Unlike their female equivalents, sex-toys for men — the blow-up dolls, the silicone vaginas, the apple pies and the fast-disappearing skin magazines, to name just a few — have never lost their vaguely-sleazy connotations.
Despite the ongoing sexual revolutions since the 1960s, in the popular media, male desire is still seen as somehow threatening or pathetic and is most often portrayed as an object of derision.
In the real world, those men who use sex toys are generally thought to be inexperienced and insecure teenage boys seeking solace in silicone or pathetic older men unable to find a living and breathing partner. In the latter case, there is the concomitant presumption that those older men are creepy and that they would probably be dangerous, given the opportunity.
On the other hand, since the take-off of sex-positive feminism in the early 1970s (or thereabouts), sex toys for women (and for gay men, but let's leave that aside) have been seen not as pathetic, but as empowering, as evidence for independence and self-actualization, whether for straight women or lesbians, single or involved.
(I can testify from personal experience that some women nowadays feel not the slightest compunction about whipping out their silicone friend for added (self) pleasure during a sexual encounter.)
Clearly, a woman's sex-toy is nothing to be ashamed of in these enlightened times. Nor, should it be — I think.
And yet ...
And yet, why then do I find it almost impossible to imagine asking a woman to play with one of my sex toys — were I indeed even willing to have one?
I have no compunction about admitting to self-pleasure, but the idea of self-pleasure with a silicone doll (let alone with a blow-up doll!) is not one I can easily entertain. Nevertheless, there is a market for such toys, largely furtive and covert, like the pornographic cinemas of old.
But it may be that straight male auto-eroticism is about to come out of the closet in a big way.
According to a Globe and Mail article I read back on the 11th (the article itself is locked, but the Globe is streaming a video), Aiko (a combination Japanese word meaning "love-child" — make of that what you will) is a robot whose inventor, Brampton, Ontario's Le Trung, hopes to see produced as a helper in the home — someone (something) to prepare meals and read to the elderly, to clean and to perform other domestic chores.
Though she is as yet not yet fully mobile, she has a vocabulary of 13,000 words and is able to read both print and hand-writing. She reacts to both words and touch and is, by all reports a remarkable technical achievement, whether or not she is yet able to pass the Turing Test.
What the article didn't mention is that Aiko's body is built out of a Japanese sex doll and that she has sensors in her vagina.
For that information, I was lucky enough to come across a post by amaaanda, recounting her meeting with Trung. (Unfortunately, the entry is locked, so you'll need to friend her to read it.)
I didn't want to do the story. I thought it was creepy and gross...the doll...probably had a fine residue of semen all over her. But...I rationalized, whatever his motives, he created a freaking robot. The man is a genius, albeit a pervy one...
I bent down in front of her to look at her face. I knew he hadn't made the face, he had bought her shell from a sex doll company. Still, the silicone really did a good job of resembling skin. I reached out and touched her hair. All of a sudden she opened her mouth:
"WHY ARE YOU PATTING MY HEAD I AM NOT A CHILD"
On his website, Mr. Trung denies that he sleeps with Aiko, but he does take her for drives and one has to wonder if he doth protest too much.
"Yes, Aiko has sensors in her body including her prviate [sic] parts, and yes even down there.
"AND yes Aiko is still a virgin, AND NO I do not sleep with her."
When our fearless livejournalist asked why Aiko needs to have sensors "down there", Mr. Trung told her "...that it was because whenever he'd take her to the park, women would grab her vagina, and this way she could fight back with a swat."
Well. I guess that explains that.
Whether or not Aiko is a "virgin", if her development continues as Mr. Trung intends, and her clones go into production and onto the market, there's no question in my mind that many if not most of her "sisters" will not remain virgins for long.
Our skies may not yet be crowded by airborne Toyotas, but it seems possible that our homes may soon be occupied by soft-skinned humanoids able — nay! willing! — to cook and clean without complaint, to talk without sass unless specifically programmed to argue, and to engage in any and every sexual demand their owners might dream up.
As most of us know, relationships are hard to find and often harder to maintain. If this technology follows a similar pace of development to, say, that of the personal computer, it won't be long before there's fembot (or a himbot — I dont imagine that replacing the vagina with a penis will be more than a trivial piece of engineering — in just about every home.
Sex aside, who wouldn't want a robot servant? Never tiring, never bored and never even thinking of saying "no"? I can see the slogan now: You'll never have to pick up a broom or wash a dish again!
And how many insecure adolescents wouldn't love to practice their moves on one? How many lonely men (or women) wouldn't prefer the illusion of sexual companionship to the interminable chase? How many women, facing that fast-moving biological clock, wouldn't happily settle for a robotic house-husband and "father" for her child while she pursues a career?
How many people of either sex, weaned in adolescence with the infinitely pliable "personality" of a robot will even try to pursue a relationship, a romance, with a real person? How many will endure the early stumbling of lovers learning the ins and outs of one anothers' (imperfect) bodies when there is a lover — patiently waiting at home — that is always ready, that is one's physical ideal, that doesn't belch or fart or ever get a headache, and that has the dishes washed and dried and the cat fed, to boot?
I don't think we're yet staring apocalypse in the face, nor even the End of Friendships, but I wonder if the next generation won't (mostly) give up on sex with humans as more trouble than its worth.