By Michael Schumacher, BBC News websiteHealth Secretary David Willetts has promised to bring in legislation that will allow sex robots to be used in hospitals and childcare homes.
Sex robots, he said, would “create a world in which children can explore with their toys”.
However, he conceded that they were “not a panacea for everything”.
“What we’re really talking about is an important tool that can help people with autism and other disabilities, but I don’t think we’ve really figured out the best way of doing that yet,” Mr Willetson said.
He said he had “serious reservations” about the potential dangers posed by the sex robots.
“What’s going to happen is that it’s going be very difficult for people with disabilities to do things with their sex dolls that are safe, that they can do with their other dolls, because they’re going to be putting the child’s safety in danger,” he said.
“The sex doll is a toy, so they’re also going to have to deal with the consequences of what happens when they take the toy and they use it.”
“There’s a lot of very real, very serious risks that could be associated with it,” he added.
Mr Willetons also announced plans to introduce new legislation to allow the use of sex robots in the UK.
The proposal comes as sex robots are set to become a more widespread part of the sex industry, with companies like Lush and Mylo operating in more than 40 countries.
It is estimated that more than 1.2 million of the world’s most popular sex robots have been sold.
However, some manufacturers are concerned about potential safety issues, with the Sex and Drug Administration (SDFA) describing the technology as a “potential danger”.
“Sex robots are increasingly being used to help people achieve sexual pleasure, and the potential risks posed by this technology are not fully understood,” said SDFA director of public affairs, Julie Kish.
“It’s important that people understand that these products are for a specific purpose and that there are no health risks to anyone.”
But Dr Raffaele Zaffarini, a professor of neuroscience at University College London, said there were “clear benefits” to having sex robots around, with some people “seeing their sexual function increase” with the assistance of a sex robot.
“Sex is the most natural thing, and in this sense, it’s the most likely to be stimulated, so there is a lot to recommend it,” Dr Zaffarsi said.”[It’s] really not that bad a toy in terms of the overall physical activity of it.”
Dr Zaffari said the SDFAA could also take action to restrict the use and distribution of sex toys that were considered to be “unethical”.
“We need to look at the possibility of restricting the distribution of such devices, and we need to ensure that there’s no harm,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“If there’s any harm to children in the sex toy industry, that would be something that we should be looking at.”
The SDFEA did not respond to requests for comment from BBC News.
But Dr Zaccari said that while the SFFA should take the lead in the “disease-based” regulation of sex toy makers, it should also “act as a regulator of the industry itself”.
“The way we deal with sex toys is very, very different to other industries,” he explained.
“When you look at it from the safety point of view, you don’t want to get into the area of human trafficking, or prostitution, or anything like that.”‘
Sex robots should not be treated like a toy’Dr Zaccaria added that the sex robot industry needed to “come to terms with the fact that sex is not a toy”.
“It is a way of expressing sexuality,” he concluded.
“There are certain behaviours that are socially acceptable in certain cultures, and some of them are socially unacceptable in certain cultural cultures.”
“But it’s a way to express that, and that’s something that should not become a taboo.”
Dr Kish, who is also an expert on autism, said that the use sex robots was not necessarily linked to a child’s sexual behaviour.
“People are very aware that sex toys are not a solution for sexual stimulation, that there is no benefit to having a toy that can stimulate genitals, that can be a tool for physical intimacy, and people are aware that these are not toys that are designed to help us fulfil sexual fantasies,” she said.
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