Joe and Laura Hawkins are having marital issues. Laura just left the house without explanation. Joe wonders if she has a lover. He is alone with Anita, the family robot: a “synth” or “synthetic” (pictured above). After a couple of drinks, Joe “turns on” the robot’s sex program and makes use of it. This scene comes from the AMC TV series, “Humans.” The fictional possibility will soon be a present reality.
Question: was Joe unfaithful to Laura? She certainly thought so and kicked him out. The fact that Anita wasn’t “human” was a defense Joe offered — one dismissed by Laura. Where is the line? When do our thoughts, conversations, or physical interactions constitute infidelity?
The easy answer: unfaithfulness consists of sexual intercourse outside of a relationship based on monogamy. But let’s think about other possibilities. You be the judge whether these fit your understanding of “cheating:”
- Oral sex. Bill Clinton’s statement, “I did not have sex with that woman,” was not especially persuasive.
- Intercourse with a non-human, including not only an artificial life form, but any living thing. I once treated a lonely woman who copulated with a large dog. She was not being unfaithful (there was no human lover to betray), but her example offers an unusual extra-marital option for those with a partner who is drawn from Homo sapiens.
- Mutual masturbation.
- Naked kissing and fondling short of either oral sex or intercourse.
- Making out and fondling while clothed.
The above five categories all include physical contact with a person who is not your spouse. Might interaction without touching the other be a betrayal of the monogamous promise? Consider the following:
- Phone sex or other electronic forms of sex play.
- Fantasizing about someone else while having sex with your significant other.
- Masturbation to an image of another. Not just pornography — perhaps only a face or a person clothed.
- Masturbation to the idea (memory) of another without using a visual stimulus.
- Intimacy without physical contact, e.g. shared personal revelations, and mutual psychological support.
- Emotional preoccupation with a former lover without any present communication with the person. Indeed, he needn’t be alive any longer.
- Closeness between a parent and child where the offspring is pressured to be a kind of surrogate spouse, but without sex. The adult shares his troubles with the child. The latter is relied upon to help solve the elder’s problems. Roles are reversed.
As you ponder the question, consider the following true story. An old friend wrote a freshman college essay. The required topic was, “Something to Make the World a Better Place in Which to Live.” My buddy proceeded to describe a masturbation machine. He reasoned that our civilization is full of lonely people without a sexual outlet. Moreover, he believed his invention would cut prostitution and sexual assaults. Such devices now exist, but didn’t then.
What was his reward for an idea before its time? A mandated visit with the school psychiatrist!
Would use of a masturbation machine constitute adultery?
Let’s look at the issue differently. Should infidelity be permissible if
- your spouse refuses sex? You have not copulated in years.
- your partner is or was unfaithful, the latter in the recent past?
- the loved one can’t engage in conjugal relations with you because of a permanent infirmity?
- the spouse is abusive?
- you are stranded on a desert island with only one other person. Is it OK if, after a period of years with no hope of rescue, the two of you become Adam and Eve?
- the husband or wife back home (in the desert island example) at last gives up and begins to date after the same long wait?
In these six conditions, do the special circumstances make the behavior acceptable? In effect, we now have two queries before us:
- What is the definition of infidelity?
- Are there any conditions which remove the moral stain? Put differently, do you believe fidelity is a moral absolute or dependent on the situation? A moral relativist would refrain from a uniform ethical condemnation without considering the details. The Ten Commandments and similar religious prohibitions, however, exemplify an absolute rule: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
If you believe in any mitigating circumstance — an instance in which adultery is OK — remind yourself that infidelity usually involves hiding the truth or frank lying. The ingredients in an extra-marital potion are a combination of breaking with promised monogamy and deceit.
I’d be delighted to read your comments, short or long, on these questions. I hope you will indulge me.
Remember one other thing: where there are already robotic cars, there will soon be synthetic humans with artificial intelligence (AI) superior to mortals. Not to mention bodies impervious to aging (or replaceable with ones as good or better). Human flaws will have been programmed out, but the creation will possess emotions.
The concerns I’ve raised about extra-marital contact will only get more difficult.
Sooner than you think.
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