… Or, is there room for fetish in the future of chatbots?
Humans are attracted to simplification. We classify things in order to make them easier to understand and easier to
For the most part, the convenience of labels and definitions can be helpful to those of us who identify as sexual beings in exploring and expressing our desires. In our quests for sexual satisfaction and fulfilment in a tech-driven, 24-hour screen time society, sexbots seem like a natural fit.
Let’s go back to basics for a moment. As a social experience, chatbots are easy. The basic interaction is simpler than the average face-to-face human interaction, because the conversation is predictable, controllable, and void of non-verbal cues. There is a minimal investment of effort, and the expectations of the interaction are in the hands of the human user. If mainstream uses in business and enterprise have taught us anything, it’s that chatbots are convenient and are valued for their ability to make the lives of humans that bit easier. When these technological innovations meet the sex industry, it becomes a much more complex narrative.
Enter, sextech and sex chatbots
Sextech has the potential to expand sexual horizons, and diminish sexual freedoms. These potentials are being realised in the form of sex robots and the eroticism of male dominance over the image of women, and in the form of status quo-challenging sex toys and online social sex revolutions. There is much to admire about sextech, and in some cases much to be alarmed by. Again, I’m simplifying things. Which brings us to sex chatbots.
Sex chatbots are where our base sexual desires meet the gratuitously simple chatbot experience. To date, the sexbot market has made inroads on virtual dating experiences, and some of these virtual girlfriends and boyfriends are heavily nostalgic of the much loved and still popular dating sims.
An online search for sex chatbots; will lead you to some interesting discussions on chatbots and erotic language, and also to some poorly crafted submissive sexbot experiences: see image below.
Erotic Chatbot Ltd flirted very briefly with the idea of a virtual sandbox for the verbally shy, but the company has since dissolved.
Flirtatious sexbots are growing in number – predominately sculpted around a female persona – and programmed to be your sexy and attentive on demand companion.
The mould for a dominant-submissive relationship with a sex chatbot seems to naturally favour a dominant human and submissive bot dynamic. At the outset, the balance of power in a human-bot relationship is asymmetric with humans having the upper hand in terms of control and conversation design.
A natural fit, the blueprints for submissive sex chatbots are already etched into the groundwork of the society we live in. The appropriation of culturally dominant ideals of gender is a human limitation that has worked its way into the design of chatbot technology, and much like the structural inequalities and societal perceptions of gender that can dictate an uneven balance of power between men and women in our convenience driven capitalism, we can see a preference for the replication of these dynamics in bot design by the hands of some of the dominant players in the AI world. A submissive sex chatbot plays into the projection of a helpful, attentive and malleable female companion.
Is there even a demand for a dominant sex chatbot?
That leaves those of us who desire to explore our submissive selves in these new technologies wondering if we are going to be a marginalised fetish in the unfolding chatbot revolution.
Do people even want a dominant sexbot?
Maybe not. But is it even possible, today, for a completely fulfilling dominant sex chatbot experience to exist? A dominant-submissive sexual relationship is about the wilful exchange of power. I, the submissive, hand over power to you, the dominant, who accepts this power for a period of time and uses it upon me and we satisfy our desires together. The ideal situation embodies the concepts of respect, responsibility, communication, and consent. I feel safe when I am powerless, because I am an equal partner in this exchange. I am turned on because my fantasy of powerlessness is unfolding in the hands of somebody that I trust, and I can completely immerse my mind and body in this fantasy.
Between a human and a sex chatbot the exchange of power does not flow so smoothly. On paper you might say, of course we can have dominant sexbots, it’s easy.
User: Sexbot, I’m yours. Use me.
Sexbot: Sit still, my play thing, and do what I say.
And so on.
The personality of sex chatbots
Designing a chatbot that is programmed to respond to the user with expressions of a dominant sexual personality does not make for a fulfilling dominant-submissive relationship. The nuances of the wilful exchange of power in a sexual encounter are themselves brimming with complexities that the sexbots of today are not yet ready to grasp. The difference between sincerity, and acting. Play versus reality. Consent and the communication of power over. The interplay between pain and pleasure, the emotional aspects of a BDSM experience.
And the wilful exchange of power. My fantasy of powerlessness will never unfold in a way that can completely satisfy my submissive self, because I will always be the benefactor in an inherently asymmetrical balance of power. My dominant sexbot does not independently acknowledge concepts of power or through its own will accept power, express it, or return it. I may convince myself otherwise during our conversations so that I might experience pleasure, or even orgasm with the self-defined belief that I am powerless to the will of another. But it will always be self-defined – a ruse that only I control – and the thin veil that separates my belief that I am an equal partner in a wilful exchange of power, and the fact that the power that I have offered has fallen on deaf ears, is very easily lifted.
Through a preventable, global desire for convenience by way of technology, my desires for consensual powerlessness remain, for the time being, tied to humanity.
Three lessons erotic literature can teach us about building sex chatbots
For those interested in building sex chatbots (and you can build all kinds of chatbots for free at Snatchbot.me), my advice is not to strive for a dominant / submissive relationship between human and software but instead to turn to erotic literature for inspiration in establishing the right atmosphere.
Do a quick online search for ‘sex chatbots’ and you will probably be left somewhat frustrated with the inauthentic, uninspiring experiences that are available. The Slutbot SMS experience by Juice looks promising, but it is only available to USA and Canada iOS users.
So, we turn to erotic literature. The art of sophisticated arousal (or getting off with a well-worn library card).
1. Take the time to set the scene
Moving too quickly to the finale is a real mood killer and makes for lazy erotica – and writing in general. It is also the biggest and most avoidable pitfall of adult chatbots today. As a developer, you don’t have to delve straight into a sex act in order to please the user. Yes, chatbots are about convenience and fast communication. But in the world of text based sex and stimulation, a high quality slow burn that delivers an arousing and authentic erotic experience will ensure that users stay longer and play longer. The effort will be worth it in the end.
Here’s an excerpt from a piece of erotic fiction:
Then the light was switched off and the women went away, but a blindfold had been placed over O’s eyes. Stumbling a bit, she was made to advance and could sense that she was standing before the fire around which the four men had been grouped. In the quiet, she could hear the soft crackling of the logs and feel the heat; she was facing the fire. Two hands lifted away her cape, two others checked the clasp on her wristbands and descended inspectingly down over her buttocks. These hands were not gloved, and one of them simultaneously penetrated in two places – so brusquely that she let out a cry. (from Story of O, by Pauline Reage).
It’s the small, easy to miss, details that stimulate our imaginations and draw our minds into the experience. You may begin with a conversation to establish the preferences of the user, and then illustrate the setting and use language that appeals to all of their senses. Remember, the responsibility of physically experiencing pleasure lies with the user. And the only kind of foreplay that chatbots have is language, so use it well.
2. Pick a fantasy and design accordingly
Having written about why a chatbot (as it exists today) cannot truly be a dominant sexual partner doesn’t mean that a sex chatbot cannot be a good storyteller. Keeping this in mind, you need to decide what kind of fantasy your chatbot will be helping the user realise. The ethos of ‘pick one thing and do it well’ is one to live by, and will help you narrow down your narrative and potential responses, thus saving you time while providing the user with a much meatier experience.
The above excerpt is from a piece of fiction which describes the willful debasement of a woman by her lover and a group of men. The details of the story are communicated to the reader through her perspective. Before you begin, ask yourself; what perspective is your chatbot going to take? What kind of power dynamic is going to exist between it and the user? Where does pleasure for the user come from? How often will the user need to type and interact for the narrative to reach its climax? Will there be an option, at some point, for the user to have a hands free experience? What kind of descriptive language will you need?
Of course, the best way to prepare answers for these questions is to read some erotic fiction.
3. Respectful play is sexy, and professional
If your sex chatbot is going to be an open book, ready to play with anyone who asks, then you need to be prepared for the unavoidable, worst bits of the human consciousness when they come knocking. Your programme does not need to be a punch bag for abusive language, as we have witnessed through the years with many tried, tested, and withdrawn chatbots. Recognise the language that your chatbot needs to deflect, and don’t be afraid to stand up to users who are not interested in the experience that you have created.
As someone who enjoys erotica, I want a sex chatbot which has been designed to a high standard and provides me with a bespoke, professional experience. Knowing that the programme before me has been designed to be a sponge for the parts of humanity that turn me off the most is, well, a massive turn off.
The best developers in the sextech industry are not messing around when they design innovative sexual experiences, and you should hold yourself to the same standards. Great erotic literature recognises how nuanced human pleasure can be, and that very often it is in the communication of willful, respectful, consensual play that we reach our highest climax.
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A journalist and researcher based in Dublin, Yvonne contributes insights and musings on the relationships between sex, gender, and artificial intelligence. She believes that the disruptive ethos of sextech is a viable alternative to the limiting narrative that dominates the design of the sex industry today. Currently a workaholic in denial, Yvonne also researches the music industry, gender, and mass media on her website.
Check Yvonne’s latest work on: https://lazerguidedreporter.com/