I have written extensively about the intersection of technology and sexual addiction, examining the topic in blogs here and here, and in the upcoming book (Summer 2013) “Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effects of Digital Technology on Sex, Relationships, and Intimacy.” Because of that, I was hoping to take a time out from all the “sexnology” writing, but the recently concluded International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has pushed me toward this all-too-familiar topic yet again.
By most accounts, this year’s CES was a bit of a snooze-fest. Several major players (Apple and Google among them) stayed away entirely, though plenty of smaller vendors were busy hawking Apple and Google related devices. The general consensus seems to be that this year’s CES fell short of past years in terms of completely new technologies to see, enjoy, and make plans to buy. Instead, vendors presented a lot of enhancements and tweaks to existing technology.
As is often the case, televisions and monitors dominated the show. Manufacturers previewed advances in 3D technology and ultra-high-definition (UHD) video, which offers up to four times the clarity of current high-def. We also witnessed the advent of curved and/or flexible screens designed to wrap around the corners of smaller devices like pads and smartphones, enhancing their viewing size and imagery. A hot new gaming console, Shield, has controllers similar to an Xbox or PlayStation, with a 5-inch, 720p touchscreen built into the cover, and gamers can stream PC games to this portable device without degradation. (I’m not a gamer, but apparently this is big news. Feel free to ask your kids about this one, as they typically know more about tech than we do.) The 2013 CES also introduced a plethora of HD cameras – ostensibly meant for live-streaming business meetings and daily business activities, and maybe even for remote customer service kiosks in chain stores (allowing one employee to service multiple stores). Excuse me Mr. Video Screen Person, but could you tell me where I might find a three-foot stepladder that will complement the décor in my kitchen? Kind of like that.
Also new (sort of) is Microsoft’s IllumiRoom, designed to evoke a “more immersive” experience for gamers. Essentially, IllumiRoom extends the visuals of video games beyond the boundaries of the existing screen and into the surrounding area. If it’s “snowing” in your video game, then guess what, it will be “snowing” in your living room, too. If you shoot a laser cannon and miss your target, the laser will zoom off-screen and hit the wall behind your television or computer. Sony showed off a similar application with PlayStation Move in 2011. Both companies expect to unveil their next-generation consoles before the end of 2013, so these Holodeck-like experiences (thank Star Trek for the reference) will be available to the general public sooner rather than later.
Perhaps the most interesting news coming out of CES this year – from my perspective, anyway – is how far brainwave reader devices have come. For instance, Interaxon is launching a low-priced (under $200) brainwave sensing headband called Muse. For now it is allows you to measure your brainwaves in real-time, sending those brainwaves to your smartphone or tablet and showing you how well your brain is performing. It also translates your brainwaves into instructions to interact with content on your iOS or Android device. If the manufacturer’s plans are on target, over time this type of “brainwave reader” will allow you to control your gaming devices solely by thought. According to the literature, in time, as the device learns from your brain’s electrical emissions, it will allow you to scroll around your screen, play games, and even turn off the lights in your house when your brain activity tells the headband you’ve fallen asleep. (Look Ma, no hands!) As this technology evolves, there are plenty of other possibilities. In time, a quadriplegic could use mechanical legs controlled by information sent from the headband to walk again. Now that’s pretty cool stuff!
However, as this blog is dedicated to the intersection of technology and sex, let me share a little vision of how these advancements will eventually change our computer/gaming experience down there. Think for a moment about the ways in which the new tech presented at CES could be adapted for sexual purposes. (You can bet the porn and sex industries are way ahead of us on this front!) The sexually oriented uses for 3D, UHD monitors, wraparound screens, and devices like the “IllumiRoom” are obvious. After all, the more “lifelike” pornography, webcam imagery, and virtual sex are, the more enticing and enveloping these experiences become – which makes them, for those with a propensity to “lose themselves” in intensity-based fantasy sex and porn, far more troublesome.
As for the plethora of HD cameras, no matter what the manufacturers say the intended purpose is, a whole lot of people are going to use them to create and post “user-generated” porn and/or to engage in mutual sexual experiences online. This is not unlike how some people use their webcams today; only going forward the action will appear a whole lot more real. And these same cameras, now being built into remote control toy helicopters or “home-drones,” will, for some, lead to high-intensity, high-tech voyeurism. This is great news for today’s high- tech peeping tom, but not so good for those who value leaving open the windows and shades when home. Just imagine the day you come home to find that someone has not only tech-peeped you, but posted HD images of your private life on Facebook or Twitter.
The Muse headband and other brainwave devices have the most potential for sexnological development. With a headband on and a willing partner at the other end, those separated by distance because of work, school, or because their spouse is in the next room, will be able to merely think about stimulating that special person and, viola, using any number of teledildonic and telesexual devices, their thoughts become action! For instance, the Fleshlight – a product that mimics the sensation of a mouth, vulva, or anus using real-feel superskin – is already popular, and in the very near future the sensations will be controlled not by the man’s own hand wrapped around the device, but by his partner’s mere thoughts. A woman could be similarly stimulated by any number of vibrators or inserted devices. Muse technology could further be used to “teach” computers what sort of pornographic imagery turns you on the most. By tracking the increased blood-flow and bio-electrical responses that occur when you are sexually aroused, the headband could register your interest and send messages to the computer to open webpages and videos, and even to access online “partners” that fulfill your deepest desires. Having conscious knowledge of what turns you on the most will actually be irrelevant because the headband and computer will know exactly what you like and simply lead you to it.
Of course, what is really interesting in terms of sexual technology are the advancements not previewed at CES. As of now, most sexnology manufacturers are smaller companies that can’t afford the $100,000 minimum CES booth fee. Thus, one needs to dig a little further to unearth potentially addictive sexnological gems. Several of the newer devices are “women’s” products. (In the past, most teledildonic products were intended for men.) A few of the more interesting sexnologies that I’ve not previously written about are:
- The Thrillhammer: This is, essentially, a chair fitted with webcams that comes with a device to simulate penetration and vibration. The Thrillhammer can be controlled remotely, allowing a woman’s (or man’s) sex partner to really go to town on her (or him). This is one of the more involved (and expensive) remote sex experiences.
- HighJoy: HighJoy offers a variety of teledildonic toys for both men and women, along with an interface that lets one or both members remotely control the other’s teledildonic device. Thus, two people can experience a physical sexual interaction even though they may in reality be thousands of miles apart.
- Mojowijo: Like HighJoy, Mojowijo offers his-and-hers toys (only one option for each gender, though) along with the ability to connect the devices digitally. The difference with Mojowijo is you can use your motion control enabled Wii gaming console to hook up. So after the kids have finished with Grand Theft Auto, Bowling, and the like, the adults can have their fun, too.
- JeJoue and SaSi: Though neither of these vibrators can be remote controlled in real-time via the Internet, both allow your partner (or you) to email and/or program instructions that tell the device what to do. You or your partner (or a stranger, if you wish) can construct a series of “moves” for the vibrator to make. The latest version of SaSi promises to remember the patterns you like.
- RealTouch: I’ve covered this one before, but the technology has advanced (and is apparently much better) since I last wrote about it. In many ways, the RealTouch device is similar to the Fleshlight, fitting over a man’s penis and simulating a sexual experience. Previously it could synchronize its action with online pornography. Now there is also a corresponding “joystick” that a man’s partner can use to control the action (by simulating masturbation, oral sex, or penetration). Working in tandem with the activities taking place either onscreen (porn) or “live” via the joystick, the device warms itself up, lubricates, pulses, grips, etc.
So there you are: this year’s CES. Note that just as the development of photography in the 1850s brought with it filmed pornography (within a nanosecond of its inception), nearly every new technological advance brings with it the potential for a corresponding sexnological advance. As yet, the long-term effects of this are unknown. In the short-term we are seeing both positives and negatives. On the plus side, existing couples now have more and sometimes more interesting ways to be sexual and to feel as if they are together even if they are physically apart. On the minus side, as sexnology becomes increasingly more affordable, accessible, and realistic, clinicians dealing with sexual disorders are seeing a corresponding rise in self-reported compulsive, problematic patterns of sexual fantasies, urges, and behaviors. It appears that some socially and psychologically vulnerable individuals are increasingly turning to tech/sex experiences for emotional comfort and dissociation, rather than using these experiences for occasional entertainment. Over time, some of these people are losing interest in real-world encounters and becoming addicted to the online sexual experience. Human evolution in action? Time will tell.