Robot-Brothel Debate Has Houstonians Questioning The Morality, Future Of Sex With Devices

The city council moved swiftly to regulate sex with human-like dolls in adult arcades, and one council member says she doesn’t want Houston “to be known worldwide for these things.”

By Florian MartinOctober 17, 2018 10:41 am, ,

From Houston Public Media:

If you’ve followed Houston news coverage the past few weeks, you’ve likely heard about robot brothels.

I’ll let Whoopi Goldberg from “The View” explain:

“Religious groups in Houston are protesting the opening of a brothel featuring sex robots. …Why’re they worried about it?” Goldberg said on the show.

While Goldberg and others on the show seemed to laugh off the idea, the matter is serious for some here in Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner moved swiftly and presented an ordinance to city council that expands the meaning of adult arcades to include “anthropomorphic devices,” in other words, human-like sex dolls or robots.

It passed unanimously, and some of the public comments before the vote at city hall reveal much about how the community feels.

One Houstonian, Tex Christopher, quoted the Bible in his comment: “In Ephesians 5:31, it says that a man shall leave this father and mother and shall be joined unto his wife and they shall become one. It doesn’t say that a man shall leave his mother and father and go and join a robot.”

Leading the charge against KinkySDolls – the company that wants to open the sex-doll business in Houston – is the Christian group Elijah Rising; it is dedicated to fighting prostitution and human trafficking. It started an online petition demanding the city stop the business, and it collected more than 13,000 signatures.

To learn more about its effort, I visited its offices along the Southwest Freeway, in a former illicit massage parlor.

David Gamboa is the group’s spokesman: “You know, we still have guys show up today thinking we’re a massage parlor, and so they’ll come in asking us for women and we usually bring them back to the museum and we educate them, and a lot of times they just kind of run out the door.”

But some argue that robot prostitutes actually lower the demand for human sex workers. Gamboa disagrees.

“At the end of the day, I don’t think they are going to always choose that over a woman. I think it’s going to be an entry point for men who might be interested in purchasing sex,” Gamboa says.

His theory is also held by some researchers, most prominently a British researcher who founded the organization Campaign Against Sex Robots.

But in the case of the Houston robot brothel, is it really about sex trafficking? Tamler Sommers, a philosophy professor at the University of Houston, says that’s not the real reason people are against it.  He often talks about human sexuality and morality in his twice-monthly podcast. Sommers says there just aren’t any empirical studies to prove a connection.

“So I think what people are really concerned with is what does it say about our city? …What does it say about our city that we would be the first city to open a sex-robot brothel?” Sommers says.

He points to comments like this by city council member Brenda Stardig, who said: “We don’t want to be known worldwide for these things. We don’t want for these things to be happening here.”

With the updated ordinance, a company cannot let customers have sex with dolls or robots on site. It can still have a showroom and sell their products, but that’s about it – at least legally.

KinkySDolls did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But its CEO Yuval Gavriel told the British tabloid the Daily Mirror he’s looking into legal options.

Jed Silverman, a Houston attorney who specializes in sexually oriented businesses, doesn’t think this issue will go away.

“I would suspect that they’re going to continue to try to fight against this. The future will let us know what’s going to happen. But if there’s money to be made at doing this, I suspect the fight is far from over,” Silverman says.

He says even if sex-robot companies lose the legal fight, there’s still a chance they could try to simply go around the new regulations. Just like with adult video booths, which still exist in Houston, spending time with a device in the back of the store is not illegal, but it is if the customer engages in sexual activity. But the operator can deny any knowledge of that.