‘Sexting’ with robots: How artificial intelligence will be able to ‘read’ our arousal

Experts discuss how AI will impact sexual relations, and what ethical considerations must be kept in mind

‘Sexting’ con robots
AI promises to revolutionize our sex lives.Man_Half-tube (Getty Images)

The report The Future of Sex Report, launched by Ian Pearson, argues that most people will practice some type of virtual sex by 2030, and that five years later, most people will own sex toys that interact with virtual reality sex. But perhaps the most striking claim from the report is that by 2050 robot sex could overtake human sex. “Virtual sex with AIs or robots will compete with human sex, but robots will be expensive,” it states. “It might feel very pleasant, and will be perfect for those people who want to live their ultimate fantasy without all the strings and emotional commitments of real relationships.”

While the Spike Jonze film Her (2013) explored a romance between a man and his virtual personal assistant, 10 years earlier, the movie Demolition Man looked at how technology could play a role in sexual relationships. In an iconic scene, a character played by Arnold Schwarzenegger has virtual sex with Sandra Bullock. The film is set in the year 2032, in a society where sex is declared illegal. Given the latest trends in sex tech, Marco Brambilla’s feature film aptly predicted the potential of this type of technology. In fact, according to the 2024 Sex Trends report, by the sex toy brand Lovehoney, AI that personalizes sexual experiences will be key.

“AI has great personalization potential. It allows us to interpret data and develop individual responses based on sensory information, such as body temperature and pulse, to adapt them to the user’s needs. For example, future sex toys could recognize if you are having an orgasm and, based on your behavior, know whether it should increase or decrease its intensity,” explains Fabian Schmolck, AI Solution Manager at Lovehoney Group and Womanizer. “Currently, we are working on several projects to improve people’s sexual lives. For example, we are exploring ways to use AI for personalized product recommendations, individualized pleasure, and educational chatbots to talk about sexuality, all of which help empower people to explore and understand themselves in new ways.”

He adds: “We have to talk about the fact that each person’s sexuality is different, and this leads to particular issues and needs in terms of sex education, product recommendations and past sexual experiences. With the research we are doing and have done, we explore sexual well-being.”

Lucía Jiménez, a psychologist and sexologist specialized in couples therapy, points out that artificial intelligence can also be used as a tool to treat sexual problems and gain confidence. “It can serve to improve erotic intelligence, which is the ability to move fluidly sexually with oneself and others, and to increase desire. It can also be applied to vibrators. The information it collects can help it to know when you are becoming more aroused and change the intensity of the vibration or suction, accordingly. Or even as a support in sex therapy to be able to train a person in sexual interaction, with the assurance that it is not a real person and thus not expose to rejection.”

Sexting AI

BLOOM Chat app was born in response to the widespread fatigue with dating apps and dating more general. The app has a virtual chat room that allows users to send sexual messages to bots, which respond with written texts and recordings with personalized voices, according to their responses. “All voice actors who have opted in to being a part of this project did so enthusiastically after extensive conversations and planning with the BLOOM team,” the website states in a section on ethical concerns.

According to Marc Rivero, Lead Security Researcher at the cybersecurity company Kaspersky, implementing AI in the content moderation of virtual sex presents certain ethical and technical challenges. That’s why, he says, it’s important to find a balance between freedom of expression, protecting users’ privacy and a necessary level of censorship. “Technically, AI should be able to differentiate between informed consent and abusive situations. However, this can be extremely complex given the subtlety of human interactions,” he explains.

“Chatbots can help those who have no one to talk to about sex and sexuality. Additionally, those who suffer from anxiety may feel more comfortable asking a chatbot questions about sex. It is also imperative that sex tech companies ensure that the technology complements, and does not overshadow, the human side of sexual intimacy,” warns Fabian Schmolck. “While combining technology with sexual well-being opens the doors to personalized and immersive experiences, it is vital that we remember the human element of the equation. Brands must continue to focus on engineering to ensure that the physical product is as useful as the technology behind it. Although we traditionally think of technology as something related to cables, electricity and computers, it is not the only type of technology that is part of sex tech. Advances in engineering and design through testing and feedback from real users are technical innovations that help users use their toy with greater ease and success.”

Rivero argues that AI has become a key component in moderating content and detecting abusive behavior online, including in the area of virtual sex. “Thanks to significant advances in natural language processing [NLP] and image recognition, AI will be able to identify and censor inappropriate language, non-consensual explicit images and abusive behavior in real time.”

This interventional practice is based on models that have been trained with vast labeled data sets. In this way, AI is capable of understanding and reacting to a wide spectrum of contexts. However, its effectiveness in these areas varies depending on the quality and diversity of the training data, and whether it is updated to adapt to slang and symbols used by malicious users to circumvent the rules, says Rivero.

The stigma of sex tech

According to the consulting firm Juniper Research, in 2020, approximately 35.6 million digital devices were used for pleasure, a figure that is set to triple in the next five years. This market is led by Asia, which is expected to remain the most powerful driver of the sex tech industry, which will reach some 37 million active devices by 2025. Sex tech, however, is still stigmatized. According to Jiménez, this may be due to its controversial use in chats that involve violence, abuse and even pedophilia.

“It is difficult to know where to set the limits, because in reality, fantasy is very free and there is a very big leap between desire and action. However, the fact that the majority of AI interactions are of this kind, should prompt us, at the very least, to reflect as a society. It is difficult to limit something that can’t be controlled, unless it is by banning any sexual content. Therefore, in addition to the system itself being able to recognize acts of violence, sexual education has to be more important than ever,” says Jiménez.

Schmolck tells EL PAÍS that he believes that open and honest dialogue will reduce the stigma surrounding everything related to sex tech. “If we get people to talk more openly about sex tech, we can destigmatize and help understand its benefits,” he says. “Education plays a fundamental role. We know that if done responsibly and ethically, it can change perceptions from being considered something taboo to being seen as another aspect of human health and happiness. When we open a dialogue, starting from a place of empathy, understanding and respect for sexual well-being, we are able to not only destigmatize technology applied to sexuality, but also to have a great impact on the sexual happiness of many people around us.”

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