From adult toys to lovers: Would you have sex with a robot?

Experts debate the next big moral question

Would you have sex with a robot? No? How about if that robot was indistinguishable from a human being? Worse? Better? Could you fall in love with an Android?

The concept of sex with robots has been prevalent in fiction for years, but has hit the headlines on numerous occasions recently thanks to a spate of high-profile TV shows and movies.

The latest such show, one that underpins its narrative with the ethical and moral questions around sex and robots, is HBO's next big thing, Westworld. It features a park where human guests can do what they want – and what they want seems to be sex with life-like robot Hosts playing the roles in this world of cowboys and gunslingers.

The ethical debate around increasingly life-like robots and our sexual relationships with them is only set to intensify as more 'viable' forms are created to satisfy taboo pleasures, taking the debate out of books and TV shows and into more mainstream forums.


Dr David Kreps recently chaired just such a debate, and he believes that our relationship with sex bots will never evolve into true intimacy.

Deus Ex

Ex Machina's Ava

"A human relationship is a two-way affair, with give and take and all the complications of two opinions, two sets of desires, two lots of baggage from the past," he told TechRadar.

"A robot is a machine, which only does as it is programmed to do. In this sense our sexual relations with robots will always be ultimately similar to our relations with any other sex toy: we will use these hi-tech toys for sexual pleasure, if that's what turns us on."

Sex toys

The word 'toys' is used a lot when you discuss robots in this content, and the shifting attitude towards something like vibrators, which have gone from taboo to fairly well accepted in the space of a few years, suggests that attitudes to sexbots could be similar.

"Personally I would see sex robots (at least early versions of sex robots) as an extension of sex toys," says author and blogger Girl on the Net.

"I don't think the disgust is hardwired into us; [disgust] is partly a question of how it's framed. The same people who might profess disgust at sex robots would likely use actual sex toys today (I know I do!).

Roy Batty from Bladerunner

Roy Batty - an android from Bladerunner

"But that might just be the way I frame it. If someone conceives of sex robots as a replacement for sex with a human partner – which I don't think they will be, at least not for a very long time – then I can understand why that might turn them off."

Both Westworld and other high-profile entries into this genre (recent Channel 4 smash Humans, Hollywood hit Ex Machina, Bladerunner, and, of course, the original film version of Westworld) deal with slightly more complex issues – ones of sentience, self-awareness and therefore consent.


If a sexbot is not self-aware, then the issue of consent is rendered moot, or as Dr Kreps asks: "Would you ask a dildo if it minded where you put it?"

However, Girl on the Net believes that any future issue is a straightforward one: "As soon as a robot is self-aware, then it needs to be able to consent to what is happening, and if it doesn't consent then it shouldn't be used for any tasks, not just sex."

Kreps thinks this is an unlikely scenario, however: "No matter how clever they become at mimicry, no machine will ever be consciously aware or making its own decisions in the way human beings do."

Maeve one of Westworld s Hosts

Maeve of Westworld is a Host designed for pleasure

In an episode of HBO's Westworld, a staff member poses an interesting point about the robot 'Hosts' becoming more realistic, complaining: "...does anyone truly want that? Do you want to think that your husband is really f*cking that beautiful girl or that you really just shot someone? This place works because the guests know the hosts aren't real."

He certainly has a valid point.


But if the robot is non-aware, and therefore more toy than partner, we arrive at another conundrum: one of romantic love. Could we see humans fall in love with their mechanical companions?

"I'm sure we will be able to fall in love with robots, just as we can fall in love with pop idols and other things we do not actually have a relationship with," says Kreps.

"Relationships, however – experiencing love with another person, rather than 'being in love' with them – is something that takes two."

Girl on the Net has written an entire blog post around this very matter, [link may be NSFW – duh] and she adds: "We already empathise with, and build emotional attachments to, our robots.

"Wherever humans have any kind of relationship, even a simple one, we always want to anthropomorphise, and empathise. And there are, after all, already people who are in love with their Real Dolls (dolls created to look like humans) – without the robotics – so I think we could love them."

Campaign against Sex Robots

Believe it or not there's already a campaign group to decry sex with robots, and fears will inevitably grow that, just like with pornography, our evolving relationship with sex and eroticism will turn sex with robots into something even more insidious.

"I think honestly that humanity's capacity for one-on-one horror has been massively exaggerated," explains Girl on the Net. "I know the appalling Campaign Against Sex Robots is fixated on the idea that if we could shag robots we'd start treating women (because apparently we'd only make female sex robots) badly.


This creepy android sex toy is from Japan

"But I think actually far more people are likely to treat robots with humanity than to treat humans as if they're robots. What's more, one of the first questions whenever we talk about robots is always around consciousness – when does a robot become a person?

"The fact that we all ask this question, I think, indicates that we are all ready and willing to consider ethics and personhood way before we have a fairground where we fight robots to the death."

Kreps has a similar response: "The mimicry of hi-tech sex toys – however convincing the flesh-tones, movements, voices etc of such toys become – will not be able to reproduce the self-aware reality of human agency.

"In this sense, it is unlikely, therefore, that the lack of genuine interaction between humans and robots would affect our interactions between ourselves."

In truth, what we think about sex with robots now is unlikely to be the same as in 10 or 20 years' time, when the likelihood is that we will have a generation of more realistic human-like sex toys that might even respond in a more 'natural' way.

Our attitudes to sexuality are incredibly fluid, and made even more difficult to understand because people often feel awkward discussing them in the open. Perhaps the real question to ask yourself is this: would you have sex with a robot if nobody else cared?


Global Editor-in-Chief

Patrick (Twitter) is Global Editor-in-Chief for techradar, and has been with the site since its launch in 2008. He is a longstanding judge of the T3 Awards, been quoted or seen on everything from the The Sun to Sky News and is on the #CoolBrands Council. He started his career in football, making him one of approximately one journalists to have covered both a World Cup final and an iPhone launch.