Sex Tech is Great Until You Put a Face on it

I didn’t think it was possible, but they’ve found a way to make sex dolls even creepier.

The team behind the RealDoll is unveiling a new generation of artificial intelligence sex robots. By pairing the sex dolls with the Harmony AI app, users can create a customizable digital woman as easily as a character on The Sims. RealDoll owners of tomorrow will be able to modify their doll’s appearance, voice and “personality” to create the sexbot of their dreams.

I’m very pro-sex tech. Technology offers the experience of sexual pleasure to people who’d otherwise find it unattainable due to disabilities, trauma or simple shyness and discomfort. Also, sex toys are fun. But sex dolls always creep me out. And this new line of AI dolls has helped me figure out why: male entitlement. The men who build and buy sex dolls believe they’re entitled to the bombshell hottie of their dreams. They’re like incels, the online group of “involuntarily celibate” hetero men who hate women purely because they (the men) aren’t having sex.

The addition of artificial intelligence brings sex dolls closer than ever to being like human women—and it makes the misogyny behind sex robots even more clear. These quasi-conscious AI sex bots let men create their perfect female personality: a woman who likes everything you like and tells you so. This proves that these men do want to talk to women and get to know them. Just not human women who didn’t have their bodies and personalities crafted by men who hate women.

“[Sex dolls] are marketed not as a device for pleasure but as a device to replace human women in your life,” says New York City sex educator Haylin Belay. “Which says a lot about what the role of human women is meant to be in a lot of these men’s lives.” That is, to be a human sex doll who serves men’s needs first and foremost.

Belay sees a strong overlap with sex bots and the involuntarily celibate movement. Incels believe they’ve been cheated out of the sex they deserve as being men and have grown to hate women as a result. Incel forums are not merely support groups, however, but misogynistic echo chambers. The original subreddit r/Incels was banned for ideas like forcing all women to marry at age 15, and for generally promoting violent retribution against sexually active women for not having sex with incels.

Incels are a subgroup of beta males, who’ve used violence to punish women and sexually active straight men. Most recently, Alek Minassian, the man charged with killing ten people with a van in Toronto, linked himself to incels, saying “the incel rebellion has begun” on a now-deleted Facebook page.

That same sense of toxic male entitlement feeds the sex bot movement. Matt McMullen, founder of Abyss Creations (the company that runs RealDoll and Realbotix), believes his dolls aren’t made just for “nasty dirty perverts who can’t get enough sex.” McMullen told KPIX 5 the dolls are “really about companionship” and can foster an experience that’s “actually above and beyond the physical.” That’s a lovely sentiment until you realize it’s something that’s happening with a man alone in a room somewhere. The absence of real flesh and blood women with feelings and desires of their own is telling. Buyers of sex dolls, incels, beta males, don’t want to listen to the needs of real women and sex dolls ensure that these men don’t have to.

There’s already a market for sex dolls that don’t consent, as we saw last year with the sex doll that had a “rape mode” (she would object to you attempting sexual acts with her). While the rape mode was rightly criticized, its existence showed how owning a sex dolls has nothing to do with companionship or connection. Owning a sex doll is about being able to do whatever you want to a woman without having to deal with a human who might say no.

ARealDoll user interviewed by KPIX 5 is much more telling than McMullen’s defense: “Being able to be intimate with something this beautiful is amazing.” Despite what McMullen said, it is about sex. Specifically, it’s about men’s entitlement to sex with hot women.

Stella Harris, a sex educator and coach based in Portland, OR, says that as sex dolls become more realistic, “we’re hitting on a new kind of creepy. It can start to feel like dubious consent.”

This new generation of AI RealDolls can be programmed to enthusiastically consent to whatever you want. Belay dismisses the sex doll’s consent ability as “irrelevant.” “Or it’s sprinkles on top.” It’s like how men too often perceive the female orgasm and female consent: a fun extra but not necessary to heterosexual sex.

It is surely a technological feat to make sex doll “personalities” with artificial intelligence. The sex doll itself, too, is impressively advanced. And yet these same hetero men can’t devote the same amount of time and labor to figuring out what real women want, sexually, and how to respect women’s needs.

“If we look at who is underserved by heterosexual dating culture, it’s obviously women,” says Belay. “There’s way more of a pleasure gap there.” That’s why sex robotics is not like other sex tech. The field of sex tech is increasingly run by women and for women, to increase female sexual pleasure. Sex dolls, on the other hand, are a way for men to avoid responsibility for sexual inequality between men and women.

It’s easier to declare oneself an incel and bang a sex doll that can’t say no than ask yourself why women might not be having sex with you. “That has a lot to do with how justified and how comfortable people are with the idea of a human woman as an object,” says Belay. If she’s not doing it how she’s supposed to, a robot woman will work just as well.

RealDoll’s new artificial intelligence brings us closer to a Westworld-esque landscape of sexual robotics. Dirty Lola, an NYC-based sex edu-tainer, joked that this is how the robot rebellion will begin. “If anything is going to make technology sentient it’s going to be being used to play out folks’ dark fantasies,” she says.

Belay agrees. “If there’s a device that, if granted autonomy, would be most likely to rise up and kill you in your sleep, it is your fleshlight.”