February 24, 2024

Sex robots can offer the intimacy that the elderly disabled crave, says bioethicist

They are a way of helping human dignity

Sex robots are needed for older people, especially older people with disabilities, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. Nancy S. Jecker, a bioethicist at the University of Washington, in Seattle, contends that “the non-voluntary absence of sex from someone’s life is not just a bad thing but also a threat to a person’s identity and dignity” and sex robots can fill this gap in the lives of the elderly. Society should make “reasonable efforts” to help them as a way of promoting human dignity.

Jecker, who has written extensively about ethical issues associated with ageing societies, cites a number of other writers who believe that robots are the answer to the affective needs of lonely elderly and disabled people. “Almost everyone wants someone to love, but many people have no one. If this natural human desire can be satisfied for everyone… surely the world will be a much happier place,” writes David Levy, an authority on computer chess.

Michael Hauskeller, a philosopher at the University of Exeter, in the UK, points out that some people actually believe that the advantage of sex robots is their reliability compared to human partners, who are unreliable and thereby inferior. “The problem with entering into relationships with other people,” he says, “is that, although they certainly can be a source of pleasure, more often than not they stand in the way of it. Moreover, even when they give us pleasure and happiness…this pleasure can always be taken away.” (It’s not a point of view that he shares.) 

Trusting that sex toys will become more and more sophisticated, Jecker contends that “Unlike sex devices that function merely to enhance sexual pleasure, people bond to sex robots and feel close to them. Sex robots create the possibility not just of sexual pleasure but also of sexual relationships and interpersonal intimacy.”

While acknowledging that many people are sceptical about the idea that a robot can ever substitute for the affection of a human being, she argues that “sex robots are not a perversion but a way to enhance dignity by shoring up capability shortfalls.”