Robot brothels, thinner condoms, and virtual reality.
The fear that robots are going to take over the world and render humans unnecessary is literary ground that has been relentlessly trodden.
With every new invention has come the alarm that humans will be insufficient in the future. We fear that robots will outsmart us and we could be left to suffer the dreadful outcomes of the very things we created.
Overall, though, artificial intelligence that is beneficial and friendly has been easy to create and easy to control. And yet, in some industries, the concern has proven legitimate—so-called “blue-collar” jobs have been taken by AI and displaced otherwise gainfully-employed workers.
Typically, AI-based automation can improve productivity and precision, leaving more creative or personal roles unscathed by advancing technology.
What does this mean for sex workers and the sex work industry as a whole? Let’s take a look at what technology has meant for sex so far, and where the sex tech industry seems to be headed.
Automation impacts specific industries
Those who experience the brunt of the technology-driven shifts in employment are often factory line, medical, transportation, legal, and retail employees.
But other industries are not safe, too. In fact, fast-food could conceivably be cooked and served by robots, and greeters, customer service, and other services could be similarly at risk.
Sex work, like sex in general, takes a bit of creativity and improvisation to be worthwhile. Sex technology has begun to create its own niche in the sex work industry, with really interesting results.
Sex doll brothels
Sex doll brothels already exist and serve an important—but specific—function. And so far, they haven’t necessarily dented the demand for human brothels. Sex dolls are more realistic than ever and easily paired with apps that use virtual reality.
They will soon be able to imitate any celebrity you’ve fantasized about and any circumstance you’ve fantasized about, all from the comfort of your own home.
These apps can link up with sex toys that create surprisingly real sensations, and it can feel like you’re actually having sex. There is one drawback, though: you’ll know you’re not.
No matter how realistic sex dolls become with the help of virtual reality, there is a stark difference between real and realistic.
Remember the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where Willy Wonka introduces Violet to “the most amazing, fabulous, sensational gum in the whole world”?
The gum tastes like a full three-course meal, much to Violet’s surprise and delight. She can taste and feel the texture and deliciousness of tomato soup, roast beef, baked potato, and blueberry pie with cream.
The realism of the food is incredible, and it’s the best food she’s ever tasted. But it is not truly food. So, though many people would want to try the gum—just like many would be interested in frequenting a sex doll brothel—very few would confuse it with a meal.
While interesting, this portion of the sex industry remains a novelty rather than a widespread substitute for intimacy.
It all depends on why someone is seeking out a sex worker, whether in the form of a human or sex doll. If someone wants a quick, powerful orgasm, and to sightsee the realism of the latest sex technology, a sex doll brothel can give them exactly what they need.
However, if someone wants to have sex with a human and requires human connection and communication, there’s just no way to replicate that with a robot, toy, or doll. Not yet, anyway.
Even those who play online sex simulation games often form real-life friendships and relationships with the people they’ve met in that community because virtual sex simply does not fill the need for human connection.
Those needs are separate. But those virtual worlds offer a safe forum to explore taboo sexual fantasies and can help people who are too shy or too nervous to try them out in real life.
Sexual outlets like this are a colossal help for people who have trouble meeting people in real life, too, which is something sex technology has in common with human sex workers.
They both remove the stress from meeting someone, dating them, and having sex with them. Individuals can use a form of trial and error, sexually, without facing harsh judgment or disappointing someone who is intricately involved in their daily life.
For people who face job stressors, health troubles, social anxiety, or any number of other difficulties that can make everyday life challenging, the opportunity to have contact with someone without judgment can be a real, literal lifesaver.
Technology could impact sex work positively
Technology is adaptable and can learn at impressive speeds—but so can humans. So, while technology does accelerate the extinction of some tasks, humans adjust, too.
Humans are still needed—just for different functions. When modernization takes away simple jobs, more complicated jobs are still available. And when the complex jobs are taken by technology, creative jobs will always remain.
This is true in the sex industry, too. While technology, sex dolls, and virtual reality sex could eventually create stiff competition for human sex workers, these concepts could make sex work easier and safer for all involved.
Technology will not only advance these sex substitutions. It will also aid the improvement of other sexual necessities: thinner, more effective condoms and dental dams, better treatment for STIs, birth control for all genders with fewer side effects, and more. All of these will help not only the sex work industry but also anyone who has sex.
Sex doll brothels have already done some good in the form of raising awareness of the services that sex work provides. These services, which remain despite illegality in many places across the globe, are necessary, and they help real people.
Sexual pleasure is something everyone deserves to experience sometimes, and so is a genuine human connection. Without these, the world can often feel like an isolating place—in part due to technology.
And a break from that isolation, a human touch, a listening ear, and an understanding hug from someone who has experienced something similar—these are the services that sex work offers that sex technology has failed to replicate identically.
So, while technologically advanced dolls could pose a threat to sex workers in specific situations, the best and most likely outcome is that they will work together to provide more accessible, intense experiences.
And hopefully, the technology industry will raise questions about the illegality of sex work and increase the public awareness of why decriminalization is essential.
Image sources: Alice Little, Gerd Altmann, University of Wollongong