The Future Of Sex: Droids, VRs, And The Orgasm Switches


Forget the Turing test. Imagine when a machine can not only convince us of their intelligence, but attract us with it. Bladerunner gave us a great glimpse in the eighties: sexy androids manipulating humans with their power to woo. Science fiction has always tackled the sticky subject of sexuality and technology, blurring the lines between the cold mechanics of the computer and the sensual maze of human emotion.

One of the activities which we consider to be qualitatively human is our unique sexual experience; but as “human” becomes “post-human,” what happens to sex? We already have sexting, homegrown porno, and sex toys that would make your parents blush… but what comes next?  Here, we explore a few ways in which sex has shifted with technology, and do a little speculation (fantasizing?) of our own.

Try this one on for size. In 1953, Dr. John C. Lilly was planting electrodes deep into the brains of monkeys for the National Institute of Mental Health. By running currents through their neural tissue, he was able to map out areas that produce fear, pain, anger, and pleasure. He discovered that in male monkeys, separate systems controlled erection, ejaculation, and orgasm. By hooking electrodes to the orgasm system, he could produce one after another. Then he gave the monkey a button to stimulate itself once every three minutes. The monkey slept about eight hours a day, and – you guessed it – pushed the button the other sixteen.

Of course, most of us aren’t ready to let anyone stick electrodes into our brain stem (good luck getting research ethics approval on that one). Still, as we crack the secrets of how the brain works – and we’re doing just that – who’s to say we won’t be able to create pleasure with our findings? Technology has always aimed to improve the quality of human life in one way or another; why shouldn’t that goal extend to our sex lives? I wouldn’t expect your very own orgasm button anytime soon, but the unfolding frontier of neuroscience just might have some surprises in store.

After all, we’re already using drugs to tinker with sexual physiology. The field of contraception , once limited to external technologies (e.g. condoms), has moved on to the real body-hack: tweaking hormone levels to temporarily inhibit female fertility (AKA the pill). And pretty soon, new hormone treatments will be available to men, spiking testosterone levels to inhibit sperm production and bring a little more gender equality to drug-based birth control.

Will the future see dramatic changes in the relationship between sex and reproduction? We already employ contraceptive technologies to enjoy sex with a minimal risk of pregnancy. What if future generations wanted to separate the practices altogether, trusting embryos to the controlled safety of test tubes? Of course, this conjures up a long list of ethical concerns, and rightly so. No one should ever be told they cannot have a child the old-fashioned way; but can we deny parents the test-tube designer baby option if the technology is available, safe, and that’s their desire?

If biological sex is suddenly divorced from its evolutionary function, how would such a shift change our societies? In Brave New World, a major character is reprimanded by her friends for not being promiscuous enough. After all, “everyone belongs to everyone else.” Huxley’s dystopia offered a critical perspective on how our values evolve with both our technology & society, and he knew that sexuality wasn’t static. Whatever technological changes are coming, one thing is certain: sexual norms will continue to shift just as they have throughout modern history, adaptive to our ever-changing culture.

We recently reported on drugs being used to boost the brain, but what about the bedroom? In the age of Viagra and Cialis, folks are staying sexually active well into their golden years. New treatments could soon make common STD’s a thing of the past. But will drugs remain in the role of treating disease and dysfunction, or will they make the jump to boosting performance? Will the world someday see drugs that increase the intensity of orgasm? Sexual stamina? Will we make Love Potion #9?

Will our own species always be pure flesh and blood? Body augmentations are commonplace these days, from prosthetic limbs to bionic eyes. Don’t be surprised if sometime soon they make their way below the belt. Or, if we follow a few technological fantasies to their conclusions, maybe our own minds will someday be housed on different platforms. If you traded in your own neural tissue for a Blue Brain upgrade, would you still desire sex? Would we flood our computer-brains with artificial hormones to keep those warm fuzzy feelings a part of the post-human experience? Would we miss good old fashioned sex? Would we simulate it?

What about virtual reality? Think of The Big Lebowski: “Interactive erotic software. The wave of the future, Dude. 100% electronic!” If history is any indication, humans are particularly brilliant at adapting sexuality to new technologies. The internet, that information superhighway that can connect us all instantly, has been used since its inception to house vast amounts of pornography. As VR technology gets better, it will probably be used to the same ends. Brothels might lose their customers to a new virtual option that is both safer and cheaper; or maybe they’ll be stocked with superstar android prostitutes, or start running sexual Holodecks to fulfill your every fantasy. Assuming, of course, that you can get turned on knowing it’s all just a simulation.

But it doesn’t take such futuristic fantasies to see how technology is changing human sexuality. Clothing (old-school technology) already serves a wide variety of sexual functions: bras boost the apparent size of women’s breasts (increasingly so, it seems), while tight jeans profile body parts to help along that mental image (think of a certain Rolling Stones album cover). If you believe evolutionary theorists like Geoffrey Miller, a great deal of our modern culture is the product of sexual display. Think of all the ways you show your individuality: the style of your clothes, the bands you listen to, your haircut, the way you speak, that poem you wrote… As we use technology to express ourselves, our sexual advances are increasingly caught up in these new media. The ambiguous “Facebook poke” is a perfect example: a pseudosexual nod in the virtual world. Try to imagine how many conceptions began with the click of that strange little button.

We’re living in an era where romances routinely begin online, where all sorts of electronic toys populate the bedroom, and where drugs keep us sexually active long after mother nature had ever intended. Human technology can’t be divorced from our sexuality: they seem to promote and reinforce one another. How will the sexual landscape of the future unfold? What pleasures – and dangers – await?

Written by Drew Halley. Originally appeared on Singularity Hub
The Future Of Sex: Droids, VRs, And The Orgasm Switches The Future Of Sex: Droids, VRs, And The Orgasm Switches Reviewed by Daniel Weaver on Thursday, June 20, 2013 Rating: 5

Featured Posts

[Future][feat1]