Sex and the Single Android:
Implications of Human-Robot Sex as Presented in Film and Television
In 2013, a survey of one thousand Americans indicated that 9% of them would have sex with a robot. A similar survey in 2014 of Britons reported that 17% would have sex with a robot. The same British survey reported that almost half of people thought the idea of robot sex was “creepy.” Of course, when we talk about human-robot sex, we are really talking about sex with an android--a robot in the likeness of a human.
Sex with inanimate objects that resemble human beings has an ancient and continuing pedigree. Ancient literary sources indicate that during Greek and Roman times at Dionysian orgies the celebrants made sexual use of statues and mechanical devices shaped like people, called automata. During the 17th and 18th centuries the French, Spanish, German and Japanese navies approved the use of cotton sex-dolls called dames de voyage, or ladies of the voyage, by their sailors on long ocean trips.
As technology advanced so did the realism of sex-dolls, until today some of the high-end models are pictorially indistinguishable from real women. Also, as sex-doll technology advanced so did representations of human-robot sex in science-fiction films and television shows.
Women and Androids
In the vast majority of human-robot sex situations, the human is male and the robot is a female android, or gynoid. There are two notable exceptions to this: One is Lieutenant-Commander Data (Brent Spiner) from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994). Data is a sentient and anatomically fully functional android who serves as a Star Fleet officer aboard the USS Enterprise. In the first season episode, "The Naked Now," Data has intimate physical relations with Security Chief Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby. In the fourth season episode, "In Theory," Data establishes a dating relationship with Lieutenant Jenna D'Sora, (Michele Scarabelli) although the two kiss passionately, they do not have sex. The other notable exception is Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) in the 2001 film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. A highly sexualized android, Gigolo Joe not only provides sex, he also provides emotional support and non-sexual companionship to his female clients.
Human-Gynoid Sex on the Screen
Examples of sexual and sexualized robots go back about as far as robots have been part of popular culture. A case in point is the literary work that introduced the very word “robot” into English, R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), by the Czech writer, Karel Capet. In R.U.R. the robots are not mechanical, but biological, and once assembled, indistinguishable from humans. However, the robots have no self-awareness, nor emotions. In the course of the play, the robots revolt and kill all humans except one. In the last act of the play, the surviving human recognizes that at least two of the androids have developed feelings and declares them the new Adam and Eve. The logical extension of this is that the robots will have sex with each other and reproduce.
In Fritz Lang’s 1927 film masterpiece, Metropolis, robot Maria, played by Brigitte Helm, is an explicitly sexual and dangerous figure. An exact physical copy of the chaste and good human Maria, also Helm, robot Maria uses her nearly hypnotic sexuality to encourage the workers to destroy the city. Robot Maria also uses this same enthralling carnal power to enrapture the upper-class males of Metropolis while dancing half-naked in the Yoshiwara, the city’s red-light district. Despite her open sexiness, during the film, no human has sex with robot Maria.
From 1930 through the late 1960s, depictions of human-robot sex were prohibited as were any portrayals of sex. Depictions of sex were forbidden by the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930, also called the Hays Code. When the Hays Code was officially abandoned in 1968, sex, including sex with robots, quickly returned to the screen.
However, before 1968, human-gynoid love did find a home on television. Though the sex was barely hinted at, it was still there. The 1959 episode of The Twilight Zone, “The Lonely” gave such hints. The episode concerns Corry, (Jack Warden), sentenced for murder to fifty-year solitary confinement on an asteroid. He is totally alone except for very short, quarterly resupply visits by a crew of astronauts. During one such visit, the spaceship’s captain, Allenby (John Dehner), leaves Corry a gynoid named Alicia (Jean Marsh) as a companion. At first Corry refuses to interact with Alicia, but after she displays emotions, he starts to see her as real woman. Three month later when the supply ship returns, Alicia and Corry have established a close relationship. However, Allenby tell Corry that he has been pardoned and can leave the asteroid. But he must be ready to go in twenty minutes and can only take 15 pounds of baggage. Of course, Alicia weights far more than 15 pounds. Corry has come to see Alicia has a real woman and is reluctant to leave her. Allenby is forced to shoot the gynoid to convince Corry to leave his prison.
The closing narrative suggestions the possibility of sex between Corry and Alicia: “On a microscopic piece of sand that floats through space is a fragment of a man's life. Left to rust is the place he lived in and the machines he used. Without use, they will disintegrate from the wind and the sand and the years that act upon them. All of Mr. Corry's machines, including the one made in his image, kept alive by love, but now obsolete - in The Twilight Zone.”
The mid-1960s were a heyday for sexy and sexual gynoids on TV. 1964’s My Living Doll starring Julie Newmar as the sexy, Amazonian gynoid Rhonda Miller, is one example. In the series, the sexiness of the Rhonda character was played up in the show’s opening sequence which showed Ms. Newmar in short, baby-doll lingerie, and in the very first episode, in which Rhonda spends the whole time wearing nothing but a sheet.
The original series of Star Trek (1966 – 1969) offered three episodes which depicted human-gynoid sex. “What are Little Girls Made of?” features the gynoid Andrea (Sherry Jackson), who wears a very revealing costume. When she is kissed by Kirk she says she wasn’t programmed for him, implying she is programmed for someone else. Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett), calls Andrea “a mechanical geisha” and then asks her fiancé, Roger Korby (Michael Strong), if he loved Andrea, clearly using the word loved to mean had sex with. Chapel is not repulsed by the idea that Korby had sex with a robot, but is disturbed by the potential unfaithfulness.
In “I, Mudd”, the crew of the Enterprise encounters a whole planet populated with androids and ruled by the con-man, Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel). On the planet are whole sets of gynoids; a Barbara series, a Trudy series, a Maisie series, an Annabelle series, “a whole plethora of series.” Furthermore, all the gynoids are programmed to act like real women. They act very eager to please and are given sexy costumes. The sexual aspect is more hinted at than shown outright, but it is certainly there.
In “Requiem for Methuselah”, the crew encounter the immortal, Flint, played by James Daly, who has built a gynoid named Rayna (Louise Sorrel), to be his equally immortal companion. Flint clearly plans on loving and having sex with Rayna once her emotions mature.
In the movies, human-gynoid sex is presented in several films. The best known examples are 1973’s Westworld, written and directed by Michael Crichton, and 1975’s The Stepford Wives, written by William Goldman, based on the novel by Ira Levin and directed by Bryan Forbes.
In Westworld, guests, primarily men, pay a thousand dollars a day to visit Delos, an ultra-high-tech adult resort. Delos is divided into three theme parks: West World, Medieval World and Roman World. In each of these worlds, the men live out various fantasies, such as winning a gun fight, slaying the Black Knight, fighting in the gladiatorial games and they also have sex with various types of robots; Old West prostitutes, Medieval serving wenches, Roman slave girls. Of course, the guests are perfectly aware that they are having sex with robots and paying a lot of money for the privilege.
The Stepford Wives tells the story of Stepford, Connecticut, in which the wives of the male residents are replaced with beautiful, dutiful and submissive look-a-like robots. The men of Stepford are certainly aware what they have done and know they are killing their wives and then having sexual relations with gynoids. In one memorable scene, the main characters Joanna Eberhart (Katherine Ross) and Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss) barge into the Cornell house and hear Mr. Cornell and the gynoid-Patricia Cornell having sex, with the gynoid declaring the very average Mr. Cornell to be “the champion” and “the master.”
After the Star Wars films appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s, big screen science-fiction movies largely shifted to much more juvenile, action-adventure type stories. The primary exception being 1981’s Blade Runner, written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based on Phillip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and directed by Ridley Scott. In Blade Runner, the female replicant, Pris, (Darryl Hannah) is described as “a basic pleasure model” clearly designed to be a robot prostitute. The other female replicant escapee, Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy, is part of a “kick murder squad” but is also portrayed as a sexual being when she performs a live-sex act with her pet snake at Taffy’s Bar. Furthermore, the movie implies rather than shows, that the replicant, Rachel (Sean Young), who does not know she is gynoid until late in the movie, has an intimate relationship with the blade-runner, Decker (Harrison Ford). In fact, at the end of the film, Decker and Rachel run away together.
While the big screen was studiously avoiding questions of human-gynoid sex, the TV show The Outer Limits began to re-address the issue in the late 1990s. In Valarie 23, a gynoid named Valerie 23 (Sofia Shinas), is designed to be attractive and helpful, the perfect companion for disabled men. Frank Hellner, (William Sadler) is a paraplegic scientist that works for Innobotics Corporation, the company that built Valarie 23. He is asked to test Valarie and at first is extremely reluctant. But, pressured by his boss, Hellner agrees to a week’s test period. Valerie proves an excellent caregiver and demonstrates the full range of human emotions during the week. During the week long test, Valerie becomes very affectionate toward Frank and they have a sexual encounter. Afterwards Frank explains to Valarie that he thinks that the sex was a big mistake. Meanwhile, Frank has started to show interest in his long-time physical therapist Rachel (Nancy Allen). Rachel asks Frank out for a drink. Valerie responds to this news by displaying jealously and anger. Valarie follows the humans on a rock climbing excursion where Valerie tries to kill Rachel. To save Rachel, Frank shuts Valarie off and returns her to Innobotics. Frank speaks to Valerie one last time before she is dismantled. Valerie attempts to explain her feelings to Frank. Valerie escapes and tries to kill Rachel again. To save Rachel, Frank destroys Valerie with an electric shock.
In, Mary 25, a sequel to Valarie 23, after the failure of the Valarie 23 test, Innobotics moves into selling nanny bots like Mary 25, also played by Sofia Shinas. Mary 25 replaces her designer’s, Charlie Bouton (Tom Butler), current nanny. Mary 25 is designed to prevent anyone from harming the children. Teryl Bouton (Cynthia Geary), Charlie's wife, wants Mary removed after an incident with her children. Charlie refuses because is using Mary for sex. It soon becomes clear that Charlie is beating Teryl. Later, it is revealed that Teryl and a Mary 25 programmer, named Melburn (Michael Shanks), had a previous relationship and that he still has feelings for her. When he performs Mary's scheduled maintenance, he reprograms the gynoid so that she now thinks that by hurting their mother, Charlie is hurting the children. One night when Charlie is beating Teryl, Mary kills Charlie. After Charlie’s death, Teryl and Melburn restart their relationship. However, in a twist ending, Melburn learns that Charlie killed the human Teryl and covered the murder up by using a remodeled Valerie 24 as a replacement.
Two more very recent examples of human-gynoid sex are the TV series from the UK, Humans, and the movie Ex Machina. In Humans a group of androids, called synths, are on the run from the police and a shadowy private corporation for being sentient. One of the synths, an attractive, blonde gynoid, named Niska (Emily Berrington), hides out in a legal synth brothel where she is subjected to a set of non-consensual sexual encounters. Ultimately, she kills one of her clients and escapes the brothel. Another of the synths, another attractive gynoid named Mia (Gemma Chan), is reprogrammed to forget she is self-aware and is turned into a standard domestic model, called Anita. In Episode 4, Anita’s owner discovers and actives her “18 + pack” and then has sex with her.
In Ex Machina, a young programmer, Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), who works for the largest search engine in the world, Bluebook, (i.e. Google), is invited to the secluded home of the company’s owner, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac), to take part in a Turing Test of an artificially intelligent gynoid developed by Nathan, named Ava, played by Alicia Vikander. In the course of the test, Nathan tells Caleb that Ava is overtly sexual: That she has an artificial vagina between her legs with tactile sensors, so that she could have sex and experience an orgasm. Ava also blatantly flirts with Caleb, talking about what she would wear on a first date with him. Later Caleb is told that Nathan specifically designed Ava’s appearance to be very pleasing to Caleb and is based on the younger man’s search history for pornography. In the course of the film, Ava uses what can only be described as her feminine wiles to get Caleb to help her escape.
What Kind of a Man Would Do That?
In 2012 Sarah Valverde published her Master’s Thesis in Psychology: “The Modern Sex Doll-Owner: A Descriptive Analysis” in which she surveyed the literature and history of human-form objects and sex. She also entered a sex-doll owner’s online-forum and surveyed the members on a number of human factors, such as age, education, income, etc. Based on Valverde’s study, the writers of the various shows described the type of men that would have sex with a gynoid as the very type of men that would use a sex-doll. Those men that are physically, or socially isolated, and are therefore lonely.
Corry from “The Lonely” is isolated on a remote asteroid with absolutely no chance at human contact. Flint from “Requiem for Methuselah” is socially isolated because of his immortality. Flint states his reasons for creating Rayna to Kirk: “I have married a hundred times, captain. Selected, loved, cherished. Caressed a smoothness, inhaled a brief fragrance. Then age, death, the taste of dust." Frank Hellner from Valarie 23 is socially isolated because of his disability and somewhat fears human relationships because his girlfriend left him after the accident that put him in a wheel-chair.
In Westworld and Humans the gynoids are used more as sex-workers and less as companions. The men who frequent the robot brothels in those shows are typical of men who use prostitutes in real life—that is to say, men who are seeking variety in sexual experiences, or seek to act violently in a sexual context. For example, Niska in Humans kills a client of the synth brothel because he asked her to act young and afraid. On her way out, Niska tells the human madam that what the men are doing to the synths is what they really want to do to human women.
Lastly, there are the men who prefer gynoids to real women and will even commit murder to replace the women in their lives with robots, like the male residents of Stepford and Charlie Bouton from Mary 25. Fortunately, we have no examples of this, yet, in the real world. However, history is replete with examples of men killing partners to replace them with other women.
Based on Valverde’s information, the average sex-doll owner is a single, middle-aged, white, heterosexual male with at least a high school diploma who works full-time and earns, on average, $60,000 dollars a year. In interviews reported from other sources, Valverde recounts that at least some sex-doll owners use them to relieve loneliness, especially after the death of a loved one. Further interviewees report that they use the sex-dolls to have companionship without having to deal with real humans and the potential pain caused by human relationships.
Valverde draws other, various conclusions from her study. For example, there are benefits to sex-doll ownership and use. For example, people in isolated environments, or those with disabilities that may impede their ability to have satisfying sexual contact with others could make use of a sex-doll. Further, sex-doll use is a safe way to express sexual fantasies that would be harmful to human partners, such as extreme sadomasochism. Also, sex-dolls have no diseases and offer no risk of physical harm to users, unlike soliciting a sex-worker.
However, there also maladaptive features of sex-doll ownership and use as well. Doll-ownership may aggravate withdrawal from human attachments, and finally impede the ability to interact with other humans. Sex-doll owners are likely to maintain social phobias. Furthermore, sex-doll use limits opportunities for personal growth and socialization.
In conclusion, as with many things, science-fiction is prefiguring the possible future of human-robot sex. Based on the fictional representation of human-android relations and Valverde’s study, essentially in that future when robots develop to the point that they are physically nearly indistinguishable from human, men will use gynoids in ways that are similar to how they currently use non-gynoid sex-dolls and sex-workers.
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