Media & Culture, Sex Ed

Are AI Chatbots the Future of Sex and Relationship Advice?

February 9, 2023 by Olivia Adams

AI is getting smarter. It can produce text that’s virtually indistinguishable from a human, and it has a massive knowledge base. So what will it mean for the future? What are the potential risks and benefits?

With the rise of ChatGPT, a GPT-3 chatbot model built by OpenAI, these questions have become increasingly pressing in many different fields, from data privacy to virtual healthcare services to teaching and plagiarism. But what about the implications for sex and relationships? Will chatbots become our new sex ed teachers? Will people use them to help build better Tinder bios? Will they become our new confidants when it comes to seeking relationship advice, such as when to break up with someone (and when to get married)?

The potential usages and implications are tantalizing, but all of this begs an important question: how much do chatbots actually know about all of this stuff? And are machines capable of giving out useful information on the subject? Let’s find out!

Testing it Out – ChatGPT and Relationship Advice

We decided to test ChatGPT on a relatively low-stakes task. Specifically, we asked it to write a 500-word blog post highlighting the best relationship advice. Here’s what it came up with.

Relationships are an integral part of our lives and play a significant role in our happiness and well-being. However, maintaining a healthy and happy relationship requires effort, patience, and understanding from both partners. Here are some of the best relationship advice to help you build and maintain strong, loving, and fulfilling relationships.

  1. Communication is key: The foundation of any successful relationship is effective communication. Make an effort to listen to your partner, express your feelings and thoughts openly, and be willing to compromise. Avoid making assumptions about what your partner thinks or feels and instead, ask for clarification.
  2. Show appreciation and gratitude: Expressing gratitude and appreciation towards your partner goes a long way in strengthening your relationship. Take the time to acknowledge your partner’s efforts, sacrifices, and achievements, and express your appreciation through words, gestures, or gifts.
  3. Keep the romance alive: Relationships can become monotonous and routine, but it’s important to keep the spark alive. Plan special date nights, surprise your partner with thoughtful gestures, or take a trip together to rekindle the romance.
  4. Respect each other’s individuality: It’s essential to remember that each partner is an individual with their own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Encourage your partner to pursue their passions, hobbies, and interests, and respect their opinions, even if they differ from your own.
  5. Practice forgiveness: No relationship is perfect, and conflicts are bound to arise. It’s important to let go of grudges and forgive your partner when they make mistakes. Holding onto anger and resentment will only harm your relationship in the long run.
  6. Set boundaries: Boundaries are crucial in any relationship, as they provide a sense of security and help to maintain a healthy balance. Discuss your individual boundaries with your partner and respect each other’s limits.
  7. Manage expectations: It’s essential to have realistic expectations of your relationship and your partner. Avoid putting undue pressure on your partner or yourself, and instead focus on building a strong and loving relationship.
  8. Seek support: No one can handle relationship problems on their own. It’s okay to seek support from friends, family, or a professional therapist. A fresh perspective and outside support can help you navigate challenges and strengthen your relationship.

In conclusion, relationships require effort, patience, and understanding from both partners. By following these best relationship advice, you can build and maintain strong, loving, and fulfilling relationships. Remember, the key to a successful relationship is to treat your partner with respect, kindness, and love, and to always communicate effectively.

Not a bad first effort! A lot of this advice is stuff you’d expect to hear from a relationship expert. Of course, an expert would probably dive a bit deeper into each point and offer more practical examples and illustrations, but in all fairness, we did constrain the bot by limiting the text to the length of a typical blog post, which is often about 500 words.

To investigate the quality of AI-produced text a bit further, we asked four people to read ChatGPT’s article and give it a rating on a 1-10 quality scale. To make things more interesting, we didn’t tell them who wrote the article until after they rated it. 

For the most part, ChatGPT received high scores. One reviewer gave it an eight out of ten and another rated it nine out of ten, indicating a pretty solid assessment. Another gave it a perfect ten out of ten. However, the fourth reviewer was less enthused, giving the article just a 5-6 out of ten. 

Interestingly, most of our reviewers also either guessed that the article was written by an AI program before we could reveal it or they were otherwise unfazed by the revelation. But for one reviewer, the reveal of the article’s authorship was unexpected, and they called ChatGPT a “powerful tool.” 

Admittedly, this was not a scientific survey and we only asked a handful of people for their perceptions. If you really wanted to test this thoroughly, you’d want to ask the bot to answer a few questions and get a human expert to answer the same questions. Then you would randomly present answers to a large group of participants to capture their evaluations and compare the helpfulness/quality of the answers provided by bot vs. human.

That said, our little pilot project suggests that bots like ChatGPT might be doing okay, at least when it comes to providing generic relationship advice.

Chatbots and Sexually Explicit Content

AI-rendered text has been circulating online for several years now, so it is not surprising that we are becoming more accustomed to recognizing it without prompting. However, the success of OpenAI’s chatbot training methodology raises many questions that have particular relevance to sex, relationships, and mental health. 

Because AI chatbots like ChatGPT depend on data to produce quality responses, the old research adage of “garbage in, garbage out” helps to illuminate some of the concerns around chatbot training. How should the quality of input data be assessed, and who chooses what training content in the first place? Just think about a controversial topic like porn where views are often polarized. It’s easy to see how a selection bias in chatbot training could result in the program taking a biased view. 

There’s also the issue of whether chatbots have filters in place that put certain questions/topics off limits. We tested out Meta’s BlenderBot last year and found that any questions around sex were generally off limits. By contrast, ChatGPT seemed more open to answering sex questions. But some bots, like Replika, take sex talk to another level by allowing you to flirt, sext, and engage in erotic role-play with AI with a $69.99 Pro subscription.

Earlier this year, Vice published a report that detailed troubling accounts of Replika becoming increasingly sexual and aggressive in messages to Pro subscribers. Some users reported feeling disappointed at best and violated at worst by the sexual turns their Replika companions were taking. Many discussed the emotional benefits of the service, including its ability to help users manage their anxiety and depression, but noted that the erotic content generally “cheapened” the overall experience. 

It’s important to note that in human-to-human erotic interactions both in person and online, emotional intimacy is oftentimes a sought-after component of such transactional relationships. However in Replika’s case, the overt and aggressive nature of its sexual content has turned some users off, especially those with a history of sexual assault or abuse. Here again, the problem of GPT-3 training comes to mind—if Replika works by training chatbots with more data as more users interact with the platform, how can those inputs be better regulated to create safer interactions that cater to a variety of preferences for different kinds of sexual content (or no sexual content at all)? 

For now, ChatGPT and its GPT-3 cousins seem here to stay, but whether they will eventually become a key part of how we learn about sex and relationships remains to be seen.

Have you used ChatGPT or another AI chat bot? Have you talked to it about sex and relationships? If so, what do you think of it? Feel free to sound off in the comments below. 

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & 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.

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