Evolving ‘Digisexuality’ May See Many Pick Tech Over People

There’s a good chance you aren’t aware of the fact that, according to some researchers, humanity is entering an age of “digisexuality,” in which a second wave of sexual technologies is beginning to come to fruition. This second wave, a successor to a first wave that includes technologies like dating apps, may not only end up drastically altering the way people interact romantically, but also creating a whole new range of relationship types, many of which will not involve a second human partner. Which means we may want to prepare for some combo of Her, Ex Machina, and Weird Science all soon happening at once.

Futurism picked up on an essay published in The Conversation outlining this second wave in the evolution of digisexuality, which was co-authored by alternative sexualities researcher and specialist in the philosophy of human rights, Neil McArthur, along with sexuality educator, sexologist, and relationship therapist, Markie Twist. Both Twist and McArthur have written extensively about sexuality and technology, and they even coined the term “digisexuality.”

Speaking of which, for those unfamiliar with the term, digisexuality has a broad definition, but boils down to two general use cases according to Twist and McArthur’s essay. In a more general sense, digisexuality is used “to describe the use of advanced technologies in sex and relationships,” and in the narrower sense, is used in reference to “people whose sexual identity is shaped by what we call second-wave sexual technologies.”

McArthur (right) describes the definition of digisexuality. 

These second-wave technologies include everything from virtual reality sexual experiences and pornography to, of course, sex robots. And while sex robots, more colloquially known as “sexbots,” are only in their very nascent stages of development, there’s a clear path toward making them far more humanlike. Not only are countless companies working to develop sexbots, but advances in robotics and artificial intelligence in other fields will doubtlessly spill over into the field of digisexuality. On top of sexbots and various forms of virtual reality sex, McArthur and Twist also point out developments in “ teledildonics,” which essentially describes technologies that allow people to have sexual intercourse without ever actually touching.

This deletion of touch, of physical connection, seems to be a central facet of the second wave of digisexuality. For example, in an article published in The New York Times in early 2019, titled “Do You Take This Robot…,” Twist said that several of the patients she sees in her clinical practice have “been into… toys they can control with their tech devices, that attach to their penis or their vulva,” and added that these patients “haven’t had contact with humans, and really don’t have any interest in sex with people.” (That same Times article even referenced a 35-year-old Japanese school administrator who married a hologram.)

There are obviously innumerable ethical issues with this second wave of digisexuality—including, among so many others, the moral dilemmas surrounding the treatment of humanoid robots, or any other robots used for sexual purposes, for that matter—but it’s the idea of supplanting humans with robots and virtual reality in the realms of romance that seem to require the most forethought right now. Not only is it reasonable to believe that second-wave digisexual technologies will further alienate people from each other, but McArthur and Twist also emphasize the fact that there could be widespread stigmatization of people who do decide to jettison carbon-based partners in favor of silicon-based ones.

Ultimately, however, the researchers seem to think that the evolution of digisexuality will be a net positive for humanity. McArthur said in a 2017 Discover article that “There will be lots of digisexuals in the near future, but it’s going to be okay.” He added that digisexuality will eventually just “take its place alongside other non-mainstream sexual identities, and society will go on.” Although as far as seeing things from the sexbots’ point of view, it’ll probably be a while before we figure out if we’re actually turning them on or off.


What do you think about the research into digisexuality being done by McArthur and Twist? Are you excited for the digisexual revolution, or do you fear it could lead to a widespread loss of human connection? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Feature image: ThoroughlyReviewed / Nevit Dilmen

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