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Welcome to Houston! (Excuse the Sign for the Sex Robot Brothel…)

I thought I had seen just about everything when the headline hit me: Sex Robot Brothel Planned for Houston Gets Pushback…. How did we get here as a society? That was my first thought. But I quickly dove into all the incredibly complex issues this topic represents. Sex Robot Brothels… What is this exactly? Is there a market for it? What does the law say? How is anyone for this? What can we do because we all know once the door opens, there is very little turning back.

Global Market

A global market exists for sex robot brothels and sex robots generally. Defined as the use of artificial intelligent robots who can both arouse and satisfy sexual needs, they are gaining in popularity. One can find these brothels across Europe and in Canada.

Given that there is a constant demand for sex coupled with a new world of immediate gratification, the robots are money-makers gaining the attention of business owners who don’t care about their negative effects on our society. KinkySdollsS, an Ontario-based business, currently offers customers the option to rent realistic sex robots in intervals of 30 ($60) or 60 minutes ($100) with a life-sized doll that’s “warm and ready to play.” 

It gets worse. By 2020, 10 US cities are slated to have sex robot brothels lining their city streets with the owner of KinkySdollS choosing Houston as one of the first locations. The new brothel is set to open very soon and offer both on-site and at-home rentals.

The Law

There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.

Locally – the sex robot rental business does not appear to violate any currently enforceable laws in Texas. Beyond Texas, there are currently no regulations on sex robots in the United States.

Nationally – federal law contains vague restrictions on interstate commerce in indecent material, and furthermore defines “indecent” as something that exceed subjective local standards. Houston friends – this begs the question – what are our local standards? Why was Houston chosen as one of the launch cities for the United States? This has me deeply concerned and frustrated by what it says for and about our city’s culture.

What about buying or selling sex toys? Let’s start with this: The Supreme Court protects the private possession of obscene pornography but not the act of receiving it. That said, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether there is a right to buy sex toys.

Locally, a ban on selling these items existed in Texas until 2008, when the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Texas law which had previously made it illegal to sell or promote obscene devices (sex toys). Their reasoning? It violated the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

While the Law Plays Catch-Up, What about Morality and Regulations?

While it wouldn’t be where I’d start, the regulations right now are focused primarily on consumer safety and public health. It appears the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) enforces standards for some parts that may go into robots generally but has no apparent rules for sexbots beyond standards related to their parts like batteries, and the artificial intelligence system itself.

For me, the bigger issues stem around the morality of it all. Specifically:

  • What about regulations on the age and appearance of these dolls? What age do these dolls have to appear? Can child-like dolls exist? This last June, House lawmakers unanimously passed the CREEPER Act by Rep. Dan Donovan, R-N.Y., which sought to ban importation and interstate commerce involving “any child sex doll.” The Senate has yet to act on the House Bill. Donovan said in a statement that his bill would “help better protect innocent children from predators” and urged the Senate “to follow the House’s lead and swiftly pass this legislation that would benefit our communities.”
  • What about regulations pertaining to what can be done to the robots? Does anything go once you have your rental? Anything at all? Think about this; it’s a very important question.
  • What about the robot’s responses? You may think this is a strange question but it’s not. Think this through with me. If this is a business-driven model and consumers (buyers/renters) want dolls to cry or seem fearful, why wouldn’t sellers program their dolls accordingly? And what effects will this have on a user in everyday society? This is a huge issue for those concerned with the ramifications of these sexbots.
  • What about the impact of the use of these dolls on the buyer/renter? The repeated use and method of use by the buyer of the sex robot can very easily become habits that spill over into the real world and negatively impact the users understanding of healthy sexuality while increasing the demand for the prostitution and sexual exploitation of women and children.
  • Can a user eventually marry their bot? Another odd question, I know, but who knew we would one day be discussing sex robot brothels?

Some People are in Favor of These Sexbots 

First, we must understand all the arguments. There are many (The Foundation for Responsible Robotics in Netherlands, for example) who are trying to show benefits for people with disabilities, medical issues or the elderly. Others feel the use of robots can curb the abuse of humans. Additionally, The Food and Drug Administration may regulate sexbots as medical devices if sellers claimed the bots “treat, prevent, cure, mitigate or diagnose a disease or condition,” such as sexual dysfunction.

What Can We Do?

With all this in mind, this is an issue we must address. We have legislators trying to shape this issue nationally, statewide and locally. This issue must be brought to their attention. And for good reason. It’s now coming to Houston and will soon be filled with users who rent for physical pleasure but will ultimately have their minds, desires and emotions impacted by what goes on behind those doors. I don’t want this for Houston. I don’t want this for our community. Do you?

Posted by Rania Mankarious, on 23 Sep 2018

About the author

Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston