opinion

Bringing ‘Tech’ Into Sex Helps Us Break Out of the ‘Adult’ Silo

Bringing ‘Tech’ Into Sex Helps Us Break Out of the ‘Adult’ Silo

Sex toy companies may be forgiven for being on the fence about the tech show CES. After initially seeming like a welcoming environment for adult innovations, last year CES was embroiled in scandal after it gave an innovation award to sex toy company Lora DiCarlo, and then swiftly took the award away. This squeamishness about pleasure products has meant that sextech companies are rightly a little nervous about the reception they may get at “mainstream” events. But it turns out that while our nervousness is justified, CES’s squeamishness isn’t — this year sextech has received a huge amount of attention at the tech show, with companies like OhMiBod, WOW Tech and Lora DiCarlo proudly displaying their products in the “Health and Wellness” section.

While I’m sure we all welcome the news that sex is OK at CES now, the uncertainty caused by these flip-flops is not a great environment in which to do business. Every adult industry company will have their own fair share of stories to tell about services pulled, products banned, adverts rejected and other last-minute obstacles thrown in our way purely because what we’re selling is pleasure. And one of the most frustrating things is we’re often not even given a reason: we’re just left to guess what exactly we may have done to offend. One of the organizers of Eroticon — a professional conference for sex bloggers and erotic creatives here in the U.K. — told me how they booked a venue for their Saturday night drinks reception one year (just drinks and networking: no sex or sexual content whatsoever), only to be told shortly before the conference that their booking had been reallocated, leaving them scrambling to find an alternative and uncertain why their money wasn’t as good as someone else’s.

It’s incredibly frustrating. But if you want some good news along with the bad, it’s this: I think we’re in safe hands. The sextech industry, by its nature, is filled with pioneering people who are used to pushing boundaries. Not just because they’re adult companies, and therefore are used to leaping over the obstacles that get put in their way, but also because the innovative nature of what they do means they are used to overcoming plenty of difficulties in order to develop cool new tools.

This month I read an intriguing opinion piece by Ben Woods over at the Sex Tech Guide, in which he argues that smart sex toys are like the early days of smartphones. In it, he argues that there are still some significant problems with sextech that are preventing broad consumer uptake — from a lack of standardized charging ports through expensive hardware to restrictive patents that stifle innovation. He’s right in many respects — the industry is dynamic and exciting, but it still has got a huge amount of potential to grow, and it may still be lacking some of those key things that helped smartphones achieve market penetration.

But that doesn’t stop pioneering companies from developing innovative new products. Sextech companies like Kiiroo, OhMiBod and others are putting in extraordinary legwork when it comes to research and development, not to mention the important work of marketing these futuristic pleasure products to consumers. While it’s great fun to learn about the technology behind these toys, for me one of the most exciting things sextech companies are doing is getting the message out to consumers that the smart tools and apps which enhance other aspects of their lives can also be used to bring more pleasure in the bedroom.

That’s the good news, I think. These sextech pioneers aren’t just developing fantastic new sex toys, they’re also getting out into the world — even to events like CES which have a patchy history when it comes to welcoming adult innovation — and speaking to consumers and the media. When we’re talking about user privacy, or robotics, or AI, sex shouldn’t be sitting in a separate silo from the rest of our tech, because sex doesn’t sit in a completely separate part of any person’s life. And by fighting to have a presence at events like CES, sextech companies are doing what they are already incredibly good at: paving the way for others to come afterwards. Making it easier for other companies to bring their products to “wellness” stands, or shout about them in health sections of magazines and newspapers. And as the hardware gets cheaper, consumers get more interested, and other sex toy companies start to integrate smart features into our toys, I think we need to take a moment to say thanks to these trailblazers. Not only for developing technology which others can build on in future, but also for pushing sex into the mainstream and helping break down the false barriers that currently exist between “sex” and “everything else.”

Julia Margo is the co-founder of Hot Octopuss.

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