Digisexuality: Merging Sex and Technology

By Leah Froats | April 2, 2018 2:16 pm
Ryan Gosling regards an AI in Blade Runner: 2049. (Credit: Warner Bros)

Ryan Gosling regards an AI in Blade Runner: 2049. (Credit: Warner Bros)

Human culture has always evolved in tandem with technological developments. And that includes sexuality.

Robots, virtual reality, and telecommunication tech are all just beginning to be repurposed to fulfill sexual needs. They can range from something as simple as vibrators that use Bluetooth to communicate with your phone to advanced AI-based sex dolls, and they fall under the umbrella of digisexuality, a term that describes human sexual interactions involving technology.

And digisexuality encapsulates a variety of tech-based interactions that are likely already quite familiar—online porn, sexting, and even dating apps like Tinder, says Neil McArthur an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba and digisexuality researcher.

Technology will likely only become further interwoven into our romantic lives as time goes on, and for most, it will probably function as simply an accessory to, or perhaps enhancement of, age-old traditions.

But for some people, sexual technologies have begun to replace human partners altogether. They take the form of things like sex dolls and virtual partners like Microsoft’s Xiaoice chatbot, which has become popular in China. This “second wave” of digisexuality is beginning to edge into the mainstream, appearing on movie screens and in the media.

“We use the term ‘digisexuals’ to describe people who, mostly as a result of these more intense and immersive new technologies, come to prefer sexual experiences that use them, who don’t necessarily feel the need to involve a human partner, and who define their sexual identity in terms of their use of these technologies,” McArthur says.

As these sex technologies become increasingly advanced, they serve for many as a viable alternative to human sexual companions. But stigma against digisexuality is on the rise, McArthur says, something that in part motivated his research.

Digisexuality on the Screen

Even though you may not be familiar with the term “digisexual,” odds are you’ve seen some form of it, probably in a science fiction movie. Her, released in 2013, followed a lonely man falling in love with an artificial intelligence, while last year’s Blade Runner: 2049 featured a similarly digital relationship between the protagonist and an AI.

While the relationships begin shallow and hesitant, they eventually grow into fulfilling experiences that question the nature of what love is, or can be. McArthur explains that these films are surprisingly understanding of this new type of sexuality.

Those two, along with Lars and the Real Girl (a film where a man is in love with a sex doll), are “actually the three best examples in pop culture, because they all portray digisexual or digisexual-type relationships in a quite complex and sympathetic way,” he says.

Some interpretations of digisexuality can be darker, though. The 3-D printed hosts in Westworld offer a slightly more dystopian view of digisexuality — the hosts are designed solely to to fulfill the needs and desires of visitors to the technologic fantasy playground.

The show gets at some of the inherent uneasiness mixing sexuality and technology — two areas already fraught with tension — can bring. But, McArthur doesn’t think this necessarily reflects reality, and he worries that it could skew the public’s perception of sexual technologies.

“Note to Hollywood: Lighten up. Robot sex can be fun!” he says.

A Freaky Future

McArthur has yet to conduct any formal studies on digisexuals, as he has not yet developed the appropriate protocols and completed a thorough ethics review. While he would like to gather qualitative data on the behaviors of digisexuals, the phenomenon is so new that the sample size would be quite small. But, McArthur says, such work would help dispel myths and lift some of the stigmas he fears may become prevalent.

When it comes to sex robots at least, most people seem to be at best lukewarm. A 2016 study found that most respondents were generally accepting of sex robots, though approval dipped for specific cases, such as celebrities, former partners or fantasy creatures. In addition, men were significantly more open to robot sex partners than women were.

And there are legitimate reasons to be concerned, too. Issues of hacking sex technologies, the ethics of sex with robots, and a lack of self-control around this new tech are all valid concerns that remain to be fully studied. But these problems are not unique to the world of digisexuality — all technology comes with new challenges and questions.

If McArthur could emphasize one point, it’s this: Digisexuality is not on its way to derailing the world’s idea of sexuality. “Don’t panic. This is coming,” he says. “There will be lots of digisexuals in the near future, but it’s going to be okay. Digisexuality will take its place alongside other non-mainstream sexual identities, and society will go on.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/EquivPrinFail.pdf Uncle Al

    The Lovense Lush is the second greatest advance in remote human sexuality. Hacking it is the first.

  • OWilson

    The Kardashian society now never has to grow up.

    They have their new and improved dolls! Virtual reality too!

    What an opportunity for the next Big Brother! :)

    • Hibernia86

      Given the fact that the world is over populated and growing fast, with many people struggling to feed themselves, maybe its a good thing that some have robot lovers to control the population boom.

      • OWilson

        Cheer up!

        From a global perspective the whole world population would fit comfortably into New Zealand.

        Then there’s the oceans that cover 70% of the Earth and are readily accessable and far more friendly to humans than a terraformed or biosphere Mars!

        And the World is setting record agricultural food production, year after year, to feed your hungry world!

        Don’t committ hari kari quite yet! :)

  • Sharp

    Completely ignores the other half of the equation.
    Human sexuality is about reproduction. that is the entire biological reason for sexuality in any species.

    But in 50 to 100 years using the blunt and near random method that human sexuality is, for the most important task of making a better more evolved human, will seem like the most absurd thing. Right now we spend hundreds of billions caring for people with easily avoided genetic diseases.

    We can also surmount the stalled intellectual development of the human and bring average IQ up 20 or 30 points.

    So that leaves human sexuality orphaned from the billion years of its evolution since the first gendered eukaryotes. There is literally no reason why individuals cannot do whatever they want with their sexual interests.

    As far as “sex with robots” this will be a transient phenomena, since we will eventually be hacking right into the sexual and pleasure elements of our own brains and simulations will be more real than reality itself. Brain science is one of the sciences are set to really take off with AI, supercomputing and new real time imaging methods. One will not need a physical “robot.”

    • OWilson

      Some would argue with your premise that human sexuality is entirely about reproduction.

    • sabelmouse

      of course it’s not just about procreation.

  • Uolevi Kattun

    Has digisex been used as therapy and is it already possible to replace participants in videos with own and other optional avatars? Many may find robots and virtual sex for example in Second Life too troublesome.

  • Dan Lipford

    One of the best things about digisex is that as is the case with masturbation, one doesn’t have to look one’s best.

  • Maia

    Inevitability arguments (going to happen folks, like it or not) swarm around every digi-robo gadget…..just another form of pre-advertising, getting you ready, softening the cold hard image of a machine-human-world, which is the opposite of the kind of world most of us actually would prefer. Just say No Thanks.
    Btw, Lars’ “girlfriend” was a plain old analog woman-sized doll.

    • sabelmouse

      love that film!

  • temporary guest

    “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” ~ Solomon

  • AlDavisJr

    See Barbarella

    • sabelmouse

      see what?

      • AlDavisJr

        Barbarella was a science fiction film starring Jane Fonda. There is a scene involving this subject.

        • sabelmouse

          i can’t remember, i do remember finding some of it disturbing.

          • AlDavisJr

            My brothers and I laughed about that scene. Now it may become reality.

          • sabelmouse


  • sabelmouse

    seriously, you can’t have seen ”lars” or understood it.

  • Bill Mayberry

    Digisex will be common yet under the radar.
    At least it’ll be something much newer than the same old porn.

  • https://www.codigeeks.com/codigeeks-app-developer-singapore www.codigeeks.com

    I am not sure if its really possible but we never know whats gonna happen in future. Maybe yes!


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar