The Sextech Revolution
In the month of February we think about love and lust. Hollywood’s depiction of romantic dinners by candlelight, hand-in-hand gazing into each other’s eyes is evolving into an old fashioned scene. Our increasingly sexualized culture is seeping into the common man and woman’s life. Advances in sex technology expose and transcend romantic life from a decade ago - those scenes now can seem mundane or perhaps even antiquated. SexTech, or the realm of the technology industry driving adaptations to enhance or innovate human sexual experience, is changing our perspective on sex, intimacy, and love at-large. Below are a few advances that are modernizing and altering this infrastructure of human behavior. It's the beginning of the SexTech Revolution.
First, though sexual urges and masturbation have been taboo for women since the dawn of time, sex toys have largely been accepted for females the past few decades. However, sex toys for men have traditionally been a restricted and uncomfortable topic until very recently. In fact, more design and engineering has been devoted to enhancing the male sexual experience by-way of hardware than ever before. Companies like Lelo and Bellesa Boutique are leading the way. Lelo’s cock ring, TOR, encircles the male penis to provide extra stimulation for him, and his partner. Another piece of hardware shaking it up for men in bed is the Prostate Massager by LoveHoney. The product has, “Two motors (to) power deep internal prostate pleasure as well as thrilling external perineum pleasure.” Bellesa Boutique’s Kiiroo Titan changed the game as well - reinventing the once promiscuous “male stroker”. Though we may squirm at the thought of men wanting (or, heaven forbid, needing) toys in bed, the very feeling is morphing into acceptance and support-of, as more and more hardware is coming to market. A single or couple now have more toy options in-bed and can experiment accordingly. There’s no doubt, more hardware, more toys are adding to our sex lives and enriching our relationships.
Another SexTech technology trend is teledidonics. These are the category of sex toys that can be controlled by-way of the internet. What used to be partner-partner toy-and-remote, is now toy-and-app. Essentially, rather than a remote allowing one partner to control the rhythm or intensity of vibration for their partner’s toy, technology now allows for vibrators, dildos, rings, and plugs among other sex accessories to be controlled via an app on a phone. The companies above (Lelo, Bellesa, LoveHoney) and many more are creating hardware that connects to apps. As one can imagine, our long work days and constant travel means more couples are geographically far from each other. Teledidonics brings an added sense of sexual tension/domination and also intimacy to the relationship when the two participants are 1,000 miles away. This technology allows partners to enjoy sensations and play from afar, but also intensifies the webcam/sex industry. As written in Bustle, “Users can control the depth, sensations, and use of the sex toys that some cam models employ.” Cam models can use IOT toys, or toys connected to apps. Their clients pay for controlling the toys’ movements. Teledidonics is today is often seen as a positive additional option to our sexual experiences, gaining more and more traction as it becomes less taboo. And so, a new layer is added to both free and paid-for sexual experience.
The next SexTech trend is a bit more polarizing in how it is altering our sex and love lives. Virtual Reality Pornography is gaining traction outside of early adaptors and tech inventors. In fact, it’s been around for awhile. Ela Darling recorded her first adult VR performance in 2014. As one can imagine, immersing yourself in a 3D digital world of pleasure is more intense than simply imaging one. The user wears a VR headset and “experiences” digitally the scene that he/she/they) want to while “doing the deed." The person can use a controlled vibrator or sex toy and be surrounded by 360 degrees in a virtual world at the same time. Which means senses like touch and sight are flooded with optimal outcomes for him/her to climax. The glaring consequence is while the user enjoys him/herself more in this digital format, it lacks the deep human connection “traditional” sex brings. VR Porn advances somewhat shallow pleasures, but lacks the true bond humans gain from person-to-person fornication. In recent years, we’ve seen pornography addicts and social impacts of unrealistic sex scenes. VR Pornography intensifies these issues even more. If a user only climaxes while immersed in a glorified and/or grotesque digital world enhanced by IOT hardware, how will he/she value the less-ecstatic real-world experience? Bryony Cole, the Founder of the Future of Sex, reacts to VR pornography, “I think that’s it’s very similar to mainstream pornography in that it represents a certain type as the ideal.” If you’re surrounded by the ideal, you quickly can be underwhelmed when you don’t have those tools. And humans are disturbingly learning-as-we go with this technology. Little to no regulation has been created. Still, there’s also some important education that comes from this. The makers of Kiiroo and Badoink VR created a full-solution vibrator that can be controlled from afar, and partnered headset. The companies not only partner in R&D and sales margins, but also create educational videos with the intention to improve human-to-human sex techniques. So there are certainly positive attributes to VR Pornography; digital worlds intensify your turn-on and can add layers to your sexual experience. The technology also can gather information for teaching human-to-human arousal. But this SexTech technology certainly spawns hesitation when it comes to deep intimacy. Creating the most over-the-top sexualized action with computers doesn’t always total to the deepest, most gratifying experience.
Our last sextech trend is likely the subject you’ve heard most about; sex robots. Famously, these are full-size ‘bots that look (and talk and act) astonishingly real. In fact, Realdoll, one of the premier manufacturers/distributors of these mechanical beings boasts, “(She) smiles, blinks and frowns. She can hold a conversation, tell jokes and quote Shakespeare. She’ll remember your birthday...And of course, (the robot doll) will have sex with you whenever you want.” Many sex dolls are created with AI individual personalities in addition to dramatized physical form. It’s not that you touch the doll in a certain place and she gives a repeated moan, she responds with a full “personality”. In short, as Jenny Kleeman wrote for The Guardian, these dolls are, “docile and submissive, built like a porn star and always sexually available.” In 2020, during lockdown, sales for sex robots were up. Sales are “probably 75% higher” says Matt McMullen, the Founder of RealDoll. One can’t help but see the potential these have in socializing awkward, lonely, or isolated men, elderly widowed men wanting a companion, or even prison inmates. Still, there are concerns with creating relationships with robots, even complex bots that can hold conversations. Sherry Turkle, an author four times over and MIT professor, along with many other high-profile colleagues, have studied the relationships and bonds people are forming with “relational artifacts." On the subject of sex or greater intimacy with these non-humans, Sherry Turkle notes, “it reduces love to a “performance” and cheapens companionship to simply “interacting with something.” She concludes that such relationships are essentially narcissistic; relationships with robots are “only about one person.” And she’s definitely not alone. For years sociologists and psychologists have studied the growing celibacy trend in Japan. Often pointing to high stress and digital platforms engulfing their worlds. The trends will continue, researchers uniformly admit, “We believe that in the coming decades, as these technologies become more sophisticated and more widespread, there will be an increasing number of people who will choose to find sex and partnership entirely from artificial agents or in virtual environments. And as they do, we will also see the emergence of this new sexual identity we call digisexuality.” And so here we are, sex robots are just now becoming popularized among the not-always-1% masses. Those that choose to have their sexual experiences with robots are now titled, “digisexual” and this is clearly straining intimacy. Though technology is bringing options to those that might want or even need it, sex robots and even the greater, SexTech industry might not always bring the quintessential answers to our love lives.