Imagined Histories of Sexual Technologies With Dr. Bo Ruberg

Tuesday, April 19, 2022 2:00 pm - 3:15 pm EDT (GMT -04:00)

Poster for imagined histories of sexual technologies with Dr. Bo Ruberg
Today’s interactive and playful technologies are increasingly intersecting with technologies of sex. Yet these intersections also have long histories. Tracing these histories—and challenging the ways that they are often told—has important implications for how we understand the cultural origins of contemporary video games and other forms of digital media. In this talk, Dr. Bo Ruberg will present work from their forthcoming book, Sex Dolls at Sea: Imagined Histories of Sexual Technologies (MIT Press, June 2022). The focus of their research in this area is on the history of the sex doll, which is often figured as the origin point for twenty-first-century technologies like sex robots, internet-enabled sex toys, artificial intelligence for sexual companionship, and pornographic virtual reality. Here, Dr. Ruberg will explain and interrogate the way that that history is commonly told in present-day narratives, which typically point back to the so-called dames de voyage, rudimentary sex dolls supposedly made by European sailors on long journeys at sea.

In response to the story of sailors’ sex dolls, which positions the origins of sex tech in the hands of lusty straight white men, Dr. Ruberg presents an alternate history of the sex doll: the actual story of how commercially produced sex toys in the shape of human bodies were first produced, sold, advertised, distributed, and above all imagined in mid-nineteenth-century popular culture. What emerges from this history is a new way of understanding the high-tech sex devices that are increasingly seen as leading the development of new computational technologies. Sex tech, from the “rubber women” of the 1850s to the Real Dolls of today, has long been bound up with sexism, homophobia, racism, and colonialism.  By challenging the cultural imaginaries that surround sexual technologies, we can reimagine their futures, reclaiming sex tech as a site of feminist and queer potential that promotes equity rather than oppression through the tools of erotic play.

Dr. Bo Ruberg (they/them) is an associate professor in the Department of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine, as well as the incoming co-editor of the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. Their research explores gender and sexuality in digital media and digital cultures. They are the author of three monographs: Video Games Have Always Been Queer (NYU Press, 2019), The Queer Games Avant-Garde: How LGBTQ Game Makers Are Reimagining the Medium of Video Games (2020), and Sex Dolls at Sea: Imagined Histories of Sexual Technologies (MIT Press, 2022). 

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