The tech world is a lot more prudish and lot less prurient than it likes to think it is. Except now, thanks to some determined women, rapid advances in immersive VR and the indefatigable human desire to find new ways of getting off, Silicon Valley is seeing the allure of silicone, and a sex tech revolution is coming (indeed).
For something that we spend an enormous portion of our lives thinking about, discussing, furtively watching, and — hey — maybe even doing, it’s remarkable that the SexTech revolution is only happening now.
It’s mind-boggling to think that the only thing that might have stopped The Snapchat of Dildos from emerging is squeamishness.
When you consider the great delight the tech industry takes in disrupting and re-imagining the most basic things that humans do—shopping, chatting, sharing information—it’s mind-boggling to think that the only thing that might have stopped The Snapchat of Dildos from emerging is squeamishness. And as even the most hormonally-distracted of us knows, sex sells — so there’s huge money to be made.
Excitingly, many of the most vocal SexTech advocates are women, who are coupling hard business with the eradication of sexshop-ickiness and normalisation of healthy sexuality for girls and women.
Alexandra Fine, co-founder of the sex-wearable Eva — the "couples’ vibrator,"— explained in an interview with Bustle how, “the sex toy industry used to be porn’s ugly sister.” That’s no longer the case, and the reward that now accompanies elegant design and gender-balanced function is big money.
Cindy Gallop, of MakeLoveNotPorn.com, regards SexTech not just as a sex-positive step forward, but a smart investment: “sex, as the universal human usecase, makes this the biggest technology market of them all.”
Revolutions often sneak up on us, but ones that involve attaching machines to our genitals might be a little more obvious than most.
So for an idea of what our eventual hyper-sex future will entail, ask yourself one very honest question: if you could do any sexual act, however taboo, what would it be?
Futuresex is already here.
Teledildonics, a word that is equal parts amusing, intriguing and worrisome, brings a whole new meaning to “the Internet of Things.” When combined with Virtual Reality, Futuresex becomes a lot more tangible.
And teledildonic companies are ready. Manufacturer Kiiroo is eager to scratch everyone’s itch, as long as they’re of a sexual nature. Remote sex with your partner, remote sex with a sex worker, simulated sex with your favourite porn star - it’s all happening right now: lurid, weird, boring, whatever. It’s here and it feels… if not “real”, then a whole lot closer to the real thing.
Put simply, this is a category of sex toy that facilitates sexual arousal over the internet. Put even more simply, they’re very advanced dildos and Fleshlights. And whether input is from a partner, a sex worker, or even a virtual “partner”, this solo stimulation isn't just fancier version of the traditional do-it-yourself approach — it’s a whole new form of sex.
That’s because it's a two-way process: both the women’s dildo and the men’s sleeve can be paired with another teledildonic toy and are reactive to the input from their partner’s device. It’s not only a more interesting way to stay in touch than WhatsApp, but it also throws a philosophical curveball into the whole concept of what a human sexual relationship is, and how it works.
An investment of a few hundred dollars for his ’n’ hers (or her ’n’ hers, or his ’n’ his or his ’n’ hers ’n’ his…) sex toys might be cheaper than hotel-suite phone sex and is a lot better for maintaining a satisfying long-distance relationship.
And if you’re sceptical that people will find the time and money to do this, consider the person whose partner spends weeks away travelling for work: an investment of a few hundred dollars for his ’n’ hers (or her ’n’ hers, or his ’n’ his or his ’n’ hers ’n’ his…) sex toys might be cheaper than hotel-suite phone sex and is a lot better for maintaining a satisfying long-distance relationship.
If the basic aim of VR and AR is to create a world we would prefer to live in, for most people true VR fantasy fulfilment is not going to be about creating a better email inbox. So VR Futuresex is not going to be as simple as hooking up with your favourite porn star — it’s going to be a lot more specific, kinky, and unexpected than that.
Have you long harboured a desire to fuck a minotaur? Time to start sending some discreet emails to digital 3D modellers…
The philosophy of Futuresex
Teledildonics is game-changing stuff, but even this relatively simple implementation of SexTech rapidly becomes a minefield of sexual philosophy. Complicated questions without firm answers abound, especially around core human relationship concepts like fidelity.
And the more you explore, the more quickly the line that demarcates long-established behavioural patterns becomes blurred. Here’s a thought exercise: imagine your partner is using teledildonics. If you interact with your partner using this technology, it can easily be considered an extension of your existing sexual relationship.
Simple enough. But what if an online stranger, who your partner cannot see and does not know, sexually arouses them with the same technology? Is your partner now “cheating” on you?
And that’s just for starters:
- What if your partner’s arousal was “controlled” by a virtual avatar, intimately experienced in VR?
- What if the avatar looked like an enhanced version of you?
- What if the avatar looked, sounded and acted just like your partner’s favourite celebrity crush?
- What if the avatar looked like your best friend?
- What if the avatar wasn’t even human?
By this point the line is blurred to the point where it may simply be replaced by awkward what-were-you-doing-in-there? conversations. Or maybe both parties will just choose to augment their experience with each other: a new hybrid sex which keeps the couple together, and yet allows vivid fantasy fulfilment.
That idea might outwardly repulse people, but it could be more difficult to refuse in practice, especially when you’d be signing a pact of mutually assured destruction. Would you mind if your partner knew that from your perspective, it felt like you were with Frank Ocean, if you knew that it felt like they were with Kylie Jenner? Would your payoff be enough?
Of course, the most likely way we — the dumb, endlessly horny animals hungry for new ways to express our sexuality — will set about answering these questions is to gleefully dive in, and find out the hard way.
VHS, the internet, video streaming, VR: the adult business is almost always the earliest to jump onto new technology if it means helping everyone involved gets off and make some money. So it’s no surprise that a string of big name porn-stars are pushing the frontier of what it means to pay to have sex.
It’s already possible to rummage a little deeper into your porn-star fantasy: download a video that syncs your teledildonic device with the action, and “experience tactile porn,” as Kiiroo puts it. So far, so… predictable.
But the implications of SexTech are much more human. A decent career awaits those who are happy to be fantasy fodder as a sex worker, albeit one who never meets, touches or knows their clients.
“The client has very direct, complete control over my vibrator,”
Zander Storm, who “loves board games, video games, food, cats, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, writing, cooking, coffee, and wandering places,” is also highly a successful cam model on sites like Chaturbate. She described her early experiments with teledilodonics to Motherboard, and explained how the technology may not only offer a better experience for her clients, but for her as well.
“The client has very direct, complete control over my vibrator,” she said, noting that the increase in perceived closeness makes clients willing to pay more for her performance. She could feel their influence, which affected her response, and that made it more real for clients.
Now imagine what the clients would do if Zander could “touch" back, and that the client’s perspective was in VR. This virtual connection with a sex worker — one that exists in a believable physical, visual and sensual realm — could initiate a raft of important sociological changes.
For the worker, it might mean greater physical safety and a better income. It would also make a mish-mash of whatever local sex-work laws the worker and client are covered by.
Futuresex or Futurerelationship?
One final thought experiment: if an ex-partner creates a believable 3D version of you, and then introduce you into their VR sex fantasy, without your permission, where does that leave the idea of a relationship (not to mention consent laws)?
Maybe relationships won't mean together forever and will shift instead to an always-ready consumption model.
The real big leap brought on by SexTech could be a brutal reshaping of what relationships actually are. If we can summon up believable emotional and physical intimacy, exactly tailored to our perfect fantasy in endlessly tweakable iterations, why would you consider returning to the mundanity of a flesh-and-blood relationship?
Renting relationships, borrowing boyfriends, lending love: welcome to Futuresex.