The lexicon of sexual orientations has already given us ‘demisexuality’, ‘pansexuality’ and ‘bicurious.’ But according to experts, we will soon see the rise of ‘digisexuals’ - people whose sexual appetites are predominantly satisfied by the virtual world.
Already, robotic sex dolls which move and talk and are ‘warm to the touch’ are being sold for in excess of £15,000, with companies vying to create the most realistic companion.
Pornography channels also now offer 3D content which can be accessed using headsets, while online role-playing games such as 3dx Chat allow people to interact sexually with each other using only avatars.
Sexbots are also increasingly on our screens, most recently appearing in Westworld, Humans and Ex Machina.
In a new report published in the Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy, ethics researchers from the University of Manitoba, Canada, argue that psychotherapists need to be prepared for a rise in ‘clients participating in digisexualities.’
“It is safe to say the era of immersive virtual sex has arrived,” said Associate Professor Neil Mccarthur, Director of the Centre for professional and applied ethics. As these technologies advance, their adoption will grow and may people will come to identify themselves as ‘digisexuals’- people whose primary sexual identity comes through the use of technology.
“Many people will find that their experiences with this technology become integral to their sexual identity and some will prefer them to direct sexual interactions with humans.
“There is no question that sexbots are coming. People will form an intense connection with their robot companions. These robots will be tailor-made to meet people’s desires and will do things that human partners cannot or will not do. “For this reason, significant numbers of people will likely come to use robots as their primary mode of sexual experience.”
Although in their infancy, today’s sex robots are already programmed with artificial intelligence, and equipped with all-over body sensors which respond to touch. They can even be customised to look like an ex, if required.
The Android Love Doll can perform ‘50 automated sexual positions,’ while Abyss Creations, which sells the ‘Harmony’ model boasts ‘conversational abilities’ and connects to an app which learns as the user talks with it. The company is also hoping to bring a walking version to market within the next decade.
In April, a Chinese artificial intelligence engineer Zheng Jiajia, 31, married a robot he built for himself, after failing to find a human wife.
However a recent survey by Nesta found that the vast majority of people are still unsure about robots. Only 17 per cent of respondents would be prepared to go on a date with a robot and that number increased to 26 per cent for a robot that looked exactly like a human.
Prof Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of AI and Robotics at theUniversity of Sheffield and founder of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, said: “Moving into the future we will see some people using sex robots but the numbers may still be small.
“At present use of sex robots and dolls can be considered to be a type of paraphilia - atypical sexual practice - which includes atypical objects, fetishes and voyeurism.
“ These can be either normal variants of sexual interest or disorder interest if cause distress or impairment of the individual. Current surveys are of an uninformed public and so it is difficult to know if the digisexual practices will remain a paraphilia or whether larger numbers will cause our societal norms to shift to accommodate them.”
The authors of the new report also warn that digisexuality could harm relationsips, possibly causing divorce, and bringing feelings of shame and guilt, as well leaving users in debt.
However they conclude that the overall impact of ‘digissexuality’ will be positive, allowing people to experience more sexual pleasure and have new experiences, particularly for people who struggle to find human partners or who have experienced sexual trauma in the past.