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You've Lost That Loving Feeling
Hazel Marshall

I don’t know about you but I like my sex to be with a person. But will I be seen as old-fashioned and, worse, unhygienic, if that’s the way I still like it in the future?

Sex is one of the primeval urges like hunger, thirst and the need for shelter. It is something unchanging. Attitudes towards it may have changed and the number of people we may do it with. But fundamentally it remains as something that we just do. Naturally.

But for how long will we continue to feel that way? Already we have virtual sex, cyber sex and a machine which can give women orgasms. Films over the last few decades have already portrayed sex with machines - think of Barbarella and Woody Allen’s Sleeper. On a lighter but just as pertinent note, Sandra Bullock refusing to sleep with Sly Stallone in the America of the future in the film Demolition Man because sex is ‘messy’.

And she’s right. It is. But isn’t that what makes it so glorious? Sex isn’t beautiful and has never been a spectator sport, in my view. I don’t mean the depiction of sex in porn films or Hollywood glossies where the woman is beautifully made up, the lighting is soft (and so probably is the actor) and barely a trace of emotion flickers across the woman’s face. I mean real good passionate sex. It’s great for the two taking part but it really isn’t that romantic to watch.

Good Vibrations

So how will technology impact on our lives in the future? Well, think of it this way. Do you really want to make love to a machine or have it make love to you? Does that thought do anything for you? No, me neither. But then, we have been brought up to appreciate the human touch. We love to stroke, to cuddle and enjoy bodily contact. But imagine a world that doesn’t. Imagine a world where your kids are brought up by robot nannies, where they are never touched and never hugged. Imagine that it’s much easier to have sex with a robot made for that purpose. None of that adolescent angst, that worry about rejection. It doesn’t care that you have spots or bad breath or haven’t washed your hair for a week. Looking any better now? Again, maybe not to us, but you can bet it will to the future teenager.

Looking at it objectively like that, maybe that is our future, or at least a part of it. And remember, given the advances in recent technology, this robot won’t look like some updated form of Metal Mickey. It will probably have a human shape and be covered in a skin like substance. We will be able to select the colour of its hair and eyes and body shape. But, wait, is this, in fact, much removed from the sex toys in use today such as vibrators? Obviously they may be able to do a lot more than vibrators and the other sex toys that are around today but they will probably fulfil the same function - as an aid to sex play. But wait again. What if they guarantee blow jobs 24 hours a day, don’t mind doing all the housework and never nag? Maybe they will become the preferred option, after all.

So is this our future? I don’t think so. I have a feeling that this may relate more to men than to women and that it has a lot more to do with straightforward sex than emotional relationships. Theoretically, you may hate arguing with your partner, but it would be awfully dull if you had one who wouldn’t argue with you. And having to programme someone to have sex with you isn’t going to make you feel any more attractive than rejection from a living, breathing person does. But there are a few options for the robot sex slaves. Maybe they will take the place of prostitution - the oldest profession will get a new technological twist. Maybe they will help to solve the potential future population problem of China where, thanks to the one child policy, there is already a huge imbalance of males and females - in favour of males. I don’t know how you feel about it, but a huge influx of sexually frustrated males in charge of what will be one of the most powerful countries in the world in the future is not a comfortable prospect. So bring on the robot sisters.

Sexual Healing

Of course, talking about sex in the future assumes that the people of the future are going to be able to have sex or that they will want to. In a recent New Scientist magazine there was a report that the consumption of too many E’s may lead to a drastic loss of libido. Using questionnaires from 768 young people in Rome, Padua, London and Manchester, it was discovered that heavy ecstasy users reported a large drop in sex drive, larger than that given by users of other drugs or those who drank purely alcohol. This is particularly ironic since many people use ecstasy to heighten their sexual pleasure. Given that ecstasy usage is quite high among the current teenage population, you have to wonder if they will give up the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle in favour of just the drugs.

But ecstasy is only one of the drugs that we put in our bodies. Chemicals in the atmosphere, as well as prescription drugs, may have a huge effect not only on our libido but also on our reproductive capacity. In 1992 it was discovered that there has been a noticeable decline in sperm counts in the second half of the 20th century throughout the Western world. Though no one has, as yet, identified the prime suspect in causing this, many culprits abound, and again, most of them are linked to chemicals found in the environment. And who knows the effects of other products that we have put into our bodies in the last fifty years? So will we still be able to reproduce at all in the future?

Well, actually, that loss of fertility which has been widely reported in the last few years possibly won’t matter, as by 2030 sex will be almost completely divorced from reproduction anyway. You will be seen as old fashioned (or poor) if you want to make a baby out of pure chance - or worse, love - rather than selecting it from a series of test tubes. Within the next twenty to thirty years our range of both contraception and choice of reproduction will grow enormously. Want to harvest your eggs in your 20s when they are at their freshest, but not have your baby until your 40s or 50s when you’ve had your career? Certainly, madam, that shouldn’t be a problem. Can’t get it up but want to use your sperm? Certainly sir.

This can only lead to three things, for women in particular: sexual freedom, freedom from that hideous biological clock and the freedom to make choices. To some extent, these are things that men already take for granted. Men certainly aren’t held hostage to the biological clock in the same way that women are at the moment. Men may prefer to have their children in their thirties or forties, but there is no doubt that they can continue creating children right up until they die. Charlie Chaplin, for example, fathered his last child in his seventies.

In his book Sex in the Future Robin Baker argues that we will no longer want just the one partner. I’ve always liked that idea: one who’s a good chef, a personal trainer, a masseur, someone to talk to, someone who loves to cuddle, and someone who’s great in bed. That is somewhat making light of Robin Baker’s central premise, but his book does explore the various options that an increase in fertility technology will bring us. He argues that paternity testing will come to have a huge influence in the future. Men will no longer be able to sleep with women and then disappear without paying for any responsibilities that they may leave behind them. He also explores the many new choices that we will probably have with regard to contraception and reproduction. Divorcing sex from reproduction, men and women may choose to freeze their eggs and sperm at a young age and then become sterilised so that they can have as many sexual partners as they wish. This will then give them the opportunity to experiment and also give them the freedom to choose exactly when they want to have their children and with whom.

This, of course, may lead to a broadening of our horizons. Homosexual couples may no longer be seen as controversial as they are today. They may be allowed to create children in the same way that heterosexual couples do - through genetic selection of sperm and eggs on the internet. People may choose to have children with people that they don’t know - in fact, people already are. Sperm donors are anonymous. Families may become very different. A household may be made up of a woman who has her own children (created with sperm which she choose from a selection on offer) and a man who has his own children (his sperm mixed with eggs on offer and carried by a surrogate mother). This man and woman may deliberately decide not to have children together, as that may emotionally confuse things if they decide to separate.

But, we have to consider, again, what effect that will have emotionally. ‘You weren’t made out of love, darling, but out of a test tube.’ ‘Gee, thanks mom’. Well, that’s only one way to look at it. Another way is to realise that every child that will be created in that way will be truly wanted. After all, there were no ‘mistakes’ involved, no bad timing - they will be planned and, more importantly, wanted.

But the other emotional effect we have to consider is that of jealousy. Won’t we be jealous if our partner has other partners and how will they feel about ours? Baker argues that sexual jealousy on the male side is biologically related to a fear of bringing up a child that is not their own - and that will no longer be a fear once paternity testing is in place. A woman’s main fear is that she will be left, literally, holding the baby with no support. Again, with paternity testing and compulsory payment of a form of child tax this will no longer be the main concern. Both parties also fear disease but if medical technology advances the way Baker thinks it would this worry will also disappear.

Of course, legislation will have to change to allow any of this to happen. Standing where I am, at the beginning of the 21st century, I can’t see any of this happening in the next ten years. People are still too entrenched in their beliefs. The furore over Section 28 in Scotland shows that a large number of people are still outraged by homosexual relationships and the interest shown in any homosexual couples trying to adopt children shows that society is not yet ready to consider them adequate parents. But then society is having a problem at the moment in deciding what a family is. Divorce legislation is going through to make that process simpler while at the same time the government is saying that it is a ‘government for families.’ One parent families are on the rise and may soon become, if not the majority, then certainly a very large and influential minority. Yet society still portrays them as a bad thing.

Sex in the past was always about reproduction (even if that wasn’t always why we did it) but isn’t it interesting to think about how we will approach it if that is no longer its primary purpose. Will it become purely a hobby? Will it be more passionate or less interesting? Will it become more connected to love or less? The options above will almost definitely only be available to those who can afford to pay for such things, therefore I can’t see sex or making babies the old fashioned way dying off at any time in the near future.

The Mating Game

Will such technological advances make a difference in how how we choose our mate? There have already been vast changes during the last century. In the twentieth century, for almost the first time in history, there was a freedom about choosing partners for life. Marriage was no longer about property or money but about love and lust. Divorce rates rose accordingly but, as a society, we no longer cared so much about that. Marriages may have lasted longer in the past but were they any happier? Throughout history, how have we gone about finding our mates?

On the 11th of February, 2001, the following advert appeared in The Independent on Sunday:

White man, divorced, blue eyes, brown hair, 5’8”, 53, American, seeks single or divorced white English lady, blue eyes, black hair, average figure or better, attractive face, 18-30, without children but able and willing to have them. He is Christian, conservative, non-smoker, non-drinker, non-vegetarian, good background ... seeks same. Only sport he likes is chess, cerebral, gentle, kind, caring and loving... 20 year member of Amnesty International, 10 year freedom writer, 15 year Mensan... enjoys all music, loves slow dancing, loves children and desires a big family. He is the last male member of the family for many branches removed. Bear me a healthy son, and I will worship the ground you walk on. Surname is listed in Burke’s peerage back to the 13th century... family in America in 1682. She should be willing to cook and clean house, for which he promises his constant support - financial and emotional.

This wasn’t in the ‘soulmates’ or equivalent section of the newspaper - this was in the main pages. I thought that was quite strange but I also found it highly amusing when I came across the following advert while reading a book about the 18th century:

Tall and graceful in her person, more of the fine woman than the pretty one; good teeth, soft lips, sweet breath, with eyes no matter what colour, so they are but expressive; of a healthy complexion, rather inclined to fair than brown; neat in her person, her bosom full, plump, firm and white; a good understanding without being a wit, but cheerful and lively in conversation, polite and delicate of speech, her temper humane and tender, and to look as if she could feel delight where she wishes to give it ... She must consent to live entirely in the country, which, if she likes the man, she will not be unwilling to comply with; and it is to be hoped she will have a heart above all mercenary views and honest enough not to be ashamed to own she loves the man whom she makes her choice. She must not be more than fourteen years, nor less than seven years, younger than the gentleman.

One of these adverts is from the 18th century and one from the 21st. Has our choice of mate changed by that much? Personally I can see no difference, except that in the 18th century the man looking for a wife did not expect someone as young as the one from the 21st. Ah, the cult of youth that pervades our society today. While they may have been more pragmatic about it in the 18th century, most people look for someone with whom they are compatible as their mate. In the past, in the upper echelons of society in particular, it was purely about land, property and money and if sex came into the equation at all, it was about creating the (male) heir. But in the 20th century, with more economic freedom around, and more female freedom in particular, love became much more important and people began to choose their partners accordingly - and no longer felt obliged to marry the first person with whom they had sex.

The Pill had a lot to do with this. But while giving us the option of a choice of partners, it turns out that the Pill may actually be affecting our choice. There was a report in the New Scientist (10 February, 2001) saying that being on the Pill could actually affect how we choose our partner. And here we’re back to the primeval side of things. This is nothing to do with chemical or technological advances, but to do with the good old fashioned sense of smell. Taking the Pill may be affecting that sense of smell as there is evidence to show that when on the Pill we are not selecting people with different immune systems to ours as we used to do. We used to select these compatible people by our sense of smell, but the Pill seems to mask this. Does that mean we are selecting more based on love and personal compatibility, rather than letting biology or chemistry make that choice for us? Or does it mean that we are picking less compatible people - and we don’t find that out until we stop taking the pill?

It makes you wonder what other pills will come in in the future. Will we start popping pills that will make us attractive to people? Just as we design our babies will we also design our mates - and then what happens if we don’t like them any more. Surely, then, we really only have ourselves to blame. We’re already bottling pheromones. Whatever happened to love and romance and just sheer chance?

But is this anything new? Just what does natural mean? On the purely biological / chemical front we have always changed the way that we smell, and therefore have affected our choice of partner. Perfume, shaving and deodorant all have a lot to answer for when it comes to masking our natural pheromones. We started changing our biochemical makeup when we first put on clothes and everything we have done ever since has only changed us more.

Will we follow Robin Baker’s theory and have a range of partners at different times in our lives? Well, I’d rather believe his view than the one that we will only have sex with machines and make our babies only out of test tubes. Call me an old romantic but I can’t see my the majority of my generation settling for anything less than the human touch.
Will it happen that way? Well, back to the New Scientist and a different premise about gene therapy: soon there will be a GenerationRich who will be able to afford to build themselves and their children just as they want them and create a new class within society. But some scientists think that this won’t work for the simple reason that these people will always want to mate with the lower classes. And I think the same reason will prevent our future from being a robotic one. We won’t be able to keep our hands off each other.

© Hazel Marshall, 2001

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