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IEET > Rights > PostGender > Life > Enablement > Contributors > Kyle Munkittrick

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How To Make Sex Better


Kyle Munkittrick
Kyle Munkittrick
Pop Transhumanism

Posted: Feb 28, 2010

Sex, on its own, in the wild, natural and unadorned, is still complicated. Don’t believe me? Look at a peacock or a bird of paradise. Salmon die after they procreate. Sea slugs penis joust. Now throw in evolved human biology, history, culture, technology, and science and you have a real disaster on your hands.

But sex isn’t alone in being affected by these things. But for everything that isn’t sex, we apply “lifehacks” to increase our productivity, organization, mood, and leisure time. We read monthly manuals on what to eat to lose weight, how to stay fashionable, what entertainment we might like, and news about our favorite hobbies. Yet we constantly mystify sex. Our culture treats it as this untouchable, morally ambiguous, thing-that-is-not-mentioned that EVERYONE talks and thinks about. We are at the beginnings of an era wherein sex and sexuality will become both more liberated and more complex than any previous era by orders of magnitude.

Transhumanism, as a philosophy and the technologies it embraces, may offer us a chance to finally take some of the stress and mystery, and hence create more enjoyment, over this taboo part of our lives. When Ben Goertzel and I had our little exchange on sex (he mostly ignorned my critique and tsk tsked me), I said “If sex is messy and imperfect, we need to improve it, not get rid of it.” here are my suggestions on how to do it.

1. Better matches: It is always impossible to guess what discoveries will occur in the future, but science has been confirming over the past century that both sexuality and gender are more of a spectrum than a binary. You know how politics is better plotted on a grid than a line? Well, sexuality is best plotted in a kind of hypercube. Sexuality is more like taste in music than it is an either/or situation, with thousands of combinations and often very eclectic interests. Now consider this: imagine a Facebook app that takes the voluminous knowledge of OK cupid, Match, or E-Harmony, combined with psychological research and an enormously powerful algorithm that is designed to help you understand your sexuality. In short: a Pandora or Netflix or Amazon “you might like this” of dating and relationships. It might even suggest a whole genre shift: “you like partners that bite, pinch, and slap, you should try: Bondage!” Instead of worrying about whether or not your profile picture is right, you can focus on being yourself.

2. Safer: There is already a vaccine available for HPV, it isn’t impossible that other strains of both viral and bacterial STIs could be vaccinated against. The stigma that protection oneself against STIs means one is sexually reckless (a paradox, given that a person taking preventative measures is likely to be a good decision maker in general) is going the way of the dodo. A combination of vaccinations, regular testing, antibiotics and barrier methods, if used in large enough numbers, could effectively create a herd immunity. We eliminated small pox, measles, mumps, and polio, we can get rid of STIs.

3. Reproductive Choice: To make something a choice, it has to reasonably something you control. Reproduction, as it stands, is hard to control, despite all the options.  The Today sponge, which went of the market temporarily, is available again in the US. Lots of different forms of long term hormonal birth control are available. IUDs are now far safer and better designed. Condoms are cheap and prolific. There is some truly great news on the horizon, however: the male pill. Despite the clamor of men’s magazines and the apparently hilarious joke that men are reckless morons, every guy I’ve talked to would love to be able to take a male pill. Why? Because most of my friends are smart and realize the awful consequences of accidentally getting someone pregnant. The male pill lets men take a much bigger role in pregnancy prevention and ads a huge aspect of redundancy to birth control. And better control means fewer accidental pregnancies, the central goal of both the pro-choice and pro-life movement.

4. Science Knowledge: A common complaint is that porn causes unrealistic attitudes about sex. A common joke is that young boys look at naked natives in National Geographic to get their jollies. Perhaps the undiscussed middle ground – TLC and Discovery Channel shows on human sexuality – could provide a fruitful place of learning. I know a lot of people (myself included) who learned how all the plumbing and hardware worked, while satisfying their curiosity and need for titilation, by watching science shows. Having the birds and the bees narrated to you by David Attenbourough is a glorious thing (it also makes Planet Earth even more erotic). Knowledge is sexy.

5. More Intentional: I posted about “tinkering with libido” some time ago, but it’s really an astonishing idea that bears repeating. Presuming well-made, low side-effect drugs, one could actively control one’s libido. Long day at work? Pop a libido suppressor and keep saucy thoughts from distracting you. Finally heading home? Take a libido enhancer and be very excited to see your significant other by the time you come in the front door. As Megan McArdle pointed out in a brave post on pedophilia, there are some sexual desires that are taboo, but still natural and uncontrollable. Schizophrenics, the mentally disabled, severe autistics, and a range of other conditions would be greatly eased by a reduced sex drive. Alternatively, those on anti-depressants or social anxiety drugs often lose sex drive, canceling out one of the major benefits of their medication. Libido control, and many of these drugs are in the works, would do wonders for many.

These are just a few ideas working with what we have and what we could accomplish in the near future. In the long term, ideas are absolutely mind bending. Synthetic skin could allow a person to amplify nerve endings all over the body, making every sexual experience otherworldly. Anti-aging might radically alter just how long our “hedonistic” youth is while simultaneously letting us have long term monogamous relationships that don’t have to suffer from the libido dampening effect of aging. Telepresence and virtual reality could help make long distance relationships easier and less taxing. Radical but safe and effective body modifications might allow for entirely new forms of sex and sexuality and gender to emerge.

As with everything transhuman, the goal is not to reduce the very things that make us human, like our sexual drive, but to open them to new and exciting possibilities. The goal isn’t to guide sex and sexuality towards some version of perfection, but instead to create orders of magnitude more options, to allow better control and safer conditions. Transhumanism is about diversity and choice, why not bring that to sex? Sex can be mystical and is perhaps ultimately ineffable, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it better with technology, knowledge, and freedom.


Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.
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COMMENTS


“We are at the beginnings of an era wherein sex and sexuality will become both more liberated and more complex than any previous era by orders of magnitude.”

Did the 60’s not count as part of this era?





Veronica, the era I’m speaking of as “beginning” is something more like the next half century. In my mind, the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s will likely be viewed by history as radical, with the mid-‘80s to about 2005 being conservative. There are both technologies and social movements that are on the verge of becoming radical again. I think the changes we can expect in the coming decade will make the early 2000s look as conservative and silly as the changes of the ‘60s and ‘70s made the ‘50s look. Of course, it’s always hard to do history while one is in the midst of it.





Quote : “As with everything transhuman, the goal is not to reduce the very things that make us human, like our sexual drive, but to open them to new and exciting possibilities. The goal isn’t to guide sex and sexuality towards some version of perfection, but instead to create orders of magnitude more options, to allow better control and safer conditions. Transhumanism is about diversity and choice, why not bring that to sex?”

Sometimes I do wonder what kind of a diverse and fragmented society this type of transhumanism future can lead us all into? And although the practices of sexual promiscuity and freedoms are not new, should we not evaluate what the goals of society are as a whole, or what the membership for a society should entail in terms of morals and ethics, (a religious argument?)

My vision of the future incorporates primarily the understanding and wisdom of “Self”, which naturally leads to an understanding of connectedness, and a society thus built on peace and harmony, (and love), yet the kinds of transhumanist ideals postulated on many blogs here appear to be based wholly on “selfishness”, which includes personal fulfilment and gratification all declared within the context of liberalism and of the liberal rights of the individual to do as they please, and when and if they please : can any society be founded on such diverse and selfish goals as this? Are we all heading towards a dystopian and paganistic oblivion when we contemplate these kinds of diverse and divisive ideals?

Yet even my contemplations of a utopian ideal of connectedness or my ideals of posthumanism are ultimately selfish, and thus even I am not immune from my own selfish notions.

All your points are valid, and you have some good ideas, yet you have not explored the areas where sexual violence and perversion plays a major part for some folks. Sexual relations are based on the power-play of seductions and submissions which humans have evolved and manipulated beyond purely animalistic desires and into anything their hearts and imaginations can envisage, including perversions and torture and even killing. Are we to permit this type of liberalism played out in virtual worlds in the name of freedoms, or should we be a little wiser with our contemplations? It’s all about “how liberal your views are?” What is fun for one, can be torture and murder for another : literally!

Do you want to be a real life vampire? You may not, but there are some folks that do, (even on second life) : do we permit this kind of role play either in the virtual world or worst case scenario in the real world?

Ben’s previous blog was an attempt to explain the notion of directing and controlling desires, including the powers of sexuality, as we wish. I don’t think he was promoting the elimination of sexual desires. For posthumans, procreation may be irrelevant, (assuming timeless uploaded existence), and finitely it may be presumed that even sexual relations may be superseded by the merging of minds and consciousness : the ultimate pairing?





Cygnus,

1. The reason I base my constructions of ethics and justice in what you describe as “selfishness” is because I base my writings in the tradition of Western philosophy. The most celebrated liberal philosopher on justice, John Rawls, based his construction of justice and the just society on autonomous and self-interested individuals.

2. I actually did explore violence, noting that if if a person enjoys biting and spanking, the netflix-esque algorithm may suggest they try bondage. As for “perversions” that is a normative claim, one I suspect you couldn’t define or defend if pressured. If an act is not consensual, then it is immoral, period. If all participants consent to the act in a state of mind in which their consent is valid, then the act is neither immoral nor perverted.

3. Ben’s post was over simplified and weakly argued. My critique was directed at his uncritical support of his friend and his suggestion that our human desires distract us from working towards the Glorious Holy Singularity.

4. It is interesting that you would separate the terms “minds” and “consciousness.” Also, why would you reduce the unity of minds to mere sexual union? A union of that caliber would better be described as agápe, love of the highest order.






Ben’s post was over simplified and weakly argued. My critique was directed at his uncritical support of his friend and his suggestion that our human desires distract us from working towards the Glorious Holy Singularity.

It was an informal blog post, not a journal article ... sure it was oversimplified and nonrigorously argued!!

If my friend wants to eliminate his sexual desires so as to more effectively work toward the Glorious Trans-holy Singularity, then as his friend I will support him in that.  I think that’s a quite reasonable and interesting way to manage one’s life ... even though it’s not what I choose for myself!

BTW I note that the friend I mentioned has not yet implemented his “abstinence for the Singularity” plan and is still happily married to his rather cute wife.  So he’s still “all talk and no ‘no action’” wink

I am strongly in favor of people having the ability and the right to tweak themselves however they wish, including removing or amplifying their sexual desire.  If it doesn’t explicitly and overtly hurt others, it should be enabled and allowed, IMO.  Experiment and experience will tell us the pluses and minuses of eliminating or modifying or enhancing sexuality, as time and technology advance….  It seems you agree with me on this somewhat, given the “More Intentional” section in your post above.

In short, I am not opposed to sexuality by any means, but I’m supportive of all sorts of experimentation with it, including experimenting with eliminating it from those who would rather not have it….

It’s interesting to think about what is the essence of sexuality, apart from its particular manifestation in our human embodiments.  Just, say, the mutual exchange between two intelligences of positive emotion and pleasure-center stimulation, coupled with emotional open-ness?  It’s hard to argue with that, yet there is so much (good and bad) about human sexuality that isn’t implied by such an abstract essence….  Probably there are forms of sexuality that embody that abstract essence, without the downsides of human sexuality ... and that would not distract one’s efforts from pursuit of the Trans-Holy Singularity ;-D





@ Kyle

Please note this is not a rebuff of you or your point of view. When I use the term “selfishness” freely, it is in the context that all “Self’s” in separation and the duality of subject and object are “selfish” by nature, both with our subjective understandings, (of right and wrong and morals and ethics), and with our pursuits of individualism. Indeed this is why I further describe even my own ideals as ultimately “selfish”. Is any self-less act really free of selfishness? Why do folks pursue charity and self-less ideals? The real goal, (as I see it), must be the pursuit of complete understanding, empathy and connectedness between us all, the “self” and it’s “selfishness” would then become insignificant?

However, as I have stated already, these kinds of pursuits into individualism using the guise of liberal freedoms do have drawbacks, and I fear that this pursuit of hedonistic individualism, (whatever those goals are and not merely sexual), may in fact lead us headlong into a new age of decadence, rather than promoting an understanding of connectedness and promote a spiritual/ethical evolution away from our “selfish” pursuits.

I use the term “perversions” in the most general context to point to the borderline of acceptance, and it is indeed up to the individual to decide where they draw their own lines on morals and ethics, which, once more, is an area where I feel we should build our understandings and empathy, and not digress from them and into our own selfish individual understandings of them. The ethics of humanity has evolved thus far for us to contemplate our present views on justice and the liberal freedoms of individuals, yet there is always the danger that precisely these freedoms and pursuits could in fact reverse our cultural evolution and ethics.

Note that sexual perversion and violence does not merely equate to spanking and bondage, but also rape and other violations. These acts have little to do with sex and more to do with power-play. The rapist gets his frills from the violation of his acts, not the sex. And then you have all sorts of other perversions that I’m sure most of us would view with revulsion. As I say, would you wish to be a real life vampire? Whose general nature may involve deceit, violation and the subjugation of innocents for frills? As I view it, even in a virtual world we are in danger of promoting a future not of humanity but of barbarianism and decadence. (I should not have used the term paganistic earlier, as modern pagans have little to do with the decadence I describe).

As a final note, the terms “mind” and “consciousness” are indeed separate phenomena, yet if we contemplate a pure connectedness or take a wider view, these may be viewed as the same.

Quote : ” Also, why would you reduce the unity of minds to mere sexual union? A union of that caliber would better be described as agápe, love of the highest order.”

Indeed !! Would this not be a beautiful ideal? Yet note this describes post-humanity. I don’t feel that trans-humanists would even get close. Even Martine’s ideals promote individualism and the persistence of selfish wants and needs, (this does not mean I deem Martine to be selfish!), only that even mindfiles point only towards the beginnings of posthumanity.

Solaris?





I’m a bit of a newbie at transhuman philosophy, so forgive me if I’m attempting to articulate ideas that are already thoroughly fleshed out (pun intended) with regard to sexuality and union in a transhuman paradigm.

I found CygnusX1’s comment very interesting:
“even sexual relations may be superseded by the merging of minds and consciousness : the ultimate pairing?”

My Buddhist sensibilities spike when we start talking about the interconnectivity of sentient beings. In addition the Hedonic reward implicit in sensuality, there are aspects of emergent social functionality and social sustainability that are very interesting about human sexuality. Indeed, this is a concern that is generalizable to me about most all aspects of transhumanism—not just sexuality. That is, there seems to be a real threat that by unleashing a turbo-powered capacity to gratify physical wants and self-indulgence, we will open a Pandora’s box of radical individualism and social fragmentation.

Perhaps the issue is one of timing? In other words, if our capacities for authentic interconnectivity (such as those alluded to by Cygnus) precede our augmentation of individualistic pleasure and reward, perhaps these enhanced interconnectivities would create a stronger network that would keep transhumans glued together socially, working and living cooperatively. It seems like something deliberate has to happen to precede enhanced personal pleasures in order to allow simultaneous, healthy participation in a larger community fabric, rather than creating a transhuman future that disintegrates into a completely splintered collection of self-seeking ultra-Hedonists.

Let me know if that made sense to anyone other than myself.





@Ben, glad to hear we aren’t as different as it seemed regarding sexuality. I really wish your posts would get a bit more complex. I think there are a lot of interesting ideas you bring up, but the vagueness of your language often prohibits further discussion or causes false interpretations of your point.

@Cygnus, Viewing an act with revulsion is not a reason to prohibit or critique it, the source of that revulsion is important. Rape is immoral, therefore repugnant, because it is non-consensual, as is the violence often associated with it.

In regards to your constructions of “selfishness” I can’t really follow what you’re saying, so am not sure where you’re going with it.

@Michael, welcome to the weird world of transhumanism. My only rebuttal to your “Pandora’s Box” point is to think of any given technology, and if it’s lead to an extreme diversification of types of people, extreme homogenization, or if human culture is consistent enough, despite all the changes, that there is a reason why Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad-Gita and Lao-tzu still seem relevant.





@ Kyle

Quote-“Viewing an act with revulsion is not a reason to prohibit or critique it, the source of that revulsion is important. Rape is immoral, therefore repugnant, because it is non-consensual, as is the violence often associated with it.”

OK, you have a point, firstly that my own “personal” or “selfish” subjective understandings of what causes my revulsion does not give me rights to prohibit, critique yes! Yet can you now see that you also contradict yourself by declaring that rape is immoral and therefore repugnant, (to you and I maybe, to a very liberal minded individual maybe not?)

Fundamentally my point began to describe the pursuit of individualism as “selfish” as it promotes the “self” interest. And my point is that although the mission statement of transhumanism incorporates the pursuit of liberties and liberal freedoms and equality, it also incorporates the pursuit of individualism : and this is not the way I see humanity should evolve spiritually and ethically.

For example, if you contemplate liberal freedom and extrapolate the pursuit of individualism to a horizon or end point, what do you see humanity evolved as? I see this pursuit as divisive and which serves no purpose to meaningful connectedness, nor understanding and certainly not to empathy nor to altruism : quite the reverse in fact! This example also highlights the historical values of religious ethics versus selfishness, and the need we still have now, more than ever, to note that selfishness and the pursuit of individualism is divisive.

You may not agree with this view, yet I would add it is precisely because our views and understandings and policies are already grounded in religious morals and ethics and civil rights and social contracts, which have been built over centuries of hard work, and that these inherent principles blind us to the dangers of the pursuit of libertine and hedonistic pursuits into individualism?

I believe we should evolve humanity towards connectedness using whatever tools we can, including yet not exclusive to, the philosophies of Buddhism and Hinduism, philosophy of mind, neuroscience’s and psychology and even the genetic manipulation of mind if the case proves beneficial? And no, this does not mean I believe in a totalitarian health state, nor the exclusion of personal freedoms or healthy sex lives : merely that we should guard against “selfishness”.

@ Michael

Quote : “Perhaps the issue is one of timing?”

I don’t think we can stop the runaway train of technology, only provide the driving force of ethics and philosophies : whatever one you choose, is your choice, (choose wisely!) Yet take a heap of ipods, virtual games, mobile devices, entertainment distractions, sexual novelties, and chuck them all on a table, and kids are gonna grab! And who can blame them? Is it not up to us to help steer the future away from hedonism and up to us to inspire the idea of connectedness? We are so close to understanding how we all are really connected, why throw it on the back seat now?

Not everyone wants to be Buddhist or religious, that is fine, yet I believe “self” enquiry is at the heart of understanding who we are and how we really all are connected. And this journey has to be a personal one, and it is a free choice of will when and if one pursues this. We cannot force it on folks.

Whatever ideas you have explore them and share them.

—-
Ps @ Kyle

Quote : “that there is a reason why Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad-Gita and Lao-tzu still seem relevant. “

Now this is intriguing why do you connect these diverse texts together, and for what reason?





@Cygnus - CONSENT CONSENT CONSENT. Any sexual act forced upon a person who does not or cannot meaningfully consent is rape. Period. Bestiality is a form rape because an animal cannot consent. Lack of consent is what makes an act immoral. This is an absolutely essential concept and it worries me that you have accepted the idea that moral progress is simply based on becoming less “prude” and some hyper-liberal would be enlightened enough to understand rape is not repugnant. I do not contradict myself because my operating criterion of consent is consistently applied and an act only becomes immoral when that criterion is violated.

You and I will not agree on connectedness and selfishness, so I’ll just leave what you said at that.

As for those texts, I cited them because they are 1) super old 2) represent different cosmogonies 3) are still startlingly perceptive when it comes to human nature despite the dramatic changes in society and technology 4) were on the bookshelf in front of me.





@ Kyle…

My points relate to “immoral” progress, (a regression of morals), and hyper-Liberalism is not new either. In a perfect world folks would not violate each other for love or profit, yet we still do not live in such a world yet where sex slavery and other violations are no longer committed.

You and I stand privileged with our ethics and morals founded and understood fully between us. There are those that are not so fortunate, and those that do not embrace them as we do. This is the danger that awaits if we do not take care. New innovations and technologies offer no guarantees against corruption or a decline in ethics and morals.





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