It takes a great deal of innovation to enhance the oldest and most primitive of all pleasures: sex. From 2000 years-old, somewhat-ritual wooden sticks to vibrating devices available in consumer retail catalogs at the beginning of the 20th century (about a decade before electric irons and vacuum cleaners, by the way), the dildo has come a long way, and is not close to a stop.
Silicon-based, electric and now “connected”, sex-toys and sex-related apps are bringing our sexual happiness to a next level. If “connected” often rhymes with “easier” and “more efficient”, is it really that kind of happiness we want in sex?
Harder, better, faster, stronger: when quantified self becomes quantified sex.
Your mobile already tells you where to buy groceries at the cheapest price, when to work out, when to weigh and how to lower your electricity bill. It can also help you get easier, better, even safer sex.
Finding a sexual partner is as easy as sending a Snapchat with apps like Grindr (for homosexual crowds), Tinder (for any kind of crowd) or 3ndr (for crowds of 3). Such apps don’t bother with inhibition to make dating with a sexual purpose easier, with a rather minimalistic approach.
Foreplays and long-distance relationships can be highly intensified by devices like Limon or LovePalz. Limon, developed by the startup Minna, can record a series of vibrations and reproduce the routine while your partner is away. Lovepalz is a set of two devices, Zeus and Hera, thanks to which you can send and receive body action to your far-away lover through motion sensors. If you’re not so keen on the design, you can even get a 3D print reproduction of your partner’s organ thanks to the French startup French Coqs.
Vibease, co-founded by Hermione Way and Dema Tio, launches its 3rd batch of “Vibease Intimacy”, a device designed to build a bridge between long-distanced lovers: connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth, lovers can send custom vibrations to each other via iPhone or Android apps. And it’s even wearable for maximum discretion.
The market leader of condoms Durex is also working on other sorts of wearable’s with Fundawear, a line of underwear providing vibrations that are tracked, encrypted and then controlled via an iPhone app.
Performance is no longer a matter of perception: apps like Spreadsheets – 10,000 users all over the world – help you track (but not record!) your endurance, keep your records and objectives up to date, and even tells you how much calories you’ve burnt. In case you’re wondering, you can burn between 150 and 200 per half-hour sex (yet the average sex session lasts between 3 to 10 minutes – better go jogging).
STDs are easier to test and track: Don’t Spread It or InSpot enable you to notify anonymously your ex-partners that they might have been contaminated. Hula offers the broadest range of services, from medical centers geo-localization to in-app test results. The app even provides its users the opportunity to share the good news of negative results and “friend” other risk-free potential sexual partners – this feature actually caused the app a mitigated support from the public health community in the U.S.
Pregnancy is made smarter by your smartphone: from period to fertility tracking, mobile apps can help you go through maternity in a very tech-savvy way. In order to be even closer to you future baby, BellaBeat, currently in the Winter 2014 YC class, provides an ultra-sounds monitor and iPhone app to listen, record and share your baby’s heartbeat.
Nevertheless, in order to track pregnancies properly, actual sex – not virtual, connected or disconnected – must take place. An issue more serious that one could imagine.
Is connected-sex threatening IRL sex?
New technology, either wearable or connected, can track and manipulate any key biometric related to pleasure: sweat, heartbeat, breath, electromagnetism… Are our good old five senses up to the task?
Dating is defined by philosopher and critic Roland Barthes as the “undreamed adequacy between the object and my desire”. For some, it seems that the choice of the word “object” is particularly well-done. “Connected sex” bring us such high-quality, immersive experiences, that it is hard to say whether it’s worth risking “bad sex” if we can get a guaranteed climax. Vibease Fantasy – another app by Vibease – brings women a dildo synchronized (in its intensity, strength etc) with an app displaying audio fantasies that you can choose from a library or create yourself. The app is supposed to reverse statistics revealing that 53% of women don’t reach orgasm during sex. Dema Tio, co-founder, tells us: “Vibease is not just a connected sex toys. It’s a smart vibrator. It’s beyond the physical stimulation, it also stimulate the emotional aspect. Vibease encourages the users to have intimate communication than just a random remote control vibrator.”
When sex toys become connected, virtual sex also moves a step closer to real sensations. In-character dating and sexuality has already emerged amongst part of the population not so small. Second Life, ComicCon speed-dating, CosPlay: what used to be a marginal phenomenon is becoming more and more common. In his latest movie “Her”, Spike Jonze depicts a not-so-futuristic dystopia, where the main character develops a fulfilling relationship with a Siri-like app. With connected devices, the “fulfilling” aspect develops up to the point of almost-actual intercourse. For instance, Xcite!, the marketplace for sexual organs for avatars, has developed a line of connected sex toys: Second Life sex and actual sex can now be connected through a simple USB cable.
If technology brings us even the physical aspect of virtual sex, then is there anything worth fighting for IRL sex?
In Japan, where love-shops are flourishing at every corner street – there is 500 porn video boxes only in Tokyo – the population holds the greatest abstinence rate in the world. The documentary “No Sex please, We’re Japanese” depicts a great trend of fear and reluctance to physical and emotional relationships coming mainly from men (“otaku” – geeks, and non-otaku) but also from women. In addition to a deep social transition that the Japanese have to handle, this might lead to an even worse population-renewal situation. In 2012, the fertility rate was 1.41 – the minimum fertility rate for a population to renew itself is 2.1. Sadly, pregnancy-tracking apps won’t be flourishing in the Japanese market.
The blame cannot be put on the existence of sex toys, since the issue is deeply rooted in socio-cultural aspect of Japan’s history. In the U.K. also, the Daily Mail also reported a case of divorce caused by adultery… on Second Life. However one cannot help but notice that on-demand and emotion-less porn has now become sophisticated yet still on-demand and emotion-less sex, thanks to connected sex-toys. Men can use vagina and mouth-like devices like the Tenga Deep Throat with or without suction-option, and even get a love-doll, robots entirely customizable and devoted to their pleasure. Real Touch Interactive tools can mimic the supposedly exact feeling of a woman’s private parts and make your online and/or Skype experience a thousand times closer than reality. Even though it looks like the perfect tool for long-distance couples, their website clearly states that the target is online-sex with strangers.
According to philosopher Marc Parmentier, author of the book “Philosophy of Online Dating“, the main deal-breaker in terms of technology and sex is the virtuality it brings us: “On the contrary to popular belief, ‘virtual’ is not opposed to ‘real’ but is tied to a sui generis reality: virtual is not a diminished real, it is an augmented real”. This virtuality is already present in traditional intercourse, in our fantasies and imagination; the absence of intellectual and physical barriers that virtuality offers multiplies the intensity of the pleasure.
When “connected” is added to “virtual” through technology, this virtuality reaches another level: first, it can be shared, which is radically different from the initial impulse towards virtual sex – the barrier of the alterity – and second, it becomes manifest: “What characterizes contemporary virtuality is precisely the suppression of the barriers between reality and fiction”, write Marc Parmentier.
If there’s desire then there is demand
Whether one wants to replace human intercourse by connected devices or simply spice up a lonely evening, the industry has not waited to offer a vast variety of supply. People are less and less shy to talk about and improve their sex lives, as shows the huge success of the best-seller Fifty Shades of Grey – sold 20 million books only in the U.S. In parallel with sex toys becoming less and less taboo, mobility and smart communications become broader phenomena, paving the way for a growing connected-sex toys market.
The sex toys industry is worth €15 billion globally, growing up by 30% each year – yes, even during the recession. Amazon itself, the largest purveyor of sex toys, features 60,000 adult products in its catalogue. Chinese factories produce 70% of the world supply in sex toys, the distribution being mainly covered by U.S brands. If the Asian market is perceived as more “shy” towards sex devices, the European and American market are already sex-flourishing: 83% of Vibease’s sales are in Europe and the U.S, for instance.
There is no serious study on the specific market of connected sex toys, but startups that are positioning themselves on this sector seem to have had the right intuition: Lovepalz, mentioned above, sold 10 000 items in less than a year (for a unit price of $94 on pre-order, $189 now).
If our sex lives are going to become one of the 50 billion “things” connected – in the Internet of Things – by 2020, should we be worried for our own personal happiness first, and for the survival of humanity, secondly? According to Tenga’s CEO Tsuneki Sato: “In the future, the virtual real will become more real than actual sex”. It might sound a little scary for some, and very hopeful for others: who hasn’t heard of a breakup related to long-distance frustration? Yet it seems still hard to imagine how the physical aspect can be removed from the experience of sex, and love. According to sociology professor Eva Illouz, our body is a medium to know the Other. An opinion shared by Guillaume, CEO at French Coqs: “Penises are fine (*sigh*) No sex toy can replace an intellectual and emotional relationship”. The decision to make a baby or falling in love are not directly related to their level of connected-ness. Sex toys or apps are not a problem as long as they stay merely an accessory to our sex life.
Interested in Connected Objects? Join us for the Connected Conference taking place in Paris on June 18th – 19th.