One of the most telling statistics from the General Social Survey, is that Americans are having less sex now than they did in 1980s and 1990s.
Young men especially have become less sexually active. Since 2008, the share of men under 30 reporting no sex at all has nearly tripled.
This stat is one of the clearest signs of what has turned into a counterintuitive but reliable pattern. The more “liberated” and “progressive” our culture becomes, the less interested in or capable of finding human partners we become.
I say, “human partners,” because the decline of sex and the rise of high-tech sex alternatives have gone hand-in-hand. Online pornography use, for instance, has become ubiquitous. The Institute for Family Studies reported in 2022 that a majority of men ages 30-49 say they’ve watched pornography in the past month. And given the connection between porn and male sexual dysfunctions, this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
Now, another emerging alternative to real women will likely draw even more men into unreality. British freelance writer Freya India recently highlighted the phenomenon of AI girlfriends, describing an array of new apps like Replika, Intimate, and Dream Girl Builder, which offer men the chance to craft “flawless” digital partners.
These apps promise AI-airbrushed pornography. Users customize body type, face shape, and hair color to “create their dream companion,” that will “exceed [their] wildest desires,” and can join them on “hyper-realistic voice calls.”
These apps offer not only simulated sex, but also the promise of companionship and emotional attention. As India writes:
Eva AI, for example, not only lets you choose the perfect face and body but customise the perfect personality, offering options like “hot, funny, bold”, “shy, modest, considerate” and “smart, strict, rational”. Create a girlfriend who is judgement-free! Who lets you hang out with your buddies without drama! Who laughs at all your jokes! “Control it all the way you want to,” promises Eva AI. Design a girl who is “always on your side”, says Replika.
This isn’t an expansion of sexual and romantic freedom or a tool that empowers people to make human connections. Rather, it is a retreat from human connection, a turning away from the very thing for which we are biologically, socially, and emotionally wired.
And yet this has always been the end of the road we started on long ago, when we mixed a commitment to hyper-individualism with technology. As Sherry Turkle observed over a decade ago in her book, Alone Together, the process started with living our lives on the internet. Soon we began exploring alternative identities through social media. We crafted these identities and connections to perfection, pruning our “friends lists” to include only those people who pleased us. Before long, we came to prefer these digital relationships on our terms to the messy and often frustrating demands of in-person relationships.
Now we have reached the stage at which many would rather cut out humans altogether, opting instead for “drama-free” companions who never have bad days, never grow old, always laugh at our jokes, never ask anything of us, and can be simply “paused” if it suits us. And AI technology is here to fill that demand.
What’s next? C.S. Lewis was among many science-fiction authors to speculate. In That Hideous Strength, the last book of his Space Trilogy, he describes corrupted inhabitants of the Moon who do not sleep with each other when they marry, but “each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty … in their dreams of lust.” Perhaps AI girlfriends will eventually become robotic girlfriends, deceiving users into truly giving up on human relationships.
But what insanity! We were never made for such nightmares. We were created with bodies for embodied relationships—among them the one-flesh union of marriage, through which God gives children. And at the heart of Christianity is the message that God values our embodied natures so highly that, in Christ, He assumed that nature in order to save us. Our human relationships don’t need replacing. They need redemption.
As our culture’s retreat from humanity reaches new levels of strangeness, the task of the Church may increasingly be to call our neighbors back to being human. Few would have expected Christians to get a reputation for being the “pro-sex people,” but if falling in love with a computer is the alternative, we may be well on our way.
This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to breakpoint.org.
Have a Follow-up Question?
ListenAll Audio Breakpoint: Podcast Breakpoint This Week: John Stonestreet The Point: 60 Seconds Find BP on the Radio
© Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.