[This story first appeared on Koktail Magazine Issue 3.]
“What will sex be like in the future?”
It’s a question many people have asked, not knowing that 2019 would see a big boom in sex tech due to the pandemic. Lockdowns and social distancing catalysed demand for apps and smart toys as people took their sexual desires online—not that they haven’t been doing that already even before the pandemic.
The sex tech industry is already valued at US$30 billion, and analysts expect it to grow to US$52.7 billion by 2026. Part of the growth stems from the innovative products and services that are filling the gaps for pleasure and well-being in the modern world. The other major factor for traction is the empowerment the industry has irrevocably generated, particularly for women and others who are typically excluded from discussions about sex.
Pretty self-explanatory, sex tech is technology designed to enable, encourage, or completely reinvent human sexuality and the human sexual experience. The field has five major divisions: robots, remote sex, virtual sex, augmentation, and immersive entertainment. In 2022, we have sex toys that can connect you to anyone around the world, be they a known partner or a total stranger. We also can’t over-emphasise the role artificial intelligence is playing in the sex tech industry. A few notable examples include Harmony AI, the first sex-capable AI, which has 12 different personality types; Mend, an AI chatbot that helps you get through a heartbreak using a specific algorithm; and Biem, a virtual sexual health clinic.
Perhaps why sex tech has really taken off has been due to the open conversations around female pleasure it has encouraged, as well as visibility for other underrepresented groups, such as people living with disabilities. According to a 2017 study by Durex, 72 per cent of men have orgasms during sex while 75 per cent of women do not. The discrepancy mirrors the lack of understanding (stemmed from the lack of open discussion) about the female anatomy and orgasm. New innovations catering to women in this area then become a springboard for long-overdue conversation, and the more visible these pleasure-inducing gadgets and services are, the more likely you are to mention them to your female friends and acquaintances. It also helps when celebrity role models like Emma Watson use their platforms to talk about sex in the view of self-care. The overall liberalisation occurring around the world has prompted several popular e-tailers in the self-care space, such as EIS (Germany), The Lake (Canada), and Cult Beauty (UK), to add sexual wellness sections to the forefront of their websites
Founded by Éva Goicochea, who has a legislative aide background in healthcare, Maude is a modern sexual wellness company built on the pillars of quality, simplicity, and inclusivity. Their products are made for a variety of people, from young, virile individuals, including LGBTQ community members, to new parents trying to fit intimacy into a hectic lifestyle and recently single 50-year-olds who feel invisible to marketers. Maude was born out of the realisation that sexual wellness, as it was being portrayed and talked about, was outdated, confusing, and not inclusive. The brand positions itself as modern and luxe and even brought in Fifty Shades of Grey actress Dakota Johnson as creative director in 2020. Leaning away from graphic shapes, busy textures, and loud colours, Maude’s products are so sleek and stylish, you might be inclined to display their vibrators, lubricants, and condoms proudly on your bedside table.
A survey of the disabled community found that one in two physically disabled respondents had difficulty masturbating. Meanwhile, 63 per cent cited issues with hand limitations, and over 90 per cent expressed desire for a sex toy designed with them in mind. Enter the Bump’n Joystick. Co-founded by Andrew Gurza, a disability awareness consultant who lives with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, Bump’n Joystick prides itself on being the first “disability-driven sex toy.” By removing the reliance on fine motor skills and hands and transferring importance to gross motor skills and larger muscle groups, the joystick is hugged into position, with a vibrator or sleeve in the centre, and allows users to relax while the device does its duty—hands-free. The Joystick is said to fit all gender expressions with different angles and sizes available and can be used in both solo or partner play.
Maude and Bump’n Joystick are just a few of the many sex tech success stories out there. Collectively, they and other innovators, as well as the advocates and enthusiasts in the space, work hand-in-hand to promote self-care and demystify sex’s role in wellness. Pleasure shouldn’t be limited to only certain people, and with advancements in technology, gaps previously unsatisfied are finally being filled.