By Joakim Ydebäck

The word of the day is agalmatophilia. Its definition is the sexual attraction to inanimate objects. When this term was coined, it mainly concerned people’s desire to be intimate with statues. One of the first to document this type of obsession was an Austro-German psychiatrist who studied the case of a gardener who fell in love with the Venus de Milo. Probably, it wasn’t only a case of love of the ancient arts, but rather a sexual attraction directed towards art. While we may dismiss attraction to lifeless objects as merely one of many fetishes, it has the potential to reshape our ideas of love and intimacy.

Agalmatophilia seems to develop with technology. Each new generation manages to find a new way to become sexually satisfied and fulfilled, without having to go through the trouble of establishing a relationship with other human beings. When marble statues became out of fashion we had developed plastic. Not only did it prove to become a useful contraceptive in the form of condoms, it also eventually kickstarted the production of sex dolls. But how satisfying is it after a while to rub up against a piece of rubber? In recent years, new companies manufacturing sex robots have emerged and keep challenging our traditional views on sex. One example is the sex robot RealDoll which has been adapted to learn its “owner’s” preferences. This development may scare many of us, not least myself. Where will all of this end? Is conventional human-human intimacy under threat?

We should not be too alarmist. Some positive sides to this new phenomenon have been expressed. For example, sexual predators may use these robots to act out their fantasies while refraining from doing it against somebody’s will. Others refute this by saying that it may only trigger them to carry out their deeds in real life. It is a confusing debate. But who would use sex robots? It is surprising to find that the people who are most interested are not overwhelmingly lonely men, as one would think. Rather, a small percentage of both men and women of all ages seem to get increasingly used to the idea and they also become more and more curious to try it out.

Have we been wrong about sexual intercourse all along? A lot of the sex that we have is either private or carried out in solitude. Whether it is internet porn, phone sex or by pure imagination, we often find ourselves alone when satisfying our needs. Perhaps sex robots are a perfect solution for those who are unable to acquire it in conventional ways in order to feel some kind of tenderness. In 2018, Akihiko Kondo defied social norms when he married his beloved hologram, a ceremony which produced some headlines. The main concern or fear, however, is that we may rely so much on these available inanimate objects that we dismiss each other. Will online ordered intimacy replace the most human of all activities?

Illustration: Sonia Engström

Joakim Ydebäck is studying at the Peace and Development Program at Uppsala University. After that, his goal is to somehow make the world just a little bit better. If he were to be offered the position of foreign minister, he would not say no. His four main interests include talk radio, international opinion polls, political crises and somber jazz music.

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