activity if she is not interested in the sex other than for money).

Money cannot compensate for her lack of sexual simultaneity as his sex act is directly impacting on her body-person. A sex buyer does not buy sex, but access to bodies where the sex is located. Inside the person!

A boxer enters a ring and is threatened by his opponent, but he has been categorised according to his weight and size so he is matched properly with his opponent and he is given boxing gloves and a teeth guard.

A woman’s body in prostitution has no such protection. She experiences the bodily activity of the sex buyer, but the sex that he wants is in her body. She cannot escape her body, and she does not experience the sex as mutually simultaneous. The sex is not for her. She acts as an object for his activity.

Some have suggested that dolls/robots for paedophiles could have a therapeutic benefit and help reduce real world child rape and sexual abuse. But the problem for the paedophile is aggravated by a culture that endorses and promotes rape culture.

Many males are encouraged to view their own sexual gratification as primary rather than focus on sex as a mutual enjoyable simultaneous experience.

All the child sex doll does is reinforce the paedophile’s absence of empathy because he is doing to the doll what he wants to do to a child. The real problem is his absence of empathy and his belief that his orgasm is all important – one of the by-products of rape culture.

The makers of child sex dolls said this about male sexuality ‘‘it’s not worth living if you have to live with repressed desire.’

If that desire is rape, then yes, it is important to live without that desire.

And neither child nor doll is able to be simultaneous. All that masturbating with dolls/robots does and will do is reinforce rape culture.

Rape is acting on a body that is not engaged in simultaneous sex. Rape can be forced, or bought in a brothel in Germany or Holland. Sex is mutually simultaneous, rape is not.

I would go one step further and argue that sex dolls/robots of children and women can only offer men an experience of rape. The dolls aren’t harmed but people are and can be. There is a world of difference between using an object to achieve some physical stimulation of a sex organ (like a vibrator or a fleshlight) and doing what the pro sex robot speakers such as Levy and others argue – that adults will be able to have ‘relationships’ with these dolls. The kind of relationship model that Levy and others are working from is not relationship at all because that would involve simultaneous sexual experience.

Sex with mechanised dolls more closely mimics rape than sex.

CONSENT AND SIMULTANEOUS MUTUAL SEX

For many centuries, male needs, wants and desires came first and were privileged over the sexual experiences of women. In some cultures, the practice of removing the clitoris and sewing up the vagina to enhance the male experience is still practiced. While women have achieved many formal rights, we are dominated by a sexual culture that promotes rape.

Sex is something you experience with another person, not something you force on the person through violence, marriage, religion, and the commercial sex trade.

Though I have focused primarily on the absence of mutual sexual simultaneity in encounters between sex buyers and persons in prostitution, pornography also promotes rape culture.

The widespread availability of pornography allows users to masturbate over images of violence, away from any simultaneous experience at all. Those who masturbate to scenarios in pornography are outside of any mutual simultaneous sexual experience.

When people encounter each other there is always simultaneity occurring in each person. That is what makes us human and alive. It is possible to simulate in machine or tool form some activities, but simulation is different from simultaneity as experienced in human encounters.

Something is going on in the I and the You and something original and spontaneous is created in each encounter between persons.

People may not express everything about what they are thinking or feeling or experiencing in their body, but their bodily-subjectivity is always present.  That is what makes us alive.

When men (or women) focus on their own sexual gratification at the expense of the other as characterised by exchanges in prostitution, child sexual abuse and pornography: sex for one party, is rape for the other.

In pornography the masturbatory viewer is not acting on the body of the men and women in the film, that would be impossible, but the viewer becomes increasingly detached from seeing sex as a mutual simultaneous experience.

The only way to have sex is to have it with another consenting adult(s) who have freely chosen to be with you and the sex comes from your relationship with each other. Sex in the absence of a mutual simultaneous sexual experience is disengaged sex and in many cases (child sexual abuse, prostituted sex, and pornography) it is driven by a commercial sex trade, not a simultaneous sexual experience.

THE RISE OF SEXUAL PERVERSION

The history of sex has been written and practised mainly from the perspective of men and much of it focused on non-mutual simultaneous male sexual encounters with women or children (prostitution, pornography, child sexual abuse, sex in marriage, child marriage, FGM).

The widespread availability of pornography and images of torture of children on the internet, combined with a legalised or decriminalised sex trade in prostitution is creating a culture of perverts.

A pervert is not someone who has a strange sexual practice. Adults can consent together to engage in all kinds of sexual acts that the consenting parties find pleasurable.

A pervert is something else altogether.

A pervert is disengaged from sex because they are embedded in practices that disconnect them from mutual simultaneous sexual experience.

Sex is something you experience with another adult, not something you watch on screen, take from children, and buy in a brothel or from an escort agency or a sex doll company.

SEX AND RELATIONSHIPS MUTUAL AND SIMULTANEOUS

In many relationships between adult women and men, women and women and men and men, sex is experienced as mutually simultaneous. It’s only in sexual encounters with others that we can learn the depth of sexual feeling. While we might live in societies with technologies that provide an excess of ‘sex’, the truth is, sex via a screen or as an act of prostituting another is rape.

Sex is sex when it is experienced with another engaged and participating adult. It takes feeling, intelligence, sensuality, and patience to appreciate the complexity and wonder of closeness and intimacy with another person.

Enjoy it for REAL!