Sex robots should be designed for the elderly and disabled people to “support their emotional health and wellbeing” while society at large needs to rethink attitudes towards sex in old age, a leading ethicist has argued.

In a recent study, bioethicist Nancy Jecker of the University of Washington argues the burgeoning sexbot industry should expand its customer base to include the elderly and the disabled. 

“Instead, the current sex robot industry is focused on a young, able-bodied, male clientele,” Jecker says, which encourages the objectification of women while promoting impossible beauty standards.

The philosopher says that age-related conditions such as arthritis and cardiovascular disease may interfere with elderly people’s sex lives and compound pre-existing societal stereotypes about sex in the twilight years. In a vicious cycle, a lack of sex due to deteriorating health may, in fact, lead to worse health outcomes for the elderly. 

Regardless of this perceived societal stigma about elderly sex, Jecker cites a 2007 study that found over 50 percent of 65 to 74-year-olds remain sexually active, as do over 25 percent of 75 to 85-year-olds. 

Sexual expression is ‘integral’ to human dignity and respect, and helps counter the sadness and isolation that often accompanies later life, Jecker argues, while proposing a uniquely 21st-century solution to an age-old old-age problem.

“Just as service robots are being designed to assist older individuals with functions such as eating, dressing, and bathing, they might be designed to assist with social functions, serving as sources of affiliation and sexual partnership,” Jecker says, highlighting research that demonstrates a “positive correlation between general health and sexual partnership [and the] frequency of sexual activity.”

The elderly already suffer disproportionately from disabilities that interfere with their sexual activity and, the academic argues, they often do not receive the necessary support from healthcare professionals to recover lost sexual function and renew their sex lives. This points to a huge gap in the sex robot market, she says.

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