Archives For sex

woman on bench

Once in a while, the internet remembers random things, such as a woman who wanted to trim the male population by at least 90% and use the survivors as breeding stock to reduce gender inequality across the world. While MRAs believe that this is what all feminists secretly want and most people understand that this is little more than a joke that went too far and has absolutely zero chance of happening, ever, all of the online discussions on the subject have focused on a trip down the histrionics-laden minefield of gender politics instead of a relevant scientific issue that should be front and center. Sure, being one of the few males left on Earth and given a life filled with relative luxury and constant sex sounds like the plot of a particularly wishful porn film which I’m sure has been made a few hundred times by now. But would it actually work? What’s the consequence of eliminating up to 99% of men from the gene pool? Well, it could very likely doom our species in the long run, even with heavy reliance on artificial insemination and gene therapy. We thrive thanks to variety, and reducing our genetic diversity will only harm us.

Let’s say that 90% of men are somehow culled. With about 10 women for every remaining man we’d quickly end up with the same problem as Iceland worldwide. In just a few generations, the attractive stranger with whom you’re flirting is likely your half-sibling. Sure, you can curate who gets to reproduce and how, but the sheer lack of new male genes will quickly have you trying to fight math. Artificial insemination using same sex donors is possible and has been done, but it’s still a very touchy, expensive process that doesn’t always work. Women in poverty or in remote, undeveloped parts of the world are going to have extremely limited access to this resource and women in wealthy nations will be looking at high costs and failure rates. Nature got really, really good at this whole reproduction thing over 3.5 billion years and re-inventing the wheel is not an easy feat. Today, the best we can do with tried and true technology is successful about 15% of the time per implanted zygote on average. After just ten generations, there’s going to be a very serious threat of a genetic bottleneck which spells evolutionary doom for any organism.

An even more base, but still relevant question in the face of us no longer being able to just out-breed our way through genetic defects and weaknesses as we do today, is what about women who want monogamous, long-term heterosexual relationships? That’s close to 90% of those on the planet in this post-male apocalypse world. Instead of having a boyfriend or a husband they just plain want, they’re now on waiting lists among rationed men who also can’t have any sort of meaningful relationship. While more women than men admit to same-sex fantasies, and acting on them, you might end up with artificially high same-sex pairings among women simply out of emotional and physical necessity. It’s one thing if you’re homosexual and have your choice of a partner everywhere you look. But if you’re not, your choices are to get on a waiting list for some person to whose gender you have a strong innate attraction, pair up with a same sex partner to release some stress until you can’t do it anymore, or be lonely. Again, there are good reasons why nature prefers a 50/50 ratio between the sexes, one of which is more choices in mating.

For better or worse, the survival of humanity depends on having plenty of men available, and a significant amount of genetic diversity. Look at every successful species in history. They thrived in enormous numbers because they reproduced efficiently and had many mates available on a moment’s notice. Small, inbred populations nearly always die out because they lack the genetic diversity and numbers to absorb a change in diet, or the environment, or new diseases to come out on the other end as strong as ever. Humans survived a supervolcanic eruption which left an uncomfortably small population that might have dropped to as few as 10,000 individuals, awful plagues, and an ice age. Had we become too dependent on over-structured breeding systems, or had our species grown far too sex-lopsided, we would’ve went extinct. So an idea involving a reduction of up to 99% of one sex shouldn’t just be met with political and social objections, but it should be first dismissed from the most important point of all: that of evolutionary biology.

despondent man

Blaming the web and porn for the demise of courtship and proper masculinity has become one of the favorite hobby horses of old pundits who just entered the hey-you-kids-get-off-my-lawn phase of life and want to seem scientific about it. Unlike the proper manly men of the middle of the last century, we waste our lives playing video games, watching porn, and not having kids to hand off to our wives to raise soon enough. Now, back in the days when Philip Zimbardo was coming of age, that’s when real men roamed the Earth, aimlessly wandering around on a bike, climbing tress, playing soccer, and feverishly masturbating to lingerie catalogs when mom and dad weren’t looking, growing up to have full, rich lives of children and fulfilling marriages. If you ignore that 50% divorce rate and numerous societal ills caused by a complete lack of sex ed in any way, shape or form. Sounds like an asinine thesis? Well, it is, but sadly that’s exactly what two TED talks, a study, and a book by Zimbardo claims. Men today barely qualify as men.

You know when a study about masculinity is bad when Slate’s Amanda Hess, a writer who one would easily place among those echoing the meme of porn turning men into evil lusty beings, if we go by her past articles, swiftly decimates both the premise and methodology behind it. The study itself was an exercise in cherry picking so textbook, no wonder the only media outlets so eager to cover it are tabloids. Zimbardo created an arbitrary definition of porn addiction, asked enough young men about their video game and porn habits to hit his target numbers, and went on to declare that we’re suffering through an epidemic of porn addicted gamers clogging up the gene pool. Even worse, he primed them with his conclusions, already embedding the idea that young men today were useless shells of what they were back in the day, then asked subjects to more or less agree with negative stereotypes of said young men who were just declared to be worthless by someone in a lab coat. This is not a study. This is punditry masquerading as data with even less objectivity than a political talking head on prime time news would feign.

Still, there is a small germ of an interesting question buried in this pseudoscientific hatchet job, and that’s the question of how porn affects young men since access to it is easier than it ever was, and it can be found at younger and younger ages. Do men indeed have unrealistic ideas about sex by a large margin as is so often claimed? Do they really suffer from penis envy at an alarming rate that’s somehow different than throughout recorded history? You won’t find these questions actually researched by Zimbardo, merely taken as truisms not to be doubted, which really is worse than doing no study at all. He doesn’t care about the science or the data, all he’s interested in is promoting his self-glorifying, I-hate-young-people-with-penises thesis. Just like daytime quacks, like Dr. Oz or Dr. Phil, old fogeys with scientific credentials need to be ignored by their would-be audience and excoriated by actual experts. Instead of helping us understand the world around us better, like scientists should, they’re opting for cheap, easy minute of fame for regurgitating nasty stereotypes that make other geezers feel warm and fuzzy inside. That is not what real men do. Real men actually do their jobs and try to find out the truth.

woman in bed

Over the years, this blog took the occasional stab at the way Americans deal with sex, and how downright bipolar the relationship often tends to be. Until the last few years, watching porn was far and away the biggest use of bandwidth on the web, and even now, with social media taking adult entertainment’s crown, it’s still gathering billions of views every week. If anything, we can safely argue that porn has been spilling over into social media as well with the sheer number of sexually explicit content across virtually every social platform, and find a way to show that it still remains the web’s top activity. At the same time, prudes across the world want pre-marital sex punished, or at the very least severely stigmatized, tout the virtues of having only one partner in your entire sexual life for absurd reasons, crusade against education that actually prevents the very diseases and unplanned pregnancies they want to stop, blame everything they hate about men on porn, and howl like apoplectic banshees if women who work in porn aren’t portrayed as damaged, abused, and helpless, but as active participants in their career choices.

All this isn’t just an unhealthy social dissonance to be discussed in purely academic terms, this active campaigning against treating sex like adults costs people their lives, literally. The Vatican and its many Christian detractors are complicit, directly or indirectly, in countless deaths caused by the spread of HIV and AIDS in the developing world by preaching against the use of what is pretty much the most effective and recommended way to combat new infections: condoms. We don’t have to turn into what’s best be described as these self-absorbed prudes’ hypersexual, I-have-more-sex-than-thou-so-I’m-better counterparts, but if we want to improve many people’s lives and health, we need to talk about sex like adults, and in our conversations about sex and sexuality, ask some important questions. One such question is why people don’t use condoms despite their proven medical efficacy, and our awareness of how risky it is to have unprotected sex without taking the proper precautions first.

Part of the answer lies in old world tradition of being only as sexually impressive as how many kids one has, so men in the developing world say that it makes them feel less masculine to use condoms, and enjoy sex far less. Since many of the cultures where this is prevalent also often treat women as property or something they win when they become proper men, they rarely get some say in the matter. While a long term solution would be empowering women to make their choices heard and enforceable in the afflicted societies, to the WHO, the easiest fix is to reform the men’s opinion of condoms. This is where it runs into the second most often used excuse to leave them in their wrappers. Modern latex condoms are often uncomfortable and deaden the sensations so much that they take a lot of the fun out of sex. Unlike reforming a culture toward gender equity, this is a purely technical problem, something we should be able to address very quickly and efficiently, right? Well, apparently, no, says Slate’s L.V. Anderson.

Typically given the unenviable job of editing a you’re-doing-it-wrong column, Anderson plunged into the world of longform popular science journalism and came out with a very well researched and deftly argued thesis that modern condoms are due for a serious upgrade and what stands in the way of this isn’t the technology or the science, but the FDA and its bureaucratic inertia, or rather lack thereof. While I highly recommend to read the whole article to get a detailed history of testing protocols and research into how to make a better condom, let me give you the main, err, thrust of the problem at hand. The reason why condoms take away so much sensation is a materials problem. Only tests for latex and different types of latex have been created and there is no desire to change protocols for anything other than testing the standard latex condom or a synthetic latex substitute. This means we’re stuck with latex and its poor ability to transfer body heat, which can dampen sensations so much that sex becomes thoroughly unenjoyable.

Now, the obvious solution is to experiment with other materials which conduct body heat much better and don’t have to sacrifice reliability for thinness or comfort for standardization. We have these materials and versions of far superior condoms have been in stores until the FDA put out an order to stop selling them after their testing protocol, which was designed for a one size fits everyone product made of the same material family, judged them to be riskier than the current latex standard. In response to the manufacturers’ notes, they refuse to change anything about the tests even when it’s obvious that they’re using the wrong tools for the job. And as an added problem of the aforementioned bipolar prudishness in our culture, condom manufacturers also don’t want to do real world studies on the wear and tear of their product for anything other than vaginal sex simply because they don’t want to be associated with studies of anal sex. So we’re basically at an impasse that can only be fixed by an adult conversation.

Publicly questioning the FDA about their obstinacy in modifying testing protocols in the press to force the agency to respond, and showing that we can mention anal sex without snickering on one side and fainting from moral outrage on the other to give companies incentive to study real world uses of their product, we may actually end up with a better condom. And that will not just help developed nations’ reproductive health but save hundreds of thousands of lives across the world. Yes, yes, the prudes will screech that giving people the tools to be “irresponsible” is evil and should be somehow punished or discouraged. But they’re only interested in helping those who share their ideology and believe that those who do contract an infection or have a surprise pregnancy deserve whatever they get. If our healthcare system and medical science followed their thought process, the world’s population would be far smaller and a lot sicker than it is now so we should feel very comfortable listening to their opinions and summarily dismissing them. If you’re going to tackle reproductive health, you can’t do it from the fainting couch.

exposed brain

Psychology has occasionally been called "the study of college undergraduates" and while that would usually be a joke in the psych department, a few writers are raising red flags that it’s too common of a practice and might be affecting the quality of the science. The study they chose to highlight? A survey trying to make the link between someone’s first sexual experience and what sexual activity follows based on 319 heterosexual college students who started having sex only about two years prior to the study and were asked to describe their intimate activities with some very positive and some very negative adjectives from a proscribed list. While the critics ask why the population was so homogeneous and the responses were so limited, this actually makes a lot of sense. If you’re not sure of your hypothesis, you want to have the most uniform samples you can find and limit inherently qualitative feedback into more quantitative form. From there on, you can test if the theory holds for more sexually experienced and diverse populations. So why are science writers harping on a perfectly legitimate, well done hypothesis fishing study?

Probably because it’s recent and it found that the students’ first sexual experience tended to be indicative of how they’d describe their future ones. And when limited to the population studied, it does make sense. Many of them are still relatively wet behind the ears and having finally had a real sexual encounter, they’re wondering what others will be like and comparing it to their first as they get more and more experience because it’s usually one of their few points of reference. At the same time, however, as the first experience fades into memory, new highlights come to take its place and a terrible first time gets forgotten in favor of the last mind-blowing experience and that might go on to color future encounters. We could also wonder about couples who lost their virginity to each other and haven’t had sex with anyone else. So why didn’t the researchers take cases like this into account? Well, they’d be outside the scope of the study, which basically just points out the obvious that yes, there’s a mental link between what you thought of your first time and your future preferences and expectations, as it applies to the sample population.

And that last phrase is really the crux of the matter because while human sexuality is so diverse and complex that questions about it could easily fuel centuries of studies and experiments, the pool of people willing to be studied is limited and the external factors they’d bring into the study makes it complicated to tease out complex and minute differences that might hint at something more, something that merits further research. College undergraduates are easy to recruit, easy to find close to the researchers’ labs, and fairly easy to homogenize, so they make for a simple, convenient set of test subjects in pilot studies. They’re a classic go-to convenience sample, and if you want to study special populations, you’ll go and study those special populations when you have the resources to do so. It’s just not fair to expect a narrow study to account for everything and use it a s springboard to pontificate on the limited utility of convenience sampling in basic psychology published for the public. And here the media has to take some heat as well.

How many pop sci writers just copy and paste the press release? How many of them wrote click bait headlines that sound as if an exhaustive study settled the question of just how special your first time is to you and what role it plays in your sex life? And how many of them trying their best to be contrarians put words in the researchers’ mouths and criticized them for making claims not actually made by the study? My guess? Quite a few. In fact, the links to a critical review of three other studies in the referenced critique were papers uncritically hyped by the media to become the viral stories they became. We can certainly argue about how much psychologists are relying on convenience samples of white, college educated students in the West, and what this does to the field as a whole. However, if the initial studies seem to be suffering from a bad sample or are way too limited to be applied outside of a very narrow socioeconomic group, the media klaxon is making the problem a hundred times worse. For writers to then wag their finger at the scientists, saying "tsk, tsk on your sampling techniques" without acknowledging that their colleagues have been running away with inconclusive and narrow studies for years is very disingenuous.

egg relationship

I have a confession to make. You see, I’ve never been married but I’m not a virgin. What’s more is that I’ve been with more than one person. Just let that sink in for a minute and if that does not shock you or change your opinion of me, it’s probably because I’m just like 95% of adults in the real world who don’t wait until their wedding night to have sex, or their honeymoon to live with a partner, and chances are that you’re exactly like me in this regard. But according to Fox News columnist Stephen Crowder — whose "work" was recently mentioned in a Cracked.com list of all sorts of ridiculous ideas to promote abstinence — the reason why I’m not shamefully denying my sexual history is because I’m an insecure, emotionally damaged husk of a man unlike him, an ecstatic virgin who waited until his wedding night to show the world what it’s like to have sex, then gloat about his newfound prowess in marital life, and basically just be a judgmental prick.

His column sounds a little like the bragging of someone who just finished boot camp and thinks his basic training makes him SEAL Team 6 material, and provides a very handy counterpoint to my post about haughty polyamorists who look down on those in monogamous relationships as depressed shells of human beings who are just repressing their natural desires. Crowder does the exact same thing, only with high-minded abstinence talk and wants those of us who had sex more than once and had relationships beyond high school-style dates, to praise him for jumping into marriage with someone he barely knows. He bet his single life on a woman with whom he did not live in the same home, with whom he had never been intimate, and whose bathroom habits were a mystery to him until his wedding night. Maybe this will work out for him, but what he did is to leap without really getting to know his future bride and wants our applause and admiration for turning in his V card at the honeymoon suite. The man got laid, now give him a medal!

Right now, I’m sure he’s elated. But there’s a reason why we refer to periods of euphoria as the honeymoon phase. Not everything will be champagne, roses, caviar, and losing your virginity. It will only be a matter of time until the kind of compromises and decisions you only learn to make when you live with someone will have to be made, and the kind of facts you can only learn from seeing your partner day to day at home, will have to be dealt with. Our marital white belt with zero experience in any of this proudly discards these warnings as jealous rumbles from floozies and emotionally damaged men who can’t possibly understand how happy he feels right now. In that honeymoon stage they mentioned as the high point from which things will inevitably get tougher unless he’s outright manic. He’s been married for just a few weeks. I’ve shared my home with my significant other for three years. We’ve been poor together, we’ve been frustrated grad students together, and we set up our lives by each other’s’ side. Do you really think he knows his partner better than I do mine? Does he think I’m incapable of being in love without a ring on my finger or a self-imposed pledge to avoid doing anything sexual until I do?

And here’s why his column annoyed me so much. This matter actually hits pretty close to home for me. My significant other was the maid of honor for someone who refused to talk to her after learning that we didn’t just live together platonically and were happy with the arrangement. Just like Crowder, she believes that being associated with us is now beneath her superior morals, so any event at which the three of us were present at the same time quickly became torture. And a close-minded, judgmental prude like Crowder, or like my partner’s former friend is supposed to be the shining example for us to follow according to social conservatives. Rather than truly get to know each other through thick and thin and enjoy some of the pleasures of being healthy and active adults before making any wedding plans, we were supposed to jump into marriage to win their approval and learn what we’ve learned so far in a situation when a mutual parting without a lot of paperwork and lawyers isn’t an option. This is not a healthy way to have relationships. It’s an asinine fantasy by those who steadfastly ignore reality to feel better about themselves.

While those who promote comprehensive sexual education, because it solves so many social ills associated with uninformed sexual experimentation, would compare trying to stop people from having sex to peeing into a windstorm and wonder why we’re peeing into gale force winds, every abstinence-only advocate would just scream for us to pee harder and accuse us of wanting kids to end up pregnant or disease-ridden sex addicts. More than 9 in 10 adults have sex without a wedding involved in the process, but in their fantasy, everyone must be pure and asexual until a chosen partner magically falls from the sky. That’s their wish for our society, to stay ignorant and virginal until we find our soul mates. Well, when I was a kid my wish was to be an astronaut. Just because I wanted to be one doesn’t mean I ever will, and just because you have a dream of how the world should be ran doesn’t mean that it will ever happen or even that it’s a good idea. And the sooner self-absorbed abstinence-only zealots like Crowder wake up from their fantasy, the sooner we can fix a lot of major problems their denial of reality causes every day.

black model

If you don’t know who Satoshi Kanawaza is, here’s a brief bio. He’s an evolutionary psychologist whose claim to fame are racist and sexist op-eds thinly veiled as scientific research. Last time he wrote about his supposed ironclad evidence that black women and Asians are ugly based on childish simplifications and cherry picking so obvious that you could smell the acrid stink of pure bigot through your browser, he vanished for a year, trying to escape the pillorying he swiftly and very justly received. But now, Big Think, decided to play the controversy card and got him a gig to drive some traffic and give him a soapbox to spew more of his typical bullshit. PZ has a pretty accurate dissection of his claims and I don’t think I could really add much at the detail level. The problem comes down to this: Kanawaza looks at how many partners certain groups of people have and instead of examining cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and how they affect the subjects’ sex lives, he cherry-picks data to make them fit his stereotypes.

This is generally what racists who want to justify their bigotry tend to do. If they want to "prove" that black men are more violent and less intelligent than white men, they’ll cite how many end up in prison, do worse on the SATs, or occupy senior management posts at big companies. At the same time they’ll ignore the fact that black boys go to woefully underfunded schools where the top priority of the administrators is discipline rather than education, are racially profiled by many police departments, and discriminated against by racists who hire managers, and that decades and decades of this created a legacy of social problems that make these statistics reflect much more than just what happens to black men in the United States. Race relations are a very thorny issue across much of the world, but the racists are too busy feeling superior to others to care. In the case of Kanawaza’s "scholarship," we see a very similar cherry picking happening as he oh so conveniently forgets that there are a lot of very attractive women with few partners and a fair bit of… ahem… aesthetically challenged men whose sexual tally rivals that of porn stars.

Has he bothered to ask whether there was a reporting bias at play since women are well known to significantly underreport their number of sexual partners while men are known to do the exact opposite? What about the cultural attitudes of the subjects’ communities and their views on sex and dating? A liberal city is more openly promiscuous than a conservative town where to say that you had more than "two or three" sexual partners is taboo. Likewise, someone who doesn’t feel that casual sex is a bad thing is going to have a lot more partners than someone who thinks that having steady, long term relationships is the only proper approach to intimacy. How does he try to reconcile Ron Jeremy, a homely, beer-bellied porn star with more than a thousand sexual partners, and a Southern ultra-conservative beauty queen who had maybe three partners in her entire life? He doesn’t. Why? Because that would undermine his narrative that black women and all Asians are sexual untouchables and the only people who would object are politically correct liberal ninnies. I could go on and on and on with things he could consider for a genuine study. I once lived with an honest to goodness sex researcher so I got a really good look at what proper studies in this area ask their subjects and how they grade things like attractiveness.

The kind of pseudoscience that Kanawaza practices is best left in the 1930s where it belongs, and regardless of how much he whines about being persecuted by evil leftists and the PC police for his "research," the fact is that he’s a shitty scientist and a bigoted simpleton to boot. Just in case you needed more ammunition to despise him, note how calmly he advocated large scale nuclear bombardment of the Middle East in response to 9/11, seemingly unaware of all the U.S. assets in the region, the devastating health, environmental, political, and economic effects of a nuclear first strike against countries that just so happen to be in the Middle East, even if they’re not known for widely supporting terrorist groups. The fallout from such an attack — fallout, oh I slay me — would make World War 2 look like a minor skirmish by comparison. But when you got an enormous mouth and don’t bother to think before you speak this is the kind of stupid that will come pouring out. Kanawaza isn’t too bothered by the criticism though, he’s busy assuming the favorite position of most far, far right wing bigots: hapless victim of the liberal elites…

punk model

As odd as it may have sounded, I’ve said multiple times that the web did not change human sexuality nearly as much as we’re often told and much of the novelty is really just well forgotten antiquity ranging from Roman orgies to the personal and highly publicized perversions of Marquis de Sade. And aside from making it easier to find and talk to our fellow perverts, not a whole lot has changed about our sexual appetites, despite threats of runaway pornography addicts from angry conservatives and alarms about men quickly becoming more sexually deviant from borderline misandrists. In fact, I’ll even bet you that transhumanist sexual fantasies of computer-assisted mind-melding is an extension of 1960s New Ageisms in which quantum vibrations along with large quantities of drugs and meditation have been substituted with machine-neuron interfaces and very big leaps in some very hazy new areas of computer science. But all this said, I’ll grant you something unique when it comes to the fantasies of futurists known as AFSR or a fetish for humaniod robots, often custom built to turn one’s wildest fantasies into reality and trained to be the perfect object of arousal. And according to new literature looking at human and computer interaction, that market could be very lucrative for a lot of people…

One of the more recent summations of how comes from Ian Yeoman and Michelle Mars’ scenario for a robot brothel that would substitute advanced versions of Real Dolls we have today for flesh and blood women, a scenario that could put a real dent in the amount of human trafficking, misery, and woe that’s inflicted on many sex workers shuttled around the world to staff illegal establishments ran by organized crime groups. No need to torture a human and subject her to countless risks when one can just buy a robot and sanitize it after every use, then simply pay for the maintenance and amortized depreciation. And the manufacturers would certainly make plenty of male models too because contrary to popular opinion, women do pay for sex to ensure they’ll get the experience they want and you will be hard pressed to find be a more certain return on their investment than a robot. Now you could still imagine an illegal industry trading in real humans for added kink, but when a much safer, legal, and human option is within easy reach, it would more likely become a niche market. Try to outlaw robotic call girls and boys and you’d have to bring a case which would put any sex toy under threat of a swift illegalization and create an uproar from voters. As for the robots themselves, they’re just doing what they will be programmed to do and nothing you can do or say will hurt them since they’ll lack real emotions.

Not for long though, says David Levy in his 2007 book which declares that with enough advancement in AI, a whole string of human-robot relationships and even marriages will take off. From a psychological standpoint, his thesis is sound. There are numerous people out there who crave attention from other humans but simply don’t know how to get it, using Real Dolls and products like them as not only sexual but emotional surrogates which actually serves to make them even more befuddled by the seeming irrationality of who they sometimes call "organic partners," creating a cycle of co-dependence on their synthetic substitutes. Add some AI that will make those machines more animated, give them perceived moods and ideas, and voila! Why even look for a bothersome, unpredictable, hormonally driven organic partner when a controllable synthetic one is right here and could be fine tuned to be exactly what you’d like? And if you spend years taking care of this machine, why not somehow commemorate the bond just like the organics do? Well, that’s where we enter the legal realm’s difficulties for this scenario. You won’t be able to marry a robot for the same reason you can’t marry toasters or cell phones. Even AI-enabled machines are not entities with free will that can give their consent. If you write a boyfriend or girlfriend routine, of course the robot will consent to whatever you want. It’s in the code.

Also, what about the courts’ idea of whether the human can legitimately even consider marrying or being in an emotional relationship with a robot? It would be one thing if humans didn’t seem to show a preference for the company of other humans, but we do. And as we’ve seen, those who may be the most likely to treat a robot as we would treat a significant other could well be substituting human contact. Would a judge consider someone who finds himself — because let’s be honest, it’s usually males who experience this — unable to relate to girls or women around him and turns to inanimate objects for emotional and sexual gratification, as mentally fit to have a legal relationship with any entity other than another person? On the other side of the argument, I could see activists making the claim that we can’t force someone to conform to whatever the social custom is at the time because that’s discriminatory, and argue that a sufficiently engaging AI should have personhood and be allowed to give consent for things like marriage. But these are not going to be easy arguments to make and if there ever are official human-robot marriages or a big explosion in human-robot relationships, expect there to be a lot of acrimony about it in the media. There won’t be smooth transitions and any incident in which human users of sex bots get injured or an AI goes haywire will be agonizingly dissected during the debates.

One of the things I encounter most in my line of work is the need to look at the big picture of what’s going on. If a piece of software is acting oddly, it’s not enough to make generic, overriding statements about how it has to function out of thin air. No, you have to roll up your sleeves, set up your breakpoints, and get to work to slowly, and often tediously, make your way through the logical layers to find the bad loop or misplaced variable. That’s how you tackle and solve complex problems, by considering the whole picture and it’s many facets. But were I to go by Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s ability to tackle the intricate topic of sexuality in The Atlantic, I think I’d be quite safe in wagering that she’d never be able to produce any complete research project. Her lengthy article’s vacuity on par with the simplest and worst thought out pop evo psych isn’t just a perfect example of how utterly dysfunctional the conversation about sex can get in the United States, but its thesis verges on being offensive to nearly half the human population. Here’s the short version of her argument: men are depraved and sexually aggressive creatures who hunt women down as conquests, and internet porn is making them even worse.

Now, I’ve written about the bizarre place porn has in American society, and tackled some of the trumped up charges against it in pop culture, as well as the dreaded "addiction to porn" ominously whispered by many self-appointed crusaders for our decency. Vargas-Cooper doesn’t fit any of the above molds, of course, but in her slash and burn across the world of sex, she has apparently decided to turn her mixed experiences into an indictment against men, casting them as predatory creatures who use sex as a means of subjugation that all women must struggle to escape. She even mentions an explicit episode from a one night stand in that quasi- profound way which lets the reader know that this article is very personal but framed as a long and deliberate meditation on a question. And it is, though the meditation itself is an attempt to come up with supporting logic for the pre-existing conclusion of the author that men are all pigs. But hey, don’t blame them, Vargas-Cooper rushes to add, it’s not their fault. They’re just born sexual deviants and can’t help themselves. If the ignorance of this piece could only manifest itself, I’m sure it would take the form of a monster from a tentacle rape hentai and go after the author threatening to do things best left to your imaginations. Why a self-respecting and high brow publication like The Atlantic published this little ode to low level misandry, larded with the kind of cheap, self-indulgent pseudoscience that would make any sex researcher fume, I don’t know.

We’ve encountered this type of pseudo-expertise before when it comes to sexuality. It’s what made psychology treat anything kinkier than the missionary position as a dire pathology until the middle of the last century, the kind of expertise that’s based on absolutely nothing but the author’s personal grudges and opinions being masqueraded as fact. Even worse, we have to go along with Vargas-Cooper’s ridiculous assertion that using the most extreme and hardcore porn on the web is a perfectly valid way to research men’s attitudes towards a woman they find sexually attractive. By this logic, we could measure the effectiveness of CSI teams based not on the actual efficacy of the CSI teams working in law enforcement agencies, but on TV shows and say that in the last five or six years there’s been a sudden and incredible jump in arrests and convictions made solely on the weight of iron-clad forensic evidence. Of course there would be. The characters on CSI shows will always, always catch their killer, even if it takes them a few story arcs to track down that one mad genius foe who lives to create tension for a few seasons and give the show more cohesion. In the real world, too many crimes will go unsolved and the quality of forensic evidence from a stray hair or drop of blood will always be inconclusive to some degree and allow for the jury to acquit. It’s even been studied as the CSI effect. Likewise, whatever a person can find on the many pornorgraphic -tube sites won’t say anything about about his sex life. You could have a subject who goes out of his way to catch some of the roughest, most explicit BDSM porn and yet insist on only the most vanilla sex in the bedroom, even if his partner really wants to give sadomasochism a try.

Speaking of which, I have to ask if Vargas-Cooper has even met a sexually aggressive woman or a woman in search of someone who could play a dominant role in bed because that’s what turns her on? Did they simply vanish from her radar? Is she unaware of the so-called "cougars," older, well-off, single women for whom sex isn’t so much about reproduction but recreation? And on the flip side, is she unaware of sexually submissive men who go out looking for a dominatrix? How does her perpetually sexually aggressive men theory explain a population of males who hand over control to females? Human sexuality is a far more complex and elaborate topic than Vargas-Cooper seems to be even willing to acknowledge with a passing phrase when she boils it down to sexist clichés which just so happen to neatly fall into some of the lowest quality dreck from evo psych studies trumpeted by the media. If her goal was a cathartic growl at the men who wronged her, she absolutely succeeded. But if she was trying to provide a factual analysis of human sexuality in modern times without odd and unnecessary fixations on the subjects of anal sex and kinky fetishes, she failed spectacularly.

Once upon a time, eons ago as far as the web is concerned, and just a few years ago for the real world, there was a very popular game called Second Life, the goal of which was to create virtual communities from players who represented themselves with custom avatars. Basically the Sims in an MMORPG format. It had plenty of press coverage and several of its players even made it to the covers of magazines. And back in those days of Second Life's media reign, the long forgotten year of 2006, a rather odd interview appeared on a blog about the game, an interview about the coming of the Technological Singularity. Only neither Ray Kurzweil or any of his partners in the Singularity Institute were involved. Instead, it was an attempt at a prophetic vision from the game's famous cybersex performer who looked forward to a time when she can not only play her character in an online world, but become one with it. Very Matrixy, Ghost in the Shell stuff which begs an odd question…

We can talk about all the reasons why uploading your mind to a virtual world couldn't happen, but for just a moment, let's pretend that it is and you really can live out a virtual life. You look exactly like you want to look. All aging, disease, and lack of resources are things of the past. You can always create more of everything with a flip of a virtual switch. But consider for a second what our Singularitarian Second Life resident was doing. Very soon, human needs are going to start manifesting themselves and one of them will be sex. Humans are hard wired to seek out sexual satisfaction, and it's actually good for us. People with healthy sex lives tend to have a stronger immune system, suffer less from depression and mood swings, and if some experiments on rats in laboratories can be fully applied to humans, the stress of sexual encounters triggers the birth of brand new neurons. Our evolution runs on sex and we're basically programmed to seek it, just as we are generally wired to seek the company of our fellow humans. So it's no wonder that social networks and porn are by far the top destinations for web surfers, with the former eclipsing the latter only recently and by a slim margin, and if we decide to digitize ourselves, our virtual worlds will need to simulate or trigger the same rush of emotions and cascade of health benefits on us, otherwise, we'll hardly even consider it.

Second Life was no exception to this rule. Adult content was so popular, Linden Labs actually had to build its own version of a red light district to accommodate the demand, and there's a good number of Second Life knock-offs based almost solely around cybersex encounters to which I'm obviously not going to link here. So any virtual world where post-Singularity, digitized humans are supposed to live is supposed to accommodate that need. But what would happen to our future digital society? Are we going to have areas of the digital realm monitored, censored, and cordoned off and travel to virtual red light districts when we want to do something a little more adult-oriented? Would computer viruses become the new STDs? How would we address our deep seeded drive to become parents? Are future digitized humans going to be raising virtual children? How would they feel about having a virtual child, an entity that's not real as far as many humans are concerned? So in no time at all, we start traveling deeply into the territory mined by The Matrix Trilogy, trying to decipher what is and isn't real and trying to sort out perception and reality, something many of us often can't seem to do now, much less in a virtual world with a potential identity crisis just brewing in the back of our digitized heads.

Sure, you're an immortal set of bits and bytes capable of navigating whatever amazing world you can think of, then whenever the mood strikes you, spending some time exploring the adult areas of the web. And for some people, that stay is going to be really, really lengthy since everyone is now young, athletic, and attractive, and if your date isn't into that, you can morph into anything he or she wants. But the question will persist. Is this real and does it matter? We've been attached to our bodies for millions of years and living in a world where we're well aware that everything we see, hear, feel, and do is actually managed by lines of code on huge, sprawling server farms would be a major cognitive challenge. What happens if there's a power outage? A comet strike? A huge solar storm? Our electrical infrastructure is very fragile and we might find ourselves in a rush to return to our soft, squishy bodies or a suitable substitute. Maybe it's a good thing that the scenario above could only happen in abstract discussions. Maybe living virtually just isn't something most of us could handle…

Granted, it’s been a while since I read the Bible and my education in theology consisted of alternative religions and comparative studies. However, I’m pretty sure that there’s no commandment about laying with robots as one would with a spouse or a cautionary parable about a city of technophillic fornicators who incur the brunt of God’s wrath. But that didn’t stop Rich Deem who runs a fundamentalist anti-science site, from writing a long column that warns us about the immortality of sex with machines while heavily borrowing from retro sci-fi novels and anime with techno-romantic overtones. And along the way, Deem drops the kind of technobabble that would be really funny if you forgot for a moment that he was being completely serious in his ravings.

cyborg duo

From the summary of the future given to us over the first half of the article, it becomes abundantly clear that the writer knows pretty much nothing about computers or robotics, casually adding artificial intelligence to future androids, making them out of materials that won’t be anywhere close to being ready for mass market use by the time he predicts, and dropping gems of technical incompetence like this…

Besides, the new FACAs were much more realistic than the old ones, since the technology had developed to provide cooling to all the internal computers and simultaneously make the robot warm to the touch by providing fluidics through the computers to dissipate heat through a network of “capillaries” located just under the “skin.”

How exactly would the same fluid intended to cool the internal computers simultaneously make a robot warm to the touch? Clearly the principles of thermodynamics don’t apply in Deem’s universe, which is odd because his inability to understand the difference between warm and cold makes you wonder how much research and scholarship went into his articles about the proof for God’s existence and refutation of evolution. Generally, if you can’t do arithmetic, you shouldn’t be lecturing people on calculus. Oh and could somebody tell me why in the world would fluidics be necessary in a machine that relies on digital signals in the first place?

Deem’s description of the sex bots makes me think that he just read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or watched the movie Bladerunner, got all excited about the love scene between Rick and Rachel, then decided to type out his cautionary parable and tie it to something else he finds scintillating, but forbidding and immoral in the extreme. To answer the question of who would develop androids wired for sex with humans, he re-casts a reliable old villain into a mad inventor hell bent on profit by any means necessary…

Not content with merely an online presence, the adult entertainment industry soon realized that androids, properly constructed, could earn them billions of dollars in additional revenue. Top programmers and engineers were hired away from the automakers and computer companies with offers of up to ten times their average salaries, similar to what had been done with their movie businesses in the late 2010’s, when they had hired away Hollywood’s best CG programmers to turn out realistic-looking virtual pornography movies.

Ah, so it was all a big porn conspiracy! Ok, I see what he’s doing here. After giving us a science fiction parable infused with all the creativity and originality of the fine print for credit card privacy statements, Deem descends into a stereotypical rant against pornography and our gall to tolerate it as an acceptable form of entertainment for adults. If we disagree, he has a laundry list of nine hackneyed and factually incorrect charges against porn based on nothing more than what’s already thrown out there by groups that want to control our sexuality. And again, painful bursts of woeful ignorance come at you from every line of his screed.

Why in the world would adult video outfits, the vast majority of which operate on a small budget and run a tight ship, possibly pay more than ten times the average salary of an expert programmer or a graphic artist (which would come to about $1 million per year) to create photorealistic renders of something for which they have no lack of volunteers already? Today, you can take a small group of erm… actors, film them having sex, edit it in a few days and have a video out by the end of the week. Meanwhile, recreating this in CG would require a major server farm, millions of dollars of equipment and about a year of production and rendering. Again, we’re sitting in a calculus lecture by someone who doesn’t know how to add two and two. And just to complete this unique mix of technophobia, ignorance and self-righteousness, Deem displays what we’re all supposed to take as a dire warning to go along with this article…

This page is going to seem rather far out and unrealistic, given today’s moral standards. However, the standards are rapidly changing, and within a few years the human race will be in a position in which sexual immorality could exist on a widespread scale.

No Rich, it’s going to seem far out and unrealistic because you haven’t the slightest grasp of the technology or the economics involved and your porn-will-make-you-have-sex-with-robots theory is totally asinine at best and raises all sorts of Freudian questions about the author. If all the sex toys in the world can’t replace a person, a few hundred pounds of heavy machinery with a very rudimentary pretence of AI sure isn’t going to be the death knell to human sexuality as we know it. And if you really think that any of this is feasible, you really need to get out more or find a hobby. Preferably one that doesn’t involve robots and computers. Just in case…

[ illustration: X and Y from the Artiphyciel series by Emmanuel Lepas, story via PZ Myers ]