There’s little evidence that sex robots are the horny dystopian nightmare—or fantasy—that headlines make them out to be, but that doesn’t stop people from hyping them. Hot sexbots won’t end sex. And we won’t see a commercially available, self-aware, humanoid sex robot in every home anytime soon.
And yet, they charge forward. When news broke that male sex robots (robots are objects and don’t have a gender, but we’ll refer to them as how they’re branded by Realbotix) could come as soon as this year, online outlets started frothing over the idea of a penis-wielding robot. But, as with every new innovation in technology or sex, I’m left asking: Who is this really for?
On Saturday, Realbotix CEO Matt McMullen told the Daily Star Online that the company is planning to launch a “male” version of its sex robots this year. Currently, the company only advertises female sexbots, called “Harmony,” which are also yet to be released. Realbotix is owned by Abyss Creation, and its sister company is RealDoll. Realbotix told me that the new bots will look similar to its current line of male RealDolls.
Most sex robots we’ve seen so far have been female-bodied prototypes, seemingly designed for straight men (with a “sex robot brothel” in Barcelona capturing the world’s attention for a few days last year).
A full-fledged humanoid bot capable of pleasuring a real person would be incredible, and far ahead of schedule if it were to launch this year. So, before I went too far down the fuckbot hole, I asked Realbotix to confirm that the male version was real, and releasing as early as this year.
“Yes, I can confirm that Realbotix is already working on the male version of our upcoming robots,” Guile Lindroth, a spokesperson for the company, told me in an email. Although the company didn’t confirm a specific timeline, he said the male robots will also be controlled by a mobile AI app, with content adapted to fit that of a man. Also like Harmony, the new bots will have heat and touch sensors.
“That presumes that the only thing that represents great sex for women is jackhammering her for as long as you possibly can."
But critics are already calling Realbotix’s bluff. “That is a robot created by Matt McMullen through the male lens,” Cindy Gallop, founder of MakeLoveNotPorn told me in a phone conversation. She read aloud the quotes from McMullen in one of the tabloid articles: That the bots could be plugged in and “go as long as you want.”
“‘As long as you want’ is not the female definition of fantastic mind blowing sex,” she said. “That presumes that the only thing that represents great sex for women is jackhammering her for as long as you possibly can. Fuck that shit.”
A human-shaped hump machine with holes is straightforward enough for phallus-having individuals: Pick an orifice and have your fun. But for women, it wouldn’t work. “In this wonderful world of sex robot equality, I would love to know how this robot is going to give me an earth-shattering orgasm with its mouth and tongue and lips,” Gallop said. “I would just love to see what a female concepted-and-built approach to male sex robots would look like.”
That’s something computer scientist and author of the upcoming book Turned On: Science of the Sex Robot Kate Devlin spends a lot of her time studying. “Sex robots and sex toys are two diverging paths, with the sex robot in its current form arising out of the sex doll market,” she told me in an email.
“It would be much more interesting and much less controversial if those paths could converge, with embodied, interactive sex technology in abstract, non-human forms.”
On a very basic level, more representation for more types of sexual preferences and bodies beyond the hypersexual female form is a good thing, sex blogger Girl on the Net (who works under a pseudonym for her own privacy) told me in an email. A male sex robot could be a boon for gay men looking for a humanoid companion, for example. But it’s still a societally-prescribed definition of “hotness.”
“One of the main problems we're still grappling with in the sex space is the fact that for so long 'sex' has been defined by 'what straight guys think is hot,' and there's a huge wide world of sexual desire out there which isn't reflected in mainstream porn and in sex robots,” she said.
Hence the “go a long as you want” line.
Male bots are a step in some direction for more diverse representation in sex tech, but not quite a step forward. Chiseled abs, toned arms, a weirdly vapid standard-issue stare: Even as they claim to push the boundaries of robosexuality, Realbotix hangs on to the old tropes of what heterosexual men think women want. Really, when women watch hetero porn, the dudes are more softboy. And we still have to choose between unrealistically hot fembot and unrealistically hot boybot—this thing doesn’t exactly shatter gender norms or open up wild new territory for sexual preferences to be explored.
The artificial intelligence personalities, too, of sex robots are typically programmed as heteronormative, stereotype-reinforcing chatbots. Devlin told me she’d rather see sex robotics take on abstract, non-human, but still pleasing forms.
“There's a lot of tech that doesn't exist yet that we'll need to pull this off"
But at the end of the day, all of this talk of humping a male-bodied AI bot is still very much speculation. As teledildonics developer Kyle Machulis told me over Twitter messages, almost all of the stories we see in headlines about them are driven by companies that are still in the research and development phases at best, and “completely lying at worst.”
An animatronic sex robot that responds to touch, communicates using artificial intelligence, and doesn’t fuck you to death mid-coitus or rip your dick off is still in the far-flung future. Current robots can barely walk, let alone have good sex.
“We aren't anywhere near there in terms fidelity yet in sex toys, or really, in any market sector involving robots,” Machulis said. “There's a lot of tech that doesn't exist yet that we'll need to pull this off in the way people imagine when they think ‘sex robots.’
For now, the “male sex robot” remains a mannequin with a strap-on.