Law, Sex and Technologies

Please check out our Outputs page to find out the results and findings of this study.

About

Over the past two decades, there has been a rapid expansion of technologies that enhance or facilitate sexual experience or intimacy. This include digital technologies, such as smart phones and dating apps, mechanical technologies, such as digitally connected vibrators, and medical technologies, such as surgical processes and pharmaceutical products.

The sexualised use of technologies has highlighted potential legal complexities and safety concerns. Existing legal frameworks may be inadequate to respond to issues of consent, confidentiality, privacy, surveillance, harassment, ownership and control that have emerged due to new sex technologies.

In this project, we are analysing the law and regulation of sex technologies in Australia and the UK. We aim to identify and map existing policies, laws or other regulatory frameworks which may be of relevance to sex technologies, with a view to understand potential gaps or barriers in the law.

As part of this project, we will also identify where reform may be needed to allow legal systems to better accommodate and respond to sex technologies.

Case Study 1: Law and deepfake pornography

The sexualised use of deepfakes – AI technology that creates hyper-realistic images and videos of individuals saying and doing things that they do not say or do – has potential moral, social and legal consequences for adults residing in Australia and the UK.

In recent years, the use of deepfake technology has grown across a number of public and political domains. In particular, it has been used for the creation of pornography, often without the consent or knowledge of the individuals depicted in the images or videos.

As things stand, law’s ability to restrict or prohibit online distribution of such non-consensual images may be low, given that it occurs rapidly, often across jurisdictional boundaries, and via diverse social media.

A key research question to consider in this study is the extent to which law should intervene to restrict prohibit, or conversely protect, the dissemination of deepfake pornography.

However, there may be other circumstances where the creation of deepfake pornography is consensual, offering the potential to create new sexual experiences for certain groups, such as people with disabilities. In such circumstances, we may need to consider to what extent the dissemination of such images and/or such groups should be offered some degree of protection under the law.

This research strand investigates potential legal concerns and risks associated with deepfake pornography in Australia and the UK. As part of this research, we are analysing current legal and regulatory frameworks concerning the creation and dissemination of such images, as well as considering options for policy and law reform.  

How can I find out more?

We will publish results from this research in reputable Australian and international law journals. We will also publish a summary of our research on this website. Links to publications resulting from this research will be made available on the Research Outputs page. You are welcome to join the ARCSHS mailing list to be kept up-to-date with the latest ARCSHS research.

Case study 2: Law and sex technologies in the time of Covid-19

As part of the Sex and Intimacy During Covid-19 study, we will be analysing how people perceive legal risks while using sex technologies to establish or maintain sexual connections, relationships and experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. This research will be informed by a national survey of adults residing in Australia.

Further details to follow.

How can I find out more about the law strand of the Tech-Sex project?

If you have any further questions about the law strand of the Tech-Sex  project you can contact Ms Nicole Shackleton, La Trobe Law School (n.shackleton@latrobe.edu.au) [lead, Australian law research] and the Professor Anne-Maree Farrell, Chair of Medical Jurisprudence, Edinburgh Law School (A.Farrell@ed.ac.uk) [lead, UK law research; overall project lead for the law strand]. If you have any questions about the project as a whole, please Contact us.