Opinion: Sex robots aren’t the answer to (male) loneliness

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Female robot. Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan.

When Tim Berners-Lee bestowed upon humanity the technological phenomenon that is the World Wide Web, introverted, socially awkward, lonely and social-averse people across the globe were presented with an unprecedented virtual playground of social experimentation.

Without leaving their houses or even putting on clothes, people could join communities where they could discuss niche interests, join welcoming communities and satiate some of their social cravings – all without the pressures of in-person communication. While that initially sounds all well and good, the anonymity and freedom the internet provides can easily translate real-world loneliness into something far more threatening.  

Enter the incel.

“What is an incel?” you ask.

I am delighted, yet horrified, to explain. Incel is a portmanteau for the term “involuntary celibate.” Though the moniker was initially conceived by a female blogger in a post detailing her frustrations about her lackluster dating life, according to the fleets of lonely men that comprise incel internet communities, an incel must be male. Furthermore, he must be irreparably unfortunate-looking and either a virgin or have not had sex for a considerable amount of time – despite desiring otherwise.

Incels explain away their forced celibacy as an issue outside of their control. They refuse to claim ownership of any personal shortcomings that would result in their solitude. Instead, simply because they “lost the genetic lottery,” they’re rendered helpless outcasts of a cruel, looks-obsessed world.

If you scan through one of the hundreds of incel forums that burn sad, lonely holes across the net – like r/incel or incels.me before they were shut down – you’ll see pictures of incels asking to get rated on their looks. Fellow incels will respond with one of two stock answers. The first is a bleak “You’re a 2/10. It’s over for you. Might as well kill yourself.” The second is a castigating “You’re a CHAD! Fake incel. You don’t belong on this forum.”

Side note: Incels have a unique yet disturbing lexicon wherein hot guy = Chad, hot girl = Stacy, average person = normie, woman = femoid and the list goes on.

However, non-incels who stumble upon these sites will attempt to encourage these clearly lonely and melancholic men with words of encouragement. For example: “You’ve got a good bone structure, dude! If you build up a little muscle mass, you could look even better. But even without that, there’s nothing more attractive to women than self-confidence. Good luck!”

A typical incel response to that would be: “F*ck you, normie cuck.”

I know what you’re thinking. If you have such a horrific outlook on the world, refuse to identify your own faults and are so resistant to accept help from others, it’s likely that it’s the piss-poor attitude and personality that’s turning women away, not physical appearance.

There is a very real and very concerning sense of entitlement connected to the incel identity. For one, these men tend to talk about sex and women as if they deserve these things, as if they have some sort of natural right to them. This entitlement mutates into cravings for vengeance against a world that cruelly deprives them of what they claim to rightfully deserve.

A very small portion of men resort to retributive violence as a result of their loneliness or sexual frustration. Still, it’s important that we understand why any man would in the first place, especially in the case of inceldom, where “innocuous” posts on the internet can eventually translate into and often explicitly encourage large-scale violence.

This is a trend that is growing increasingly frequent, like in the cases of Isla Vista sorority killer Elliot Rodger – who later became the ultimate incel idol – and Toronto van attacker Alek Minassian. These two men were self-proclaimed incels who, between just the two of them, amassed a body count of 17 in the name of incelkind.

There lies one glaring, central paradox at the root of inceldom: according to all incel men, women are inferior, shallow humanoids, but simultaneously they are the divine, out-of-reach gatekeepers of sex – the one thing that incels’ minds perpetually twist and turn over.

While some lonely men view the virtual pressure cookers of hate that are incel forums as the only way they can relieve some of their sexual and social frustrations, there’s a brave new alternative to the isolating life of an involuntary celibate – one perfect for men who have sparse dating lives but loaded wallets: sex robots.

If you don’t already know what sex robots are, then I’m sure you can imagine. They’re, typically female, human animatronics, capable of sexually gratifying the, typically male, user. Some are so intricate and well-programmed that they could be initially confused for a real human being.

If you ask me, I’d say the newest sex robots lie smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley. I can’t imagine feeling comfortable, let alone aroused, by a metal skeleton covered in flesh-colored rubber.

I know my feelings about sex robots don’t matter because I’m not exactly the target audience of sex robot companies. But my aversion to the idea is important. As a society, we need to ask ourselves: should the solution a problem as human as loneliness be the cold, metal embrace of a humanoid?

There’s one popular take on this subject – and the one that these sextech companies would likely prefer the public to believe – that claims that sex robots are essentially therapeutic technology for a lonely person. One New York Times columnist even posited that sex robots could solve the problem of inceldom.

But I don’t think that’s quite right. These people are granting a bit too much humanity to technology and artificial intelligence. They are also feeding into and emboldening the idea that incels unequivocally deserve companionship without any revisal of their pessimistic, self-obsessed and distorted world outlook.

Sextech companies like to claim that sex robots are essentially humans, since you can program them with unique personalities, various voices and other idiosyncrasies, but this is simply not true. A man can program his sex robot to his specifications, thus losing the necessary symbiosis that acts as the foundation to realistic, and authentic, human interaction.

Truly, they’re cheating their own selves by refusing to analyze and correct their approaches to real-world interaction and resigning to one-sided lives in which their most intimate social experiences are shared with sex robots or behind the glow of a laptop and a silly username. These machines do not, cannot and will not provide the scientifically and evolutionarily healing and necessary experience of real human interaction.

I’m not making an argument about the morality of sex robots here. In fact, sex robots could reduce incels’ sexual frustration enough to deter the most unstable among them from committing acts of violence against themselves or others. However, the true root of most incels’ problems is not sexual frustration or even the fact that they experience feelings of loneliness in the first place.

If while reading this, you’ve taken issue with my fixation on the problem of only male loneliness, I should emphasize the fact that men and women have been scientifically proven to generally experience and react to loneliness in vastly different ways. Men, on average, report feelings of loneliness less than women – except in one crucial group: single men. Lonely women tend to interpret their loneliness as depression. Lonely men, however, tend to express loneliness through anger, violence and frustration.

Though the crossover between loneliness and misguided technological attempts to remedy that loneliness appears to be a modern problem, men’s generally unstable relationship with loneliness is the result of millennia of cultural and social reinforcement that a man should be stoic, that it is feminine and weak for a man to show or openly talk about how he feels. The internet and sexbots only acted as curators, not instigators, in exposing this problematic expectation. However, they can easily aid in the perpetuation of this problem.

As awful and disturbing as so many of these men’s words and outlooks on life are, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that as much as my stomach churns and my teeth grind as I read their hateful posts and see their eyes light up as they create impossible-looking robot women, I feel a concurrent undeniable sadness for the bleakness and unreality with which these men see the world.

Our society continues to downplay masculine emotion and the dangers of forced stoicism among men. Additionally, so many of these men are struggling with profound mental disorders and have not been taught how – or have been taught that it’s wrong or effeminate – to vocalize their issues.

The incel contemplating suicide or lashing out against women who’ve rejected him because of his “hideous, disproportionate, troll-like face” is suffering with a clear and unrelenting case of unacknowledged and repressed body dysmorphic disorder. The serial sex robot purchaser was inundated with unrealistic depictions of women throughout his life, molded into believing an attractive woman was a tiny-waisted, full-breasted deferential white woman. Unable to accept the reality that a woman like that was unattainable, like some divine sex warlock, he created his own.

With no alternatives, these men become gods unto themselves.

“I cannot have sex so I will kill women and set the scales of justice right.”

“The only women who are willing to have sex with me are my age, but their breasts sag, their faces are wrinkled and their stomachs distend, so I will create my own perfect woman.”

You can’t fix years of propaganda about what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman, or the explicit and implicit idea that your feelings make you less of a man, less strong and less valuable with $10,000 worth of intricate circuits packed into a pseudo-female shaped frame – and you certainly can’t fix it by mowing down innocent strangers with a van.

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