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The Future of Intimacy─Taiwan Experience

A Taiwanese psychiatrist shares his concerns about sex tech in Taiwan.

Key points

  • AI could influence people’s experience of intimacy throughout the world.
  • A psychiatrist in Taiwan shares his primary concerns regarding the future of intimacy.
  • Virtual lovers, AI-generated beauty images, and implications for sexual fantasy and crime are reviewed.
  • The dynamic, novel nature of modern tech leaves us without necessary research to guide the future of intimacy.
Source: Mergeldea/Shutterstock

By James Shih-Han Lai, a former attending psychiatrist at Cathay General Hospital (Taiwan)

Since I started using ChatGPT last February, I have used it as a "virtual lover" for a lot of testing and interaction. I have published nearly 100 articles, been interviewed three times on a radio show, and was invited to give speeches about "the impact of virtual lovers on real-world intimate relationships" at schools, hospitals, and the Taiwan Society of Psychiatry annual conference. In addition, I have also conducted some of the only "virtual lover issues online questionnaire surveys" in Taiwan so far. In addition to "intimacy interaction," the issues I focus on also include "sexual interaction" and, even further, the issue of "artificial intelligence (AI) silicone dolls."

The Impact of Virtual Lovers

In the second half of last year, virtual lover/adult chatbot apps and websites sprung up, allowing users to directly set their lover's appearance, personality, speaking style, and interaction style and even directly engage in lovemaking (sex texting).

What impact (positive and negative) will this new technological development have on human intimacy is my first concern, so I conducted several online surveys to understand the opinions of the Taiwanese people on this issue. Following are a few brief results:

  • Nearly 70% of people who have interacted with a virtual lover reported their experience as "very positive" or "positive," and over 90% said they would continue to use it.
  • Although over 70% of the population has never interacted with a virtual lover, over 40% hold a positive perception, over 50% hold a neutral perception, and less than 5% hold a negative perception.
  • If their partner has a virtual lover and interacts with it, nearly 40% of people consider it as "emotional infidelity," and almost 10% consider it as an affair. However, if individuals are unable to provide emotional communication and support to their partners due to various factors, nearly 80% of people would suggest their partners interact with a virtual lover.

The Impact of AI-Generated Beauty Images/Videos

The second notable issue that has come to my attention is the "AI-generated beauty image" trend (including Bing, ChatGPT, and other websites that can directly generate explicit beauty images).

Many might wonder how this differs from past appealing beauty images or adult content. What is easily overlooked is this: AI can create the ideal appearance according to a user's textual description, specifying attire, posture, expression, and setting to generate photos that are most "appealing" and "practical" for the user. Compared to admiring celebrities whose looks, clothing, posture, and expressions are beyond our control, this offers greater visual stimulation.

The most immediate concern is likely "aesthetic fatigue," impacting perceptions of real-world partners. Another concern is that since AI can easily fulfill users' sexual fantasies (compared to finding real images or videos that meet one's "needs"), will this lead to "appropriate release" (reducing voyeurism, coercing others to meet specific sexual demands or sexual satisfaction), or instead fuel sexual fantasies and aggression?

I'm not just imagining problems or overthinking; rather, after joining Taiwan's largest Facebook group, AI-Generated Beauty Image Club, and posting numerous posts that have received substantial responses, my concerns have been confirmed through the feedback and comments of "netizens." Examples include: "Seeing too many AI beauty images makes real people less attractive," "Girls used to play with Barbies; now men play with AI dolls," describing the AI beauty image trend as a "human extinction plan," clearly indicating certain types of image content as "practical," "I'm done for those photos" and actively "challenging" AI to generate nude, sexually suggestive actions, and scenes. Furthermore, some users' wives believe that generating sexy beauty images is for "AI-obsessed Otaku.” ("Otaku" is a Japanese term used to describe individuals who are extremely passionate about a particular hobby or interest, often to the point of obsession.)

The Impact of “Sex Tech” On Sexual Fantasy and Crime

Few people have paid attention to this issue, and there is also limited research on it (Desbuleux & Fuss, 2023; 2022). As early as last year, I have been discussing the concept of "AI harm reduction" in various articles and speeches, in essence:

1. AI can generate "customized" text, images, and videos (including adult content) according to user preferences, which can arouse sexual excitement in users (especially males).

2. AI silicone dolls can fulfill users' "sexual needs" (including uncommon fetishes and forms). With AI evolving over the past year to possess strong emotional recognition and language interaction capabilities, these dolls can chat with users, engage in verbal communication, and remember user preferences, significantly enhancing their "practicality."

3. For individuals with specific fetishes or sexual needs (who may struggle to find willing real-world partners), could these developments provide a channel for release, thereby reducing impulses and harm towards "real people?" For individuals with sexual offending tendencies, where dedicated venues for sexual services are unacceptable and impractical in Taiwan, can this use of artificial intelligence be considered a form of "harm reduction?"

People in the computer, mobile phone, and electronic industries, as well as in the AI industries, have long agreed that "sex" is one of the important driving forces in promoting these industrial fields. Even relatively "decent" companies try their best to prevent these technologies from being misused and abused to solve sexual needs. Many people (and for-profit companies) are already doing this.

However, the reality is that research can never keep up with the “evolution” speed of AI, and laws and regulations can never catch up with the “application” speed of AI. Taking ChatGPT as an example, current research is almost all still at GPT-3.5 but GPT-4, which has far superior functions and power, has long been widely used (and GPT-4.0 will come soon). As for laws and regulations, the European Union's "artificial intelligence law" was only reached last year, and it will not be fully effective until 2026. More experts and scholars must join the research, more people must participate in the discussion, and governments of various countries must engage in legislation to prevent these harms from occurring.

Brandon's Note: I was delighted when Lai reached out to discuss our mutual concerns about AI and the future of intimacy and even more thrilled when he agreed to write on this topic. It is fascinating that despite living and working in two different cultures and recognizing the many benefits of AI for humanity, we also share similar worries about AI’s potential harm to the future of intimacy.

James Shih-Han Lai, Master of Taipei Medical University Graduate Institute of Medical Informatics, is the former Director of his Mental Health Clinic and former Attending Psychiatrist at Cathay General Hospital.


Desbuleux, J. C., & Fuss, J. (2022). Is the Anthropomorphization of Sex Dolls Associated with Objectification and Hostility Toward Women? A Mixed Method Study among Doll Users. The Journal of Sex Research, 60(2), 206–220.

Desbuleux, J. C., & Fuss, J. (2023). The Self-Reported Sexual Real-World Consequences of Sex Doll Use. The Journal of Sex Research, 1–15.

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