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“Her” And Her Invisible Boyfriend

“The future of sex includes robots, virtual reality, and drugs to address women’s sexual function” says Dr. Laura Berman, touted as a “sex and relationship expert” by the Wall Street Journal (April 26, 2015).  Dr. Berman goes on to review a plethora of technological developments that will allow for an ever-wider-ranging span of sexual behavior that will “have endless recreational implications” and the ability to “procreate without meeting in person.”  She imagines that people will thus somehow have improved lives by being able to have more disconnected, yet more exciting, and even more convenient, sexual encounters.

How is one to understand such ideas being put out by an “expert” in the field?

In reviewing her article, there are two sure-fire give-aways that her expertise is morally, ethically and anthropologically on thin ice.  First, an expert in sex and relationships should know better than to try to separate the two.  Dr. Berman suggests that being able to have “robust sexual experiences without touching” would be a boon because it eliminates the risk of sexually-transmitted diseases.  As clever as this may sound, this sadly already occurs on a rampant basis (aka self-stimulation to pornography).  More importantly, the separation of sexual activity from committed relationships has been well documented [1] to (at best) decrease pleasure and satisfaction, and to (at worst) pave the road to depression, isolation, and meaninglessness [2].

Secondly, Dr. Berman takes a tangent from her thesis to hype the cultural phenomena in which the young are “embracing a range of sexual expression” which she believes will allow the transgendered community to be “understood and celebrated.”  As I have reviewed previously [3] in these columns, the phenomenon of experiencing oneself as opposite of the sex as one was born, is not without serious psychological consequences for the person so confused (and these consequences are not predominantly due to discrimination).  Given the highly-politicized nature of LGBT issues in the public square at present, it is vital for professionals to stay on point when making public statements about what is good for the human person.  Towards that end, I offer the following response to Dr. Berman’s contention that people’s lives and freedom will be enhanced by more technology, more distance and more anonymity.

A Different Vision Of Freedom And Relationships

Man was created a rational being [4], conferred with the dignity of being able to initiate and control his own actions.  Thus, freedom at its core reflects the human will, and each person’s ability to discern and enact his desires and inclinations based upon a mature reflection of circumstances and the greatest good achievable.  Arguably, this is not what Dr. Berman means by her use of the word freedom, which reflects rather the idea of license, the ability to do whatever one pleases.  Admittedly, there is a certain consistency to her argument: one’s view of freedom is made much less complicated when you eliminate the other person from the equation and replace him or her with a robot, which you design as “your perfect mate,” right down to programming the correct words to be spoken, in the right voice and at the right time, to enhance your experience.

While the robots she anxiously awaits are not yet available, the ability to create a mate, or at least fake one, is already here [5].   And that is really the point—whatever the vehicle, the destination is all about me.  All those who eschew traditional relationships and marriage, and want to suggest that they can find an equivalent (remember our brief on paying for hugs [6]?) or even better way of achieving that for which the human heart longs—true soul-to-soul connection—without all the messiness, risk, self-sacrifice, and complications of interpersonal relationships, are mistaken.  Those connections only occur when the imperfect come together and decide to commit to each other and to create a family of life and love, where one’s freedom is enacted for the good of the other, without counting the cost to self.