OK, not from Mars*, but this entry is indeed about robot hookers. No, I can’t believe it, either. A couple of researchers at Victoria University have suggested that the future of the sex industry is all about robots. There’ll be robot strippers, robot lap-dancers, robot massages and, yep, robot hookers. Now, I can’t access the full paper in the Futures journal (why must all academic work be concealed behind a paywall?), so sadly I don’t know the nitty-gritty of this theory – just what’s in their abstract and on the Stuff website. Moreover, I don’t know if their theory is entirely serious or if it’s a bit of tongue-in-cheek academia. But because I’ve got nothing better to do today, I’m going to engage with it completely po-faced. Superficially, the idea has some awesome benefits. OK, one awesome non-debatable benefit: zero risk of sexually transmitted diseases with no need of condoms.
However, there are some glaring assumptions inherent to their theory; the major one being that consumers of the sex industry are just looking to get their rocks off. In my experience as a hooker, yes, the vast majority of clients wanted to get their rocks off (although some notably didn’t), but as a rule that was only part of their decision to hire a hooker. Here are some of the other reasons, good and bad, why clients came to see me when I was a hooker: for conversation, for therapy, to feel power over another human being, to feel ashamed, to shame someone else, to cry, to snuggle, to read someone their poetry (OK, that only happened once), to confess, to feel skin on skin, for the smell of a woman, to fantasise about how things might have been, to fall in love, to be listened to, to feel the thrill of being naughty, to discuss philosophy, to argue politics, to get revenge on their partner, to laugh, to share their worries, to scandalise the neighbours, to learn, for compassion. In fact, I’d hazard to say that for most clients I saw, feeling a human connection in one form or another was at least as important as getting their rocks off. Robots have a very long way to go to be capable of fulfilling half of these things.
Which is why, although the authors believe that a robot-based sex industry would put an end to sex slavery**, I believe that unless in some dark and distant future we are able to create robots which are absolutely indistinguishable from living, breathing, flesh-and-blood humans, there will always be a call for the real thing – at the very least from the power junkies who get off on purchasing another human being (assuming that robots are able to fake conversation, laughter, scents, etc before then).
Of course, ending sex slavery is a fantastic goal to have and I totally applaud any ideas which might work towards that. And so I had a brief moment of thinking myself selfish. If robots can take over the sex industry and eliminate trafficking of sex slaves, isn’t it a bit selfish to go “Nuh-uh, some of us real people still want to do it”? But, like I say, even if that theory was enacted in the science fiction future and the official, legal sex industry consisted of robots, I’m convinced that there would still be a black market of “real” men and women providing sexual services. Anyway, surely a better (and much, much simpler!) way of working towards ending sex slavery is to provide support for those who do want to be sex workers, and making the industry a safer place to work and an easier place to leave? Sci fi stuff indeed!
A final word: the title of their paper – Robots, Men And Sex Tourism – betrays their assumption that all consumers of the sex industry are men, which is patently untrue. Sure, women are a smaller percentage of the market base in the sex industry, but they’re most certainly there! (Indeed, I’ve been a consumer before, as well as a provider). I really dislike being reductionistic about things (“Men are like this, while women are like that!”), but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that female consumers of the sex would be far more resistant to the idea of robot hookers than men.
And on that note, I’ll leave you with The Dresden Dolls’ “Coin Operated Boy” playing on your head radio.
* I was, however, tickled to note that one of the authors of the paper is named Michelle Mars.
** I really have to come up with a better term than “sex slavery”, which has positive connotations of consensual BDSM-related slavery in my mind. Any ideas?