On its 13th page, a forthcoming paper in the journal Annals of Tourism Research makes a bold prophecy: People are going to have sex in driverless cars—and probably sell it, too.
The paper, titled “Autonomous vehicles and the future of urban tourism,” is a sweeping “study of studies” about how driverless cars will change how we holiday, head to the airport, or watch movies in the backseat. The sex bit is almost an afterthought, but a key aspect of an article in the Washington Post today (Nov. 12), featuring interviews with the paper’s UK-based authors, Scott Cohen, a tourism professor at the University of Surrey, and Debbie Hopkins, a transport studies lecturer at the University of Oxford.
According to the researchers, hotels that rent rooms by the hour “are likely to be replaced” by self-driving cars. Places where sex work is legal, such as Nevada, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, could very well see the industry’s brothels shift away from the eyes of regulation and law enforcement and into private vehicles. In-car surveillance measures, the authors forecast, could be “rapidly overcome, disabled or removed”—if they’re installed at all.
If it’s easy to see how private vehicles might be put to commercial use, the authors suggest, then it’s “just a small leap to imagine Amsterdam’s Red Light District ‘on the move’.”
Well, maybe. Some of the researchers’ assumptions seem correct: Given a private, or semi-private, space, some people probably will have or sell sex in it. But we know that because they already do—in regular, hands-on-the-wheel vehicles, parked by the wayside or down some dark alley. The cars may not be moving, but the premise is the same: Sex on wheels, in a place that’s convenient for purchaser and seller alike.
What’s less convincing is that the advent of self-driving cars will lead to wholesale changes in where people pay for sex. In places where sex work remains illegal, engaging in it in a semi-public place, like a car, exposes both purchaser and seller to the risk of being caught and penalized. (High-profile examples include Eddie Murphy and Hugh Grant.) While it’s true that a moving vehicle may be somewhat harder to locate than a parked one, it’s still a car out on the roads, and therefore not an ideal venue for people trying to keep their activities a secret. Those who can afford it will likely take or locate their business elsewhere.
In places where sex work is legal, driverless cars also aren’t an ideal solution. A hotel room or brothel is likely to be far less cramped, with any required accoutrements easier to come by. Sex in a moving vehicle might present a bumpier ride than desired. Perhaps more importantly for sex workers, an encounter that turned nasty would be hard to escape from—short of throwing themselves from a moving vehicle, which might be more dangerous still. And even if the sex work is legal, indecent exposure in public may not be—and there are other potential violations to consider, like removing one’s seatbelt for an extended period of time.
“It’s only a natural conclusion that sex in autonomous vehicles will become a phenomenon,” Cohen told the Post. But that’s mainly because sex in vehicles is already a phenomenon, for people who don’t have a better alternative. Driverless cars might change how we get around, but it seems unlikely that they’ll change how we get it on, especially when better options are just a short drive away.