Would You Feel Jealous if Your Partner Got a Sex Robot?
May 24, 2021 by Justin Lehmiller
I get asked about the future of sex a lot, and one of the topics that often comes up is how robots are going to change our intimate lives and relationships. Admittedly, there’s not a lot of research out there on this subject yet because sex robots are still in their infancy, so it’s hard to make concrete predictions. However, there has been some work looking at people’s attitudes toward sex robots and the results suggest that many people aren’t enthusiastic about the idea of sex robots—and, in particular, the idea of their partner using one.
In a recent study, researchers surveyed 277 adults (average age of 27; 90% of whom were heterosexual) about their attitudes toward futuristic sex robots. They used an experimental design in which half of the participants were asked about a “sex robot” that “looks and feels just like humans,” whereas the others were asked about “a platonic love robot” with no physical body that is capable of providing “meaningful romantic and friendly relation to a human.”
They were then asked how they felt about the idea of their partner owning such a robot, as well as how they think their partner would feel if the shoe were on the other foot (i.e., would your partner be cool with you owning one of these robots?)
In general, participants thought the idea of both robots sounded realistic; however, while there was quite a bit of variability in people’s feelings, attitudes toward both robots were negative overall.
Overall, men reported more positive attitudes toward robots than did women, but this was mainly true for the sex robot. When looking at the platonic love robot, men’s and women’s attitudes were fairly similar.
Regardless of robot type, men expected to feel less jealous if their partner got one compared to women. Also women reported higher feelings of jealousy about a sex robot compared to a love robot, which is contrary to what the researchers had expected to find (some past jealousy research has found that women report more emotional than sexual jealousy, which was the basis for their prediction).
When thinking about their partner owning a robot, men reported similar levels of dislike for both the sex and love robot; by contrast, women reported more dislike for their partner using a sex robot than a love robot.
Lastly, when thinking about how your partner would respond if you owned a sex robot, men expected similar levels of dislike from their partner for both types of robots, whereas women anticipated more partner dislike if they used a sex robot than a love robot.
Of course, these findings are limited because they’re based on how people feel about hypothetical sex/love robots. Most people just don’t have any personal experience with this technology yet. Also, people may have ideas of how they’d feel about robots that are shaped by popular media depictions, where it’s much more common to see female rather than male sex robots and where using these robots often ends in disaster (ever see Ex Machina or Westworld?)
That said, these results point to important differences in how people feel about robots based on robot type (sex vs. love) and an individual’s gender. They also suggest that robots may eventually become a potential source of conflict in relationships to the extent that partners have different feelings about them. And perhaps this conflict will be more pronounced in mixed-sex (male/female) relationships due to differences in men’s and women’s attitudes, but less so in same-sex relationships (where partners’ attitudes may be more in line with each other).
An interesting line of inquiry for future research would be to ask how people feel about using sex/love robots with a partner, as opposed to only one partner using them. When robots are framed as a substitute or replacement for a real-life partner, that may evoke more negative attitudes and jealousy. But what about when robots become a complement to a couple’s sex life, offering a new way for partners to interact together? For example, are people in relationships more open to the idea of robot threesomes rather than solo robot use?
Also, what if sex/love robots were framed as a way of fixing a sexual or relationship problem? For example, if two partners want drastically different amounts of sex, could a sex robot be a viable solution to this problem and potentially reduce conflict and prevent infidelity? Or what about using sex/love robots in long-distance relationships where partners see each other very infrequently as a way of providing more sexual and intimate connection?
So what do you think? How would you feel about the idea of using a sex vs. love robot yourself? And how would you feel if your partner used one?
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To learn more about this research, see: Nordmo, M., Næss, J. Ø., Husøy, M. F., & Arnestad, M. N. (2020). Friends, lovers or nothing: Men and women differ in their perceptions of sex robots and platonic love robots. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 355.
Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >