Teledildonics and rape by deception
Rob Sparrow (Monash University)

August 11, 2017, 10:30am - 12:00pm
Philosophy & Bioethics Departments, Monash University

E561, Menzies Buiding
Monash University
Clayton 3800


Abstract: It is now possible to buy any number of sex toys that transmit touch and physical sensation via the Internet. These devices connect to the user’s phone (or computer) via Bluetooth and can then be controlled through the application by the user or their partner. In this paper, we want to reflect on these technologies and the ethical and philosophical questions they raise. Our motivation for doing so is twofold. First, given the popularity of existing sex toys, and the sexual opportunities and communities made possible by the Internet, it is reasonable to assume that large numbers of people will experiment with haptic sex toys and that a significant number will use them regularly. Any ethical and/or philosophical issues they raise are thus of interest simply by virtue of the number of people they might affect. Second, the use of Internet connected haptic sex toys seems to involve a not-insignificant risk of users being deceived about the identity of the person they are having “sex” with. As we shall see below, it is arguable that in such cases the user would become the victim of rape-by-deception. Until this issue can be resolved, the design and manufacture of Internet connected haptic sex toys involves profound moral hazards.

We argue that determining whether a person using an Internet connected sex toy has been raped or not when they are involved in a sexual encounter with someone — or something — other than that they intended requires one to confront difficult questions about the definition and significance of sexual intercourse and about the nature and harm of rape. Our discussion of these topics will draw upon the academic literature on the philosophy of sex, philosophical and feminist discussions of the nature of rape, and — in particular — the literature on “rape by deception.”

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