Some of my old 2nd Opinion assignments that I love the most began with these two words: “What if…?”
In this case, my editor was thinking about the different points where sex and technology meet. After a few emails, I committed to a feature article on it for the April 2018 issue – which I’ve included below.
Carnality and the cutting-edge
Thinking (aloud) about the intersections of sex and technology
by KC Calpo
I remember watching the 1993 movie Demolition Man on HBO in the ‘00s. It stars Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes in their prime, as well as a pre-Speed and “America’s Sweetheart” Sandra Bullock – enough reasons to watch it again now, if you ask me.
One memorable scene had Stallone and Bullock’s protagonist characters in the latter’s house, about to make sweet, sweet love. But their concepts of “sweet, sweet love” turn out to be quite different: the time-traveler-from-1996 Stallone’s idea of sex is the same as ours; while Bullock’s 2032-living police officer knows it as a no-contact activity because actual sweaty, grunting, dirty sex is now taboo. The heroes don VR headgear and proceed with the literal mindfuck, fully clothed, with the gear transmitting images of each other’s naked body and best O-face to their brains. Stallone is overwhelmed by the strangeness of the situation, and cuts the session short.
It’s not sex and technology’s first collision, whether in fiction or real life. The scene was played for laughs, but if you really think about it, the two are closely intertwined. You can think of them as the biggest circles in a Venn diagram, with the middle part providing even more intersections and overlaps that this magazine’s limited space can’t fully cover.
The feeling’s mutual
Sex needs technology to be distributed and to evolve; and tech needs our voracious sex drives – or sexy thoughts, or at least the potential to get some – so it can be widely adopted. As long as we’re having sex, the related technology will develop for our pleasure, education, and procreation. The same goes the other way.
Porn has evolved from printed matter to cassettes and CDs hawked at your neighborhood tiangge, to today’s downloadable and GIFable content. Beyond the predictable Avenue Q reference, now we have secret chat rooms and cam girls, standard productions to VR porn, and formulaic dominant-male videos to decidedly more indie/feminist/inclusive fare (e.g. Erika Lust’s films and XConfessions, Trenchcoat X). That’s just, um, the tip.
Sex and tech have also teamed up to change how people find dates, one-night stands, or long-term partners via multiple platforms. Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Grindr, and Ashley Madison are the current go-tos; virtual sex in virtual-world pioneer Second Life’s a longtime, well-documented fact; and there are people worldwide who meet their spouses and partners and side dude/chick on social media. ‘Sexting’ is an actual entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. At a recent bridal shower, I learned that you can also book expat male strippers online for bachelorette parties, via ManilaSecrets. (“Fun and non-vulgar” ladies’ nights only; no happy endings.)
Technology returns the favor, and continually impacts sex and sexuality. Vaginas can now be grown in labs, and men can get penile transplants. Instead of making a fool of yourself in a sex-toy shop, you can pay quick visits to friendlier, pressure-free online shops (see Ilya, Love Corner), or websites of established retail shops (Pleasure Place). They carry body-safe toys for every kink from major toy brands, target those in long-distance relationships with remote- or app-controlled toys (e.g. We-Vibe), and literally deliver the goods.
Everyone also knows about sex dolls, but now we have sex robots modeled to look and act like humans. They don’t get everything right, but basically, it’s every horror and science-fiction writer’s wet dream. California company RealDoll showed off their female face-changing AI robot, Solana, at CES 2018, and are prepping their male sex robot for release this year, complete with “bionic penis”. There were also robot strippers at CES 2018. Work it, ‘bots.
The sex-and-tech tag team can help you out when it comes to intimacy with yourself and with someone else.
For example, dating apps let introverts get to know other people and explore different social circles. Feminist indie porn could entice more women to watch it, and change their partners’ perspectives and expectations about both staged sex and real-life lovemaking. Porn could aid individuals and couples in figuring out what they’re into, and what they’d like to get into. And during an interview with Ilya’s founders that I did for another publication, one of them commented that sex toys can help older people dealing with physical disabilities.
But – as Netflix’s Hot Girls Wanted: Turned On docuseries clearly shows – sex and technology in tandem can also isolate people. And there’s still disagreement about if and how. People suffer from sex addiction, yet studies say sex addiction doesn’t exist. A Google search will give you several stories of sex-toy addictions, yet again professionals say it’s not possible. Some men found love with their sex dolls instead of human beings; one man even married one doll and keeps a mistress doll.
What’s not always included in the discussion is the attitudes of people regarding both sex and technology. Both are regularly blamed for the negative aspects and results of human relationships; and reflect deeper individual, social and political issues.
Remember the time vibrators were invented to treat female “hysteria”? Fun times (for medicine). Ever count how many times you’ve been told “kababae mong tao”, or blamed – from clothing to conduct – for a man’s hard-on and/or preference for artificial/virtual sex? How about the archaic expectations of staying a virgin or virginal until marriage, then becoming the submissive, pleasing mother afterward? How about physical and cultural standards, or society’s anger at women? How about online harassment and defamation, lack of consent, revenge porn, unsolicited dick pics, and spy cams? How much time do we have here?
Not that men don’t have their own issues related to sex and tech. Men aren’t horny 24/7, aren’t always hung like porn stars, or forever looking for the next hookup on their dating apps. A study done by the Kinsey Institute and women’s health tracker app Clue (as part of CNET’s Turned On series) found that 27% of the male survey respondents use technology to learn more about sex and intimacy instead of talking about it. Similarly, 23% of the respondents are more likely to use apps to improve their relationships.
(Worth noting: Filipinos ranked the highest when it came to using apps to track sex, at 52%.)
So what am I getting at? It’s interesting to see the many ways sex and technology go at each other and work together; and how these will drastically change in just a year or two. But both also figure heavily in all-too-human problems that don’t require them as solutions. Maybe we can do more instead of just asking how much of both we’re getting in one go. ⦾