Hackernoon logoFifty Shades of SexTech: How Sexuality Meets Technology by@viceasytiger

Fifty Shades of SexTech: How Sexuality Meets Technology

Vik Bogdanov Hacker Noon profile picture

@viceasytigerVik Bogdanov

Tech storyteller

How does technology change our sexuality and society?

Who are digisexuals, and how do they make a difference?

How does AI drive forward the sexual revolution?

What is deepfake porn and why should you care?

Sex with a robot – is it a deviation or the norm of the future?

Keep reading this article to get the answers to some of your most burning SexTech-related questions!

What is SexTech?

“Sextech is the most interesting area of technology no one is talking about. No one’s talking about it because it’s so taboo – sex is still so stigmatised wherever we go in the world and yet has such a meaningful impact on our lives, it’s a big part of our human experience and how it intersects with technology,” Bryony Cole, SexTech expert and entrepreneur, host of the acclaimed podcast Future of Sex.

The definition of sex technology (SexTech) is broad and covers a wide range of products and applications.

As long as any device or software helps enhance your sexual experience, it can be called SexTech.

In recent years, this definition has encompassed such diverse products as smart (fetish) toys and robotic dolls or sexbots, VR/AR porn, 5D adult cinemas, sexual health and wellness apps, dating apps, and adult games.

The sex industry is booming. More and more people start accepting themselves, their sexuality and their bodies. A recent wave of innovative solutions aiming to make our sex life better has brought about a new generation of people calling themselves digisexuals

What is Digisexuality?

Digisexuals are people who prefer online conversations/flirting/sex or "relationships" with sex robots and other products that leverage innovation and cutting edge technologies.

In other words, these people realize their sexual needs in the virtual world. Some scholars suggest that digital sexuality will become a new type of sexual orientation in the future.

Of course, not everyone is ready for intimacy with a silicone android. But dozens of already existing developments in the SexTech sphere, which threatens to grow into a multi-billion dollar industry, are smoothly leading to a revision of social norms towards the adoption of digital sexuality.

Sexual Singularity 

Brian Shuster, director of Red Light Center, an online role-playing game, agrees that digisexuals will have problems developing long-term relationships. Moreover, they are inevitable. But there is nothing catastrophic in it, he believes, as it'll be part of our "sexual evolution".

"We are rapidly approaching the point where man and machine will merge, where sex can be much better and safer than in real life," says Shuster.

He predicts a so-called sexual singularity when people will more often refuse real intimate relationships in favor of virtual ones.

Sounds creepy, doesn't it? 

Well, Shuster asks not to turn his words around and explains that a person of the digisexual future will not give up real sex. It's just that the vast majority of sexual contacts will take place in the virtual world using external high-tech devices.

That being said, robots and VR/AR porn solutions are still one-of-a-kind product lines, which are considered an interesting gimmick rather than a mainstream product.

SexTech In Numbers: A Snapshot

With so many of us staying at home due to the pandemic and lockdowns, the market for adult products, apps and services hit a boiling point in 2020. Many popular adult sites and services saw a dramatic increase in the user base, according to Red Light Network.

The volume of the global SexTech market amounted to $50 billion last year and is growing at an annual rate of 30%, outpacing drone manufacturing by 20% per annum.

With 2021 already poised to bring us more SexTech innovation, it looks like there are many more new and exciting tech-powered products coming out this year.

Forbes says SexTech is likely to reach a $122 billion mark as early as 2024, and a new study from Juniper Research has found that there will be over 36 million connected SexTech devices in use in 2021, rising from 19 million in 2019 and representing a growth of 87%. 

And we also have sex futurist predicting that by 2028, more than 25% of young people will have long-distance sex using gadgets, and by 2045, one in 10 will have an intimate experience with an AI-based sex doll.

Now let's have a quick look at how investors view the SexTech industry.

While most investors are still wary of the sex technology market, and many would lie doggo and wait for others to explore this unchartered water, the ice has already broken. 

In 2020, a $25 million Vice Ventures Fund was launched. According to their website, Vice Ventures is "a seed-stage venture capital fund conquering stigmas and striving towards superior returns by investing in good companies operating in "bad" industries."

The fund plans to invest up to $500,000 in projects that classical investors perceive as taboo, such as gambling, alcohol, and SexTech. As such, 2021 should see more deals in this space than ever before.

Another fund was launched in Israel, but this time exclusively for SexTech projects. Intimate Capital plans to raise $20 million to then invest in the development of sex gadgets, as well as solutions for intimate hygiene and treatment of infertility, impotence, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). 

Speaking about successful SexTech startups, Ferly comes to mind first. Launched in July 2019, this London-based startup raised a total of £1.5 million last year from top tier investors, including LocalGlobe, and super Angel investors Michael Acton Smith (co-founder of Calm) and Sophia Bendz (former Global Marketing Director at Spotify).

Ferly is an application that uses user responses to form a personalized course on different sex-related topics, including lectures, exercises and podcasts, as well as a selection of erotic audio stories. 

A similar project is Lover – an app that provides science-based content and personalized guides for sexual health and wellbeing. 

In 2020, Lover received $5 million from Tinder founder Sean Rad and other investors. 

Most of SexTech startup projects that are able to attract external funding from VCs and private investors are those that leverage innovation and the latest tech, such as artificial intelligence (AI). 

Now let's delve into how AI drives the evolution of the adult industry forward.

How AI Affects SexTech Evolution

Scientist and researcher Brian Romell once said that "artificial intelligence is the electricity of the future.

It's hard to disagree with this statement because today, AI has a huge impact on many industries, from banking to automotive to healthcare, etc. 

But have you ever wondered how AI works in the sex industry? There are big changes happening right now. And while you may not notice it, your user experience with SexTech products just keeps getting better and better.

Personalizing the User Experience in Porn

Sex is an intimate and sensual process, so individuality is very important in it. Porn is the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to sex technology. And the porn industry is very technologically savvy: it was one of the first to introduce open source technologies and big data solutions.

I'm not going to mention AR and VR porn here because you've probably heard enough about it or have already got firsthand experience of being immersed in the completely virtual sex setting. AI algorithms typically examine your browsing and purchase history to identify content that interests you and then show it to you as recommendations.

A smart algorithm looks through the actors, genres and themes that you like and provides you with a highly personalized selection of movies from thousands of movies available. Also, the algorithm takes into account your favorite places, poses, shapes, clothes, etc.

Pornhub, for example, has an interesting feature: all movies have special timecodes in the video playback bar, showing different scenes or body parts. This is not just a preview but the most real machine learning that recognizes everything that happens in the film. Previously, it was only possible to analyze the categories that users like. But with machine learning, personalization is a breeze.

Now Pornhub and similar porn streaming platforms can see exactly which part of the movie you are watching right now, which one you skip, which scene you rewatch several times, and when you close the video and leave the site. All this information is analyzed meticulously and used later for personalized recommendations.

If you open the developer console and check which sites Pornhub is accessing during page load, you will see many tracking pixels that collect information. There will also be many third-party ad networks that buy this data. But do not rush to be horrified... yet!

This doesn't mean that any James Smith is now known to all advertisers as an avid BDSM guy. Such a user simply receives an identifier with reference data and recommendations. So when a sex shop sells bondage ropes, this very James Smith will definitely see their ad. In reality, no personal data is involved in this process. It all boils down to digital footprints we leave as we browse the Internet.

Pornhub is one of the largest advertisers in its market segment, collecting and analyzing tons of user preference data to categorize users properly. It figures out what kind of sex models or porn studios you like more than others and then sells that information to ad platforms. 

Deepfake Porn

Did you know that 96% of all deepfake videos are porn?

Deepfakes are videos created or modified with AI software. These videos started appearing in large numbers in 2017. Some netizens found them funny, but many activists and politicians have raised concerns for obvious reasons.

Since December 2018, researchers have found more than 14,500 such videos in the DeepTrace Deepfake Database, and this number is proliferating. Interestingly, no one is trying to fake muscular males – deepfakes are mostly used to redo females' appearances.

"Deepfake technology is used as a weapon against women when their faces are inserted into porn videos. It scares, embarrasses, humiliates, and silences. Deepfake sex tape tells people that their bodies do not belong to them, which can make it difficult for them to be online, look for or keep a job, feel safe..." Daniel Citron, author of "Hate Crimes in Cyberspace"

The most famous deepfake video appeared in 2017. In it, one of the characters wore the face of the "Wonder Woman" star Gal Gadot. The video could not deceive attentive viewers because sometimes the fake face "moved out". At first glance, however, everything seemed plausible, so the video had many views and engagement.

The problem remains open today. While big tech companies like Google and Facebook have joined forces in the fight against the deepfakes, it's hard to say how this will all end. 

Technology itself, once it falls into the wrong hands, becomes offensive and dangerous. It can provide cybercriminals with sophisticated new opportunities to cheat and manipulate people.

Lest you get upset, it's worth saying that deepfake porn is unpopular. Researchers averaged about 134 million views, far less than any other movie genre.

Sex Robots

A sex doll does not surprise anyone anymore. But when talking about sex dolls, most people think of an amorphous inflatable mannequin. Although, in fact, they have changed a lot in recent years.

It all started with an idea. Movies and TV shows like Westworld or Deus Ex Machina help us envision a future where realistic sex dolls (or rather sex robots) will become an integral part of human life. Some manufacturers say this will happen by 2050.

Today's sex dolls become more "human" and smart with every technological innovation: they are customized, they have mobile integrations, sensors, warm skin, natural hair, and internal sensors that allow them to respond to touch. They are incredibly realistic, and thanks to conversational AI, they can speak (or play music).

One of the industry leaders, Abyss Creations, develops RealDoll, a highly realistic robotic doll that can blink, laugh, raise their eyebrows, conduct dialogues with people, simulate an orgasm, and even refuse sex. The doll learns with the help of machine learning and adapts to the preferences of its owner. 

Are there any disadvantages to using these dolls? Plenty of them, actually:

  • Short battery life (just a few hours);
  • Speech synchronizes very poorly with mouth movements;
  • It's cold albeit its soft skin;
  • You can hear the processor's sound, etc.

You can control and customize your Abyss Creations sex doll using the Harmony app. The doll costs between $4,000 and $8,000 for a female doll and about $6,000 for a male one. Users can assemble the doll on their own. However, customization will cost another $5,000.

The manufacturers claim that the chat feature is extremely important to customers. According to their observations, some people do not use their sex robots for their intended purpose. They buy them so that they have someone to talk to because they just enjoy communication. At the same time, they are more comfortable talking with something that resembles a living creature, not with a smart speaker or with any other device.

The sex industry is rapidly changing according to individual tastes.

Companies profit from the sale of sex dolls that can satisfy both sexual and cuddling needs. Brothels offering sex robots are popping up all over the world. Many countries are experimenting with the use of robots as an alternative to sex workers. Since prostitution is strictly prohibited in most of these countries, brothels equipped with high-tech sex toys and robots can replace the brick-and-mortar ones.

You may be wondering who uses sex robots. Brothel owners say there is no specific audience among their clients. Men, women and couples come for robots, and the age ranges from 20 to 70 years.

They also note that these dolls can help those recovering from injuries, have disabilities or are struggling with psychological problems.

Despite its popularity, this section of sex technology will have to face some moral dilemmas. After all, we don't know for sure if realistic sex robots can encourage sexual violence.

But if that happens, violence can seep into real life.

Women's rights activists argue that robot owners can use interactive dolls to practice hard sex and sexual assault. Imagine people being free to do whatever they want with the robot. Of course, this is not a real person of flesh and blood who will object or ask to stop. As a result, real-life sex can turn into a nightmare for one of the partners (especially when some recreational drugs and sexual stimulants are involved).

Nonetheless, manufacturers usually view their robots as convenient conversationalists, like Apple's Siri, but even more advanced. They believe that using interactive sex toys can help prevent human trafficking at scale and reduce or minimize prostitution, reduce sexual crimes and spread of STDs, etc.

Since sexbots can respond to humans, a physical and emotional connection can be established between them. And as we become more lonely every day, robots or other digital creatures may replace our loved ones.

Some people buy sex dolls as their regular sex partners. They live together, "communicate", watch TV, etc. There are also romantic and polyamorous couples who don't mind building a threesome relationship with a robot. For example, Americans Shelley and Darris share a bed with a $7,000 robotic doll, and their married compatriot James also sheltered a blonde robot at home and now sleeps with her four times a week. According to the man, his wife is happy that he is "cheating" on her with a doll, and not with a human.

AI SexTech Startups to Watch Out in 2021 and Beyond

So, who enables digisexual revolution by leveraging artificial intelligence tech?

Let's take a look at some of the most interesting and thought-provoking SexTech startups who're likely to hit the market with innovative solutions this year.

Hybri

This Florida-based startup provides AI-based software that allows users to create their own digital sex partner using a mix of VR and AR. The app provides an impressive and pretty realistic experience. Its potential use cases include, but aren’t limited to bringing a deceased loved one back from the dead, creating a digital partner for lonely people or enjoying more kinky fun.

Hyrbi already has over 50 pre-programmed erotic animations and there is plenty of mileage to see how this kind of tech can be used to enhance your home-fapping experience.

Hybri is going to be very popular with its $49 price tag, and the opportunity for everyone to create own digital partner prototype to interact with.

MysteryVibe

This UK-based startup makes customizable pleasure products based on custom designs. Their two flagship products – Crescendo (the world's first vibrator for body adaptation) and Tenuto (a wearable vibrator for men) combine traditional sex toys with AI to improve sexual health and well-being.

For a more personalized bedroom experience, MysteryVibe also offers an app that collects user data and sends it to other home devices such as smart lamps, temperature controllers, smart TVs, etc.

Autoblow AI

Launched in 2014, Autoblow AI aims to "set the standard for automatic solo experiences. Autoblow 2 is now used by more than 250,000 men worldwide. Now, in its 3rd generation, the Autoblow 2+XT is more powerful, has a tighter grip, and is even backwards compatible to work with other Autoblow A.I. products like sleeves.

This device is the result of more than three years of meticulous research conducted by a group of mechanical engineers and artificial intelligence scientists.

The penis gripping mechanism used in the gadget has received a U.S. patent for a new way to stimulate the user's penis. The machine grips the full silicone sleeve and glides over the user's penis, just as the hand and mouth slide over the penis during masturbation or oral sex. The device offers 10 different blowjob techniques that were discovered using artificial intelligence.

Autoblow AI team analyzed over 1,000 hours of oral sex videos to discover and replicate real blowjob techniques.

SexTech and Cybersecurity

The use of sex gadgets raises privacy and cybersecurity concerns. High-tech toys can be hacked and taken over from a distance. For example, Werner Schober, a senior IT consultant at the Austrian cybersecurity strategy firm Sec Consult, based his academic thesis on this topic. He got access to the data of all the owners of one popular vibrator model and could launch himself any of these gadgets connected to the Internet.

"A lot of companies that create smart sex toys, remote control — anything with another layer of tech added to it — tend to be manufacturers first and foremost,” says Liz Klinger, CEO of Lioness. “They know how to produce products, but they don’t have the software expertise. And that’s a huge problem when you’re working with anything that connects to the internet.”

The latest case to have hogged the headlines is Qiui Cellmate, a chastity device for men that can be unlocked or locked via an app and Bluetooth connection. To people interested in this type of activity, it probably seemed like a dream. 

However, that dream turned into a nightmare when it was revealed that the product had a serious security flaw. According to security company Pen Test Partners, the API that the app uses to communicate with the toy remains open without a password or encryption. This means that anyone with the knowledge can hack the toy and take control of it. It also left the exact location of users and their private messages open to attackers.

As such, going forward, many SexTech industry actors will be challenged to significantly improve cybersecurity of their products to ensure user data is protected in the best way ever.

SexTech of the Future

In addition to all of the above, sex futurists identify specific requirements for the sexbot industry of the future:

Development of "portable" sex avatars. 

The initiative group called BodAI started implementing this idea back in 2016. The point is to create a kind of "cloud artificial intelligence" that can be trained and transferred from device to device (from one "body" to another). At the same time, BodAI strives to create not just some kind of AI for carnal pleasures but a "portable" companion friend with whom you can talk. 

Robotic replicas

Digital replicas of porn stars and show biz celebrities are expected to catch on and go mainstream by 2033. This brings to mind the robotic doll Mark 1, presented five years ago, based on the facial features of Scarlett Johansson.

Image source: mark1robotic.com

Teledeldonics

The technology that remotely controls dildonics allowing mutual masturbation over the Internet will allow you to engage in hyperrealistic sex at a distance.

Final Words

The 2030s should expect many of the changes addressed above. So, we still have time to enjoy the touch and warmth of real people.

Many SexTech experts still believe that the limitless possibilities of virtual tech-powered sex will still not take away from us the need to be special for someone real. So, hopefully, love and affection will always be in high demand, even if a robot seems to be a better sex partner.

What's your take on this? Will you ever become a digisexual? Or have you already become one?

If you have a cool tech story that you believe deserves a shoutout on HackerNoon – don't hesitate to share it with me and I'll be happy to cover it in my next article!

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