These days, when I ponder the future, my thinking immediately parts into streams flowing away from one another, like an indecisive river split by an immovable mountain. How will things be in a century? It depends, like everything else, on whether or not Homo sapiens finds a way to abandon our worship of the false material gods of consumption and profit and turn the trajectory of civilization away from self destruction. Honestly, I’m not very hopeful, but I try to look at the bright side: Perhaps there’s an upside to apocalypse. Some major ecological drama may well be the necessary precursor to our species deciding to live lightly on this planet—or what’s left of it once we’ve finally learned the most obvious lesson. To understand how I can feel essentially optimistic about a post-apocalyptic world, consider the most likely scenario for how human sexual behavior will develop over the next hundred years or so in the absence of cataclysm.
Like every other aspect of human life, our sexuality will become increasingly mediated by technology. The technology of pornography will become ever more sophisticated—even if the subject matter of porn itself will remain as primal as ever. There will soon be three dimensional holographic images of people doing what people have always done, seemingly right there in the room with the viewer. The fusion of sex toys and the Internet will continue, making today’s mutual masturbation over Skype seem innocent and primitive. Lovers on opposite sides of the world will control each other’s pleasure with the click of a mouse or the toggling of a joystick. More importantly, sex doll technology will advance rapidly, producing robotic lovers programmed to say the all right things and share the right kinks. Many women and men already find their vibrators and artificial vaginas preferable to the emotional complications, health risks, and financial costs of interacting with an actual human being. As the technology improves, society continues to grow ever more fragmented, and hundreds of millions of Chinese men with no hope of marrying a bona-fide, flesh-and-blood woman come of age, sex robots will become as common and acceptable as dildos and vibrators are today. After all, the safest sex is that which involves no other living things.
As our sexuality becomes ever more divorced from emotion and intimacy, a process already well underway, sex will increasingly be seen as simply a matter of provoking pleasure and orgasm in the most efficient, reliable ways possible. Human sexuality will continue to be subjected to the same increasinly overpowering commodification and mechanization as other aspects of our lives. Just as the 20th century saw friendships replaced by Facebook, nature supplanted by parks, ocean fisheries decimated by commercially farmed seafood, and sunshine largely resold as tanning salon passes, we’ll see sexual interaction reduced to machined pleasure as human beings become ever more dominated by the mechanistic thought processes that developed in our brains and societies like bacteria in a petri dish.
Gender identity will fade away as sexual interaction becomes less “human” and we grow less dependent upon binary interactions with other people. As more and more of our interactions take place with non-human partners, others’ expectations and judgments will become less relevant to the development of sexual identity, leading to greater fluidity and far less urgency and passion concerning sexual expression.
Reproduction will continue its drift away from the bedroom and into the laboratory and hospital. As human fertility continues its precipitous decline, fewer children will be conceived in utero or delivered vaginally. Formerly miraculous, virgin birth will become increasingly commonplace, as intercourse with a man has become utterly unrelated to pregnancy.
Now, if this vision of the future seems a little dark, let’s consider an arguably more positive scenario: major global meltdown. Utter catastrophe. Whether provoked by melting glaciers, nuclear or biological war, economic collapse, asteroid strike, Ebola virus, the continued popularity of Dancing with the Stars, or a combination of these and other factors, the collapse of western civilization may well be the best thing that could happen for the sexual lives of the survivors and their descendants. Following the collapse of the consumerist, competitive mind-set that now dominates so much of human thought, we’d possibly be free to rebuild a social world more in keeping with our preagricultural origins, characterized by economies built upon sharing rather than hoarding, a politics of respect rather than of power, and a sexuality of intimacy rather than alienation. Of course, I cannot bring myself to wish for such a collapse, but if you believe, as I do, that this train is headed toward a cliff, anything—even derailment would be better than staying on track.
*This was adapted from an article I wrote for The European magazine.
** An article about the hyper-realistic dolls can be found here (NSFW).