HBO’s Westworld is about to make sex with robots America’s most popular conversation. In fact, you probably know it as “that new sex robot show.” Technically, they are just robots that humans are allowed to do anything to, but what they do is exactly what you’d expect. Although the show’s technology looks futuristic, sex robots are a fictional trope as old as time. In honor of the show’s impending debut, let’s take a look at a timeline of robosex in fiction.
BC era: Classical antiquity
Hephaestus was the Greek god of arts and crafts. Okay, so, technically he was the god of more badass-sounding things, like blacksmiths, artisans, sculptors, volcanoes, but it all boils down to craftsmanship. He’s got an impressive resume: He built Hermes’s famed winged sandals and Helios’s chariot, but he could hardly accomplish these things without help. So he built automatons to assist him. Physically.
1600s: The Winter’s Tale
In this Shakespeare play, a character named Hermione is wrongfully persecuted for having an affair and supposedly dies. Later, a statue bearing her likeness is erected in remembrance. At the end of the play, to mass amazement, the statue comes to life, evidently Hermione again. Technically, it is a statue and not a robot, but the automaton implications remain.
1800s: ETA Hoffmann’s The Sandman
The Sandman is a classic short story about automatons that’s so good, you should really just read it yourself. It has three sections and plays out like the best kind of Twilight Zone episode, which means you should go in knowing as little as possible. You can find the whole thing here, and you should read it, because it’s excellent and chilling and should be made into a movie.
1970s: The Stepford Wives
The Stepford Wives is a timeless satire on suburban conformity and societal views on female perfection that cleverly uses robots to illustrate its point. It began as a novel but was also made into two films of the same name — one good one in 1975 and one not-so good one in 2004.
Early 1980s: Tanith Lee’s The Silver Metal Lover
Tanith Lee, the recently deceased sci-fi and fantasy writer, specializes in dark fairytales and subversive, strange, immersive fiction. Her ‘80s novel The Silver Metal Lover imagines a future world in which robots replace human labor, leaving leisure class of humans. The heroine falls in love with a sex robot, and much like Westworld the story explores the question of whether he has a true consciousness.
1980s: Blade Runner
Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner has had more of a cultural impact than the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel it draws from (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?), though the novel is also an important contribution to the sexy robot sub-genre.
1990s: Fembots in Austin Powers
Mike Meyer’s bespectacled, bumbling spy encounters many weird things on his adventures — sharks with laser beams attached to their frickin’ foreheads; eye patches, gravitationally challenged Scots — but the lethal-breasted fembots were perhaps the most memorable.
Early 2000s: The Buffybot
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a classic show that uses supernatural concepts — vampires, werewolves, sex robots — to comment on the hardships of growing up. Although Buffy’s best and most intriguing relationship is with her former rival Spike (sorry, Buffy/Angel shippers like Sarah Michelle Gellar herself, that opinion is wrong), it’s got no shortage of fucked up aspects. For instance, before they finally get together (sort of), Spike commissions the evil Trio to build a Buffy sex robot. The bot later comes in handy after —spoiler alert — Buffy’s death, but it’s still icky.
Mid 2000s: Her
The sex robot in Her technically does not have a physical presence — it’s just a phone and Scarlett Johansson’s voice. Nevertheless, Joaquin Phoenix’s character found her sexy enough for one of the most uncomfortable sex scenes in cinematic history.
Today: Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last
In Margaret Atwood’s most recent, highly underrated, sharply witty novel The Heart Goes Last — which is apparently getting a screen adaptation, just like we knew it would — not only are there sex robots that look like real people, but there are sex robots that look like Elvis, because of course. Humans can also be turned into sex robots of sorts with a lobotomy-like procedure that makes them hyper-attracted to only one person at the expense of all else.
Next up is HBO’s Westworld, and it’s going to be a hell of a ride. The sex robot sub-genre remains strong.