Sexual health is more than the absence of sexually transmitted diseases, sexual dysfunction, and sexual violence. Rather, it includes sexual well-being that contributes to overall mental and physical health through testosterone production, stress reduction, pain reduction, partnership commitment.
In this regard, sexual well-being is a human right. If you recognize that sexual well-being is a human right, there is no reason to exclude the elderly and disabled or those in need of care from sexual well-being.
Unfortunately, there has been little research into what the elderly and the disabled really want, and the sexuality of residents in retirement and nursing homes seems to be a taboo topic. But the truth is they too have sexual needs just like other people.
However, today’s social situation makes it difficult to satisfy these existential concerns. The elderly and disabled may not meet suitable partners and have good relationships due to mental or physical reasons. Persons with disabilities are often not in the position to fully experience the joys of life in the same manner as every human who is capable of enjoying the physical touch, intimacy, and sexual pleasure. Besides, public healthcare tends to ignore the sexual needs of older adults as an essential part of their well-being.
Thankfully, sex robots are emerging as a tool to help realize the sexual rights of persons with disabilities. The emerging role of sex robots in human-robot interaction is also gaining remarkable attention in current discussions around robotic design, societal norms, technology, and the future of human relationships.
What are sex robots?
Sex robots are service robots that contribute directly towards improvement in the satisfaction of the sexual needs of a user. Typically, sex robots have different embodiments, including fully or partially-bodied humanoids, body parts such as arms, heads, or genitals used for sex-related tasks, or non- biomimetic robotic devices used for sexual pleasure. These robots usually display realistic sex-related body movements, have sensors to react in real-time to user interaction, and include human cues such as voice, gaze, and lipsync to support human-like HRI.
Typical sex robots include humanoids with full-body or partial-body robotic functionalities; body parts such as arms, heads, or genitals used for sex-related tasks; or non-biomimetic robotic devices used for sexual pleasure. These robots usually display realistic sex-related body movements, have sensors to react in real-time to user interaction, and include human-like features such as voice to have a small talk with the user. Depending on their embodiment, sex care robots could also be classified as physically assistive robots.
Sex robots in elderly and disabled care
Robots interact with vulnerable users in many ways, including cognitively vulnerable persons. They may even offer unimaginable possibilities, e.g., helping realize the sexual rights of disabled people.
There is a potential use of sex robots in healthcare for elder and disabled care purposes, which are currently underexplored. Beyond satisfying sexual pleasures, they can be used as a tool to help realize the sexual rights of persons with disabilities. They may help address first-time sex-related anxiety, treat sexual dysfunctions, or promote safer sex in educational settings.
Sex robots could also create a safe, non-judgmental environment for insecure people about their sexual orientation. Other more controversial applications are treatments for pedophiles and potential sex offenders.
Although there have been international efforts towards realizing the sexual rights of persons with disabilities, this topic remains an unfinished agenda for the disabled as if contemporary societies succeeded in accepting (at the time) highly controversial social phenomena like same-sex marriage and transgender people. Still, they failed to recognize people with disabilities as sexual beings. The full realization of the sexual rights of persons with disabilities requires more research and policies that understand the intersection of people, disability, and sexual rights. Policies could represent a step forward in treating people with disabilities in a dignity-respecting and non-discriminatory fashion concerning their sexual rights.
Although sex robots can certainly be used in old people’s and nursing homes, several points go against this. First, the current sex robots are strongly sexualized, making them highly inappropriate in this context. Second, they partly correspond to stereotypes perceived differently and sometimes rejected. Third, they are used in controversial environments such as brothels, aimed at private buyers and casual customers, and are not age- and disability-friendly. Finally, they are primarily aimed at men in female and male forms. For sex robots to offer a good solution to support human dignity for disabled populations, it is therefore essential to anticipate the specific physical and sex-related needs that disabled persons might have before designing sex care robots.