Background: Various types of robots have already been successfully used in medical care, and the use of new technologies is also playing an increasing role in the area of sexuality. Sex robots are marketed as advanced sex toys and sex dolls with artificial intelligence. Only a few considerations about the therapeutic use of sex robots in sexual therapy are debated in expert discussions.
Objective: The aim of this study was to conduct a first exploratory survey on the attitudes of sex therapists and physicians toward the therapeutic benefits of sex robots.
Methods: This study comprised a quantitative online survey and a qualitative interview study. A self-constructed questionnaire was used to survey the general attitudes of sex therapists and physicians regarding the benefits of sex robots in therapy. The qualitative study was designed to gain in-depth insight into the participants' beliefs and attitudes. Therefore, semistructured interviews were conducted. The quantitative data were evaluated by statistical analysis, and the interviews were transcribed and analyzed by using a grounded theory approach.
Results: A total of 72 sex therapists and physicians completed our self-constructed questionnaire (response rate 15%, 72/480). Only a few respondents (11%, 8/72) said that the use of sex robots was not conceivable for them, and almost half of all therapists and physicians could imagine recommending sex robots in therapy (45%, 33/72). The attitude toward sex robots as a therapeutic tool was very heterogeneous, with gender (P=.006), age (P=.03), and occupational differences (P=.05); female therapists, older therapists, and psychologists (in contrast to physicians) were more critical toward the therapeutic use of sex robots. The analysis of the 5 interviews identified 3 high-level core themes that were representative of the participants' responses: (1) the importance of the personal definition of sex robots for the assessment of their therapeutic benefits, (2) therapeutic benefits and dangers of sex robots, and (3) considerations on the quality of human-robot sexuality. Initial insights into the possible therapeutic use of sex robots in different disorders (eg, sexual dysfunction or pedophilia) and situations were gained from the perspective of sex therapists.
Conclusions: The results of this study provide a first overview of the potential therapeutic use of sex robots. Moral, ethical, and treatment-related issues in this context are still unresolved and need to be further researched. We suggest integrating the topic into the training of sex therapists to form opinions beyond media images and to show therapy possibilities. Scientists engaged in sexual research should be involved in the development of sex robots to design robots with positive effects on sexual education, sexual therapy, sexual counseling, and sexual well-being for interested groups.
Keywords: robotics; sexual health; therapy.
©Christiane Eichenberg, Marwa Khamis, Lisa Hübner. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 20.08.2019.