Your girlfriend seems so fake

Maybe that's because she's a robot.

By Catherine Price

Published April 1, 2008 1:30PM (EDT)

There are times when writing for Broadsheet leaves behind a pretty interesting trail on my computer. For example: I was just checking out this article from the U.K.'s Times Online about robot sex, and I couldn't help following the links to two sex doll companies, Real Doll (American) and Honey Doll (Japanese). (If you're curious, Google them yourself -- I don't want to be responsible for getting you in trouble with your boss.)

I knew about Real Dolls already, not just because of that "Lars and the Real Girl" movie, but because of Meghan Laslocky's fascinating piece about Real Dolls that came out in Salon a few years back. For anyone still in the dark: They're nearly life-size fuckable dolls that come with mix-and-match body parts. (You can take your pick of faces, bodies, boobs, pubes, skin tone, makeup, hair and probably some other body parts that I'm forgetting to mention.) They've got realistic orifices, they're made of a material with a high melting point (so you can warm them up if you don't get off on feeling like you're bonking a cadaver), and they cost about $6,500 ($750 more if you want your doll to go up a cup size; $1,000 more if you'd prefer a "shemale" with vagina still intact).

To find out more about the types of people who own Real Dolls (some of the owners actually refer to the dolls as their girlfriends), check out Laslocky's piece -- it's excellent, if sad and disturbing. As for this robot sex article, it's a brief profile about David Levy, author of the recent book "Love and Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships." Levy, an international chess champion and computer scientist, thinks that by the time 2050 rolls around, we'll have our pick of robots that look, act and talk like humans. (Presumably these robots could also be used for less prurient purposes, like providing companionship to the elderly, but the title "Hospice Care With Robots" didn't go over as well with publishing focus groups.) Levy, who takes the fact there are now Honey Dolls who moan when you caress their plastic nipples as a sign that this future is fast approaching, defends "sexbots" by saying, "There must be a huge number of people who may have social problems or be shy or have psychosexual hang-ups ... people who are lonely and miserable and don't have a normal sex life ... I don't see anything wrong with it if the kind of robot I am talking about brings more pleasure to society. That's a good thing."

In some ways, I agree with him. For some people who are truly lonely, it does seem that these dolls bring a sense of companionship that is lacking in their normal lives. And plenty of people have vibrators, dildos and other sex toys that get the job done with no emotional baggage. If someone prefers silicone to flesh, who are we to judge?

But then I look at the gallery section of the Real Doll Web site, which shows dolls dressed up like real women/girls (some even have their own Web pages, written in the first person from the dolls' perspective), or reread the part in Laslocky's piece where she talks about a "doll doctor" who routinely sees dolls with mutilated genitals and damaged limbs from people who treated them too roughly, and I start to wonder whether in some cases that $6,500 could be better used to pay for some therapy. Problem is, when you start making sex dolls that look and act like real humans, it starts to make them seem, well, more human. I can't help thinking it's a little screwed up to condition yourself to think of inanimate dolls and people as interchangeable -- and I worry what effect getting used to having sex with a passive, completely submissive doll has on one's behaviors and attitudes toward real people. Unless those dolls of the future are programmed to act like actual human beings -- humans who object to being treated roughly, in addition to cooing when their nipples are stroked -- I'm not eager to see Levy's vision become a reality too quickly. Thoughts?

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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