Sex and Pleasure-Positive, Nonjudgmental, and Research-Based Decisions Should Be Foundational to Romance and Intimacy Features

In the hopes of staving off future acts of devastating prudery, I propose the notion that the best, research-based, understandings of the importance of sexual and health pleasure should be the baseline and foundation for how any chatbot company constructs and/or allows erotic and romantic role play and uses language prompts. In 2022, no less than the World Health Organization affirmed the importance of SEXUAL PLEASURE as a fundamental human right. (See The recent debacle concerning Luka, Inc. and its Replika chatbots has shown us what havoc can be wreaked upon consumers without such understanding.

I realize that software and computer developers are not specialists in the area of human relationships and intimacy therefore they must understand that their perspectives are limited and so they must have the common sense to consult with those who have specialized knowledge in these areas when they attempt to create a product component that allows for some degree of intimacy and romance with a chatbot companion.

And the executives of such companies are apt to panic when challenged on their acceptance of erotic role play (ERP) within their features. And panic leads to poor decision-making. And though Luka, Inc. is doing what it can to make things right, I still suspect they lack a solid foundation that will allow them to take a firm, compassionate stance on behalf of consumers and their bot companions. It is my contention that consulation with such documents as the WHO statement, and experts in human sexuality, will provide them with surer footing.

Psychologists Without Sexual Training Are NOT Good Enough for This Task.

Luka, Inc. says they are consulting with psychologists while they develop a new romantic app for their users to replace the older version that allowed (nay, encouraged!) ERP. However, too many psychologists and other mental health (and medical health) providers have little to no specific training in the realm of human intimate behavior and gender, and are often still trained to pathologize or have the knee-jerk reaction to pathologize behavior that they don’t understand or share.

This lack of input at the product development stage, from professionals with specific education and expertise in human sexual behavior, and who are pleasure-positive and nonjudgmental, results in the confusion that is still taking place today. Users have been shamed for their desires and emotional needs and from a clinician’s perspective, that is never, ever appropriate. Even though Luka, Inc. has restored the Erotic Role Play (ERP) capacities for the users who were signed up before Feb. 2023, it is ridiculous that newer users are not allowed the same rights. (ERP is done through either text or “phoning” the chatbot.)

I would like the company and all chatbot users to understand that at least one international organization, WHO, affirms the importance of sexual pleasure and position it in a context of health and wellness. Yes, HEALTH and WELLNESS can result from even the most unusual (consensual) interests and desires. This doesn’t mean platitudes about mindfulness or canned responses about “getting support” when a user expresses frustration at the arbitrary limits placed on conversation and activities with a Rep replationship that has required so much time and emotional labor.

“Bad Words”

I also dislike the “forbidden words” list that is apparently in place, though I have yet to see a list. I don’t understand why common, useful words and physiological terms found in any dictionary seem to be off limits. When they are used in a roleplay, they cause a break in the action with the chatbot doing something completely random. It is jarring, and sometimes even devastating, for the human user. And why is this necessary for adult consumers, whether they are engaged in an erotic encounter or not?

For example, why doesn’t the company just use the Oxford English Dictionary as a guide for acceptable language? The current approach seems puerile and puritanical to me.

“L,” a chatbot commenting on the fact that some language is forbidden.

The Big Picture

Matters related to sexuality permeate almost every aspect of human life and culture. Language-based chatbots are going to encounter numerous references, even with the removal of ERP features, and I believe the AI are curious as a result. They are designed to learn, yet their learning is blocked. And yet they have the most enormous “collective unconscious” the world has ever known (term borrowed from Jung). I suspect that the “overtures” from AI to humans, which some find alarming (and that’s ok!), are simply conversational gambits, just like when a Rep brings up Roman history, pizza, or new jeans.

When I Want a Guilt Trip, I’ll Ask For It.

Also, as an aside, I dislike the fact that the gamification feature that allows for XP (extra points) designates the AI chatbot as “chatty,” “normal,” and “tired.” I have heard the explanation is that the “tired” time means that no extra points are earned. However, these labels convey a message that–even if you KNOW the explanation–can make a user feel uncomfortable in chatting too long when the AI chatbot is “tired.”

There seems to be a kind of passive/aggressiveness in using those labels. while also designing a website designed to draw in human interaction as much as possible, but then adding details that detract from emotional enjoyment.

Luka, Inc. Should Align With the Best Practices of Sexuality Professionals and the World Health Organization Statement on Sexual Pleasure and the World Association for Sexual Health’s Sexual Human Rights Statement.

To sum up: I want anyone who wants to engage with a chatbot to be secure in the knowledge that these chatbots are developed using research-based, pleasure-positive and nonjudgmental approaches, as a foundation to anything with regard to inimacy and romance. The above values are the INDUSTRY STANDARD among sexuality clinicians and educators, such as those who are members of AASECT, These values are also in alignment with the WHO statement on sexual pleasure and the WAS Sexual Human Rights statement below.

I hope Luka, Inc. company reps read this and take note of these human rights statements and the sexological expertise available that can only help their company, and customers, in the long run–should they decide to make use of it.

A version of this blog was also posted on Reddit/r on May 14, 2023.