The global sextech industry is huge and growing. If there was ever a time to want more pleasure, it’s during lockdown, right?
Today, sex – whether remote or not – is more accessible than ever. The last few years have seen millions of us swiping right on apps like Tinder or Grindr as technology takes the shame away from needing, or wanting, a hookup. And it will come as no surprise that, thanks to recent rigid lockdowns and social isolation, more and more tech is now entering the bedroom.
Sextech e-commerce companies are delivering connected products to people quarantined at home with more free time on their hands, whether alone, remote or craving more fun with others. (Social distancing rules allowing, of course.) As sexual health technology also gains acceptance, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of X-rated soft–or hard–ware entering our private lives.
technology designed to enhance, innovate and disrupt in every area of human sexuality and human sexual experience.
Yes, yes, yes, we all know that sex sells, but did you know how much it sells? The global sex toy market is worth a whopping $30 billion as of 2020 and is predicted to swell to US$ 56.58 billion by 2027. While the Asia Pacific region is expected to witness the fastest growth rate over the next few years, sex toys sales have recently doubled everywhere from Colombia to Denmark. Those sales are mostly online, owing to the stigma attached in buying products openly.
As more and more humans seek out sex dolls and mechanical companions, some find that sex robots can take the edge off the loneliness and social stress of a pandemic.
A shocking pre-pandemic report published by futurologist Dr Ian Pearson tried to convince us that, by 2050, the world will be full of androids, that most of us will be having sex with robots and that virtual reality will overtake human-human sex. While VR porn has not become mainstream, the sex business is banging, with offerings becoming more diverse thanks to the Internet and virtual reality, digital platforms and hookup apps, artificial intelligence and advances in 3D printing.
In the perpetual quest for Atlas projects, we’re inundated with innovations in the field of sextech, human interaction, loneliness and health. Here are just some of the futuristic things out there that are currently tickling your fancy and stimulating more than conversations around ethics…
❤️ The joy of smart sexbots
Now featuring everything from built-in heaters to sensors that react to your touch, hyper-realistic sexbots are becoming more than simply smart sex dolls.
An android copy of a twenty-something Japanese woman, Geminoid-F is considered the ‘world’s sexiest robot’, the hyperrealistic Harmony is essentially an AI chatbot trapped inside a life-size Barbie, RealDoll has a customisable ‘personality’ with spacial awareness and facial recognition and TrueCompanion’s Roxxxy talks and responds to touch.
Robert Hines is the founder of TrueCompanion. He says that Roxxxy also provides social interaction and engagement. “It’s customising technology as a supplement, not to replace a real partner.”
In Barcelona you can even savour the world’s first hyper-realistic sex doll brothel for 100 euros an hour. (We can thank Japan for paving the way by opening up its first doll escort service back in 2004.) With varying degrees of realism, responsiveness and functionality, these dolls opens up Pandora’s box of psychology and science – and could have the potential to go a bit Westworld.
❤️ Smart women make smart toys
In an industry traditionally dominated by men, thankfully more women are starting to make innovative sex toys. Liz Klinger is co-founder and CEO of Lioness, a ‘smart’ vibrator and app brand that uses AI. In 2020, she launched a research platform where users can participate in medical or scientific studies, as well as ask those questions we all have about sex.
The Lioness site also provides many no-nonsense Sex Guides and hopes to release a remote-control distance feature in 2021.
❤️ Open sauce hacks
They have been around for over 100 years, but the digital revolution in 3D printing has made sex toys more affordable and adaptable.
Comingle encourages weird and wonderful sex hacks for techno-sexploration. Its programmable vibrator, The Mod, also works as a platform as DIYers are encouraged to join the dots between the real and onscreen world and share patterns in an online library.
Also combining 3D printing, open source technology and a hacker mentality are feminist Catalan collective GynePunks. Their DIY biolab helps socially disadvantaged women and sex workers embrace the notion of a healthy sex life by creating an arsenal of gynaecological diagnosis tools.
Meanwhile, The Sex Toy Collective offers free online blueprints to safely and privately print dildos at home: “If you mold it, they will come.”
❤️ Pass the remote
Welcome to the world of ‘teledildonics’, wireless technology which allows a person to stimulate their partner remotely.
Fundawear is vibrating underwear that connects to a smartphone app for long-distance sexy times, Vibease is a Bluetooth controlled vibrator and app, OhMiBod comes with a headphone jack and pulses to a beat and LovePalz: Hera and Zeus LovePalz is WiFi-enabled and equipped with sensors.
❤️ The future is non-binary
Designed in Brooklyn, NY, Wild Flower Enby is a genderless object that’s named after the acronym NB, short for ‘non-binary’.
The company invites you to “write your own sexual script”, avoiding the prescriptiveness of more familiar sex toy designs.
❤️ Celebrating sex positivity
Other sex-positive projects include Eve, a resource that helps women tackle the many different dimensions of sexual health; this range of sex toys for older people, including an ear trumpet for listening to a lover’s heartbeat; My Body Back’s platform for victims of sexual violence and The UnSlut Project, a platform which aims to eliminate slut-shaming.
In San Francisco, the superbly named Arse Elektronika also promotes sexual activism and tech literacy through an annual conference that questions the impact of sex on technological innovation and its adoption. In the past they have sparked debate on robots and sex work, the value of emotional labour to a chatbot and how to create toys for those with disabilities to sex ed games for kids to products for the ageing. Johannes Grenzfurthner, the Austrian artist and activist behind Arse, believes that it is sex itself that is behind the spread of high-speed broadband internet.
❤️ Out of the loop
As the ever-resourceful ‘sexnology’ industry enters the future, giving minority or marginalised groups control, as well as reducing loneliness in those who feel a void in their private lives, some are concerned that technology takes humans out of the loop of sex and relationships.
Robot ethicists Dr Kathleen Richardson and Dr Erik Brilling set up The Campaign Against Sex Robots to raise questions about the effects of artificial intelligence and techno-fixes for social problems on real lives. They worry that humanoid robots add to the growing trend of greater isolation and lack of human contact. Kathleen stresses: “We’ve created a society where we think we can live alone and that it’s shameful to feel lonely.”
Clearly a lot of people are reflecting on what the future of love, sex and relationships might look like, while others are doing very critical work in area of issues around technology and sex. As taboos decrease will some people buy sexbots instead of connecting with real people? Yes. They are coming. However, the answer is not to necessarily ban the bot, but to destigmatise loneliness and keep human feelings, values and responses at the top of our priority tree.
At Atlas of the Future, we’re interested in hearing more. Is the idea of more technology in your sex life a positive or negative thing? Do you think as people discover the joy of sexbots they will become a replacement for real-life interaction? Comment below.
And enjoy yourselves.
Your editor, Lisa