As the TV series Westworld wraps up its second season, the show continues to spark discussion about a potential future that involves lifelike sex robots.
But while more lifelike sex dolls are beginning to hit the market, they aren’t the only innovations on the horizon.
What’s next for sex?
The use of technology to enhance sexual pleasure is ancient.
A stone dildo discovered by researchers in a German cave dates back 28,000 years. And sculptures with strong erotic imagery from more than 35,000BC are thought by some scientists to be an early form of pornography.
The main technologies that are likely to be important for developments in sex over the next few years are:
Increasing miniaturisation of motors and batteries for stimulation and to simulate human movement, improved touch-based (haptic) interfaces, virtual reality and brain computer interaction, materials development, such as skin that stretches, and artificial intelligence for control and response.
Sex aids for solo or coupled sex remain extremely popular. More natural skin-like covers, ranges of movement, battery life and wireless control are major areas of innovation.
Devices such as the We-Vibe have gone mainstream, and are now sold by Amazon.
But, as with many technologies, hi-tech sex aids have their downsides. The manufacturer of We-Vibe recently settled a class-action law suitfollowing allegations the company breached users privacy by remotely tracking use of the device.
New technologies can facilitate sex with a partner who is present, a partner who is distant, as well as solo activity. These aspects merge in the field of teledildonics, which involves partners getting together without being together.
Teledildonics is an extension of web-cam or phone sex. Remotely controlled sex toys can be used to facilitate pleasuring a partner when they are not there.
We may see apps like Tinder and Grindr move in this direction, limiting perceived risks associated with physical contact. Sexy Vibes – an alternative to Tinder – already works by turning a phone into a vibrator.
Since a lot of sexual pleasure is experienced in the brain, advances in virtual reality that make a simulated sexual encounter more realistic and engaging may be more important than anatomically accurate physical devices.
You might be familiar with online games where people change gender, appearance, and even species as they wish. Sex is already relatively common in games such as World of Warcraft, and there are a huge range of sex-games available.
Virtual reality could remove the need to have any link to the real world whatsoever.
Sexual robots that behave like humans are a staple of science fiction. Without going into the ethical questions surrounding their development – which have become the subject of activist campaigns – sexbots to the fictional standard are difficult to make and suffer from the “uncanny valley” effect effect. They are close to human, but noticeably different.
And once you have built a sexbot, you need some way of controlling its behaviour. A distant partner may be one approach, a pre-programmed “digital prostitute” may be another. It is possible to imagine a future where one could personalise a robot using 3D printing and a set of prebuilt responses to appear and act like a particular human being.