From Barbarella to Blade Runner, this erotic tech may be in your bedroom very soon.
Spaceships, aliens, robots—we all love a good science fiction film. But aside from a few lucky guesses on the filmmakers’ parts, we rarely think of them as being truly prophetic.
Especially when it comes to their depictions of futuristic sex.
However, with new developments in pharmacology, virtual reality, robotics, telepresence, and artificial intelligence, more than a few classic, and sort of classic,science-fiction films are getting very close to erotic reality.
Here is a subjective look at five science-fiction films where their depictions of futuristic sex are fast-becoming less cinematic fantasy and more everyday sexual reality.
1. Sex pills from Barbarella (1968)
Barbarella: “Make love? But no one’s done that for hundreds of centuries!”
Featuring Jane Fonda’s zero-gravity striptease and life-threatening pleasure machine, Roger Vadim’s romp has become the benchmark of erotic science-fiction films. Based on the French comic by Jean-Claude Forest, Barbarella is pretty tame by modern standards, but when it was released in 1968 it raised more than a few eyebrows.
As part of the erotic phantasmagoria was the concept of sex pills. The explanation being given that Earth had evolved far beyond simple… well, physical love.
Yet we are possibly no more than a few years away from an actual, practical orgasm drug. Pharmaceutical researchers have already stumbled across medications like Anafranil, an anti-depressant that has the rather odd side effect of giving users orgasms when they yawn.
More than likely, many drug companies are working on turning that reaction into an actual pleasure-inducing little pill.
What will happen to human society when sexual pleasure no longer has to be physically derived is anyone’s guess. But if Barbarella is any indication, there will always be human beings more than willing to do it “the old-fashioned way.”
2. Virtual Sex from Demolition Man (1993)
John Spartan: “Look, Huxley, why don’t we just do it the old-fashioned way?”
Lenina Huxley: “Eeewww, disgusting! You mean … fluid transfer?”
Falsely imprisoned in a cryogenic prison, John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone) is defrosted into a ridiculously passive future to deal with another previous century throwback, one dangerously bonkers Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) in Demolition Man.
In this film directed by John Flynn, Spartan doesn’t just have to catch Phoenix, but he has to deal with a world where good old messy sex has been replaced by a form of virtual reality.
Virtual reality, when the film was made back in 1993, was pretty much just speculation. But we now have products like the Oculus Rift and many others, plus very serious interest from tech giants like Apple and Google.
Many developers are already rushing to create erotic virtual reality systems, where users will be able to don a pair of optical goggles and immerse themselves solo or with others—in a practically infinite world of erotic pleasure.
Let’s just hope that when virtual reality sex becomes mainstream, we won’t have to deal with the three seashells that perplexed John Spartan (see the movie to get the joke).
3. The Orgasmatron from Sleeper (1973)
Miles Monroe: “Perform sex? Uh, uh, I don’t think I’m up to a performance, but I’ll rehearse with you if you like.”
Luna Schlosser: “Okay. I just thought you might want to; they have a machine here.”
Miles Monroe: “Machine? I’m not getting into that thing. I, I’m strictly a hand operator; you know, I, I… I don’t like anything with moving parts that are not my own.
Woody Allen’s 1973 movie Sleeper is not just a laugh fest, but it’s also a pretty solid piece of science-fiction cinema.
Thawed out from cryogenic suspension, New York health food store owner Miles Monroe is thrust into a future where robot servants are commonplace, a healthy diet has been discovered to be steak and hot fudge sundaes, a despotic president rules everyone, and sex is enjoyed via an apparently mechanical “orgasmatron” booth.
While little detail is shown about the operations of the booth beyond that couples enter and leave… satisfied.
Woody’s adverse initial reaction to the device is pre 21st century—though his obvious pleasure after a solo interaction is more than evident. Preference to “hand operation” aside, we are actually on the verge of our own version of the orgasmatron.
Arguably, the basic idea has been around since 1734 when the French invented the hand-operated Tremoussoir (and a steam-powered version appeared in 1869). These days we just call them vibrators.
But even this basic technology is undergoing tremendous transformations. Modern sex toys are often Bluetooth enabled, programmable, interactive, and almost infinitely flexible. No matter your sexual itch, more than a few of them can scratch it.
Very soon, though, we’ll see haptic sex toys mated with virtual reality to create truly immersive and physical sexual experiences with holograms. In fact, we are already seeing a form of this.
This technology will mean that in your VR sexual paradise, when you reach out to touch someone you will really, actually be able to feel the contact. Then, in a few more years, we might see actual electric stimulation of the brain to induce orgasm.
Soon we will erotically, and literally, agree with Miles Monroe: “My brain? It’s my second favorite organ!”
4. Surrogate sex from Surrogates (2009)
Female Counsel: “Agent Greer, we’re not doctors.”
Tom Greer: “Honey, I don’t know what you are. I mean, for all I know, you could be some big, fat dude sitting in his stim chair.”
While justifiably not ranked among the great science-fiction films, Jonathan Mostow’s 2009 movie Surrogates (based on Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele’s graphic novel) does feature a unique depiction of future sex tech.
In this world of the near future, most of humanity spend their days in isolation, preferring to deal with the outside world and each other via the titular “surrogates:” sophisticated robotic puppets that can look like anyone and do things that no regular human being can do.
And, yes, even sexual things.
Alas, the film is pure preach and never really gets into the real sexual potential of the technology, preferring to use the usual burnt out cop (Bruce Willis) up against a convoluted conspiracy. Yawn!
While we may be a few years away from lifelike robotic surrogates, we already have some intriguing early prototypes running around. Videophones, Facetime, and other examples of the tech are pretty much commonplace, allowing friends, family, and business associates to be projected onto phones, homes, or conference rooms.
All that was lacking has been mobility: the ability for users to actually interact with the person on the other side of their video call.
But now, through companies like Anybots, iRobot, MantaRobot, and many others, people thousands of miles away can physically work via robots with pretty much anyone, anywhere. Commonly referred to as telepresence, it’s already being used by doctors, teachers, and many others.
As with all technology, it no doubt will only be a few more years before sex will mix with telepresence. We can only hope that when that happens we’ll deal with it better than this very average film.
5. Replicants from Blade Runner (1982)
Tyrell: “More human than human is our motto.”
Concluding our tour of science-fiction films that are quickly becoming sexual fact is a true classic of the genre. Smoky, dour, noir, bleak, and totally mesmerizing, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner
explores the impact of replicants, artificial humans so indistinguishable from the flesh-and-blood variety they can only be detected by trained specialists.
And, when they invariably go rogue, they get hunted down by blade runners.
Based on the classic science-fiction novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner asks one key question: what is human? When Deckard (Harrison Ford) is tasked to track down and “retire” a group of replicants, he faces serious moral quandaries about them as well as himself, especially when he falls in love with one.
While we are quite far away from actually creating a totally convincing artificial human, we have begun to make some incredible baby-steps. Bina48, for instance, can be startlingly lifelike in its interactions with us flesh-and-blood beings. Hiroshi Ishiguro has similarly created Geminoid F and, being gender fair, also created Geminoid DK, based on Henrik Scharfe, of Aalborg University, Denmark. Realbotix meanwhile is developing what may soon be truly remarkable artificial playmates using robotics and silicone sex dolls. .
And, in a moment of irony that almost seems like the beginning of another science-fiction film, Hanson Robotics created a simulacrum of Philip K. Dick himself which went missing a few years ago.
So microwave some popcorn, make yourself comfy on the couch, and fire up some of these cinematic explorations of the world of tomorrow. But keep in mind that as you do, their fanciful looks at the future of sex are closer than you think.
Image source: Ingrid Richter