Erobots as Research Tools

Sexology faces several ethical and methodological challenges. One of them is that sex researchers must rely on proxy methods to safely study fundamental aspects of human sexuality – in laboratories and natural environments. However, laboratory studies often lack ecological validity, whereas studies conducted in natural environments make it difficult for researchers to control experimental conditions or use sophisticated equipment. Together, this puts into question some of the empirical foundations of contemporary sexology. To address this problem, the present article proposes that sex researchers could leverage the potential of emerging technology, like erobots – or artificial erotic agents, such virtual partners, erotic chatbots, and sex robots – to help overcome some of the current ethical and methodological challenges of sexology. To make this case, this article describes these challenges; highlights how erobotic technologies could be employed as research tools to conduct more ecologically valid sexological studies safely and ethically in and outside laboratory settings; and discusses the relative strengths and weaknesses of embodied, virtual, and augmented erobots as experimental apparatus in sex research. Ultimately, this article concludes that the development of erobots that are useful for sexology may require further collaboration between academia and the private sector. It also concludes that the development of such useful erobots may allow us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our eroticism.