Take it as you will: sex tech is going the way of the smart phone, meaning it’s never going to die, and will have a space in our lives in some constantly evolving form until the end of sex toy time. Unlike a lot of other fiery-hot trends that came and went, some dying in a flaming car crash, it’s a category that will only begin to work its way further into every aspect of future pleasure product design.
Sex tech has been in full swing since the advent of teledildonics, which combined the nerdery of telecommunications and engineering with the changing tides of pleasure product manufacturing. Now the categories have fully merged, sending the sex toy industry spiraling into a new future that would change the way we look at bodies in sexual motion forever more.
Bells and whistles will always have a place for a specific customer, but I think most of us just want something that’s easy to use and feels amazing.
As a fully formed product category that’s still very much in its infancy, manufacturers are beginning to figure out what sort of tech makes consumers tick.
“It’s not just the very few who can afford to enjoy this sex tech,” says Doc Johnson COO Chad Braverman. “I think that’s incredibly important, that not only is the product really fantastic and innovative and exciting, but that it’s also something that people can actually afford to enjoy.”
For the companies that get sex tech right, accessibility takes priority. You can only sell so many vibrators that require a NASA engineer to operate and a government budget to buy. Companies like Doc Johnson are finding the sweet spot between optimum operability and that undeniable wow factor that is crucial to keeping consumers’ attention.
“We really care about creating products that aren’t just innovative, but are also game-changing in that they offer a new dimension of pleasure,” continues the pragmatically inventive Braverman. “We don’t go to market unless we actually have a great product — it’s not just about being in the press and being able to say ‘this is new.’ It is, above all, about releasing great products that people will actually enjoy — and we don’t release anything to be gratuitous. While the ‘sex tech’ innovation aspect is part of the equation, our goal is always to bring the best, most pleasurable and body-safe products to the world at an accessible price point.”
Over a mere space of five years, techy toys have reached new heights, and by the looks of this year’s product lineup, it’s only a matter of time until sex tech’s family tree grows larger than our tight-knit industry can contain.
Will the Apple stores of the future someday shelve sex toys? We’d be more surprised if they didn’t.
This Tech Sucks
Oral sex simulators for clitoris owners have created a category all their own at lighting speed. The Womanizer takes the cake for being the first, even offering a money-back guarantee for unsatisfied consumers — of which there were almost none. Hardly anyone could have predicted just how we’d finally be able to mimic cunnilingus, though it’s almost not surprising that the Womanizer’s pressure-wave air technology originated in steadfast, quality-controlled Germany.
“Air and suction clitoral stimulators have flooded the market in recent years,” says LeAnne Black, VP of operations at Clean Light Labs. “Manufacturers have seen a big demand for them and are producing them like crazy. There are great versions of these, and not so great versions.”
As soon as Womanizer took off like a rocket into the retail-o-sphere, competing brands cropped up in spades, which isn’t as bad of a copycat situation as it sounds. The pleasure industry needed alternate brand options like the Satisfyer, LELO Sona, and the Inmi Shegasm to support the now enormous crowd clamoring for what’s been described as the most incredible, sex toy-birthed orgasms.
“There’s variety in what women want to experience — not everyone wants all vibes, all the time,” says Dame Product’s Janet Lieberman. “But something I think is particularly interesting is that it’s not a new concept. Suction-based products for women have existed for decades, in both the medical and novelty spaces because the industry has been so hidden, it’s easy for concepts and products to slip through the cracks of history.”
LELO’s take on this winning design adds more power and a proprietary addition, included in the Sona Cruise model, called Cruise Control, which kicks the motor into high gear when the suction cup is pressed impossibly tight over a user’s clitoris.
“Our pleasure products are always pushing to go beyond the normal vibrator experience,” says Zabrina Law, trade marketing manager at LELO. “From LELO’s Sona and Sona Cruise using sonic waves to create totally new sensations to the surge in virtual reality and the huge interest in sex robots, pleasure products are definitely going high-tech.”
Tech has truly spread throughout every aspect of sex toy devotion. For the pleasure seeker who has everything, the UVee light sanitizing system provides a waterless deep clean that doubles as a charger.
“We developed UVee to be a complete care system for pleasure products, and it’s unlike anything on the market,” says Clean Light Labs’ LeAnne Black. “Our patented technology sanitizes complex products, which means that all the nooks and crannies of your favorite toys (and other household items) are germ free, and your toys are charged and safely stored away.”
If you’ve ever been in the vicinity of a Millennial, you’re familiar with the word “extra.” The UVee cleaning and charging case is about as extra as it gets in the sex tech category. Stuff any of your toys in this sleek, shiny box, which resembles a dildo-sized tanning bed, and its UV-C rays reach around every corner to destroy bacteria while your toy stays plugged in to a charger.
The UVee takes only 10 minutes to de-bug your toy collection, which might be longer than you can last with your favorite vibrator. But as extra as it may be to use UV-C light on bedroom accessories, the next stage of extra-ness is on a whole other planet, or quite possibly a space ship.
The Reality of Selling Virtual Reality
VR has taken a front seat for companies that focus on the highest of high tech, like Kiiroo and XR Brands.
The LoveBotz collection by XR debuted one of the first user-friendly VR sex toys, the iFuk Virtual Reality Stroker, to an intrigued audience at the ANME trade show. Users can power up a computer-generated fantasy girl on their smart phones, pop the phone into the iFuk’s special goggles, and connect via Bluetooth to a mechanical stroker that mimics the movements and sex acts users choose on screen in this pixelated adventure. Although the graphics are reminiscent of a 1990s Japanese video game, the product made waves in the pleasure industry for being the first of its kind to target the average adult novelty shop.
Similarly, Kiiroo’s Onyx 2 electronic masturbator can be connected with various porn tube channels, mimicking the live girls on film with corresponding stimulation and allowing users to step inside their favorite porno. Kiiroo even created a haptic, virtual sex toy for penetration and clitoral stimulation. The Pearl 2, a traditional-type, long and smooth vibrator, responds to the speed and positions of your favorite adult stars, rumbling along the length of this gently curved, silicone vibe with every spine-tingling thrust.
These two pioneering sex toys can also be connected for couples. The haptic technology works in the same fashion, pumping and vibrating as each partner engages in internet intercourse.
Audio/Visual toys like the iFuk, Pearl, and Onyx are being quickly followed-up by other user-friendly tech vibes, like the rabbit-style Fuse by Kiiroo and OhMiBod, and the Launch, Kiiroo’s collaboration with Fleshlight. However, not all of the pleasure industry’s experts are convinced that ultra-futuristic sex toys are anything but a trend for high tech’s sake.
“I feel like every year for the past few years, I’ve mentioned virtual reality as a major emerging area of sex tech that just can’t seem to fully take off because it has always been too expensive and niche-focused to reach mainstream audiences,” Braverman said. “And again, even though VR is one of the hottest tech trends right now, consumers simply won’t go for it unless it becomes more affordable.”
It’s obvious that the virtual sex schtick needs a niche market that will go to the ends of the Earth to enhance their masturbatory experiences. Whether or not VR toys will catch on with the everyman (and everywoman) has yet to be seen, but another aspect of haptic sex is undoubtedly taking off with all sorts of sex toy explorers.
Smart phones are the unofficial No. 1 cause of ruined relationships and degenerating social skills, but in the sex tech space, they’re what’s keeping some difficult partnerships afloat. App-controlled vibrators are bringing couples together across countries and oceans with some of the most advanced yet easy-to-use technology. Teledildonics is at its best when phone apps merge haptics with Facetime sex.
“We were really excited to see the Fuse released — a shape that is not only enjoyable for solo pleasure but also something that can be used interactively with a partner or someone you are getting to now online,” says Coyote Amrich, purchasing director for Good Vibrations. “To allow people to feel connected across long distances is something very new and exciting to see emerging in this industry.”
The OhMiBod Fuse, a dual-stim vibrator powered by Kiiroo’s teledildonic technology, connects with any Kiiroo sex toy for a truly inclusive long-distance experience. While prior versions of similar couples’ toys were of the usual his and hers variety, the Fuse can function with another dual-stim vibe, a slim silicone vibrator, or the familiar electronic stroker. You know the industry is evolving when LGBTQ+ couples can get it on via smart phone connection.
We-Vibe, though decidedly less tech-geeky, has been on the edge of teledildonics for the last several years. The company has focused heavily on app development, creating an entire family of products that hooks up to your phone for both solo or coupled use.
We-Vibe puts all the power of a taps and swipes in your hands with toys like the Sync, a re-design of their best-selling wearable couples’ vibe, and the Ditto, a slim, butt plug vibe that’s small enough to wear anywhere. We-Connect, the app where all the magic happens, allows the toy wearer or the traveling partner to choose myriad speeds and patterns on a colorful menu that’s easier to navigate than your Instagram dashboard.
“I really appreciate the We-Connect app enabled products from We-Vibe,” says Clandestine Device’s Kim Faubel. “I know what they are capable of and having been in the throes of a long-distance relationship, I can understand the appeal of these items. It’s difficult to be far away from a partner. For me, so much of that is because I crave physical intimacy from my partner. Having products that can be controlled from anywhere in the world and customized by your loved one to bring you sensations and pleasure really makes these items personal and thoughtful. I celebrate that.”
There’s Always an App for That
What does the future hold for the wild “Westworld” of sex tech? When you find out, the answer will probably show up in the form of an app alert.
“I hope to see more and more products be able to incorporate this technology of interconnectivity,” Amrich said. “Not only does it expand how the product can be used but who can use the product and this tech really adapts to the world we are living in today — online dating sites, long-distance relationships, and safer ways to have casual sex.”
As more folks take to the internet to find their next match or keep in touch with their current flame, so do the number of copycat products that promise to woo new adopters with lower price tags. Much like mainstream tech, a few will do their research and secure original designs, and the rest will wind up with a sub-par, stolen idea. Large-scale companies like Doc Johnson, which release hundreds of novel products a year, take particular pride in their original, influential creations for this exact reason.
“Unfortunately, in this industry, we see many manufacturers piggybacking on other brands’ innovations once the model has been proven and the originator has already invested all of their own time and money into the research and development to create these innovations,” Braverman said.
Cutting out copycats and patent infringement isn’t always fast and almost never cheap, but for those that persevere, the future promises a diverse array of opportunities to tap different levels of tech lovers. Tech can be hidden under intuitive controls just as easily as paraded for first adopters who want to play “Star Wars.”
“I believe that there will be an increase in sci-fi type products, such as smart devices that respond intuitively, but I don’t think these high-tech items will consume the industry,” Faubel said. “Conversely, I believe in retro-innovation, where we will continue to simplify items to make them easier to use and easier to incorporate into our sex lives. Bells and whistles will always have a place for a specific customer, but I think most of us just want something that’s easy to use and feels amazing.”
And oddly enough, that’s just what separates the show-offs from the companies that want to create real change. Making tech for tech’s sake is all good and fun, at least until someone gets hurt (with lackluster orgasms and confusing functions, that is).
“Rather trying to develop high-tech products like teledildonics and sex robots, we instead use technology to be able to iterate quickly, try a lot of different variations, and do extensive user testing,” says Dame Product’s Janet Lieberman. “The end result is simple-to-use, low tech products that create more intimate experiences.”
The best tech doesn’t look always look like a shiny robot that promises to fulfill all your needs. Tech is doing its job — simplifying your life — when you don’t even realize it. It’s the same concept behind all the hidden tech in your kitchen, like the toaster and microwave. Do you entertain fantasies of a career in computer engineering while heating up your food? Probably not, and that’s likely for the better.
“3D printing is a super useful technology that’s not going away any time soon, but neither its uses nor the direction the technology will evolve are really what the masses tend to think they are,” concludes Lieberman. “I don’t think we’re looking at Westworld any time soon, which isn’t to say that there won’t be a lot of interesting developments in that space.”
The next time you pick up a brand new sex toy, consider whether your turn-ons involve a holodeck on the Starship Enterprise or the ability to arouse your partner with a swipe and a click. There’s no right way to do sex tech, but keep in mind that the robots can only take over humanity if we lose touch with what’s true flesh and blood.