We think of sex as primordial and innate, but it is both the target of market strategies and highly mediated. The inventions of virtual reality, sexbots and RealDolls have broad implications. Dick pics, sexting, Tinder and Grindr have revolutionised the hook-up and, by extension, our sexual moralities. Alternative communities find connection online, where before there may have been nothing.
More than ever before, our sexualities are informed by the plethora of images and narratives that are widely available. Many studies have focused on the effects of porn exposure on young people. Common findings include a correlation between porn consumption and beliefs in harmful gender stereotypes, sexist views of women and sex, and the condoning of violence against women. But to investigate the intricacies of porn consumption is to flirt with overly simplistic conclusions.
Because people of all ages, genders and orientations consume porn willingly, and might find their use of porn empowering. And young people, after all, are not innocent vessels awaiting corruption by the online world. Young people, pre-pubescents included, have always had active sexualities. People in marginalised communities might find greater safety in using an online dating app that allows them to actively find and select their sexual partners. Someone with particular kinks might find support earlier than they would have twenty years ago.
Positive or negative then, technology has radically changed the expression of our sexualities already. But how often do we see active and healthy sexualities, particularly those belonging to fem- or queer-identified people, expressed in our creative works? In one of the stories included here, ‘Non-binary Coding in the Western World’, a woman explores her preferences online, casually, alongside cooking a stew and working. I love the normalisation of a female sexual appetite and the concurrent exploding of several misconceptions – that women don’t like porn, that women can’t pursue sexual partners, that sexual needs are somehow more shameful than other needs. In ‘Oliver and Charlotte and Celia’ a sexbot assigned to a couple in counselling has an unexpected effect. ‘Minutiae’ is a day-in-the-life of a thought-producer for the porn industry in the not-too-distant-future. And ‘Modular’ draws us into a dystopian future where sentient robots struggle for survival in a hostile human population. All are radical and insightful takes on what technology might do to our sexualities, or what it has already done.
In asking people to submit to this issue about sex I was almost afraid of what might be sent in. But the submissions were earnest and thoughtful, revealing a number of common concerns. If the stories sent in may be taken as representative of what we might imagine our sexualities to look like in a possible future, then I can make a number of general statements. We are certain that sex and its consumption will soon be automated to the extent that our sexual needs will be provided for by machines and technology more effectively than they are currently fulfilled by people. We are also certain that this will be emotionally transformative in a negative way. But we are also really into apps that allow us to hook up easily. We are also convinced that at some point not very far away sexbots will gain consciousness, and that the implications of this will be various and extreme. This particular narrative, in which an oppressed class of automated sex slaves rises up, one way or another, reveals what may be read as an underlying guilt about how we currently use technology for pleasure and about how we might use it in the future.
These stories depict a world that might be problematic, but that seems generally more embracing of pluralities and varied sexualities than our current world is. Welcome to Overland’s Future Sex issue. From here, the future looks not entirely hopeful, but at least it’s interesting.
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Cover image: Alex Iby