The Curious World of Sex and Technology
At the From Now Conference in 2014, I prepared a presentation entitled ‘Sex and the Singularity’. It spoke about how far we have come with technology creeping into our sex lives, sexuality and intimate relationships (scroll to the end for the video if you want to skip the insight in this article).
In preparation for the session, Polina Bachlakova, all round art lover, strategist and creative, interviewed me on ‘The Strange Future of Sex’ for VANCOUVERISAWESOME.
You’re looking at how technology is changing the way we have and consume sex. In your opinion, are the current and potential changes negative, or is there a light of hope for sex influenced by technology?
Start off with a hard question why don’t you…OK, let’s tackle the (perceived) negative side first. I think society doesn’t know what to do with discussions and developments with sex in general so that makes things really hard (excuse the pun). We have a more developed sex toy, fetish and plastic surgery market that has active technological developments right now. We also have more niche applications relating to transsexualism, biohacking and even robotics that live in the shadows. Overall, the problem is that sex is marginalized. As a society we are shameful and prudish so discussions are not as open or as serious as they should be. And that’s before we even start to talk about technological developments.
On the positive side we have the opportunity to fix sexual dysfunction, be more open about our sexual identities and have an enhanced sex life more than ever before through technological development. One example I really love is Dr. Meloy’s Orgasmatron. Amazing! Technology can also connect people at the edges of sexual adventure too. Did you know that there is a private social network for people into BDSM, called Fetlife (wiki-link so it’s safe to look at), that is based in Canada and is a worldwide phenomenon?
I think we all have a role in being curious and active sexual pioneers that seek out augmented capabilities for a stronger sense of who we are sexually and how we can have more fun. I’m all for that…fly the cyber-freak-flag!
This is a pretty specific topic you’ll be discussing. Why did you choose to talk about sex and the singularity?
It’s just such a rich subject to talk about and is as old as the hills. As an Englishman I embrace talking about such things openly here as we, on the West Coast, are quite liberal and free from embarrassment (as is quite often seen in the UK).
I think we are careening towards a technological approach towards creating and cultivating relationships. Technology has made the first impression to be very asinine by reducing it to an image (or set of images) and a short description of who we are. Technologies like OKCupid and Tinder are making a mockery of humanity. They can be gamed. And that’s just the start of things and don’t get me started on the banality of Facebook ‘liking’, ‘stalking’ and the suchlike that leads to reduced self-esteem and reliance on popularity to reinforce our looks and attractiveness.
Even existing relationships are being enhanced through technology that fixes problems with being able to orgasm and erectile disfunction or being ripped apart by social networks allowing for the rekindling old flames that lead to non-consensual sexual relations and secret online sex lives.
Challenges exist at every turn and in many different places. Look at the hot water Nintendo got into with their game Tomodachi Life. It’s a life simulation game that is similar to The Sims and Second Life, where you create and develop characters that live out your life in a virtual world. Players create a personalized avatar called a “Mii.” that can have relationships with other players Miis. If your virtual relationship is going well, your Miis can get married. Nintendo forgot to build it so that two characters with the same gender cannot get married. A #Miiquality campaign on social media was started and generated a huge amount of negative press.
In all honesty I could talk about sexual anthropology and technology for hours on end.
What are your predictions for how we’ll consume and have sex in 2045?
I think that very few of us will choose to have sex or relationships due to busy lives and more immediate connectivity through devices. It’s a scary future. At From Now I will talk about the real emergence of a solipsistic society where we regress and live in our own bubbles without a care in the world for what anyone else thinks or feels. We are heading that way quickly if we are left unchecked. That means decreasing populations and an increased burden on social systems. Japan (and a number of other countries) is facing that problem right now and I think we’ll have to move towards models of commercial surrogacy and more lenient borders to allow for population to grow and migrate a lot more easily with less disruption to our lives. I have to say that’s not an ideal state for society but will be born from necessity. It’s also likely that the ability to selectively choose stronger, smarter children will also be part of that and that could indeed widen the gap between those that have and those that have little in terms of ability and intelligence. It will be a very progressive yet difficult political and sociological future for us all.
Is there anything happening in the world of sex and technology right now that you’re really excited about?
That’s a great question. I think that medical advances that help people get back down to having sex and a stronger sexual identity are great (see the Dr. Meloy example above). Even new virtual reality applications are starting important debates. BeAnotherLabs have undertaken a project that is letting users experience a few minutes as the opposite gender. (Warning: some nudity ahead)
Virtual sex is even taking a (rather strange) leap forward with VR TENGA in Japan. That takes the idea of creating a personal celebrity sex tape, starring you and them, forward into reality. Scary or cool? A bit of both in my mind.
I am also a great proponent of the #realworldsex movement that is happening.Cindy Gallop and her team have developed MakeLoveNotPorn.tv as an alternative to mass-produced porn that is readily available (again, that link is NSFW if you click through but realise that these are real people having real connections so if your IT department or boss freaks out then have a conversation about real world representation of love and sex).
Once you see real sex and emotional connection on camera it seems to neuter the oooos, ahhhs and set pieces that exist in online pornography and replaces them with sweaty laughter, intensity and fun. After you watch two or three videos it actually turns you off ‘traditional’ pornography – try it and see what I mean. Pornography is so pervasive that we need way more of these demonstrations of human connection to balance out bad (and sometimes quite abusive) practices learnt through unrealistic depictions of sex.
The reason for this post is that I have just watched ‘The Digital Love Industry‘ on Vice and it made me feel good to have been earlier in highlighting some insights (the Vice documentary is great too).
I’d love to know your thoughts and insights below.
Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.